The an­cient art of watch­mak­ing - in­tri­cate and highly spe­cialised - has been a fea­ture of Bri­tish craft­man­ship for cen­turies, but stay­ing truly Bri­tish is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly rare. Emma John­son meets some of the brands, new and old, in­tent on hon­ing the

Exclusively British - - CONTENTS -

Our Bri­tish craft­man­ship spe­cial this is­sue takes a look at the an­cient art of watch­mak­ing.

EN­TIRELY WIPED OUT by the quartz cri­sis - a term used in the watch­mak­ing in­dus­try to re­fer to the eco­nomic up­heaval caused by the ad­vent of quartz watches in the 70s and 80s, which largely re­placed me­chan­i­cal watches and caused con­sid­er­able de­cline of the Swiss watch­mak­ing in­dus­try - Bri­tish watch­mak­ing to­day is in its sec­ond reimag­in­ing, but one which is both bur­geon­ing and ex­cit­ing, if not with­out its own chal­lenges.

Small but mighty

One key dis­tinc­tion to make straight away, as a con­sumer, is how to in­ter­pret the con­cept of a Bri­tish brand, or, more specif­i­cally, a Bri­tish watch­maker. The is­sue, it seems, is re­lated to both the crafts­man­ship and ma­chin­ery re­quired to fully make a watch in-house, both of which, if done in Bri­tain, add a con­sid­er­able price tag and takes an enor­mous amount of time. The great­est watch­maker of the 20th Cen­tury, Ge­orge Daniels, was a Bri­tish horol­o­gist whose watches took over 2,500 hours to make and sold for hun­dreds of thou­sands of pounds - he made just 37 watches in his en­tire life­time. Even to­day, Roger Smith, who took over Daniels’ work­shop on the Isle of Man, pro­duces, along with a small team, just ten hand­made watches a year. These are still the only truly hand­made Bri­tish watches in pro­duc­tion.

Clearly, while im­pres­sive in scope and in­tri­cacy, this is not sus­tain­able for the in­dus­try at large. When pit­ted against big­ger brands, who are os­ten­si­bly Bri­tish but have sourced some com­po­nents abroad, the com­par­isons seem un­evenly weighted. “How can a brand which is build­ing watches in-house by hand jus­tify their prices to the av­er­age con­sumer when mass pro­duced watches are be­ing touted as made in Bri­tain and sold at a tenth of the price?” asks David Brails­ford, CEO at Gar­rick and founder of The Watch­mak­ers Club, a col­lec­tive of in­de­pen­dent brands from around the world. “A true Bri­tish watch­maker is a brand that en­gi­neers their own parts and builds their own watches in-house, em­ploy­ing a qual­i­fied watch­maker to do so,“he adds. But, in a small in­dus­try, with niche brands that sim­ply don’t have the might of the Swiss watch col­lec­tive be­hind them, it is hard for com­pa­nies to com­pete.

Con­nect­ing the cus­tomer the watch­maker is re­ally some­thing we be­lieve in; the crafts­man­ship in­volved in de­sign­ing and engi­neer­ing a fine time­piece can be brought di­rect to the cus­tomer via the in­ter­net, and at a price that's alse great value" Mike France, Christo­pher Ward

Change afoot

But change is in the off­ing, in part spear­headed by one of the most well-known and re­spected Bri­tish watch brands, Bre­mont. Since 2002 the brand has been pro­gres­sively in­tro­duc­ing and mov­ing over the nec­es­sary horo­log­i­cal skillset and ma­chin­ery to its two fa­cil­i­ties in the UK, in or­der to pro­duce Bri­tish watches on a much larger scale. This year, Bre­mont will man­u­fac­ture around 11,000 watches - the first time for sev­eral decades that watch­mak­ing on this scale has been re­alised in Bri­tain. “We are pas­sion­ate about rein­vig­o­rat­ing our na­tion’s horo­log­i­cal past and have in­vested a lot of money in mak­ing this pos­si­ble,” ex­plains CEO and co-founder Giles English. From train­ing up and hir­ing com­pe­tent watch­mak­ers and as­sem­blers, to man­u­fac­tur­ing its own watch parts, as well as com­mit­ting huge in­vest­ments into new ma­chin­ery, and run­ning ap­pren­tice­ships, Bre­mont is en­sur­ing that huge strides are be­ing made for the en­tire in­dus­try. “There is much more to be achieved, but it is cer­tainly a de­vel­op­ment and di­rec­tion that can only be seen as a pos­i­tive one for the fu­ture of watch mak­ing in the UK,” says English.

Giles El­lis, owner and de­signer of Schofield Watch Com­pany agrees: “These days, the Bri­tish watch­mak­ing in­dus­try is typ­i­fied only by en­trepreneur­ship and en­deav­our,” he says. Per­haps one of the most mod­ern Bri­tish watch brands, Schofield, was started by El­lis in 2011 after fail­ing to find a watch that met his ex­act­ing stan­dards. Based in a small coastal vil­lage in Sussex and known for its in­no­va­tion with ma­te­ri­als, Schofield fea­tures watches with a de­tailed nar­ra­tive. De­signed by El­lis – a de­signer by trade – sig­na­ture pieces in­clude the Sig­nal­man Bare Bones, which fea­tures a strik­ing clean face, with sleek hands and strong, neu­tral colours and the Bronze Beater with a clas­sic, mar­itime feel.

With some parts man­u­fac­tured in Ger­many and some in the UK, cou­pled with El­lis’ passion for the in­dus­try, Schofield is an­other brand that has be­come a sort of flag bearer for mod­ern Bri­tish watch­mak­ing. “Con­sid­er­ing this new era of watch­mak­ing, there has been a de­sire for watch com­pa­nies to man­u­fac­ture more com­po­nents within the UK, which is in­line with the Made in Bri­tain trend,” says El­lis. “Per­son­ally, we would just like to see more trans­parency in the in­dus­try as a whole,” he adds. It is this com­mit­ment to im­prov­ing the in­dus­try as a whole that is typ­i­cal of Bri­tish watch­mak­ers, who work to­gether in a com­pe­ti­tion-free en­vi­ron­ment, pas­sion­ate about pro­mot­ing, fur­ther­ing and pro­tect­ing their in­dus­try. “Bri­tain has some great watch brands,” con­tin­ues David Brails­ford. “And in my opin­ion, it doesn't re­ally mat­ter to most peo­ple whether a brand builds its own watches or not – even I buy a watch sim­ply be­cause I like it. And there are a small num­ber of great in­de­pen­dent brands, such as Pin­ion, Schofield and Fears, who as­sem­ble watches in the UK us­ing parts sourced else­where (both in the UK and Switzer­land) and this is per­fectly ac­cept­able, con­sid­er­ing that a watch­maker is still as­sem­bling these watches in good old blighty, and is hon­est about their ori­gins.”

Skill & Time

For the con­sumer, then, it re­ally is about what mat­ters most to you – her­itage, de­sign, ori­gin or crafts­man­ship. When buy­ing a watch and look­ing at brands or watch­mak­ers these are things you will have to con­sider. “Even brands such as Gar­rick can't build ev­ery com­po­nent in-house yet, but we try to do as much as pos­si­ble,” says Brails­ford. Gar­rick makes its own di­als and watch hands in-house, on some mod­els, em­ploy­ing qual­i­fied watch­mak­ers and us­ing tra­di­tional watch­mak­ing tech­niques. All watches are built in lim­ited numbers which means they will al­ways re­main ex­clu­sive. “We like to build unique pieces with dis­tinct fea­tures,” says Brails­ford. “For in­stance, our Nor­folk model was based on the old enamel dial in­stru­ments found in the boiler rooms of old ships. Our unique mar­itime-themed hands (made by hand) have now be­come a sig­na­ture of the brand and make our watches in­stantly recog­nis­able amongst col­lec­tors.”

One brand that has ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing both old and new, and cel­e­brat­ing Bri­tish-made but also sourc­ing its parts from Switzer­land, is Fears. One of Bri­tain’s oldest fam­ily-run com­pa­nies, it was es­tab­lished in Bris­tol in 1846, clos­ing briefly after the Sec­ond World War, but then re-es­tab­lished in 2016 by the great-great-great-grand­son of the orig­i­nal founder. To­day, Fears de­signs and makes its new watches both in Switzer­land and Bri­tain, us­ing de­sign el­e­ments from the ex­ten­sive com­pany ar­chive. “We’re at pains not to sim­ply copy and re­pro­duce watches we made be­fore, it’s im­por­tant to us to use cer­tain de­sign el­e­ments from the com­pany his­tory,” ex­plains founder Ni­cholas Bow­man-skargill. “All Fears watches can be read with a glance, mak­ing them both prac­ti­cal and el­e­gant, wor­thy ad­di­tions to your wrist,” he adds. An­other huge ad­vo­cate for the Bri­tish watch­mak­ing in­dus­try, Bow­mand-skargill is proud that Fears is now start­ing to hand-build more of its watches here in Bri­tain, with the re­cently launched ‘Brunswick’ model us­ing a case, dial and hands that are en­tirely made in the UK. “It’s some­thing that isn’t cheap, easy or quick to do, but very sat­is­fy­ing and true to our her­itage,” says Bow­man-skargill.

Fam­ily Af­fair

An­other proudly Bri­tish brand, Harold Pinch­beck, makes all its watches in a small English work­shop in Lin­colnshire, the home of Bri­tish watch­mak­ing, where the busi­ness has been since it moved from Lon­don, and is soon to be launch­ing a new watch with an English-made move­ment. “We don't buy com­pleted watches in from abroad - it's not the cheap­est ap­proach, but it gives each watch a bit of a story, and it's faith­ful to our her­itage,” ex­plains di­rec­tor Paul Pinch­beck. “We go for an un­der­stated, clas­si­cally English look - sim­ple el­e­gance, and easy to tell the time at a glance. Our watches are made to last, so they need to look time­less and not date quickly.” The Pinch­beck fam­ily have been in­volved in watch and clock mak­ing since 1710 - a Christo­pher Pinch­beck clock made for Ge­orge III is still in Buck­ing­ham Palace – and to­day it re­mains a fam­ily busi­ness.

Also keep­ing it in the fam­ily is Robert Loomes, who can trace his com­pany’s roots back to what was then the largest clock and watch work­shop in Lon­don in the 1650s, run by Thomas Loomes. “Bri­tish watch­mak­ing is all about qual­ity and rar­ity,” says epony­mous di­rec­tor Robert Loomes. “For us the charm is that the in­dus­try has not re­ally evolved very far. We do not get in­volved with mod­ern man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques. Bri­tish-made watches are still de­signed to last "for­ever" - in that any Bri­tish Horo­log­i­cal In­sti­tute trained watch­maker could ser­vice and re­pair one ei­ther now, or in a hun­dred years' time.” A bonafide Bri­tish watch­maker, Robert Loomes makes all its own di­als, cases, and move­ments in the same work­shop by its ded­i­cated small team.

Mod­ern Clas­sic

Else­where though, as David Brails­ford ex­plained, some renowned Bri­tish com­pa­nies pro­duce cer­tain com­po­nents in the UK, while sourc­ing the oth­ers from else­where, do­ing the assem­bly and fin­ish­ing here. Pin­ion, who make their watches in this way, are a proudly Bri­tish com­pany, sourc­ing the parts of all their watches from abroad. “While com­po­nents may be man­u­fac­tured abroad, the very heart and soul of a watch is Bri­tish if it has been de­vised and de­signed here,” says founder Piers Berry. “There’s a lot more to a watch than just the sum of its parts. Plus, de­sign plays a big part in the qual­ity of a Bri­tish watch, and there are a lot of very tal­ented de­sign­ers hail­ing from the UK.” And in fact, what makes Pin­ion an ex­cit­ing brand, is the very di­ver­sity of its me­chan­ics. The Pin­ion Atom watch, for in­stance, is pow­ered by a fairly new Ja­panese ‘Miy­ota’ move­ment, while it also sells some watches with the rare NOS (new-old­stock) Valjoux 7734 move­ments. “This hand-wound chronograph move­ment was very pop­u­lar in the late 60s and early 70s, to use one which is nearly 50 years old, but prac­ti­cally new, is ex­tremely rare,” ex­plains Berry.

At Christo­pher Ward, skills and parts are sourced in Switzer­land, where the brand still has an ate­lier in Biel. “This al­lows us to tap into the best watch­mak­ing sup­ply chain and skills the world has to of­fer,” says Mike France, co-founder of Christo­pher Ward, who is proud of the progress and con­tri­bu­tion his brand has made to the in­dus­try. “Our horo­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments - such as our chronome­ter Cal­i­bre SH21 - have meant that we are the first brand in

"A watch pur­chase is one that should last a life­time and the re­spon­si­bil­ity of this isn't to be taken lightly by the maker." Giles El­lis, Schofield Watch Com­pany "There's a lot more to a watch that just the sum of its parts." Piers Berry, Pin­ion

50 years to have pro­duced a com­mer­cially vi­able in-house move­ment.” A huge step for­ward for the in­dus­try, Christo­pher Ward is also one brand work­ing hard to de­velop the ecom­merce side of the busi­ness. “Con­nect­ing the cus­tomer to the watch­maker is re­ally some­thing we be­lieve in; the crafts­man­ship in­volved in de­sign­ing and engi­neer­ing a fine time­piece can be brought di­rect to the cus­tomer via the in­ter­net, and at a price that’s also great value,” adds France.

The im­pact of the in­ter­net is also not lost on Paul Sweet­en­ham from Farer, known for its bright di­als, strong use of colour and the blend­ing of con­tem­po­rary and vin­tage styles. Sweet­en­ham says that the watch in­dus­try is be­ing im­pacted heav­ily by the on­line world. “The watch in­dus­try is be­ing changed it­self by ecom­merce. Sites such as Worn and Wound are im­mensely pop­u­lar, en­cour­ag­ing choice and di­ver­sity away from the big brands, and al­low­ing lesser-known brands to com­pete on the world stage - Bri­tish watch brands are at the fore­front of this trend.” It is mod­ern in­no­va­tion, a de­sire for the Bri­tish brand name and a will­ing­ness within the in­dus­try to ac­knowl­edge its chal­lenges and pro­mote its de­vel­op­ment that has en­sured Bri­tish watch­mak­ing be­com­ing one of the most im­por­tant play­ers on the world stage. As Giles English from Bre­mont re­minds us: The world sets its time by Green­wich, not Geneva”.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.