Support Local: Buying British Watches

One of the key messages from the Covid-19 pandemic has been to “support local business”. Instead of putting pennies in the pockets of massive global conglomerates with offshore tax dodging accounts, It’s becoming paramount to try buy our goods from the local greengrocer, butcher, family owned restaurant and so on, so that they may have a greater chance of making it through this uncertain time. Recently I have begun wondering whether this could apply to how we collect watches too, and this article is a summary and celebration of some of the great British brands and the variety they offer. When you are thinking about your next purchase (and are UK based) you may think about buying from a company who employs people in your neighbourhood, are part of the local economy, paying taxes and supporting our fantastic NHS, whose founders you can often meet at events or contact directly, rather than being run by a board of anonymous shareholders.

Britain was a leader in watchmaking in the 17th and 18th century, pioneering many of the engineering advancements still used today. However, the Swiss established mass manufacture prowess and dominated the market in the 19th and 20th century whilst British watchmaking largely disappeared. Due to this most of these brands do not manufacture watches in the UK for otherwise it would be too expensive. However, being based and headquartered in UK, supporting these brands means you are supporting local business, and with enough encouragement maybe one-day British watchmaking will make its comeback through these brands.

Christopher Ward

Choice selections from the Christopher ward lineup. From top left; C60 Elite trident 1000, C1 Mooglow, Sandhurst, Cranwell, and Dartmouth. Source: https://www.christopherward.co.uk/

 

Christopher Ward graduated from microbrand school a long time ago. Founded in 2005 and headquartered in Maidenhead, Berkshire, they have since established a fully fledged range covering many aesthetics, made with high-quality Swiss components and occasionally their own in house calibers [1]. Although the direct to consumer “industry disrupting” model has been beaten to death by more recent brands, no other has executed on this models promises to deliver quality products at reasonable prices better. No AD’s, no brand ambassadors, just a fair mark up on the cost of the product. Simple.

In the past few years they have had a consistent, exceptional release line up. Varying from their stunning C1 Moonglow with the in-house JJ04 calibre, to the beastly C60 elite trident 1000 with titanium case and bracelet, and as the name suggests, 1000m of water resistance, they have all tastes covered. My pick from their currently line-up would be any of new military collection, licensed by the MOD. These utilise their “light-catcher” case in 38 or 41mm, contain a COSC certified SW200-1, and can be had on a fantastic bracelet with toolless micro-adjust, all for £895. With the many offers and sales Christopher Ward provide throughout the year, it is amazing what they deliver at this price point. Check out podcast episode #46 for an interview with co-founder Mike France [2].

James Porter and Son

Farer

Researching this article, I could hardly believe Farer were only 5 years old[3]. The brand feels much more established than that, and has grown a great deal in that small amount of time. Adopting a similar model to that of Christopher Ward, Farer has made waves in the affordable luxury market space. With their trademark distinct colours, and providing usually inaccessible complications for affordable prices, such as their world-timer and manual wind chronographs, there’s a Farer for any kind of collection. Very few companies take as many risks as Farer in terms of colour-ways, yet somehow they always manage to pull it off. Another standout feature is their case proportions and wearability, being very aligned with the markets current desire for more conservative sizes. According to a recent interview with Worn & Wound they have an exciting release schedule to look forward to over the next couple of years [4].

My favourites in the collection, starting top left: Farer Markham, Hecla, Lander II, and Moritz. Source: https://farer.com/

 

CWC

If you’re into military watches, and want something issued to the MOD and not just licensed, then Cabbot Watch Company (CWC) need to be on your radar [5]. One of the few companies that actually benefitted from the Quartz crisis, with Hamilton no longer being able to afford supplying the MOD with field watches, the head of Hamiltons UK distribution founded CWC to continue and streamline the supply of issued watches to the MOD [6]. Their most iconic watches include the Quartz G10 and the Royal Navy divers watch, which can now be had in various configurations and powered either mechanically or by quartz movements which is how most were issued to the MOD. Watches are priced from a couple of hundred pounds to a couple of thousand depending on movement. The arrival of CWC marked the end of Rolex and Omega Mil-subs, so if you want a diver with genuine military history, but can’t afford the big bucks for a mil-sub, then CWC are well worth a look.

The CWC Icons, Miltary G10 & CWC 1983 quartz royal navy divers. Source: https://www.cwcwatch.com/

 

anOrdain

Close to the heart of the Scottish Watches is Glasgow based Anordain. In house enamel dial manufacturing is the cornerstone of the brands identity, and the resulting products are spectacular. With their pieces featuring in many heavy hitter collections, and recommended by the likes of Hodinkee [7], Anordain have definitely made an impressive mark on the industry. Having experienced their dials in person, its easy to see how. The lustre, colour and depth really cannot be translated by photos or words. Assembled in Glasgow by their watchmakers Christopher and Euan, the dials find themselves in compact cases powered by Sellita movements [8]. Costing between £1000-2000 depending on series and dial configuration, get yourself down to James Porter and Son [9], or go to an event they attend, because if you aren’t convinced by pictures, you will be in person.

Stunning enamel dials from anOrdain’s new series 1 (left) and series 2 (right). Source: Anordain – https://anordain.com/collections/all

 

Fears

Do I need to say anything more? I mean just go listen to episode #77 of the podcast and that’s all you need to know [10]… Okay fine I’ll write something. The charismatic and charming (in audio at least) Nicholas Bowman-Scargill resurrected the historic Fears brand founded by his great-great-great grandfather in 1846, after it closed down during the quartz crisis [11]. Since 2016, Fears watches have produced beautiful time pieces with a remarkable focus on customer interaction and developing a community around the brand (just check out the packaging). Rather than making re-editions of whatever old Fears they come across, they firmly believe in carving out a new direction, aligned to the brands slogan of “elegantly understated”. The latest release of the Brunswick Blue features a striking new dial that deserves consideration, and would suit any wrist.

The Beautifully Balanced Brunswick Blue. Source: https://www.fearswatches.com/brunswick

 

Bremont

Bremont, although named after a French farmer, was founded by British brothers, Nick and Giles English. They are perhaps the biggest of British watch brands and operate like any typical luxury brand. Based in Henley-on-Thames, most their collection can be found in any local retailer and now have worldwide recognition as a full-fledged competitor in the luxury market. They have begun dedicating resources to bringing more of their manufacturing back from Switzerland to the UK with both assembly and some part manufacturing taking place in Oxfordshire [12]. They offer a large collection of watches, focusing on aviation and military style pieces, typically costing several thousand pounds.

Hear it from the “chevals” mouth here

RW Smith

Jaw dropping RW Smith Series 2 platinum open dial. Source : A Collected Man – https://www.acollectedman.com/products/roger-smith-series-2-platinum-watch?variant=5188702666783

 

Jumping up multiple price categories, and perhaps the last bastion of true, hand made British watchmaking, we have Roger W Smith. The apprentice of the late and great master watchmaker, George Daniels, RW Smith established his own workshop in 2001, likewise in the Isle of Man. Utilising the co-axial escapement invented and mastered by George Daniels, hand making almost every component of the hundreds it takes to make a watch, RW Smith’s watches are regarded as the pinnacle of horological pursuits [13]. At prices in the 100’s of thousands, and produced in quantities you can count on one hand, it’s unlikely most of us will even see one, let alone purchase one of his time pieces. However, being regarded as one of the greatest living watchmakers of our time, It’s worth celebrating that all this craftsmanship and world-wide renown comes from the forgotten home of watchmaking.

Honourable Mentions

This is not an exhaustative list, and there are many other British brands making great products, and establishing communities of enthusiasts. Some other brands I want to mention briefly include newer microbrands such as Newmark Watches, Hamtun, and Pinion Watches. Garrick watch company based in Norwich offer more artisanal and hand made products, that reach up to 5 digit figures, but provide some of that RW Smith aesthetic for a tenth of the cost. As a bit of stretch, Arnold & Son was initially founded in London and is a historic British manufacturer but is now operating exclusively as a Swiss brand. Finally, if you have a cool half million in your pocket, and indirectly want to support an independent British watchmaker, Stephen Forsey of Gruebel & Forsey was born, raised and trained as a watchmaker here in the UK, and his joint endeavor with Frenchman Robert Greubel produce arguably the greatest watches of the modern era.

Hopefully this proves that no matter the state of your current collection, you can support local business when it comes to watches, and you can be proud in doing so, as buying from any of these brands will get you a fantastic timepiece on your wrist or in your watch box.

 

Sources & Links:

  1. https://www.christopherward.co.uk/
  2. http://www.scottishwatches.co.uk/2019/06/09/scottish-watches-podcast-46-chatting-with-christopher-ward-watches/
  3. https://farer.com/pages/our-story/
  4. https://wornandwound.com/podcasts/the-worn-wound-podcast-ep-123-catching-up-with-farer-watches-paul-sweetenham/
  5. https://www.cwcwatch.com/pages/about-us
  6. https://www.hodinkee.com/articles/cwc-the-watch-that-replaced-the-milsub
  7. https://www.hodinkee.com/articles/anordain-model-1-value-proposition
  8. https://anordain.com/pages/about#manufacturing
  9. https://www.james-porter.co.uk/watches/anordain
  10. http://www.scottishwatches.co.uk/2019/09/27/scottish-watches-podcast-77-with-nicholas-bowman-scargill-from-fears-watch-company-and-rolex/
  11. https://www.fearswatches.com/heritage
  12. https://www.bremont.com/pages/british-watchmaking
  13. https://www.rwsmithwatches.com/