Finding a Swiss timepiece in London is about as difficult as getting wet in the rain – head over to the West End and you’ll be inundated with dozens of shops selling luxury watch brands such as Rolex, Omega and Tag Heuer. But when it comes to finding timepieces made in the UK, they’re much harder to come by. But Britons are hardly unfamiliar when it comes to watchmaking. Indeed, watchmaking has its roots in British soil, and many of the innovations that have gone on to be included in the modern Swiss timepieces were developed in the UK.
In the 1800s, Britain was producing around half of the world’s watches – over 200,000 per year. But as mass production techniques crept into the manufacturing process, the UK fell behind other nations who were quicker to adopt them, such as Switzerland and America. And aside from a brief resurgence in British watchmaking following World War II – but ultimately succumbing to what was known as the Quartz Revolution in the 60s and 70s – timepieces in the UK haven’t progressed to any great degree – until now, that is.
Where We’re At Now
British watchmaking has seen a resurgence in recent years, thanks largely in part to the artisan watches that have become a hallmark of the horology world, with watchmakers such as the late George Daniels spearheading the movement.
In addition to bespoke watches, the changing marketplace for watches has also had a substantial impact on the way in which they were marketed and produced. While it used to be that timepieces could only be purchased from a watch or jewelry shop, nowadays, they’re also available on ecommerce websites. If you were to browse through here, for example, you’ll find that most if not all watch sellers are based in the UK – a clear sign of the passion still evident in Britain. This goes for all watches from Bremont to Rolex to Tag Heuer and everything in between.
What ecommerce meant for watchmaking was that prices were able to be driven sharply down as the middleman and the need for brick and mortar stores – and the costly overheads that went with them – were removed. Consequently, affordable watchmaking started coming back to British shores. The Camden Watch Company is a perfect example of this. Although it currently has its flagship store at the Boxpark in Shoreditch, the Camden Watch Co. is pedaling its urban and vintage designs online for a modest price compared to other timepieces.
They’re not the only ones either. Schofield, Meridian, Roger Smith – these are just some of the prominent brand names pushing British watchmaking past its current frontier. And while the Swiss giants continue to dominate the market, successful British watchmakers are slowly encroaching on their territories, making headway and taking back an industry that was – and is – inherently British.