W. Downing was founded in 1905 and is one of only three stampers left in the Jewellery Quarter.
Drop forges and fly presses played an integral role in Birmingham’s manufacturing industry during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They allowed for larger scale production of metal goods to an extraordinary level of precision and consistency, good enough even for watchmaking. Similar processes were used across the British watch industry, such as in the manufacture of cases at factories like Dennison, an iconic player in Birmingham’s industrial heritage. In the days before Computer Numerical Control, or CNC as it’s more commonly known, techniques like pressing and forging would have been the most efficient way of producing large quantities of watch dial blanks ready to be engraved, printed or enamelled.
The process behind making the dies to stamp each pattern is known as ‘die-sinking’. Traditionally, each die was hand carved by a master engraver out of a weighty block of steel. Created as a pairing of male and female positive and negative designs, these dies would be fitted into a drop forge or fly press which then cut and form the sheet of precious metal placed between them using brute force. It’s a skilled job, not paying attention could result in lost fingers, not to mention the noise and risk of injury on the razor sharp edges of the freshly cut metal. Fortunately, safety standards have improved considerably since then, and yet, this once iconic British industry is dying out and W. Downing aren’t currently training any apprentices.
Preserving the past is at the core of Struthers London’s design ethos, which is why they are proud to say that every Struthers watch dial has been blanked using this process before being hand finished and the feet fitted in house. In fact, the Struthers were so inspired by the thousands of dies at W. Downing they wanted to do more work with them and asked them to stamp some of the components for their FOX by Struthers London jewellery and accessories.
Every time you see a Struthers watch dial, you know the blank will have been made by Bob or Mark at W. Downing in the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, UK.