Fascinating people sharing stories, opinions and insight. Sometimes horological. Always interesting.
I. Robin Armstrong, Cosmograf
Robin Armstrong launched Cosmograf in 2008 with a sound that’s rooted in 70’s classic rock with many contemporary influences and an emphasis on concepts and atmospheric production. A keen horologist, Robin has now produced seven albums to much critical acclaim and we caught up with him at the launch of his latest album, ‘Rattrapante’ – a music project inspired by time…
HI ROBIN, HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INVOLVED IN HOROLOGY?
About 21 years ago I bought my first quality chronograph watch, an Omega Speedmaster Reduced Chronograph. More purchases soon followed and it became quickly apparent that if I was to avoid financial ruin, I would need to sell watches in order to raise the money to sustain the habit. I started one of the first web sites trading second-hand watches (Madaboutwatches.co.uk) at a time when there were less than a handful of similar websites and eBay was in its infancy, yet to establish any grip on the buying habits of the nation. There are now hundreds of course. In a few years we had grown large enough to establish a formal business and created the spin off site Poshtime.com.
All through this period, I was working as a water engineer and in 2009, being rather disillusioned with the state of the industry, I decided to sell my share in my engineering consultancy business and work full time in the watch business. From the success of buying and selling came a strong need to repair and service mechanical watches. Skilled watchmakers were retiring weekly and those remaining were starting to charge large sums for access to the rarity of their skills.
what prompted you to learn the art of watch repair?
I felt I really needed to learn the skills myself in order to continue selling watches. It ended up being quite a battle and a steep learning curve. My background as an engineer helped with the technical knowledge required but it took many years to develop the practical skills required in order to reliably disassemble, service and rebuild watch movements. After 18 or so years of taking my first watch to pieces, and with many disasters along the way, I finally felt confident enough to accept retail service and repair work.
So really, learning repair work was a passion that almost became a necessity for your business?
Yes, and it was a good job I did, as in the meantime the retail business was under significant threat from a growing user base on eBay that started to level the prices across the board and undermine the available margins. Our sales dramatically declined as people naturally moved away from independent online retailers in favour of a central online hub to buy and sell, which pushed us increasingly to concentrate on repair and servicing work.
This hasn’t been the only time you’ve turned a passion into a career opportunity is it?
No, alongside watch repair I had become more and more interested in resurrecting my teenage urges to be a rock musician. Rather than hit the pubs and clubs as we had tried to do in late teens and early 20s, I decided to concentrate on the studio and music production. In 2008 Cosmograf was born, after I produced my first home demo album, ‘Freed from the Anguish’ followed by the release of ‘End of Ecclesia’ in 2009. The next release ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’ showed a huge uplift both in writing and production quality and captured the attention of the progressive rock community, and the press alike, leading to a Limelight nomination in the PROG magazine awards.
I’ve always written music rooted in the traditions of 70’s classic rock and prog with a particular emphasis on concepts and album-based writing. And now after 7 albums I had built a small but loyal following and regular attention with features and reviews in the progressive rock press.
Now in the present day I mix my time equally between the watch business and the music business, so the link between music and horology is a strong one.
such a strong link that you’ve actually brought both passions together for your latest album…
Yeah, I’d written about time before of course but not quite in such a specific way as I did for the new album Rattrapante. ‘Rattrapante’ is a collection of 5 songs about our interaction with time; we measure it, but yet waste it more, it defines our existence and forms our memories. Some seek to beat it by being the first or the fastest and some can appear to outlive time itself through their achievements… The idea for the album was inspired from my work with mechanical watches.
And, for the uninitiated, what does ‘Rattrapante’ mean? Rattrapante is a French word deriving from ‘rattraper’ meaning ‘to catch up or recapture. A Rattrapante chronograph can simultaneously time 2 events such a lap split time and a final race time. It was the perfect metaphor for our own interaction with time.
On a rattrapante chronograph, the first button press starts both elapsed second hands, which run together around the dial in tandem. Another button press on the opposite side of the watch will stop the first hand which becomes frozen in time…while the second continues on its journey…Repeating the button press jolts the stationary hand out of its frozen state where it instantly catches up with the first…
It’s this action of freezing time and catching back up the present which intrigued me, just as we are on our own journey around the dial of life, which could then be somehow halted as we freeze our own perception of time to reflect on the present or past events. Although there is nothing we can do to stop time, we can alter our perception of it, halt it temporarily, or even make it run backwards. Make it go faster through furious endeavour or make it go slower through boredom or inactivity…
But we also need time to grow, and for things to develop, intelligence, experience and love and all the building blocks of life. Our fascination with time is never ending, not least because we are bound and defined by its very fabric. We also take great skill and craft in the way we are able to seemingly capture its intangibility and manifest it into a working watch or clock made of exceptional material and exquisite workmanship.
The Rattrapante album cover
Which brings us neatly back to the rattrapante chronograph…
Yes, absolutely, and I wanted that to be reflected on the album cover too. I designed the artwork of the album to be surreal representation of our interaction with time. The Rattrapante watch dial takes the centre stage but morphed into some sort of space craft, a time machine of sorts… It has emerged from a black hole and hovers over the earth with a beam of light emitting from the bottom and focussing on my home in Southern England, a reminder that every one of us, has our own perception of time.
Rattrapante features Robin Armstrong, Kyle Fenton, Chrissy Mostyn and voiceover artist, Tommy McNally and was released on the Gravity Dream Music label in CD, Vinyl and Digital formats on March 26th, 2021. Order at www.gravitydream.co.uk/shop
Thank you for supporting the Alliance of British Watch and Clock Makers. We are a not-for-profit organisation registered in the UK as a company limited by guarantee with No: 12463247.
Your membership dues support our aims to promote and support British Watch and Clock Making.