To recognise the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force on April 1, 2018, Christopher Ward and long-time collaborator TMB Art Metal have developed a striking limited edition piece with quite some story behind it:
On 15 September 1940, a Hawker Hurricane fighter plane, call sign P2725 TM-B, was being flown by Flight Lieutenant Raymond T. Holmes in the defence of London. This famous Hurricane, out of bullets, did what was needed to take out a German bomber heading for Buckingham Palace on a bombing run: it rammed the plane, causing them both to crash, while Holmes parachuted to safety. P2725 TM-B was lost – but Buck House was saved. And it’s part of this very plane that’s been used in the making of Christopher Ward’s striking limited edition P2725 TM-B watch, released to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the RAF.
But how did parts from this most legendary of planes become available?
15 September 1940 is today remembered as ‘Battle of Britain Day’ – and considered a turning point in the War – and many years later, in 2004, Christopher Bennett, a professional photographer, TV video editor and cameraman, led a dig to excavate the remaining wreckage of Holmes’ Hurricane from under the London streets. The whole adventure was featured in a National Geographic Channel Documentary, The Search for the Lost Fighter Plane.
“The Hurricane came down very steeply where Buckingham Palace Road meets Ebury Bridge,” Chris says, “and the impact smashed the heavy Merlin engine right into the ground. Our hope was the engine and other parts of the plane were still down there, with the pipes and sewers filled in above.” With all relevant authorities very much behind the project, Chris – having used intuition, triangulation and historical evidence to establish where the plane might be – was allowed to start digging. But would they find anything? Near surface bits and pieces told them they were on the right track, then nothing – just lots of river clay, going down one, two, three feet. “We started to panic,” says Chris, “then, happily, hit the remains.
We recovered perhaps a third of the smashed Rolls-Royce Merlin, still reasonably well preserved throughout the years in its own oil. However any of the metal components not in oil suffered and we collected about 20kg of very badly corroded shards of aluminium engine casing, which I later turned into ingots – and it’s one of these that’s provided the metal inside Christopher Ward’s P2725 TM-B watch, released to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the RAF, and limited to 100 pieces.” The main engine section, along with the Hurricane’s control column, are now on display at the RAF Museum, Hendon, where P2725 took off from on 15 September 1940.
For Chris, this is by far the most important piece of ‘precious metal’ he has ever recovered. After all, this Hurricane’s story is properly astounding, and it was this very find that led him to start his company, TMB Art Metal, in the first place. (The ‘TMB’ bit comes from the plane’s call sign, of course, while the ‘Art Metal’ was added not only because it perfectly fits what he does, but because it was the name on one of the buildings next to where the Hurricane had crashed.)
“When Mike [France, CW co-founder] first asked me if I had anything that might be suitable to celebrate a century of the RAF,” he says, “it was hard to look past this particular Hurricane. As our most plentiful fighter during the Battle of Britain, it’s arguably the RAF’s most important plane – and this example has just such a great story attached.”
As for the watch itself, it’s a gorgeous period-looking piece, boasting a face design that takes a great deal of design influence from the Smiths instruments in the Hurricane’s cockpit. Inside the 43mm black DLC sandblasted case sits an ETA Valgranges A07.161 automatic movement with power reserve, while the actual metal from the Hurricane takes pride of place on the case back, where it’s been engraved with a map of central London, with the spot where the plane crashed picked out as a red dot. Chris’s involvement with the final watch included some input into the design, not least of which was the inclusion of two quick release straps with each example: a brown vintage leather version, and a high quality khaki canvas strap to echo the material of which much of the plane was made.
The final piece is certainly beautiful, and has provenance that’s virtually unequalled in the horological world.