John Harwood (Watchmaker)
Published on Tuesday 12th of October 2021
John Harwood was born in Bolton, Greater Manchester, in July 1893. During World War 1 he served as an armoury staff sergeant and showed his technical skills in developing an automatic pistol and an impact-turning screwdriver.
Following the end of the war, John completed an apprenticeship in watchmaking with the Hirst Brothers of Oldham. This enabled him to develop his watchmaking skills, which were already considerable. He realised that conventional watches of the day had problems arising from dust and dirt entering the case via the opening for the winding crown, and began looking at solutions for this problem.
In 1922 John Harwood moved to the Isle of Man to open his own workshop and watch repair business. From here he developed his own design of self-winding wristwatch between 1923 and 1924. With the help of Manchester brothers Louise and Phillip Alexander, he convinced Swiss watch manufacturers to take on his patented design.
The first major watch brand to manufacture Johns new design was Fortis, followed by Blancpain, who sold their production of the watch in France from 1928. The main feature of this watch was that there was no crown on the side of the watch. The hands were adjusted, and the watch set, by turning the bezel.
John Harwood wanted to sell his groundbreaking design within the UK, so he set up the Harwood Self-Winding Watch Company. Sadly, this venture proved unsuccessful and the company went bankrupt in 1931 as the watch proved difficult to mass produce. The after-effects of the Great Depression also had an impact on demand.
The British Horology Institute awarded the watchmaker a Gold medal for his work in developing so much for the watch industry in 1957. His son also followed his father into horology and worked with watches around the UK.
Author: M Flanders