There are countless small watch brands popping up all over the place these days. Funky microbrands, accessible complications, and cool designs. New names are everywhere, especially here in the UK where agile little brands have shown themselves to be sling-level giant killers. And yet, while Duckworth Prestex have been on the kind of ascendency that proves it to be one of those Davids in a world of Goliaths, they’re not, in the strictest sense, new.
Neil Duckworth, current owner of the brand, is himself an industry veteran. He brought TAG Heuer to the UK back in the 1980s and has been part of the furniture ever since. But even by his standards, the Duckworth name stretches back – all the way back, in fact, to the late 1800s and a little northern retailer named Prestons.
Prestons was originally founded in 1869 in Bolton. I can’t say it’s somewhere I’ve been myself (I rarely venture north of the M25) but the ex-industrial town in Greater Manchester looks to have its charms. In the late 19th century, part of those charms included the aforementioned Prestons retailer, a veritable institution that by 1924 was producing its own pocket watches.
These watches were designed as a more accessible alternative to the big names in the field – you know the ones, the classic Swiss watchmakers. They were every bit as well-made, using the same materials and innovations as prestige names, but much more affordable. Originally those pocket watches were produced under the name Prestons Ltd, for obvious reasons.
But it wasn’t necessarily the catchiest name, so the Duckworths hit upon a new name: Prestex. The -ex suffix is actually a common one, with plenty of other successful brands leaning into it – Timex, Vertex and of course, Rolex. Yes, Kleenex too. It was a cool, futuristic sounding name and a perfect new direction for Prestons. To this day you can find a solid selection of Prestex pocket watches for sale online and they offer well-made, eminently British pieces of watchmaking at a decent price. They also produced dress watches and chronographs to round things out – and yet that’s not the Prestex we know today.
That’s because, despite success here in the UK, Prestex was gradually phased out when Gordon Duckworth – Neil’s father – began to massively upscale the business in the late 1940s. He brought in the big Swiss boys like Rolex, Omega and Heuer, leaving little room for their own-brand watches. And so, the Prestex name was relegated to a footnote in British watches. That was until Neil came into the story.
After working with the same sort of Swiss watchmakers as his father – I’ve already mentioned TAG Heuer, but Neil also worked with Ulysse Nardin, Moser & Cie, Favre Leuba and Carl F. Bucherer – there was one thing Neil wanted to do: build his own watch brand. And when your family has already had their own, self-produced watches somewhere in history (seriously, the Parallels with Fears are scary), the direction he needed to head was obvious.
And so, in 2021, Neil re-launched the Prestex brand with the addendum of his family name. Yet it’s not just the name that Duckworth Prestex has taken from its own origins either; a quick glance at the Verimatic makes its 1920s roots obvious. The oversized crown, the cushion case, and a dial layout that would be at home in a larger pocket watch provide plenty of aesthetic allusions to the earlier Prestex lines.
Even better, they also philosophically align with the early watches, offering a level of accessibility that not many other brands of this scale can manage. A fume-dialled, automatic movement-equipped, cushion cased watch for under £600? If that’s not a solid continuation of the Duckworth family legacy then not much is.
To coincide with the 100th anniversary of the first Prestons pocket watch, Duckworth Prestex are releasing a true heritage throwback in the form of a 24mm x 30mm rectangular dress watch that oozes Art Deco flair (in the middle of the collage, left). Based on an original Prestex circa 1935, the shiny new (and yet distinctly old) Centenary is authentic down to the dial font, which comes from both that original wristwatch and the Prestons pocket watches.
Available in three charming dial variations and backed by a Swiss Ronda quartz movement, the Centenary isn’t just a fantastic value proposition, but an equally great encapsulation of Duckworth Prestex’s surprisingly enviable heritage.
More details at Duckworth Prestex.