When British entrepreneurs Mike France, Peter Ellis and Chris Ward established the Christopher Ward dial name in 2004, ecommerce was largely regarded with suspicion by the industry.

Operating from its headquarters in Maidenhead, Berkshire, Christopher Ward launched its first watch, the C5 Malvern, in 2005 and soon gained traction thanks to positive reviews on internet forums.

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In 2008, the brand upped its game by collaborating with Swiss movement maker Synergies Horlogères to add a mechanical chronograph to its collection, leading to the two companies merging six years later to fully establish Christopher Ward as a serious player in the mechanical watch game.

Its mantra during the past decade has been “British design — but Swiss made” and in this, its 21st year of operations, it now covers the whole watch making gamut from dive watches to aviation watches and from dress watches to driver’s watches.

Central to its ethos from the start, however, has been to guarantee value for money — which it has taken to new heights with the Bel Canto chiming watch pictured here in deconstructed form.

Minute repeater or “chiming” watches are even more anachronistic in the 21st century than conventional clockwork timers, since they hark from a pre-electric era when the feeble candescence of candlelight could make it tricky to even see a dial, let alone make-out the time.

The horological solution was to create a mechanism that, at the push of a slide on the side of the watch case, would indicate the time audibly with a series of chimes and/or strikes produced by tiny hammers and gongs built into the movement.

The inevitable complexity of such a device makes such watches difficult to make, with many horophiles regarding them as the apotheosis of haute horlogerie.

As a result, they have traditionally been among the most expensive of all complicated watches with price tags often reaching six, even seven figures.

So, when Christopher Ward announced that the Bel Canto, its first foray into the era of chiming watches, would be priced at just £3,195 expectations were, inevitably, low.

But once the confidently unbranded watch appeared, even hardened sceptics felt forced to admit that it not only represented remarkable value for money, but that it was also brilliantly executed — opinions borne-out by the fact that the first batches of 300 sold out within a few hours, and that the Bel Canto was awarded the “petite aiguille” prize for affordable watches at last November’s Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.

The titanium-cased, 41mm piece is powered by a base movement manufactured by Sellita, on to which Christopher Ward adds its chiming system designed in-house and adapted from an existing jump hour mechanism.

The coating of the dial, meanwhile, and the finishing of the chiming mechanism are carried out by the same firms with which high-end maker MB&F collaborates in the making of its Legacy Machine watches, which can cost in excess of £100,000.

Unsurprisingly, demand for the bargain Bel Canto has grown far more quickly than Christopher Ward can make them, meaning the current waiting list extends until July and pre-owned pieces are commanding a premium.

But at British Watchmakers’ Day taking place in London on March 9, Christopher Ward will make 10 Bel Cantos available for sale — with buyers being selected by means of a raffle.

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