A Mr Zaratsu Interview With Robert C Brook

Updated: Nov 27, 2020

By Daniel Yong

When used right, social media can introduce you to the warmest of people and that's how I met my good friend Robert C Brook. He's more commonly known within the watch space as Handsome Rob (the photo speaks for itself). But let's be clear here, Rob isn't just a pretty face. He's one of the most thoughtful and intelligent guys I know within our hobby. Every chance I get to speak with him, I'm always learning and reflecting on myself. Rob and I have been exchanging thoughts for quite a while now, and we don't just speak about watches or Grand Seiko either. We've discussed life, keeping fit and how to keep sane during this pandemic. Something tells me you guys are going to enjoy this interview, enjoy!

Hey Rob! Could you let the Mr Z readers know a bit about who you are?

Ey up Mr Z. I work for Seiko UK (Grand Seiko mainly), a regular at Redbar watch collectors events and a gym addict. Originally from Yorkshire, but a Londoner for a decade now!

Grand Seiko is obviously a big part of your life, could you explain to other watch enthusiasts why the brand is currently trending?

It’s certainly grown and come to people’s attention in recent years, that’s for sure.

I came to work with Grand Seiko four years ago after an opportunity came to me to open their first UK boutique (Knightsbridge). I didn’t know much about Grand Seiko at the time, so I spent some time researching the brand and products. I was amazed at the quality, history and lack of awareness here in the UK! Having worked across many brands, I really wanted to work with a brand that I could speak positively about and promote wholeheartedly. I truly want people to feel happy with their purchases and I want to work with integrity.

At Grand Seiko we’re told to speak positively about other brands, and just to focus on our product and highlights. I love this philosophy and it feels very Japanese and humble/respectful. The quality of Grand Seiko speaks for itself, but half the battle is getting the product in front of people. This is tough as you know, especially with the amount of clout being ‘Swiss Made’ has. I imagine that’s why you refer to Grand Seiko as the under-dog at times.

I personally believe in the power of word-of-mouth and those that own, have handled or learnt about Grand Seiko are our biggest platform. Modern day accessibility of information, such as social media, podcasts and watch collectors groups has given our fans a real voice. I think people see through advertising of past and want to hear/see sincere feedback and experiences. There’s so many great stories that come with Grand Seiko and many more to tell! Key people including yourself, have done amazing things for the brand and raised awareness of what was once a hidden gem in the watch industry.

Grand Seiko actively seek feedback and takes opinions on-board. I believe the vision of the company and direction is very exciting. I think we’re at a very exciting period for the brand and we’re going to see huge steps forward in coming years.

If I could rewind it backwards, how did you even get into watches?

Blimey! I always liked watches and used to wear fashion branded watches when I was younger. It started as more of a signature piece of jewellery for me to wear.

My real passion for watches and exposure to watches came through work. I worked in retail for most of my career and have moved across many different product categories; from toys to handbags! While working at Harrods in fashion accessories, I took on extra responsibility to be the sales manager for jewellery, which was my first real exposure to luxury watches.

While working with handbags, I was advised to read Vogue magazine, to which I laughed at and the response to me was “No Rob, I’m being serious”. I found it difficult to learn about the craftsmanship of handbags or the fashion industry in general. Let’s not even get me started on toys…

When it came to watches and jewellery, I actually enjoyed learning and found it fascinating. I love the craftsmanship, complexities, innovation and emotional attachment that watches can invoke.

I was later approached by Watchfinder to manage their flagship and first boutique in London. There I took responsibility for team members working in sales, purchasing and watch technicians. This gave me such a broad exposure to all luxury brands and watches of past and present. You would never know what is going to come through the door for someone to sell or what they would have had sent to store to buy. I was in awe of some of the pieces and the amount of work that goes into them. Being responsible for the team and having people asking you for advice; from how complications work, through to whether a watch was genuine, really made me step up my game and knowledge.

I’ve attended and networked a lot within the industry, as I’m genuinely passionate. I have many friends that I have made, including yourself, through the watch community and our shared passion. I’m very grateful for the watch community and the people it’s presented to me!

Based on your experience, how is the watch collecting culture doing in the UK? Do you think younger people are getting into our hobby?

There’s a fantastic community of watch collectors here in the UK. We’re lucky to have a great network of watch collectors groups, such as Redbar chapters in many cities, that David Sharp is doing a fantastic job coordinating. Also communities such as Scottish Watches up in Glasgow, created by Rikki and Rick. There are many watch events that happen every year and other watch collectors groups, podcasts and retailer events. I’ve found that all the events I’ve been to have always been welcoming to all and we’re lucky to have so much going on here.

As for younger people, I think there is a big future for watches and I certainly don’t think technology will replace the emotion, beauty or craftsmanship of a watch.

Something I really like about Seiko is that we don’t focus just on the luxury marketplace – where the average age is higher. We are making products for younger audiences and they’re doing well! From Street Series, to Seiko 5 Sports collections. They’re very cool and there’s some fantastic collaborations that appeal to younger and new audiences. When speaking about Seiko, so many people have stories about their ‘first’ watch, or a story about their father's Seiko. I love that! I think this will continue and Seiko are doing a great job in creating products to appeal to younger audiences that are fantastic value for money. It’s great that you can progress through the brand as you age!

What does the Mr Robert C Brook personal collection look like right now? What are your top three favourite pieces right now and why?

My collection right now is very Seiko and Grand Seiko orientated, which I’m sure comes as no surprise! Don’t get me wrong – there are many watches on my list that I would love to own that aren’t Seiko or Grand Seiko. My first luxury watch purchase was actually a roman numeral, blue dial, Rolex Datejust 36 on jubilee, which I really enjoyed. I’ve owned watches from more niche brands such as SEVENFRIDAY, because it was quite quirky and different!

These aren’t necessarily the three watches that get the most wrist-time, but I’d like to highlight the following three.

3180 ‘First’ Grand Seiko

I bought this as I wanted a nice dress piece and I think every watch collection needs some vintage in there. I like to have a story to tell with watches too, so having a GS ‘First’ is a way to introduce the history to people. Grand Seiko have actually just released some new recreations of this particular watch, that are worth checking out.

SNR001 Seiko

One of the first models to feature Spring Drive. A lot of people ask if using Spring Drive in Seiko muddies the water, but it was initially launched in Seiko, not Grand Seiko. The Spring Drive is such a well-engineered movement that they use in premium Seiko products, along with Grand Seiko. So many brands use traditional mechanical movements similarly. Spring Drive is often misunderstood and one of the most difficult hurdles I’ve found, is trying to simplify it so that non-watch enthusiasts can understand how it works. It’s a fantastic movement and no watch collection is complete without one!

SBGA029G Grand Seiko Diver

This is the old dial style GS S/S diver (new dial version ref. SBGA229G). I wear this very often as a more casual piece. It’s sporty, extremely accurate, legible, robust and yet; beautiful! A lot of people have told me it’s their favourite piece they’ve seen me wear. The size at 44.2mm makes a lot of people question it, but I think that’s part of its charm. It’s a diver watch, its chunky and sporty! The case design actually makes it sit well and look smaller on the wrist. Many people ask me if GS will do a 40mm diver using Spring Drive. As noted previously, GS do take feedback on board (I do feedback) and I think there’s potentially space for both types of case sizes (if they do create). I personally like a larger sports watch, around 39-42mm for all occasion watches (like the SBGJ203G or SBGA211G I wear), and smaller cased 34mm-40mm watches for dress (e.g. 3180 GS).

When I used to sell watches directly to clients, I always advised them to really think about what is important to them in a watch. I do think people should do their research and not just buy blindly, but you should decide what YOU like. I wouldn’t dress myself to try make sure I’m matching someone at the same event. Maybe the watch I buy next is super popular, or not, but at least it will speak to me.

Let’s get away from watches for a bit, I noticed that you’re a bit of a fitness nut and have shared some really cool inspirational quotes on your Instagram feed. How has fitness, reading and writing in a journal kept you sane in these chaotic times?

I had debated on what to share on my social media. I have a passion for watches, but similarly I’m really passionate about self-development, whether that be physically or mentally. I like to share my personality through my social media and do my best to act with integrity and help others where I can.

2020 has been one hell of a year for all of us. I found that sticking to some core habits every day (I relapse sometimes) has kept me optimistic and positive. I created a table that I tick off daily if I have done the habit which includes: Exercise, meditation, journaling, spoken affirmations, gratitude and reading.

I listen, read and try to learn from people much smarter than I. I never imagined I’d be someone who would say they meditated, but after learning about it, I enjoyed the results I get from it. If I can share some of their wisdom and it helps, that’s a huge bonus. People have got in touch to say “that’s just what I needed to read today”. I get much less engagement on a picture I post of a quote, than I do of the Grand Seiko Snowflake (*hearteyes*), but that’s not what its all about. That one message from someone saying they got something from the quote, means a lot to me.

I don’t do enough and I aim to do more charitable work, along with trying to get my network (largely male following) talking about mental health in these trying times!

For our final question, how do you unwind from your busy schedule?

I like to get outdoors, whether that be a hike or to travel. I think more so now than ever, after this year! I'm someone that really enjoys experiences or having a drink with friends and family. I recently shared a quote saying “the only thing more important than time, is those you spend it on”. Seems quite apt to close with!

You can follow Rob on Instagram @robertcbrook

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