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Roy King Watches and Jewelry

Roy Cecil King was born in Kentish Town, London, on 6 may 1913, and was almost immediately fostered out to an elderly foster mother, Mrs Wells, who eventually adopted the boy. Mr Wells, a roadsweeper, was killed by the terrible influenza pandemic of 1919, and the question was soon posed as to what should be done with Cecil (as Roy was then known), with the possibility being raised of the boy going to Barnado's. Ultimately though, fate smiled on Roy (Cecil) King, and his help with the housekeeping, while still at school, by delivering hand-laundered shirts paid off when one of his customers, who managed a large jewellery firm in Hatton garden, offered him an apprenticeship in 1927.

Roy King, aged 14, therefore became apprenticed to M J Greengross, and on his first day at the bench, he was put next to an Italian craftsman suffering with tuberculosis and told to learn as much as he could from the man before he died. The consumptive coughing of the Italian made him an irritable master, and the learning process at the bench involved a mallet being used to crush any work that fell short of perfection. Fortunately, this tough learning process was not the only learning King underwent at Hatton garden as he also attended evening classes at the Sir John Cass Art School, where he became skilled at the art of mounting diamonds. Also at this time, King was performing as a jazz pianist and comedic master of ceremonies in his spare time.

By the age of 21, Roy King was foreman of a high quality jewellery workshop, creating one-off pieces that were sold through Bond Street jewellers. Some of the pieces ended up in the hands of members of the Royal Family, and in the 1930s, King was often working, uncredited, for names such as Garrard, Rolex, Cartier and Asprey. Roy King married his first wife Peggy Milner, in 1936, and they went on to have three sons and a daughter (his second wife, after the first marriage was dissolved, was Ilona Banquoti). Roy King was always learning, and he acquired important expertise in the use of machine tool techniques during the War, when he was a planning engineer on the production line of the Hurricane - expertise that would later prove to be invaluable in his jewellery and watch business.

After the War, Roy King finally began to design and make watches under his own name, after setting up a workshop in Watford. Although jewellery was the main product at first, from the early 1950s Roy King began to concentrate more on watches, or as he put it, "jewellery that tells the time". However, it should quickly be pointed out that he was not a watchmaker in the sense of manufacturing his own movements. I am not sure where the movements came from that power the earliest watches by Robin King - they may have been British - but when restrictions on the import of Swiss watch movements were lifted in 1960, Roy King immediately started to use these in his watches, clearly with an eye towards the popular conception that Swiss movements indicated quality. Indeed, Roy King signed an exclusive contract with Bueche-Girod, the Swiss movement manufacturer.

When the 1960s began, Roy King was well-placed to play his role in the "swinging sixties" and started the decade by sweeping the board at the British Modern Jewellery Exhibition in 1961, winning two first prizes, one second prize and one third prize - the winning pieces are now held permanently at Goldsmiths' Hall. It should be remembered that Roy King was not solely a watch designer, and through the sixties, many different jewellery pieces were made by the King workshop as well as watches. An example is the "bark finish" on bracelets etc., pioneered by King, with a bark finish wedding ring being part of the marriage of George Harrison to Patti Boyd in 1966. Roy King could also number Tom Jones, the Beatles and Saudi princes among his customers.

Roy King's business continued to expand through the 1960s, and in 1965, he built his own factory near Watford, employing 65 staff who made 25,000 gold and silver pieces a year. In 1971, he won a National Export Council Award, and also became a Freeman of the City of London. As part of his continuing expansion, King purchased the Swiss watch company, La Montre Royale de Geneve, in 1973, and the watches branded with this title were among the most luxurious ever produced and especially popular in the Middle East.

Roy King was 60 in 1974 and marked the occasion with a one-man show at the Goldsmiths' Hall and the launch of a new collection of silver watches. He continued to work actively well into his eighties, having opened a showroom in Mayfair in 1980 and continuing himself to make one-off pieces for clients. He died aged 87 in 2000, having lived to see some of his pieces come up for sale in London auction rooms and witnessing the inclusion of several items by him in the 1999 "Treasures of the Twentieth Century" exhibition in Goldsmiths' Hall.

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