Switzerland’s watchmaking tradition has been so well marketed that it would be easy to believe that the Swiss had invented time itself – but, in this post-Brexit era, it might be worth remembering that it was the English, thank you very much, who came up with all the really important horological ideas such as the balance spring (Robert Hooke, c1660); the sweep seconds hand (George Graham, 1700s); the lever escapement (Thomas Mudge, 1765) and the first, patented self-winding movement (John Harwoodm 1924).
But as with much British industry, watch making began to peter out here at the start of the 20th century and, by the early 1980s, only Smiths and Westclox continued to produce significant quantities of watches within the British Isles.
Those with more than a passing interest in horology, however, will know that the concept of the British watch brand has recently undergone a revival in as much as there are now numerous UK-based dial names, most of which design their products in this country but have them made abroad.
A notable exception at the ultra high-end is Roger Smith who makes around 10 watches per year at his workshops on the Isle of Man. Despite price tags of around £250,000 and a six-year waiting list, connoisseurs around the world are queuing up to buy Smith’s products, and his contribution to the industry has earned him an OBE.
Henley-on-Thames based Bremont, meanwhile, is striving to bring larger scale watch manufacturing back to Britain. It makes around 8,000 watches per year using Swiss-made movements but its cases and other key components come from the UK – although Nick and Giles English, the brothers who founded the firm in 2002 and sold their first watch five years later, aim to open a new manufacturing facility in September which will, ultimately, enable Bremont to produce almost all of its watch components in-house.
But for those who aren’t hung-up on the idea of a watch being made in this country but do like the idea of supporting British brands, here are six UK-based dial names offering afordable models that are at least designed on home soil, even if they are made up of largely ‘foreign’ parts……
Farer was founded in 2015 by a group of watch loving entrepreneurs headed by Paul Sweetenham, the former boss of retail giant TJX Europe. The designs are created at the firm’s London studio and produced in Switzerland by top private label manufacturer Roventa-Henex, with the ‘Farer’ name referring to the fact that each watch takes inspiration from the themes of travel and adventure (ie ‘seafarer’, ‘wayfarer’). One of the latest models is the car rally-inspired Bernina hand-wound chronograph priced at £1,675 and pictured above.
Marloe Watch Company
Marloe was launched four years ago by marketing consultant Oliver Goffe and draughtsman Gordon Fraser after a successful crowd funding campaign.. The Henley-on-Thames-based firm specialises in affordable, mechanical watches designed in the UK and inspired by British themes. The Coniston Bluebird pays tribute to Donald Campbell’s water speed record runs in Bluebird K7 and features an engraved Campbell quote: “Courage is not being fearless” (£299).
Hampshire’s Zero West was launched in 2018 by Andrew Brabyn and Graham Collins with a mission to create watches inspired by engineering landmarks – and pinpoint where they occurred through dials marked with latitude and longitude references. They are designed from the Old Boat House in Emsworth which once served as the garage of George Gray, a panelling expert who built fuselages for the Spitfire fighter, a plane to which Zero West’s S1 Automatic model pays tribute.
Based in Gloucestershire, Geckota emerged from WatchGecko, an ebay-based trading platform set-up by watch enthusiast Jonathan Quinn more than a decade ago.Quinn began designing watches under the Geckota name in 2012 and now offers a line-up themed on adventure, flying and motoring, the latest being the C-04 ‘Space Age Racing’ which is fitted with a Japanese ‘Meca Quartz’ movement that combines a quartz crystal for regular timekeeping with a mechanically-functioning chronograph (£299).
The watch world regarded e-commerce with suspicion when British horophiles Mike France, Peter Ellis and Chris Ward established their brand in 2004 – but it’s now the UK’s most successful direct selling independent. Prices start from £350 for quartz-powered models, rising to more than £3,000 for those with complicated mechanical movements by Switzerland’s Synergies Horlogeres, with joined CQ in in 2014. The revered watchmaker Roger Smith, incidentally, wears a Christopher Ward C60 Trident costing £695….
Graphic designer Piers Berry founded Pinion in 2013, since when the south Oxfordshire-based firm has created a range of models in small batches, all of which have quickly sold out. Among the most sought-after was the Pure R-1969, an edition of 100 fitted with vintage Valjoux movements. The current entry model, the Atom 39, is powered by a Swiss ETA mechanical movement and sells for around £1,150. Pinion watches appeared in films including Fast and Furious 9 and Vault, and in the BBC TV drama McMafia.