Call that a smartwatch? THIS is a smartwatch...

London was once the home of pioneering watchmaking, long before underinvestment and lack of interest ceded the advantage to the Swiss. It was here, after all, that John Harrison invented the marine chronometer - the first clock accurate enough to pinpoint a ship's position at sea.

Recently there has been a flurry of new watch companies established in Britain - the likes of Schofield, the Pinion Watch Company, Robert Loomes and Bremont have done a lot to put Britain back on the horological map.

But no-one is making watches quite like Richard Hoptroff. Nestled down Clink St, a cobbled sidestreet behind London's Borough Market that is best known for being the site of London's old dungeons, his modest office is creating some of the most cutting-edge and exciting designs in the world.

'I had no interest in watches when I was younger,' Hoptroff explains. 'It started when I began flying planes as a hobby - it's a legal requirement to wear a watch as a pilot.'

'I was so far removed from the watch world that I started wearing it on the wrong hand - I still wear my watch on my right arm. I became facinated with the array of information available in a cockpit and started thinking about what information you can get on a watch dial.'

With a background in physics and a Phd from King's College, London, Hoptroff spent the 1990s working for, and later running, various software companies.


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'It was about 2000, when I was driving around America, that I started sketching out ideas for what these watches might look like. I had no idea how to make watches, or what might work, but I came up with about ten years' worth of watch ideas. These were completely unbuildable, really silly things - or so I thought at the time.'

'Then I left it and did nothing for the next eight years. I started a bluetooth business, to make money.'

Hoptroff's experience with Bluetooth would stand him in good stead. By 2010, when computer components had shrunk in both size and price, he realised it was possible to seriously think about building his watch concepts.

'The other major innovation for us was 3D printing in metal. Our cases are 3D-printed in gold. Rose gold prints better than 18k gold, which is 75 percent gold, because of the copper in it.

'It's not perfect, but it's nicely not perfect. It's ever so slightly wavy. You couldn't get shapes like this by machine-milling - you'd have to do it out of two pieces.'

The watches themselves are quartz-powered, but make use of Bluetooth radio modules, magnetometers and a healthy dose of ingenuity to provide functions that you just won't see on any other watch.

The Number 8, for example (all the watches are numbered, but not relating to their order of creation) is capable of linking to your phone's diary or calendar and reminds you of your next appointment.

The Number 5, Hoptroff's most recent model, is printed entirely in Arabic, and features a compass at 12 o'clock which, once calibrated, can point to Mecca. The watch tracks the five daily Islamic prayer times and uses a smartphone's GPS for its sense of direction.

'We're likely to put the magnetomoter [which controls the compass] into all of our watches, now that we've started playing with it. Every watch could have a compass - press a button and one hand will point north, say if you're just coming out of the tube station and need to know which way's which or whatever,' adds Hoptroff.


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The Hoptroff No. 9 is able to track a particular share's performance on the stock market every day, within ten percentage points up or down on the previous day.

'One of our data sources is actually Yahoo Finance. ahoo was an odd inspiration, actually. I thought that the sorts of information that a watch displays well are the kind of things that you want to look at frequently, but you don't interact back. You glance at it for a quick update. And that's exactly what my Yahoo homepage does. It's got news, it's got Finance, my diary - these are the things I'm putting on watches.'

Developing the Bluetooth technology used in his watches has brought Richard Hoptroff to the attention of bigger companies - both Casio and large-scale watch movement provider Soprod have taken an interest in licensing his inventions.

Hoptroff's pride and joy, however, is a pocketwatch called the Number 10. The size of an old-fashioned tin of boiled sweets, it displays a staggering 28 functions on its front dial, and when finished, will have a further 20 on the back.

It's most impressive, however, for being the world's only atomic-powered watch. Casting around for an accurate time source against which to measure his watches, Hoptroff came across a miniature atomic clock made for the US Department of Defence.

With the caesium-atomic clock in his possession, he realised it could easily fit into a large watch case. The result is a watch that's accurate to 1.5 seconds in a thousand years - five thousand times more accurate than any other watch in the world.

It's currently not for sale - the atomic unit is being used to calibrate other watches at the moment - but Hoptroff has grand ambitions for his more 'ordinary' timepieces.

'I would like to build it up to selling tens of thousands of watches a year. That's not nothing. But that's not going to be all gold watches - I'll be happy to be selling hundreds of watches a year. Steel and silver, that will be the bulk of it.'

'There are already a lot of good watchmakers out there - if I was just going to be one of those, what's the point? I'd never do a mechanical watch, because I wouldn't be better than anyone else. Other watch companies, they just think a chronograph is it, you know? That's the one thing I'm never going to do, because there are enough out there. It's not about technology. It's a luxury product - they are there to say something about yourself. Accidentally, they might be useful at the same time.'