By Gary Girdvainis
William Henry’s new Legacy timepiece collection, its first foray into wristwatches, features dials created from meteorite, fossilized mammoth tooth and other exotic materials.
Matt (William) Conable and his business partner Michael (Henry) Honack founded William Henry in 1997 with the belief that there was a potential consumer base for fine knives situated between the work of individual bladesmiths and mass production. They were right.
First, the Knives
Having practiced his knife-making art under his own name for almost a decade prior to launching the Oregon-based William Henry, Matt Conable developed an appreciation of exotic and unusual materials for his craft.
Today, William Henry incorporates exotic woods, fossilized dinosaur bone, mammoth tooth, semi-precious stones, corals and other unusual materials into handles. Frames, blades, bolsters and other metal elements are crafted in a variety of functional, semi-precious, and elegantly forged metals.
Unlike the results of mass production, William Henry’s knives combine the talents of expert individuals around the world to bring each design to life. Bladesmiths work Damascus and other exotic steels, metalsmiths create Mokume Gane while a host of specialist engravers work their craft to embellish handles and bolsters in their individual style.
I’ll admit that I often lament the overuse of “unique” when describing unusual designs, but each William Henry knife is in-fact unique. No two are exactly the same. The Damascus pattern, the grain of exotic woods, the striations of color in a fossilized mammoth tooth, or even the Widmanstatten patterns of meteorite all lend themselves to this distinctive individuality.
Next, the Accessories
Following the success of their blade-bearing beauties, Conable and company expanded the stable of offerings from knives to a host of other high-end men’s (and a few women’s) accessories including bracelets, necklaces, cufflinks, money clips, writing instruments, and more.
In each product line, the ethos and feel of the William Henry design was clearly evident.
Seeing this evolution into new product lines I had always wondered – and had actually asked the leadership at William Henry “why not watches?” Vague answers intimated they were clearly considering the idea, but I never got a confirmation – until now.
Finally, the Watches
In reality, the connection between knives and watches is not that great a leap. Both have ostensible functionality that justifies their existence, and both can be elevated beyond functionality and become works of art crafted in metal and other exotic materials.
For William Henry’s new Legacy timepiece collection, its first foray into wristwatches, five variations (see below) perfectly exemplify the spirit of William Henry.
From the brand: “William Henry is a studio that tells stories through timeless pieces, and our first watch design is a testament to that intention. The Legacy watch collection is a perfect blend of form and function, built around the extraordinary materials that have defined us.”
Entering the luxury watch market can be a risky thing. Unlike jewelry – or even knives – mechanical watches house a complex engine perfected and refined over hundreds of years by trial and error.
For their own launch watches, William Henry chose to go with the Sellita SW 400, a Swiss automatic time & date (only) movement without extraneous functions or complications, allowing the full impact of the rare materials to take center-stage. All else being equal, the SW 400 is a slightly larger version of the SW 200 and fits very nicely into the 42mm case without looking lost in the see-through back.
These high-grade movements are housed in grade 5 titanium, Damascus steel, and even Moku-Ti (Damascus titanium) – clearly putting the metallurgical roots and experience of the William Henry brand on full display. These watches are also built to high standards and are water resistant to 100 meters, regardless of the case material.
Under the sapphire crystals, each dial represents more than just color, pattern, and texture. They actually embody time in several different ways:
The Superconductor dial is a wafer of a modern material originally created as a particle accelerator moving protons and electrons to 99.997% the speed of light. It just so happens that the cross-section of this space-age material presents an intriguing pattern born from technology, and never used for its aesthetic value – until now.
The Moku-Ti dial combines ancient metalworking techniques in a mélange of modern materials and historical metalsmithing where the Damascus style layering of metals dating back to 1,500 BC are applied to the more modern titanium, a metal not really in widespread use until the 1900s.
Traveling a bit further back on the William Henry materials time-line, we find the one model sporting a Mammoth Tooth dial. Crafted from the fossilized teeth of these extinct giants, the amazing dials on these watches show color and grain that belie the source of the material and are at least 10,000 years old – when the last large herds of Wooly Mammoth roamed the planet.
The next series jumps back several orders of magnitude to fossilized dinosaur bone dating back 100-200 million years. When initially exhumed from the ground, the fossilized bone looks fairly mundane; much like a rusted rock. When shaped, sanded, polished, and finished, striations of dark grey create patterns over a varicolored Martian-red background in an ethereal expression of natural artistry brought to life through modern craftsmanship.
Traveling even further back to the very beginnings of our universe in our William Henry “Wayback” machine we find the meteorite dials. Not without precedent in the watchmaking pantheon, meteorite dials embody the ancient travelers of the cosmos that have seen billions and billions (thanks Carl) of years go by.
William Henry’s own dials display the iconic Widmanstätten patterns within a contrasting and colorful Moku-Ti case. This creates a vibrant counterpoint to the monochromatic Thomson structures of the dial.
Each William Henry timepiece represents a merger of materials, design, and engineering that integrates a totemic representation of time into timekeeping itself.
Prices range from $3,750-$9,000. See www.williamhenry.com.
The Meteorite Dial
This limited-edition Legacy Meteorite model features a dial crafted from pure meteorite, a remarkable interstellar remnant dating back billions of years and discovered here on Earth. The fine crystalline pattern, in metal, is unlike anything else we’ve ever seen, and offers a window back to an earlier era in the story of our universe.
The dial is housed in a forged Moku-Ti case, built with ninety layers of four alloys of aerospace grade titanium. This tapestry in metal is crafted by a master smith in Ukraine specifically for this William Henry watch case, which requires heat to reveal the final pattern.
The watch is finished with a sapphire crystal and exhibition back revealing the Swiss automatic movement with a 38-hour power reserve. Water resistance is rated to 100 meters, and the hand-crafted leather strap features a custom stainless deployant clasp for easy wear and adjustment.
The Fossil Dinosaur Bone Dial
This limited-edition Legacy Dinosaur model features a dial crafted from dinosaur bone; an extraordinary fossil material that ranges from 100 to 200 million years old.
The ‘high red’ dinosaur bone is considered the finest in the world and is found in the American southwest. Initially it has a similar appearance to rock, but after the painstaking process of crafting a precision dial, the beautiful hues and patterns are revealed. Surrounding the ancient dial is a forged Damascus case built with 300 layers of stainless-steel alloys and etched to reveal the individual patterns.
The Wooly Mammoth Tooth Dial
Color and grain are the earmarks of the dial crafted from fossil mammoth tooth. This relic of the giant that last roamed the Earth 10,000 years ago is occasionally discovered on the sea floor or riverbeds. When used for decoration, each tooth or remnant must dry for about 2 years before William Henry can begin to work with it.
Vacuum stabilized with resin, the finished dial reveals unique patterns and colors that have been waiting (at least) 10,000 years to become a timeless story on your wrist. The dial is housed in a forged Damascus case, built with 300 layers of stainless-steel alloys and acid-etched to reveal the flowing patterns of the contrasting metals.
The case on the Legacy Mammoth is finished with a sapphire crystal and exhibition back revealing the Swiss automatic movement with a 38-hour power reserve. Water resistance is rated to 10 ATM/100 meters, and the hand-crafted crocodile leather strap features a custom stainless deployant clasp for easy wear and adjustment.
The Moku-Ti Dial
This Legacy Moku-Ti watch (also limited) features a dial crafted from Moku-Ti, a complex tapestry in titanium. The metal is created by forging eighty-four separate layers of four different alloys of aerospace grade titanium into a finely patterned billet.
This exquisitely detailed material is forged specifically for this project by one master artist located in Ukraine. After a detailed diamond polish, William Henry uses carefully applied heat to reveal the different alloys and final pattern in the dial ensconced within its titanium case.
The Superconductor Dial
This limited-edition Legacy Superconductor model features a dial crafted from Superconductor; a copper-niobium composite originally intended to become wire in a massive particle accelerator. The project was never completed, and this exotic patterned material was never drawn down to its final dimension.
Very little of it exists, and we have enough to make a limited number of watch dials. The dial is housed in a titanium case with black DLC coating, with a sapphire crystal and exhibition back revealing the Swiss automatic movement with a 38-hour power reserve.
This feature appears in the Spring 2023 issue of iW Magazine, where it includes an interview with William Henry co-founder Matt William Conable.