You’ll have little hassle discovering a luxurious Swiss watch in London’s West Finish, the place outlets promoting manufacturers equivalent to Rolex, Omega and Patek Philippe are commonplace.
However British-made timepieces are a lot tougher to return by.
One of many few purveyors is Bremont, which has a boutique within the upmarket central London space of Mayfair.
Its mechanical watches promote for between £2,695 and £30,950, and are all designed and painstakingly assembled by hand in England.
It employs round 30 watchmakers at a workshop within the Oxfordshire city of Henley-on-Thames, and makes lots of its personal elements at a manufacturing facility in Silverstone, Northamptonshire.
“The aim is to provide watches that you might placed on in 20 to 30 years’ time and that may nonetheless look nice,” says Nick English, Bremont’s co-founder.
“We’re additionally tapping into the unbelievable historical past of British watchmaking. The world units its time by Greenwich, not by Geneva, and that’s for a very good cause.”
Bremont, which was launched in 2007, at this time makes eight,000 to 10,000 watches a yr.
Whereas it is a fraction of the greater than 800,000 watches made each year at Swiss large Rolex, Bremont has retailers in New York, London and Hong Kong, and is an official sponsor of the America’s Cup yachting competitors.
But it’s amongst however a handful of British watchmakers to be so profitable.
In line with the latest World Watch Report by analysis physique Digital Luxurious Group, of the highest 62 luxurious manufacturers that had been looked for on-line worldwide in 2015, just one was British – Bremont.
For a lot of watch lovers that is disappointing, provided that the UK led the way in which in watchmaking within the 17th and 18th Centuries.
In 1800, Britain made round half of the world’s timepieces – about 200,000 a yr. Nevertheless, the US and Switzerland step by step overtook the UK because of mass manufacturing.
At present the Swiss have a close to monopoly on the luxurious market, whereas low price battery-powered quartz watches are made in Asia.
Nevertheless, a small however rising crop of British manufacturers – at the moment round a dozen – hope to stage a comeback.
“We have undoubtedly seen extra British watch corporations opening over the past 5 to 10 years,” says Dudley Giles, chief government of the British Horological Institute.
“Individuals are attracted as a result of if you happen to can design and market a mechanical watch the margins are good. And the British model attracts individuals as a result of it has at all times been related to high quality and innovation.”
As well as the luxurious watch market is growing, because of rising demand from nations equivalent to India and China.
Nevertheless, new UK manufacturers face appreciable hurdles. For instance, watchmaking equipment can price a whole bunch of 1000’s of kilos and Britain’s engineering capability within the sector is all however non-existent – that means the gear must be imported.
This could make it exhausting for companies to assert that their watches are really “made in Britain”. Bremont, as an example, makes use of Swiss-manufactured actions.
James Buttery, editor of WatchPro journal, says: “Within the UK what you might have are British manufacturers, the place the vast majority of the parts are equipped from elsewhere after which in some circumstances assembled within the UK.
“So there’s a gray space over what constitutes ‘British made’, an issue elite Swiss manufacturers do not face.”
Just a few companies declare to fabricate each element of their watches within the British Isles – probably the greatest recognized being Roger W Smith, which makes restricted numbers of watches on the Isle of Man. They promote for greater than £100,000.
Nevertheless, an growing quantity aspire to make every little thing within the UK, equivalent to Garrick which opened in Norfolk in 2015. The corporate’s actions – the beating coronary heart of a mechanical watch – are at the moment made in Switzerland and modified in home.
However in November it would launch its personal motion, designed in collaboration with the Swiss watchmaker UhrTeil, and assembled within the UK.
“It implies that we’re one step nearer to realising our dream of a completely in-house motion,” says Garrick founder David Brailsford. “We do nearly every little thing else ourselves, from making the plates and dials to the circumstances and crowns.”
Garrick watches retail for between £2,500 and £50,000, and round 70 had been bought final yr to prospects across the globe.
However getting up to now was not simple, Mr Brailsford says. The agency spent about 18 months simply getting its processes proper, “equivalent to constructing watchcases which no one had completed within the UK for years”.
“We wasted plenty of money and time as a result of there was no one to go to within the UK to get recommendation from. So we needed to study every little thing from scratch.”
‘Shopping for native’
Mr Buttery says rising variety of British watchmakers are bringing some or all of their manufacturing again to the UK. But for many it’s too costly, leaving them little alternative however to provide overseas – though this may make it simpler to provide extra inexpensive watches in larger volumes.
Take Marloe, a start-up launched in February of this yr following a £180,000 crowd-funding marketing campaign. Its British-designed watches are manufactured in China and retail for round £250.
“They’re all hand wound, there aren’t any automated options, they aren’t quartz,” says founder Oliver Goffe. “To be trustworthy we are attempting to deliver hand-wound watches again to the plenty.”
The corporate, which solely retails on-line, has bought 1,500 watches to this point and expects to promote 5,000 subsequent yr.
Mr Goffe attributes the resurgence of British watches to the rise of craft tradition extra typically.
“It is about individuals shifting away from Sainsbury’s and Tesco and really shopping for meat from their native butchers and cheese from the native deli,” he says.
“It spreads to different issues which are made regionally, within the nation you’re from, the place persons are making that product you’re about to place in your wrist.”
Maybe surprisingly, Mr Goffe would additionally prefer to manufacture all of his watch parts within the UK in the future, and believes it could possibly be completed for an affordable worth.
“Sure you have bought the price of labour and equipment, but when we used to do it in Britain then why cannot once more? It could possibly be an actual alternative if we work out how.”
British watchmaking stays a cottage business, however is choosing up tempo. As for whether or not the UK might in the future regain its market-leading place – watch this house.