You see, whilst I can go on almost interminably about the increasing number of British mechanical watch brands that have taken root in the last few years, only one of these to my knowledge – Robert Loomes – can claim to be manufacturing his watches from entirely British components. And even Robert has had to use decades old Smith’s movements, the supply of which is finite and nearly exhausted already. The stark reality is that other than the handful of watches made by firstly, the late George Daniels and now by his one-time apprentice, Roger W. Smith, in their Isle of man workshops, I don’t believe there has been a truly British made watch worthy of the description, for decades.
Of course, it is quite legal to claim a watch has been “Made in Britain” as our helpfully vague Trades Description Act, passed in 1968, rules that: “Goods shall be deemed to have been manufactured or produced in the country in which they last underwent a treatment or process resulting in substantial change.” This means that by merely assembling a watch in this country whose every part may have been manufactured overseas, it can be deemed to have been “made” here. This is just as true for cars and computers as it is for watches but as far as I am concerned because its legal doesn’t necessarily make it right. And in the particular case of watchmaking, it seems wholly misleading to claim that the relatively simple task of placing a pre-assembled movement assortment inside a case and attaching the hands as necessary, is “making” the watch.
“Assembled in Britain”, most certainly, but “made” – not for my money.
Switzerland, where we assemble Christopher Ward watches has a much tougher country of origin hurdle to clear, insisting that that the movement is Swiss (determined by at least 50% of the value of its components being manufactured in Switzerland ), the movement is cased in Switzerland and the final inspection is carried out by the manufacturer in Switzerland. It is anticipated that in a further attempt to protect the highly prized “Made in Switzerland” moniker that the 50% rule will soon be increased to 60% – a move we would welcome at CW.
So, you may now understand why, although I am delighted with, and proud to be a part of the new British mechanical watch movement, I also believe we need to retain a rational perspective and avoid the usual hyperbole associated with luxury watch brands. It is fantastic that many new brands, including our own, are bringing a fresh and very British ethos to the design and presentation of some wonderful new mechanical watches. The new energy and interest surrounding British watch brands, and some of the obvious talent contained therein, has created an opportunity for the UK to build a platform that could eventually mean the rebuilding of a substantial and commercially viable mechanical watch industry in this country with its own self-supporting infrastructure. In time (sorry), Christopher Ward may be able to encase British manufactured movements inside cases manufactured in Sheffield’s finest stainless steel before doing the final T2 assembly in Maidenhead before sending them to customers across the globe.
Today, with the absence of almost ANY watchmaking infrastructure in the UK, one degree course in watchmaking (Birmingham City University , if you’re interested) and only a handful of places on watch repair and servicing courses available, the likelihood of this happening any time soon seems fairly remote. However, what is happening right now is that British curiosity, ingenuity and taste is beginning to have a marked impact on the rather self-satisfied Swiss industry. These are exciting and heady days for British watch brands and we have a heritage in watchmaking that even the Swiss are secretly envious of. However, let’s not confuse our glorious manufacturing past with what’s happening today and begin to make claims for our watches that don’t pass muster when put up against those great British virtues of honesty and fair-play.
Agree or disagree with any of the above? We would love to hear your views on the opportunities and realities of British watchmaking.