Given Britain’s history in watch making, stretching back to the reign to Queen Elizabeth I, the fact that there are so few watches made in the UK is really rather lamentable. As late as 1970’s there were still a number of major manufacturers making large numbers of quality timepieces, including Smiths, Ingersoll and Timex. Today there are in increasing number of passionate watch manufactures left in the UK and while they tend to produce limited edition collectable pieces, for those that can afford it, they should be supported. However, I am going to admit to being a little bit hypocritical here, because the only reason I now own a British made watch is because my Swiss made one is going to take 3 months to service.
I own a Breitling and will admit that this will always be my main watch. This is because it holds a bit of sentimentality for me, as watches have a habit of doing. That being said it has not proven to be totally reliable and so has recently gone in for a service to fix various issues. This means that it gets shipped back to Switzerland and will be gone for a number of months. I could not possibly be without a watch so did a lot of research into an affordable British made back-up, for the times the Breitling is away. I have had personal contact with Robert Loomes and Bremont over the years but, with the best will in the world, I could not possibly justify the expense of these extremely high-end watches.
Noting that I was priced out of modern British made watches, I then starting researching vintage and was amazed to find that you could pick up some fantastic bargains. A 15 or 21 jewel Ingersoll might only set you back £100. These things would have been top of the range in their day and are being sold on Ebay for a next to nothing. In the end I opted for a middle-of-the-range Timex and paid the paltry sum of £30 (inc p&p) for the privilege… bargain! Made in the 1960’s the watch runs like it came out of the factory yesterday [If there is any appetite for it, I might do a review of this lovely old watch at some point]. My advice would be that, if you cannot afford a modern British watch then buy vintage. You will get style and quality for next to no money.
Anyway, I promised the ultimate guide to British made watches. So, here it is:
Modern British made watches
George Daniels was one of the masters of British watch making. Roger Smith became his apprentice and took over the helm as Britain’s foremost watchmaker. In his small workshop on the Isle of Man he, and his team of around 6 people, produce hand-made pieces in the traditional English style. They make just 10 timepieces per year, hence the £35,000 to £250,000 price tag. A bit rich for most.
The approprialty named brothers, Nick and Giles English, made their first watches in 2007. In this short amount of time they have arguably become the largest British watch brand, producing about 4,000 pieces per year. The style of their watches are in the modern aviation trend and are generally priced competitively with major Swiss brands like Rolex and Breitling. They are currently the largest manufacturer of watches in the UK producing around 4000 pieces per year. However, it must be noted that they, like many in this list, use Swiss movements and it is only their cases are fully UK manufactured.
I visited Robert Loomes a couple of months ago. You can read my blog about my tour of their workshop here>>>. Robert produces, perhaps the only fully UK made watches in mainland Britain. Using a hoard of new/old stock Smiths movements he produces watches entirely from their Stamford workshop. He makes watches in limited edition runs and prices start from around £6000.
Based in Norwich Meridian, use Swiss movements to power their watches. Launched in 2012 and producing just 500 pieces per year, at a cost of around £4000, they have a much more contemporary design than many of the others in this list.
The great thing about J&T Windmills watches is they are just about affordable. At a cost of around £700 they undercut all other British makers on this list by some margin. There design is very much towards the traditional, which might be off putting for some, but then they do have a history stretch back to the 1600’s. Once more, they use Swiss movements but their cases are British made.
EJ Dent built the clock tower that houses Big Ben, so you might think that there is some real British pedigree here when it comes to horology, but they are actually a relatively new company of a similar name. I know little about this company other than there watches are pretty expensive, starting around £20,000.
Peter Roberts produces, in my opinion, one of the nicest looking watches in this list. They are still trying to sell a 2013/14 production run of about 40 pieces and at a cool £20,000 it is not hard to see why.
IWI produce, what I would call, ‘odd’ looking watches, complete with top mounted crown (rather than side mounted). They are a little too unusual for my taste but with prices starting at around £1000 they are not an unrealistic option if you wanted to buy a British made watch.
[Thanks to Tony in the comment section for bringing this one to our attention] Harold Pinchpeck have a heritage stretching back over 300 years but somehow eluded my original research. This is such a shame because they actually become the best value watches on this list. It seems that you can pick up a watch made by these guys for as little as £400… and what is more, they are beautiful. They are simple, understated but solid looking. Simply put, they are great. I suspect I will be a customer of theirs at some point soon.