Stephen McGonigle is one of the founding brothers of McGonigle watches. He is one of a new breed of watchmakers making watches in his own style in small numbers of pieces per year both complicated and simple. To view examples please click here.
1. What did your father do? what did your mother do? Describe briefly your childhood?
My father was a compositor at the Irish Times and my mother had the unenviable task of rearing 8 of us. Things were tight growing up but not knowing any better, it didn’t seem so bad. I hated school and school hated me. Things in Ireland then were very different to today and they’re wasn’t a whole lot of incentive in school. I did a lot of crazy things in my childhood but thankfully I found watchmaking and it changed everything for me.
2. As a child did you have any driving ambition? What did you want to be?
Growing up I fancied myself as an architect and I was reasonably good at technical drawing. My dad thought I was brilliant at it but in class I could see I wasn’t good enough. I also considered something along the lines of mechanical engineering but again, I just didn’t have the motivation in school. That is, when I was in school.
3. What is your first significant memory as a child?
I always remember when I was in ‘middle infants’ (so about the age of 5 I think), insisting on a kiss from the teacher before leaving for home everyday. My mother confirmed this obsession and something I’m quite proud of actually. In retrospect, I can see where things went wrong with the rest of my education. How could the rest of my schooling life live up to that.
4. Have you ever had another profession? What did you do?
I had lots of small, for the most part, summer jobs growing up but no real profession other than watchmaking. I think these small jobs definitely gave me ambition because I definitely didn’t want to keep doing them. Living in Switzerland inspired me (it’s so quiet), about 10 years ago now, to open an Irish pub. While I did a lot of work to set up the bar, I don’t actually work there and my involvement extends to managerial meetings and occasional DIY work. Watchmaking is still very much my full-time job but I suppose, technically speaking, I’m also a publican. The Cafe du Cerf (Neuchatel) by the way, is the best pub in Switzerland. Fact.
5. What made you choose to become a watchmaker? Who have you worked for in the past? What made you decide to go in the direction you have chosen.
My dad was an influence, as was my brother John and having played around at home with a few watch movements (which I absolutely loved), the choice was inevitable. I’ve worked with a good few companies and the experiences, for the most part, were all good. I worked in Somlo Antiques in London (the workshop founded by the man himself, Mr. Speake-Marin), at Christophe Claret, Arnold and Graham, Franck Muller and Breguet. I think the fact that I moved around a lot, was an indication that I was looking for something and independence was the answer. I’d never go back.
6. What’s the worst job you’ve had to do?
I’ve had a few crappy jobs growing up. Really mind-numbing, soul-destroying stuff. However, I worked for a watch brand in Geneva for a very short period and that was easily my worst job. It’s not on my CV and I daren’t mention the company. Suffice to say, it was the shortest period of employment I ever had.
7. What’s been the hardest moment in your life so far, and how did you over-come it?
When my dad died. There’s no way to imagine what this is like until it happens to you. I don’t think you do get over it but time certainly makes it less painful.
8. Who has had the strongest influence on you? What are your greatest inspirations?
That's very hard to say. Obviously John and my dad influenced me but I’m not sure any one person had a huge effect on me. When I was a kid I thought Senna was the greatest thing but that was probably a more superficial admiration. Although, I do admire people who are very singleminded (in the good way) and Senna certainly was. Equally, I read Elon Musk’s biography recently and I think his achievements and his drive are incredible.
9. What are you most proud of?
I think I’m proud that I believed in myself (professionally) and took decisions that meant a tougher road but ultimately brought greater reward. I think I’ve always been honest and kept true to myself. I haven’t done anything that warrants shouting from the rooftops but I hope someday soon I will. I think too many of us, myself included, float through life without doing anything genuinely meaningful. There’s still time.
10. What advice would you give to a 20 something someone thinking of taking a similar path as you?
11. Name three things on your bucket list.
Really help someone. Travel a lot more. Would love to be able to play the guitar but not just strumming, really play.
12.Where do you think the industry is going to be in 10 years time.
I worry for the whole planet, so I’m very unsure for anything that isn’t essential to living. Although, having said that, a good mechanical watch may become what it once was, an essential part of daily life.
To learn more about McGonigle watches www.mcgonigle.ch