Luxury British watches have somewhat slipped under the radar over the past couple of decades, swamped by competition boasting the prestigious Swiss Made stamp. When it comes to spending the equivalent of a small car on a wristwatch, consumers usually seek a visually obvious brand renowned for quality, reliability and overall status. But are we neglecting some fantastic watches simply because they are not Swiss Made?
The ‘Swiss Made’ Watch
As a whole around 29 million Swiss made watches are sold per year; this represents a staggering 54% of watches sold worldwide (in terms of value). To name a few, recognized brands such as Omega, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Rolex have all been key players in driving the luxury watch market, whose parent companies represent the top three in terms of market share.
|Largest Global Watch Manufacturers||
|LVMH / Bulgari (France)||
For a wristwatch to earn a ‘Swiss-made movement’ label, it must contain 100% Swiss parts and ought to be assembled in Switzerland. But why is this label so prestigious and sought after? According to the Gentlemans Gazette there are 4 reasons why Swiss watches are superior to any other:
- Materials – All materials from the case and bracelet (usually surgical steel) and face glass (hesalite or sapphire crystal).
- Craftsmanship – Hand-assembled; sometimes hand-made by professionals with decades of experience and training.
- Innovation – At the forefront of watchmaking technology, constantly inventing new and exciting complications; and ways to improve the precision of timekeeping.
- Quality Control – To announce their product as ‘Swiss Made’, the product must pass strict regulations to assure the quality; and reliability of the product.
So are there any downsides to owning a Swiss watch? Racking my brain I can only think of one thing, exclusivity. Yes, it can be argued that there are ultimately exclusive Swiss watch brands and models, but in 2016 every director on Wall Street boasts a limited edition Patek Phillipe.
The ‘British Made’ Watch
When it comes to British watches, there are really only 5 brands that you need to know…
The great success story of the British watch scene over the last decade is Bremont, whose triumphant patriotism – and timepieces – have caught the industry’s imagination. Recent hook-ups with Jaguar, Boeing and, less patriotically, the America’s Cup have spawned a raft of handsome, broad-shouldered mechanical timepieces that are sure signs of the company’s bold future. As is the opening of a manufacturing facility at Silverstone: a significant step in Bremont’s quest to bring watchmaking back to Blighty.
Much attention in British watchmaking is soaked up by companies producing mechanical watches, but brands at the other end of the market are creating a splash too. Shore Projects was launched just last year by three university friends who grew up in seaside towns – hence the name – and is already making waves. Just £115 buys you a good-looking watch with a stainless-steel case, scratch-resistant sapphire glass, quick-change strap system and, naturally, water resistance to 100 metres. The tide is with them.
Roger W Smith
There aren’t many watchmakers in the world, let alone in Britain, who can hand-make a mechanical timepiece from scratch. Which is why Roger W Smith – an inhabitant of the Isle of Man, who can – has become one of the industry’s global superstars. From his workshop on the Crown dependency, he and a small team of specialist watchmakers produce around 10 watches a year from the ground up. If you’re in the market for one, expect to pay six figures and have your patience tested – the waiting list is currently two and a half years.
It took exacting product designer Giles Ellis 3,000 hours to produce his first watch, the 2011 Signalman. The name was drawn from spaghetti westerns, Schofield being Jesse James’s preferred model of Smith & Wesson revolver. But the actual design inspiration for Ellis’s debut ticker came from something closer to home: the lighthouses that dot the West Sussex coastline. Schofield’s searchlight logo appears on the brand’s two impressive follow-ups, the mechanical Blacklamp Carbon and Beater.
Mr Jones Watches
Subversive, playful, just plain odd: call them what you like, but the timepieces from Mr Jones Watches are anything but conventional. The company is based in London, where some of its wares are assembled under the watchful eye of singularly visioned founder Crispin Jones. Often designed in collaboration with artists and illustrators, each one starts as a limited series of 100 numbered pieces, with popular designs tweaked before going into wider production. They’re mostly quartz, with a sprinkling of mechanicals, but even the priciest is just £295.
The Stamford Watch: the one close to home…
In the eighteenth and nineteenth century Stamford always had at least a couple of working watchmakers at any one time. Mass production techniques of the twentieth century changed all that. Only now, in the 21st century, is Britain starting to see a renaissance of boutique watch designers and manufacturers, able to offer what “big brands” cannot – EXCLUSIVITY.
After many years of restoring antique and vintage clock and watches, Robert Looms decided to design and build their own wristwatches. Their flagship being ‘The Stamford Watch’. Whilst restoration work will always be their true love, they hope this will be just the beginning of 21st Century watch-making in Stamford.