Ever heard watchmaking and UK in the same sentence? We probably don’t think so. But it is true—there is a British watchmaking business, which had its fair share of ups and downs throughout centuries. In fact, notes from the history of horology would tell us that from the 1600s to the 1800s, the Great Britain was once a renowned hub for watch enthusiasts. In the 19th century, the islands peaked by producing half of the whole world’s watches. However, its inventions of pocket and wrist watches from the past did not meet as much success as did its cousins from continental Europe, even when considering how pivotal the UK’s role was in the Industrial Revolution.
It’s not a lost cause for the British though, who are making up for years of missed opportunities in the watchmaking industry, proving a resurgence in the craft as old and new watch brands alike work in building further upon the country’s watchmaking legacy. With that in mind, we give you an overview of five watchmaking companies that not only had their start in the United Kingdom but are also leading in putting the UK back in the horological map with precision and attention to detail.
ARNOLD & SON
When speaking of the UK’s greatest horologists, the name John Arnold is frequently mentioned. Looking at his history, it is completely understandable why; he came from a family of craftsmen, and his father himself was a horologist, who passed onto him an eye for accuracy and detail as well as interest in working with metals. He improved on this early interest by testing the waters and setting off to the Netherlands at 19, and then returning to England with newly acquired knowledge that enabled him to stand among already established watchmakers and even garner the respect of then monarch George III when he presented before the king the smallest repeating watch at the time. Arnold was a treasure to the UK for his contributions in the field, including the No. 36 which became the very first chronometer as well as subsequent ship chronometers that found themselves in the hands of explorers Sir John Franklin, Captain Thomas Butler, and Captain James Cook.
Arnold & Son is a proof to the horologist’s legacy as well as a testament to the British’s former glory in the field that it is still trying to recapture now. The company is now headquartered in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, but before you accuse us of cheating, know that it is still known first and foremost as a British brand that is continuing the penchant for precision and attentiveness to detail that Arnold was known for, as well as marrying rich Swiss tradition and the British love for exploration of the seas. Its most celebrated collections, the Royal and Instrument, are both nautical-themed, and so was the impressive release during the company’s 250th anniversary, the Arnold & Son Double Hemisphere Perpetual Moon, which took after the moon’s ability to guide sailors home.
Our Favorited Arnold & Son timepieces
The Arnold & Son TB Beagle Set is an ode to the HMS Beagle, which is remembered in particular because of its journey that passed through the Galapagos Island, providing Charles Darwin basis for his theory of evolution. Encased with eye-catching rose gold and precious sapphires, the timepiece operates with the Arnold & Son A&S6103 and has a 30-meter water resistance and 45-hour power reserve as other features.
The Arnold & Son Utte 1Utag is a sight to behold – the design features clean lines and surfaces while housing an intricate movement within its chambers. The beauty offers a slight glimpse into the work that goes into it, leading to the movement of the hands on the black and silver dial. It possesses a 30-meter water resistance as well as a 90-hour power reserve. Impressive as it is, the pieces have been limited to 50, making it hard to acquire and ultimately special.
Bremont is arguably the most recognizable British watch manufacturer there is. When prompted for a brand that produces high quality watches and come with a price only afforded by the select few, the British may answer with Bremont. It certainly did not hurt that limited edition pieces made their appearances in pop culture, most notably the film Kingsman: The Secret Service.
The company, based in the town of Henley-on-Thames, was founded by two English brothers who coincidentally also have English as their last names, Nick and Giles. They established the company after the brothers tragically lost their father on a freak accident during an airshow training flight. Their father was partly responsible for the brothers mechanical prowess, teaching them construction of yachts and planes as well as the making of clocks. This is the influence behind the brothers’ aeronautics-inspired timepieces, as opposed to Arnold & Sons’s showcase of British naval exploration. The collections of Bremont include Boeing, U-2 and ALT1-C Classic, all of which impressively translate the features of aviation to watchmaking. The U-2 in particular was designed specifically and tested by the U2 Spy Plane Squadron. Their pieces, such as The Wright Flyer that takes inspiration after the first ever human flight at the beginning of the 20th century, are also embedded with deeper meaning taken from history.
Besides its aviation timepieces, Bremont has also put itself on the map as a top manufacturer for sports and dress watches. It is greatly nationalistic, moving all steps in production to the UK. Currently, the company operates in an Oxfordshire workshop and has thirty or so employees working together to handcraft and produce thousands of watches every year. Bremont is proud of its British stamp and is known for partnering with other British companies such as Jaguar. The watches are sold in the UK in its upscale markets, including London’s Mayfair.
Our Favorited Bremont timepieces
Bremont may be best associated with aviation pieces, but other offerings, such as this Supermarine Type 300 that is intended for scuba diving, are nothing short of impressive. It may be initially misleading for those in the know because the name has been borrowed from an aircraft company that built some of the UK’s war planes for the Second World War. The stainless steel watch can survive being submerged into a depth of 300 meters even when it has a slim build.
The Norton V4 Automatic Chronometer is a child of the partnership between Bremont and another iconic British brand, Norton. The piece is a limited edition release meant to mark the SG4’s return to the Island of Man TT. The handcrafted piece in stainless steel allows you to view the movement through its transparent back.
Many have tried but only few succeeded, and in a world of young entrepreneurs, university graduates Mike France, Peter Ellis and Christopher Ward were lucky that their brand reached where they are today. Well, it isn’t complete luck, because the brand’s timepieces are intentionally designed instead of just jammed together. But they’re lucky because their hard work, that all stemmed while they were sailing the Thames, became a success.
What the three men had in mind is to have Christopher Ward directly sell timepieces to customers, instead of having to distribute them through retailers, and market watches that accessible when it comes to price. They had the technical know-how to make sure that what they’re releasing is indeed a horological feat. Their first product, which was released in 2005, got the attention of watch bloggers and reviewers, and soon enough everyone who had an interest in watches were talking about them. It was soon followed by what is now a very diverse portfolio, which included divers, dress, and pilot watches. The JJ Calibres series, which has timepieces with mixed complications, turned out to be the most notable. During the 10th anniversary of the company, the very first in-house movement called the Calibre SH21 was developed. It was claimed to be among the most important development for British horology and by a homegrown brand in the field of watchmaking.
Our Favorited Christopher Ward timepieces
The C60 Trident Pro 600 Bronze is a timepiece meant to be used under the sea, with a resistance that goes as deep as 600 meters. The watch turns into a unique patina after being submerged, and that is to look out for.
This shimmery dress watch features Christopher Ward’s in house movement, the Calibre SH21 and comes in an elegant design that is new for the brand.
We know timepieces aren’t your first thought at the mention of Graff. After all, it is a big store known for its affinity for big jewelry. But the famous jeweler has also dabbled into the craft of watchmaking, which is similar to jewelry making in terms of the technicality put into the process. Graff also combines the company’s eye for beauty in precious stones to intricate timepieces. Swiss engineering can be found inside the faceted bezels of the luxurious and still completely British brand’s watches.
Our Favorited Graff timepieces
Behold, the beauty of the Graff Butterfly Haute Joaillerie Emerald watch that is gorgeously green and shining in all its splendor! From the brand’s Butterfly series, this Graff watch also features pear-shaped diamonds amidst the emerald butterflies, as well as Swiss quartz.
This is Graff’s very first watch, manufactured in Switzerland and is packed with a 50-hour power reserve. It can go as deep as 300 meters and still be at its top function, with the luminous hands and hour markers ensuring readability while scuba diving.
We’re ending the list with a brand that is named after one of Britain’s esteemed horologers, George Graham. The man was credited not only for the deadbeat cylinder escapement, but also for the mercury pendulum and the first wall chronograph. Today, the brand that bears his name entices and excites fans of mechanical watchmaking, but this time to also see Graham stamped watches that are original and exclusive.
Even though the Graham company is now made and owned by the British Masters, a Swiss company, the brand is still proud of its heritage, including in its collection the chronographs introduced to the world by George Graham. Its collection, which includes the Chronofighter, Silverstone and Geo.Graham, are known or the visually riveting designs. The brand is a sister company of the first we had on the list, Arnold & Son.
Our Favorited Graham Watch timepieces
This Graham Watch Chronofighter Vintage is a striking piece that is also handy when you’re traveling through time zones. The watch itself is a meeting of the past with the present, as it brings together former eras with signs of the new millennium.
This watch from Graham is rugged and sexy, almost completely black besides the other colors featured on the dial. The strap is made out of rubber to balance the edginess of the watch. The automatic timepiece also features 100 meters of water resistance.
Switzerland has long held the title of being the watch mecca with their intricately designed watches that reflect the country’s topnotch watchmaking technique and tradition. We’re not here to contest that, especially since we have all witnessed how the Swiss persevered to attain this distinction in the industry, even through setbacks such as the Quartz Revolution, when quartz watches almost toppled over mechanical watches, and how the “Made in Switzerland” mark is now immediately associated with unmatched make and quality. But, the times are a-changing, with countries other than Switzerland emerging in the horology arena. The British and their locally-made watches are finally gaining momentum and getting much deserved time in the limelight, and even occasionally working with the best of the Swiss makers to bring British brands into wider recognition.
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