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Corporal James Smith is an airframes and engines technician in the Royal Air Force, who travels all around Britain and beyond “assessing and repairing damage to all UK fixed wing assets” (that’s ‘planes’ to the rest of us).

He’s also the proud owner of a C7 Joint Force Harrier, a watch especially commissioned by James for those who’d worked on, and flown, the Harrier II jump jet.

Here we talk to James about his bespoke Christopher Ward watch, why he can’t stop wearing it and how it’s brought a lot of comrades back together again.

Hi James! What do you do on an average day? (We’re aware there might not be an average day)
Currently we’re based out of RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire but it’s rare we’re actually there. All of the work involves travelling to where damaged aircraft are (mostly in the UK but sometimes overseas). Our aim is to return the airframe to airworthiness and to original design specifications under tight deadlines. I was previously with the Red Arrows and the UK Harrier Force as a part of 1(F) Squadron.

You’re not a pilot – but is a watch still useful?
Yes, having flown as an engineer, an accurate and robust timepiece is essential. Not just for navigating but to carry out inflight checks and timings of equipment and procedures.

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Why did you decide to get a bespoke watch made?
Every March, a large contingent of ex-Harrier ground- and air crew meet in Stamford near the home of the Harrier, RAF Wittering. During the fifth anniversary of the plane’s disbandment, a few of us discussed getting a watch made to commemorate this amazing aircraft and the time we served on it: something that could be worn every day, and worn with pride.

How did the process begin?
I initially contacted Richard Dalziel at Christopher Ward as I knew there’d been a watch made to commemorate the Harriers previously. When we spoke about how many people were interested he said we should get a new design made. After sharing the idea on the Harrier Facebook group I found over 50 people wanted one. From there we were good to go.

What model did you choose?
I’ve always liked Christopher Ward watches. I love the story behind the company and the designs are exceptional. I’ve got a C4 Battle of Britain Memorial Flight from my time working with the squadron, but from the start of this project I wanted to go with the C11 as it’s almost identical to an aircraft gauge in the Harrier’s cockpit. Sadly, they’d just gone out of production.

So what did you do?
The cost had to be reasonable, so we went with the C7 Mk II, but moved the subdial from 9 o’clock to 12. That gave us space for the dial design. We looked at individual squadron crests and RAF markings, but in the end decided the less cluttered the better. I was also aware that having designs for different squadrons would be problematic so decided on a simple line drawing of a Harrier GR7/9 in plan view.

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The dial’s grey rather than the usual black…
It is, and I’m really pleased with it. For a long time it was going to be all-black – same as the standard C7s – but then we decided to make it ‘Harrier grey’, keeping the subdials black. When the designs came back I was over the moon: it was classy and subdued.

What was the reaction like?
The feedback I got when I posted the final design on the Facebook page was great. A few people must have been on the fence initially as it wasn’t until the pictures were posted that interest really went up. It was great to not just hear back how much people liked the watch but to make contact with those I hadn’t heard from in years. My friends have now started to receive the watches and been posting pictures up. We initially planned a limited run of 100 but due to the orders coming in now we’ve decided to up it to 150. I don’t want people to miss out!

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How does the watch feel to wear?
I did plan to keep mine in a drawer locked away – sacrilege, I know! However when I saw it in the metal, I couldn’t do it and now wear it every day. I have a few watches but this is my favourite: it’s practical for work but classy enough to wear out in the evening – and it always draws attention wherever I go. I’m amazed by the build quality and robustness of the watch: there’s not a single mark on the glass or case. It seems to be bulletproof – touchwood!

If you’d like to find out more about getting a bespoke Christopher Ward watch, get in touch with richard.dalziel@christopherward.co.uk, or call him direct on +44 (0)7771 838720. You can read more about the bespoke process here

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