Time is one of those things in life that just can’t be controlled. In fact, the only thing that we can do with time is enjoy it. You cannot prolong time, you cannot stop time, you can’t even slow time, but the one thing that we can do is measure time. We measure time to compare durations or intervals. We measure time to compare the sequence of events that have occurred, especially in history. And we measure time to look forward to many events, such as birthdays and holidays.
Time was first measured by tracking the movement of the moon. The largest body in our skies that showed any signs of change. How often the moon would appear in full soon became a lunar month. We started to get bored with this, though, so we looked at the sun as a source of time measurement. Then, sometime around 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced the “Gregorian Calendar,” and we have been led by it ever since.
The first clocks to measure time were, of course, sundials, but as time progressed, the technology was born to measure time using what is currently known as the “Wrist Watch.” What started as a measuring device soon turned into an artistic display of personal jewelry, proudly displayed by all who could afford it.
Time has seen many advances in the measurement of hours, minutes, and seconds, and many places in the world have secured their place in time-measuring-history. The British have certainly left their mark, so here are the 15 best British watch brands that are available to all of us in this day and age, our little piece of time in the history of our great planet.
In 2002 a little watch company was set up by the brothers Giles, and Nick after their father was tragically killed in an aviation accident. Nick was also badly injured in the accident, but the two brothers decided to put the mechanical knowledge that their father had taught them to good use. Like their father Euan, the brothers had a passion for aviation and all things aeronautic, so the Bremont Watch Company was formed with the aim of “Re-starting” the British watch-making industry.
Bremont’s themes are understandably heavily influenced by aviation, and they only produce between 8,000 to 10,000 pieces per year.
This is all done in-house by their team of experienced watchmakers and assemblers. Bremont has, in their short history, become the largest watchmaker in the British Isles, which is a remarkable feat for such a young company. Their intuitively designed watches include the U-2, a watch that was tested and designed by the U2 spy-plane squadron in the United States. They also have special edition watches that have the titles of specific planes or vessels that can only be purchased by those who have served on the craft. Even though the majority of their watches are aviation based, they also have a good range of diving watches that are rated up to 2,000 meters. These watches don’t come cheap, but if you are looking for a timepiece at the luxury end of the scale, Bremont is well worth considering.
What started off as being a leisurely cruise by three friends down the river Thames in 2004 soon became the beginnings of one of the most successful watchmaking stories in British history. Christopher Ward was also the first watch company to sell directly to the consumer online. The three friends, Mike France, Chris Ward, and Peter Ellis, released their first watch onto the market in 2004, creating a sensation on the internet with watch bloggers all over the world. This shockwave was such that the Christopher Ward name was being bantered around the net more than market leader Rolex.
The Christopher Ward catalog boasts a variant of styles and sizes to suit most horology fans. There is the diver’s range that is capable of submerging to 600 meters, the larger pilot style timepieces, and, of course, the always sought-after stylish under-cuff dress watches. Since merging with Swedish company Synergies Horlogères SA in 2014, the newly formed Christopher Ward London Holdings Ltd has started producing their own in-house movement called the Calibre SH21. This entirely Swiss-made movement has been described as “probably the most important development by a British watch brand in the past 50 years,” a testament to a British company with their standards set to the highest levels.
The term vintage somehow doesn’t go with the words digital design, but that is the basis behind the Pinion brand’s inspiration. Piers Berry, a digital designer with more than 20 years’ experience in his field, decided that he wanted to take his interest in horology to the next level. This led to the founding of Pinion in 2013 with Berry boldly stating, “In Pinion, the vintage charm and character of high-quality Swiss movements meet 21st century, yet traditional, English watchmaking skills and craft.” The Oxfordshire base for Pinion is reflected in the designs, using the word England on its faces and having a historical British military influence, yet still maintaining a contemporary approach.
Pinion is again one of those brands that have eliminated the middle man and has approached its marketing via the online shopping model. In keeping with Berry’s philosophy that his company should not have any outside influences, he has sourced all of his workforce from the British Horology Institute, therefore maintaining an exclusively British roster of employees.
Pinion’s first sojourn into the world market was the AXIS series with their World War II instrument likenesses and their automatic movements. They then went on to hand-winding calibers in the 1969 revival collection. Pinion is certainly a proud British company with an eye to the future.
This is another British watch manufacturer that was created by an avid watch collector and enthusiastic horologist. That man is David Brailsford, who set up his Norfolk facility with the partnership of Andreas Strehler, one of the world’s most notable and gifted watchmakers. The combination of this pair came up with a pioneering hand-wound movement, the UT-G01, which was completely built in-house. Garrick is extremely proud of their persistence in avoiding mass-production and continuing their tradition of handcrafting every timepiece produced in their facility.
One of the things that set Garrick apart is their unique face designs that remain minimalist and even skeletal, revealing the inner workings of the timepiece. They are not afraid to extend their creativity, the use of heat-blued hands and screws and free-sprung balance wheels are just an example, but where they really stand out is their respect for the consumer’s input. Garrick offers the unique client-option of personalizing the watch to their own specific design variations. Consumer creativity meets exceptional craftsmanship; this is the Garrick way.
Robert Loomes and Co. have a rich history in the watchmaking industry. The Loomes family dates back to the 16th century where the family hand-made all of their timepieces. The brand makes all of the timepieces by hand and completely in-house. All designs, movements, and even the jewels are 100% British. With the creation of old-stock style Smith movements, the type Sir Edmund Hillary wore when conquering Mt Everest in 1953, the Loomes company only produces limited numbers of pieces in a year. The maximum production is between 50 and 100 in any given 12-month period, making their timepieces significantly exclusive.
When Loomes created his own company, he didn’t want the convention of German or Swiss watch-building to influence his own designs; he subsequently built his own CNC machines with their perfection in his sights. As he says himself of his passion for perfection, “I soldier on obsessively designing components here and tweaking our capabilities and capacity with nary a glance at the Swiss.” Through Loomes’ obsession with quality, his watches are not cheap, but with his heritage and passion, having the Loomes insignia on your wrist is something some of us will only dream of.
One of the most important and influential watchmakers of modern times is Roger W. Smith OBE. This Bronze medalist of the British Horological Institute has spent his life dedicated to the art of hand-making exquisite timepieces. British watchmaking legend George Daniels, since seeing the young Smith’s talent, took him under his wing and taught Smith the subtle artistry of handcrafting timeless timepieces. Smith is literally one of the only people in the world today that completely crafts every watch the company makes by hand. Because of his steadfast traditionalism, the company only fashions around 10 pieces per year.
Regarded as one of the 20th century’s best watchmakers, Smith’s creations are extremely popular with celebrity collectors who can afford these extremely high priced pieces. An example of this is his Series 4 tri-calendar Moonphase, an 18-karat red gold masterpiece that sells for around $313,000. Should you have the budget, then Smith will custom make a timepiece just for you, but you will probably have to stay at the end of a considerable waiting list, which may be as long as two years. Since 2001, Roger W. Smith Ltd has been a stalwart in the re-affirmation of Britain as an international leader in the craft of watchmaking and design.
Since 2011, Schofield has been producing watches noted for their luxury and daring designs. A relatively newcomer to the British marketplace, Schofield was founded by one Giles Ellis and named after the six-shooter revolver that Western legend Jessie James frequently used. Its first models were made in Germany, but since 2013 are now completely manufactured in the U.K. Giles venture into the watchmaking business came after his decision to build himself a timepiece from scratch. His varied professional background that includes instrument restoration, product design, and coding gave him the impetus to achieve his watchmaking goals.
Schofield watches have unique designs that range from bare-bones minimalism to intricate hands that take on the shape of a lighthouse. They also utilize the modified ETA 2892 engine that has been named the Soprod A-10 to make their watches keep ticking. They have also kept the faces of the product un-complicated, yet still very functional. Simply put, if you want the best in British fashion statements, then the very neat and tidy Schofield timepiece is probably best suited for you.
It’s been a long time since the watch was considered a work-of-art, but the Mr. Jones brand has certainly put pay to that. With a generation of people who haven’t had the need to wear a watch, thanks to the domination of personal devices, designer Crispin Jones has put the fun back into watch fashion fusion. The simple yet convincing theory that a watch doesn’t just need to be a timepiece but also a work of art is displayed here with incredible success. The watches started life as quartz models, but the company is now producing some that have mechanical workings. But it’s the diverse face designs that will grab your attention.
One of the classic Mr. Jones designs is the “Last Laugh Tattoo,” where to tell the time, you have to look at the skull’s teeth. It sounds gross, but it is actually quite a lot of fun. Then there is the “Number Cruncher,” whose tummy tells you the time. They also have some nice subtle designs to suit both men and women. These are probably not collectors’ items, but they are fun and are very reasonably priced. Time meets art in the Mr. Jones collaboration that is setting the future of horology up-side-down.
On their website, Farer watches state that they are “inspired by the halcyon era of watchmaking when bold colors and contrasting textures were combined with the very best craftsmanship.” They have certainly achieved this, as you will see when you take a look at the designs that they have put on the market. Farer is a young company with old ideas that are taking the youth market by storm. The designs that they are using are quite heavily inspired by the designs of the ’60s and ’70s but are still quite fresh on today’s market.
The use of vibrant colors is obviously the mainstay of their design feature and works incredibly well with the overall aesthetics of their timepieces. Though only being around since 2015, Farer offers an impressive range of products. With the influence of historic wayfarers and explorers, the names of each watch reflect that of a historic explorer or vessel. Stylish, fun and easy to read, Farer watches will appeal to any fashion-conscious consumer with a limited budget.
CWC, or the Cabot Watch Company, has been making military watches since their establishment in 1975. In fact, they have produced watches for all British service personnel in all branches, equating to hundreds of thousands of timepieces. The company was primarily set up to supply the Ministry of Defense personnel after the existing Smith company folded and the US-based Hamilton company was no longer interested in the contract. While their watches are still very military styled, they do blend into the world of the civilian.
CWC watches are still made to the specification dictated by the military; this, of course, includes the use of fixed strap bars. The thing that sets CWC watches apart from some of their competitors is the durability of their product range. Their Sapphire GS is rated to a submersible figure of 200 meters and has an eight-year lithium battery module. These timepieces have started to become collectibles, models like the CWC G10 from 1980, or the 70’s issued GS Navigator and Pilot watches are all sought-after timepieces. The bottom line is: if it’s good enough for those who serve, then it sure as hell is good enough for me.
As the watchface states, Arnold & Son, since 1764, this company has a long history. Born in Cornwall in 1736, John Arnold was soon extremely interested in precision engineering having a watchmaker father and an uncle who was a gunsmith. At the age of 19, he ventured to the Netherlands, coming back two years later with a wealth of skill and knowledge. He was soon integrated into the court of King George III, where he gained the reputation and clientele as a fine watchmaker. It was Arnold’s work known as “No 36” that was the first timepiece to be given the name of a chronometer, a testament to the precision of his handcrafted work.
Though the brand is technically now Swiss, its rotts to the British Isles cannot be denied. The legacy of its English origins can still be found in the nautical-inspired “Royal” and “Instrument” collections. The designs feature the moon consistently, referring to the nautical heritage of the pieces. 2015 saw the 250th anniversary of the company and was accompanied by the release of 5 modern and new movements manufactured in-house. The use of skeleton dials is also an extremely eye-catching feature of this historic watchmaking company.
The sister company to Arnold & Son, Graham released their first-time pieces in 1998. They presented a product that combined the English heritage of watchmaking with the engineering of Swiss movements. Named after master watchmaker George Graham, the esteemed clockmaker from the 18th century, the company was given a new lease on life by the Swiss company “British Masters.”
The designs are stunning, and, at first glance, hold your attention with their distinctive stop/start lever on some of the collections. With a motorsport theme to a lot of the collections, the Graham name has become synonymous with a lot of the motoring fraternity. Graham also features designs with biocompax GMT chronographs as well as eye-catching designs like the swordfish collection. The price range is extremely wide, but this means that they will have a watch just for you.
British watchmaker Peter Speake-Marin released his first watch, the Piccadilly, to the world in 2003, and has since establish a reputation among horological enthusiasts around the globe. Speake-Marin has managed to maintain their traditional English stylistics even though they are now based in Bursins, Switzerland. They have limited themselves to 3 collections, One & Two, Haute Horlogerie, and Cabinet Des Mysteres, utilizing perpetual calendars, tourbillons, minute repeaters, and the popular skeletal designs as well as artistic motive designs.
They have also kept the customer in mind and offer a bespoke service, which allows consumer input into the overall design of the finished timepiece. The combination of dial and engraving design is yours, as well as the use of which case material to use and which movement should be the engine for your unique piece. And, of course, the choice of bracelet to finish off the entire personalized look. Speake-Marin, looking at the future, feeding on the past.
The story of two friends forming a company together is not new, but in the case of the Marloe Watch Company, it has the added luxury of being a successful one. These two friends, Oliver and Gordon, happened to cross paths in the spring of 2005 and collaborated on the idea of reinvigorating the hand-wound timepiece world; thus, the Marloe Watch Company was born. The designs are minimalist but extremely elegant, with incredible detail neatly hidden in the designs. The four collections available are definitely works of art, but be aware; they are hard to get. When visiting the website, you will be surprised by the number of “sold-out” labels you will encounter.
The inspirations behind the designs are as varied as the designs themselves. The “Coniston” collection is inspired by the great Donald Campbell and his record-breaking Bluebird vehicles. This theme is aimed directly at a specific market, the affluent millennials who live their lives at a constant pace and have the same values as the company itself. The beauty of these timepieces is that they are all priced at the same low cost.
One of Britain’s most notable watch companies, Smiths has a long and interesting history. Created in the 1880s to produce pocket watches, they soon became the market leader in instrumentation for the motoring and avionics industries. They were, without doubt, Britain’s number-one watchmaker until they decided to withdraw from the industry after the revolution of the quartz watch. Then, in the late ’90s a company called “Timefactors” revived the Smiths name and went on to expand the brand’s recognition throughout the world.
Their range of products includes the “Everest,” a link to their participation in the original expedition, and a sign of reverence to the “Rolex Explorer 1.” Timefactor’s decision to resurrect the legend that was Smith” must be acknowledged as a brave but very clever move indeed. If you are a watch aficionado, then you will be proud to wear the Smiths name on your wrist. A little bit of history in a brand new world.