King Nerd Is Doing For Engraving What Scott Campbell Has Done For Tattoos
As a teenager, Johnny Dowell – aka 'King Nerd' – was on his way to a fashion degree when an uncle encouraged him to instead enroll as an apprentice at James Purdey & Sons, the 205-year-old Mayfair gunsmith, as an engraver.
Fifteen years later, having tired of “scrollwork and symmetry”, the engraver struck out on his own and quickly found his metier: bringing a traditional handcraft to luxury goods.
In short order, he's worked with Bamford Watch Department re-styling 'after market' Rolex and Patek Philippe grail pieces and collaborated with high-end headphone manufacturer Master & Dynamic. More recently undertook he a private commission detailing a much-loved Leica M6 film camera owned by GQ contributing photographer Gavin Bond.
"I miss the days of shooting film and looking back at my old contact sheets I noticed how each frame was one considered image," says Bond. "I wanted to have a camera that was just as unique and personal.
"Johnny’s engraving work is second to none and as it happened he had never engraved a camera before, so the thought of this being his first outing into that world made it even more special. I left Johnnie to express his work, with my only request being I wanted my name on the camera body: my signature, my piece."
For Johnny's part, the project felt a natural extension of his commissions for similarly storied brands, including Harley-Davidson. "Before I did Gavin's Leica M6 camera I had thought at length about engraving a Leica camera, the only problem was I didn’t own one! So when he mentioned that he'd always wanted to get one of his cameras engraved I had an idea of what I wanted to do. I used the traditional design-style of ornate scroll patterns, because, mixed with the iconic, modern design [of the M series], the contrast in styles works well."
Apart from the camera's base plate (which is brass) the M6 is made from aluminium, which Johnny says was pretty consistent in feel when cutting, but his most recent project was of another order of difficulty altogether.
Limited to just eight examples, the Oktopus Vulcano builds on two previous collabs with adventure-oriented watch brand Linde Werdelin, and involves a process wherein Dowell has created ‘cups’ in the near-impregnable titanium Grade 5 case that are filled with gold to create a remarkable, lava-like effect.
In contrast to the M6 – which took Dowell 200 hours to complete – the process took 'just' 100 hours. However, as the artist himself puts it, “I doubt I will ever engrave a harder material in my life.”
"This is the most complicated piece we have done for various reasons," explains the brand's co-founder, Jorn Werdelin. "It’s also taken quite a while. But it’s a nice touch being in this club of eight people but each person owning something unique.
"We emphasis our universe in terms of the mountains and the sea. A Volcano might be seen as a bit of a stretch, but it’s also a mountain and it’s also about the craft and combining something traditions two in one."
*Available exclusively via Linde Werdelin, the Oktopus Volcano is a numbered edition of eight and costs $23,129 (excluding VAT) at lindewerdelin.com