If you’re really into your A-game, Fine watches or Haute Horlogerie, has long been a Swiss territory, known for its intricate level of craftsmanship and unwavering commitment to tradition. And, for the most part, they deserve it while enduring the quartz crisis.
However, times are changing. British Watch-making may have experienced peaks and falls in the last one and a half centuries, but lately, we are witnessing a crisis in which there are no signs of abating. From the 1600s to the 1800s it was Britain, not Switzerland, which was considered a world-renowned watchmaker, and many brands want to bring this heritage back home.
“This is an exciting time for the British watch business,” said Adrian Maronneau, director of purchases at DM London. “There are a lot of brands coming in that want to suppress the British strapline and buyers want to buy into this heritage.”
British-made watches are becoming increasingly popular, but the term ‘British-made’ can be troubling in itself. Only two British watch brands can properly boast of complete manufacture in the UK, while Swiss components are still commonly used.
This is often overstated rather than simply watching overheads, as there is a real shortage of required skills, labor, and factories that can meet the demand. This is also changing though, and suffice it to suggest that many volume-friendly brands will take over in-house production shortly.
There will always be a place for Swiss watches – that’s for sure. But if we have the best funds in the UK, the UK is proving itself to be a viable opponent on the world stage.
Bremont – The Luxury Leader
Located in the famous town of Hanley-on-Thames, Bermont has a distinctly British flavor. The company was founded by brothers Nick and Giles English after the tragic death of their father during Air Show training, and since then the sibling’s passion for watch-making has grown.
Aeronautics and timekeeping have always been closely linked and no British brand is more familiar with Bremont: the U-2, the ALT1-C Classic, and all of Boeing’s combinations of aviation to fit modern wardrobes. Offer the best performance in watch-making.
Another notable achievement of the brand is the Right Flyer: a limited edition line that cleverly incorporated the original muslin used on the wing of the first-ever flight in 1903. Needless to say, owning this small piece of history is not cheap.
More recently, Bermont produced three limited-edition pieces to feature in Kingsman: The Secret Service, which marked the company’s first starring role. Each model – DLC (diamond-like carbon), rose gold and steel is available in different variants, combines practically with quintessential British sartorialism.
Rarely does a brand establish itself as a leader in the manufacture of sports, aviation, and dress watches, but that’s what Bermont has done. Currently, in the process of relocating all production to the UK, Bermont is one of the leading names in creating British watch-making for generations to come.
Allegedly, the most appreciated name in British horology is Roger Smith is only thanks to George Daniels. A man who is considered to be the greatest watch-maker of the 20th century.
Daniels saw the advent of the quartz movement in the 1960s as a real threat and in true pioneering fashion pledged to take imports as a real step forward to compete entirely with the British-made watch. As the watch-making business within the UK declined for a long time, Daniels mastered the thirty-two individual skills required to manufacture a quality timepiece.
This same comprehensive approach is dubbed the Daniels Method, adopted by Smith, who makes all his watches in the Isle of Man from beginning to end.
Roger Smith Studios produces about ten pieces a year, and sourcing one is much more painstaking than the laborious production process. Like other great watches, limited production runs mean an extraordinary increase, which leads to hefty price tags.
Though Smith’s stylish timepieces will price out many watch enthusiasts, they are at the pinnacle of British watch-making.
Although partly produced in Switzerland, Burberry puts an unmistakably British stamp on its watch collections.
Many UK brands lean towards classic design, but Burberry offers a more contemporary approach with steel bracelets, simple leather straps, and statement dials in navy, white, black, and beige. What’s more, with relatively low price points for Swiss-produced watches, they won’t break the bank.
The recent Britain Classic collection has quickly become a flagship line for the label, with sizeable yet subtle cases that make a real statement on the wrist. Alternatively, the City range offers a more minimal circular dial complete with understated steel and leather bracelets that are perfect for the office.
At just four years of age, Schofield is the perfect poster child for the British watch industry, mixing a wealth of experience with exceptionally modern designs.
By 2013, Schofield watches were designed in England and made in Germany. However, since then its timepieces have been assembled in the UK, and its new models have been made almost entirely in England, so now a lot of people have proudly stated on the dial.
The brand’s three largest families: Black Lamp, Signal Man, and Beater, all manage to strike a balance between optimal wearability and uncompromising style. The beater, for example, was launched this year at the UK’s largest watch trade show, Salon QP, with a “rugged practicality” delivering with a touch of dress watch sophisticated. Far from being complicated, it features an enamel dial and casing that is handmade – meaning no two watches are the same.
On the contrary, Schofield knows its strengths and plays to them well.
Larsson & Jennings
As the new kid on the block, Larson and Jennings is part of a cool team in an industry that can often be seen as stuffy and uncompromised. The minimalist Scandinavian-inspired design is infused with the trendsetting cool of London street style – and the impressive results speak for themselves.
Although conceived and designed in London, Larsson & Jennings watches are made in Switzerland. That said, the label does go to the lengths of sourcing British-made leather and incorporating British design markers like royal crests where fitting.
There is a central boundary between five families: Saxon, Kulor, Chain Metal, Lader, and Listen. Each one offers something different on the everyday watch and in particular – Chain Metal and Saxon, in particular – boasts a distinctive formality which makes it a perfect fit with tailoring.
If you are looking for a reasonably priced timepiece that will work for both on-duty and off-duty days, this brand should be your priority.