Bolton might not be exactly at the top of most peoples’ lists when it comes to nominating a tourist destination. But it’s got its fans – and you don’t want to argue with them, especially as one of them is boxer Amir Khan: the star of BBC’s reality TV show ‘Meet the Khans’.
The show’s subtitle is ‘Big in Bolton’, with the town being one of the stars. Other famous Boltonians include Vernon Kay and Sara Cox, while – perhaps surprisingly – the actor Ian McKellen spent his formative years in Bolton School, where his cut-glass accent must have made him stand out somewhat.
Bolton is primarily an industrial town, and now there’s an important part of industrial history being revived there. For many years, Bolton was known as the ‘diamond capital of the north’, and this was thanks to Prestons the Jewellers, which had its headquarters in the centre of the town: an incredible four-storey landmark building opened in 1912. As well as selling record quantities of jewellery (at its peak, 168 wedding rings per day) Prestons also created a watch brand called Prestex in the 1920s. You don’t get to see many these days, but at one point a Prestex watch was absolutely the thing to have, especially in the north. They did pocket watches, wrist watches, dress watches, and others… all assembled in Switzerland and then finished off in Burton. Prestex used to be a household name, advertised nationally in newspapers, but it was about to become a victim of its own success.
Throughout the 1960s Prestons rapidly expanded as the world opened up, and as is the case with many old British brands, people turned their back on them in favour of the more exotic Swiss models such as Heuer and Omega. The Prestex brand – already part of a different generation – quietly died, and that should have been the story over.
Until now that is, when the grandson of the original founder decided to revive it. Meet Neil Duckworth, another proud Boltonian, whose grandfather was Frank Duckworth: the man who put together the very first Prestex watch in the Prestons building nearly 100 years ago, in 1925.
Neil has worked in the watch industry for all his life: in fact, he was the man who brought TAG-Heuer to the UK in 1984. But having travelled the world and lived the good life associated with luxury timepieces, there was still one thing missing. And that was reviving the old family watch brand.
After a project that was years in the making, he’s finally done it, calling the new brand Duckworth Prestex. But while these are new watches with modern technology (using Japanese movements) the inspiration is distinctly vintage. The numerals, hands and faces are all reminiscent of the original Prestex watches, providing a suitable homage to a familiar look from the past.
Initially, there’s a chronograph and an automatic watch available, each in three period colours. For the future, Neil plans to revive even more of the best-selling Prestex models from the past, drawing on the heritage of a once-great Bolton company to give it life again.
“It’s quite emotional really,” said Neil. “I grew up with Prestex watches so to see them back home again is a dream come true for me.”
We recently got a chance to visit the beautiful old Prestons building, which has been abandoned since 2017. A bit like a rusting cruise liner, it’s full of the faded glories of a bygone age. But it doesn’t signify the end for Bolton’s watch-making heritage. Rather, a new beginning.
To find out more about Duckworth Prestex, please visit: www.duckworthprestex.co.uk
Anthony Peacock works as a journalist and is the owner of an international communications agency, all of which has helped take him to more than 80 countries across the world.
Photographs courtesy of Duckworth Prestex