In terms of established modern watch nations, Switzerland, of course, but also Germany and Japan tend to dominate the watch industry. With the help of the internet and globalization to find suppliers and source parts, however, more independent brands than ever have emerged around the world. In the United States and France, for example, the horological histories of countries have been rediscovered and capitalized on. Among the most notable countries with their own prominent and growing watch industries, the UK is one of the most energetic.
London was the center of the watch industry from the 16th to the 19th centuries, and many of the most important watch innovations came from British watchmakers – and those of other nationalities who came together and were active in and around London. The most notable horological developments came from England during this period, from the revolutionary marine chronometer of watchmaker John Harrison to the progressive innovations and spectacular craftsmanship of notable names in the watchmaking world. The British watch industry slowed down in the 20th century when Switzerland and the United States became predominant and practically ceased to exist with the quartz crisis of the 1970s and 1980s.
Now, however, there are not just more UK watch companies, but a good variety of them. This includes brands that focus on British design but produce their watches elsewhere, those that assemble their watches from original parts and those that are on a mission to produce as much as possible nationally – then, of course. , there is the exceptional Roger Smith, but more on him later. Some of these are young, contemporary brands with affordable and minimalist designs, for example, while others are classic and upscale, claiming the legacy of famous watchmakers from centuries past. Not all UK watchmakers might be on this list, but below are some of the most notable and interesting companies we know of.
Bremont is a relatively young brand, founded in 2002, but enjoying remarkable success – and particularly notable as the only modern British brand to compete with established and well-known luxury watchmakers in terms of target audience. Founded by the appropriately named English brothers Giles and Nick, Bremont has watchmaking facilities in England and strives to increasingly use in-house and national production. Although the brand was founded on a general aviation theme, it offers a full line of diver’s watches, pilot’s watches, automotive watches, and military watches that tend to display a conservative British design sensibility.
Christopher Ward was one of the earliest examples of a now familiar watch brand start-up model, but is today a success story in British watchmaking. Starting small with an emphasis on affordability, the brand has maintained this mission but has grown to produce much higher volume than what can more be considered a ‘micro-brand’. In addition, it has acquired Swiss watchmaking facilities and now even produces its own in-house movements, a dream for brands of various sizes. The brand’s collections are wide ranging and regularly feature new designs, but the C63 Sealander GMT under $ 1,000 is a prime example of the kind of design and value you can expect.
Cabot Watch Company, better known as CWC, has built a business around a history of military watches, just like other watchmakers on this list. The brand’s catalog features a range of styles and movements that draw inspiration primarily from legacy designs, all with the pragmatic approach that any specially designed military watch should have. These are available directly from the brand online and are particularly affordable, even for models with Swiss movements and other specifications that tend to be associated with higher prices.
Dent traces its foundation back to watchmaker Edward John Dent in 1814, but the brand has had a number of notable achievements over the centuries. These include the manufacture of the standard clock at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich and the symbol of London itself, the clock tower known as Big Ben. The company went on to supply watches and clocks to a number of notable personalities, as well as to the British Army during WWII. In the wake of the quartz crisis, Dent downsized and continued with clock repairs and occasional orders, but its modern incarnation began making new watches in 2008 with the help of British investors. Dent today manufactures high-end watches using precious metals, some of which are based on his well-known clocks like Big Ben. They also continue to manufacture “architectural clocks” as bespoke installations.
Farer is another young British company offering a mix of quality, affordability and often a colorful design philosophy that helps them stand out. With reasonable prices for specs like sapphire crystal and Swiss movements, the brand has won a lot of fans – they are most definitely one of the watch companies you should know, British or otherwise. Although heavily influenced by vintage watches from the 1960s and 1970s, Farer cultivated a fresh, youthful aesthetic combining vibrant dial designs and subdued sizes.
Garrick has a distinctive personality combining a strong sense of his British character, a laudable effort to bring his production in-house and an often original sense of design. The brand’s attachment to a “stereotypically British” aesthetic extends to the appearance of its movements. Beyond the finishing and assembly of its movements in-house, the brand uses techniques such as guilloche guilloche decoration at its facilities in Norfolk, England. Garrick’s prices also seem quite reasonable for the level of personality and craftsmanship they seem to offer.
Robert Loomes claims to have a movement designed and built entirely in-house, even the jewelry being locally sourced. This is an extremely rare feat in the watch industry and a substantial investment, but Loomes remains relatively obscure as it quietly produces high-end and high-end British watches in precious metals. With a lineage of watchmakers dating back to the 1600s, this family business is one of the brands doing the most to bring authentic watchmaking back to the UK.
Mr Jones Watches may not have been designed for enthusiasts, but he has become known even among the often snobbish watch community for his creative, artistic approach and affordable prices. Created by designer Crispin Jones, the brand produces watches that are as much art to wear as time-indicating devices. These range from artistic dials to concepts and statement pieces, but they’re still fun and relatively inexpensive. Many Mr Jones watches are quartz, but the brand offers a few mechanical options.
Even many watch enthusiasts may not have Pinion on their radar, but the brand emphasizes its British character (with London on its dials) and makes beautiful watches with a lot of good specs. Pinion, part of the world of “micro-brands”, was founded by a designer, sources quality movements and parts and uses a direct-to-consumer online sales model. While the brand takes inspiration from historic British military watches, a contemporary feel and trendy design characterize the brand’s approach.
Roger W. Smith is one of the most important names in premium independent watchmaking, and he’s not only outstanding among the brands on this list, but across the entire watch industry. Protected by legendary British watchmaker George Daniels, Smith pushes boutique watchmaking to the extreme. Following in his teacher’s footsteps, he is today one of the few people who literally craft every part of every watch. by the hand, including the tools to fabricate the components, using only traditional methods. Unsurprisingly, he only makes about ten watches a year, they are stratospherically expensive and the favorites of elite collectors.
Timor is part of a trend of historic brands that have been resurrected with the aim of replicating their most famous heritage models. In the case of Timor, this is the campaign watch designed for soldiers in WWII, known as the WWW, or Watch Wrist Waterproof – Timor being one of the dozen companies that made these watches for the army. The modern embodiment of the brand pays a worthy tribute to this watch, staying true to many details such as a smaller diameter and a manual winding movement option (automatic also available).
Vertex is best known for the watches it produced for the British Army, including an iconic favorite of vintage collectors. While it closed in 1972 along with many other watch companies unable to compete during the quartz crisis around the same time, it was re-established in 2016 by the founder’s great-grandson. Referencing its history of country watches and chronographs designed for the armed forces, the company today produces luxury watches with Swiss movements and generally badass demeanor.
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