ROY KING WRISTWATCHES
ROY CECIL KING was a leading British watch designer and jeweller with customers ranging from Saudi princes to The Beatles and Tom Jones. He began his career at the age of 14 as an apprentice goldsmith and diamond mounter in Hatton Garden. By 21 he was foreman of a workshop creating one-off pieces which found high profile buyers through Bond Street jewellers. Much of his work in the 1930s was as an uncredited manufacturer for names such as Rolex, Cartier, Asprey and Garrard.
On his first day as an apprentice jewellery, King was put next to a consumptive Italian master craftsman and told to learn what he could before the man died. A tubercular cough rendered King’s taskmaster highly impatient and he would crush any work which fell short of perfection. In the evenings, King went to classes at the Sir John Cass Art School, perfecting his skills at diamond mounting. In his spare time he performed in a jazz band as a pianist and comic master of ceremonies.
During the Second World War, King worked as a planning engineer on the production line of the Hurricane, eventually heading up a 100-strong department at De Havilland. There he used machine tool techniques which he would later apply to jewellery and watch manufacture.
After the war, King began to design and make watches under his own name.
ROY KING WRISTWATCHES
He set up his own workshop in Watford, where he offered “everything from a tiara to a tiepin”. In 1952 he produced five strawberry leaf tiaras for duchesses to wear at the Coronation. At about this time, King began exporting his pieces to offset the effects of the then 100 per cent tax on luxury goods in Britain. He soon began to concentrate on watch manufacture, or, as he described it, “jewellery that tells the time”.
When restrictions on the import of Swiss watch movements were lifted in 1960, King decided to integrate these into his own designs. He realised that whoever the manufacturer might be, people still wanted “Swiss Made” moving parts. King signed an exclusive agency agreement with Bueche-Girod, the Swiss movement makers, which left him free to design the exterior of the pieces as he wished. He also began to make watches with straps made wholly from gold, then a novel idea.
In 1961, the Roy King workshop swept the board at the British Modern Jewellery Exhibition, winning two first prizes, as well as one second and one third prize. The winning pieces are now in the permanent collection of Goldsmiths’ Hall.
During the 1960s, the workshop produced many designs using a variety of unconventional methods. Molten gold would be poured through tea strainers before being stretched into shapes to satisfy the most avant garde tastes. King’s “bark finish” design for bracelets sparked a craze: when George Harrison married Patti Boyd in 1966, she wore one of King’s bark finish wedding bands.
In 1965, King built his own factory near Watford, where he employed 65 staff who made 25,000 gold and silver pieces a year. In 1971, he won a National Export Council Award, and the same year became a Freeman of the City of London. In 1973, he bought the Swiss watch company La Montre Royale de Geneve. The 18ct gold and platinum range sold under this brand name were among the most luxurious ever produced with precious stone dials.
Away from his workshop, King enjoyed tennis and backgammon, and drove a white Rolls-Royce. He lived to see many of his earlier pieces come up for auction at London salerooms. In 1999 several items by him were included in a “Treasures of the Twentieth Century” exhibition at Goldsmiths’ Hall.