Few businesses happen as organically as Newgate. Founded by a husband and wife duo, Jim and Chloe met as teenagers and began making clocks in their bedroom. Since then, some 28 years ago, Newgate has become one of Britain's leading names in clocks and watches. Sticking to their artistic and design backgrounds, Newgate watches and clocks combine quality components with design flair. Keep reading to find out about what inspires Newgate designs and trusting your senses when it comes to starting a business.
I’m Jim Read, chief designer for British brand Newgate, and the brand’s co-founder alongside my wife Chloe. We’ve been designing and manufacturing clocks for over 25 years and have recently launched a collection of British-designed watches which translate the brand’s most iconic designs into contemporary wristwear.
Chloe and I were set up on a blind date back when we were teenagers. We soon discovered we had very similar backgrounds and ambitions; we were both determined to build something that would take us out of our home town and enable us to travel the world.
When we met I’d just been kicked out of art school, and Chloe was part-way through a business degree. Not long after us meeting she dropped out too – much to her parent’s dismay – and we began trying in earnest to get our own business off the ground. We had a lot of ideas in those early days, some of them pretty ‘out there’, but we just kept trying things until we hit on something that seemed to work.
When you’re self-employed, and you work together and live together separating work and home life can be difficult. We’ll often find ourselves discussing the business into the early hours. It’s rare for us to turn emails off or switch off from the business to be honest, but for us having this massive shared passion for our business is a part of what unites us.
In day-to-day life I always try to surround myself with good design. I think immersing yourself in great craftsmanship and brilliant ideas hones your abilities as a designer.
Our house probably best reflects our eclectic taste in design. Both mine and Chloe’s respective parents were antique dealers, so we share a love of mid-Century and retro design inspired by our upbringings. However, a vintage piece will most likely be off-set by a modern artwork or a contemporary light fixture. I see the house as a place to experiment with different ideas.
When I’m in the midst of the design process myself, I try to stay clear of looking at trends or what other people are doing. I want to keep my mind clear, and just create what feels right to me. I design products that I would like to surround myself with.
We originally bought some picture framing equipment, and the plan was to reframe vintage prints & artworks which we sourced at antiques fairs. Then we came across a batch of old clock movements and turned those artworks into clocks.
Our friends and family thought we were crazy, but we sold my vintage Mini Moke car to fund our first trade show and took those clocks to exhibit in London in front of buyers from all the big department stores. That was probably the moment those around us began to realise we really meant business with this idea.
Harrods was one of the stores that placed an order at that first trade show. Suddenly we had a proper business on our hands and had to get busy making orders.At the time both Chloe and I had day jobs, working in shops earning £20 a day. In the evenings we would go back to our flat and make up these orders to ship out to stores in London, America and Europe.
It wasn’t smooth sailing from day one. There were times when we would look at each other and ask ourselves if we should just drop this and get proper jobs. But we saw that there was an opportunity, and we invested a lot of hard work and determination to make the business work.
We had our fair share of trials by fire back in the early days. When we were still making clocks by hand in the spare room of our first flat we had a big consignment we were sending to America via a well-known mail order company. Chloe and I had been waiting all day for a shipment of components to arrive from Italy so that we could complete the order. They turned up at the very last hour and the US container was waiting to ship. We had to put out an emergency call to our friends and family to come and help us assemble these clocks overnight. It was a nightmare, but we did it and got them out on time.
In the early days we came up against various obstacles of one kind or another – and still do of course. There just came a point when we thought, “right, we’re either going to take this business seriously – grow up, face up to the issues and deal with them – or, we’re going to run away and hide when things get tough, and get on with other, easier stuff”. We chose to face the problems we encountered head on and deal with them. I guess it helps that we had each other as sounding boards. But us deciding that we were going to stick with it and brazen out the tricky points was a massive turning point for the business; from then on, we were wholly committed to the brand and to doing what we needed to do to make it succeed.
I think if it’s the right idea, nothing will hold you back or give you cause for doubt. Call it gut instinct or a sixth sense, if you aren’t confident about it don’t do it.
Shop and explore the latest collection of Newgate clocks and watches at OPUMO.
Looking for more entrepreneur stories? Then check our exclusive interview with Tala Co-Founder Max Wood as we talk about the highs, lows, secrets and stories behind the British lighting brand.
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