Road to Wrist: How One Car Designer Started a Watch Company

MHD founder Matthew Humphries on watches, Morgan Motor Company, and design challenges.

Some things are so rightly matched with one another, it's often difficult to approach them independently. In our neck of the woods, cars and watches fit the description, but the collaborative results between the two worlds aren't always a hit. It's difficult to find a balance, and the end product is frequently neither tasteful nor well executed.

However, find a balance, and the result can be impressive. Matthew Humphries Design (MHD) Watches illustrates this harmony well; founder Matthew Humphries is an established automotive designer who turned his talent toward machinery on a much smaller scale.

British designer Humphries accrued an extensive design portfolio at Morgan Motor Company, where he became the brand's head of design at just 21. "After sending a rendering off to Charles Morgan, I began working at Morgan as a placement [intern]," he says. "I went in as a fresh student with a lot of engineers around me, but without many aesthetic-minded people."

Not yet out of college, he found himself designing some of the British automaker's sports cars. "Charles asked me to design a concept for a coupe," Humphries says. "I sketched out a few ideas, made a clay model, and then presented that to—who at the time I didn't really know who it was—Prince Eric Sturdza, a close friend of Charles's. He was impressed and casually said, 'Great, I'll have it.' I thought he just meant the clay model."

After he returned to college, the designer helped Morgan launch the car. "They called and asked if I would mind giving them some help, so I went around to this small shed at the back of the factory where they had already started scaling up my clay model to full size on an Aero 8 chassis," he says. "That was October 2004. By March 2005, we had the first Morgan AeroMax concept put together, and I stood on the stand at Geneva talking to all these press members. I returned to university to finish my studies, and then went and joined the company as their first designer."

After setting up an internal design studio for development of graphics, models, and a website, Humphries worked on the nascent 3-Wheeler. "I was there for about 10 years, [then] I was approached by a Swiss company called Lonville to rebuild their watch brand," he says. "In the process of that, I thought, 'Well, this is great fun.' I actually enjoyed working at that scale, and I've always had a bit of a watch habit anyway. It sparked something in me. I thought, 'Why don't I try and have a go at this myself?' I left Morgan six years ago, and about three and a half, four years ago started customizing watches in Italy, and that sort of built into something I could take seriously, and we developed our first watch."

The MHD SA2 is refreshingly unique and reserved in its automotive themes. We're particular fans of the chassis-esque case and clean, unfettered dial design.

Now, MHD is fully formed and sports four distinct watches. On all the MHD pieces, integrated automotive themes are subtler than you'd expect. Humphries focuses on applying techniques and language he developed on the automotive side.

"It's all the same process," he says. "When you're talking about designing a car, you're mainly talking about proportions and volume. When you do watch design, it's almost exactly the same. I'll take just as much care to make sure the volume and the weight is in the correct place, and the proportions are broken up as they would be in a car, that it looks correct on the wrist."

The result is a family of watches that doesn't quite look like anything else on the market. The quartz-powered SQ1 is a bit of a throwback, housed in a steel cushion-style case. The clean, no-fuss dial is inspired by VDO gauges you might find in an older Porsche 911, right down to the "redline" graphic. The mechanical AGT is similar from a head-on view, but the case is radically different with a rather neat four-piece exoskeleton-style "chassis" that supports the case's center barrel. There's a wonderful knurled edge around the case's inner portion, evoking interior trim pieces from Jaguar and Bentley.

The SA2 is MHD's newest creation, a radical evolution of the AGT's exposed design. The AGT's flat lugs are gone, replaced with thin, curved arms that end in a fixed-lug design. Underneath, a trusty Miyota 9039 automatic movement ticks away at 28,800 bph. According to MHD, the spindly new design is evocative of the open-wheeled racers that charge up the Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb.

What's next? Humphries mentions a certain prewar Grand Prix Bugatti as an inspiration for a future piece.

Check out mhdwatches.com to see more.

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