The British watch industry has a lot to be proud of. Brands and watchmakers continue to emerge from the UK with excellent products, savvy marketing and astute business plans, all of which contribute to the growth of British watchmaking, by investing in resource and reputation.
However, despite this progress there’s still work to be done to build on the market’s significance to the wider watch world and it took a seminar at last month’s London Watch Show to provoke essential conversation between key figures in the British watch industry about what it means to be a British brand and just what justifies the use of the British-made label on watches. The result was an exciting realisation of the importance of the industry coming together to create and maintain a set of standards for the British watch industry to help it achieve a similar infrastructure to that of Switzerland.
It was a panel session featuring Schofield’s Giles Ellis, Bremont’s Giles English, Accurist’s Jonathan Crocker and Christopher Ward’s Chris Ward on the first day of the London Watch Show that not only sparked debate over the definition of British-made watches but that kicked off discussions about the need for industry insiders to form a united front to ensure British watchmaking continues to position itself at the forefront of the global market and earns itself a reputation with similar prestige to that of Switzerland.
During the seminar, it came to light that although the increasing numbers of British brands and watchmakers do many things incredibly well, getting everyone into a room at any one time to discuss what can be done to help promote and grow British watchmaking and the justification of the British-made label on watches is something that may have been neglected somewhat.
IT’S GOOD TO TALK
The panel of representatives from key British watch companies were unanimous about the desire to continue the momentum of the last few years that has welcomed new brands and watchmakers onto the market and seen established ones continue to flourish and to elevate the domain of British watchmaking to even higher heights. However, there were some slight differences in opinion in regards to what has been achieved so far.
According to Ellis, the British watch revival is not just about products but about endeavour. Talking about whether a product has to be completely made in Britain to have a British-made label, Ellis said that in his opinion, efforts towards growing the British watch industry is what matters. “There’s a revival and that revival is not about products but endeavour,” he said.
Ellis added that although mechanics and engineering in Britain are important, for him the Brit label is about every aspect of a brand, including elements such as marketing, packaging and the overall brand philosophy. “It’s about focusing on all the parts of what we do and having them done in the UK if the integrity is there,” he said. “That has to be based not just on the fact that they are British but that they are where the integrity is and they are the best.”
For Chris Ward of Christopher Ward, a British retailer that sells Swiss-made products, a brand can be British and still source its products from elsewhere.
He pointed out that not only does Switzerland produce the best movements but it has the best watch infrastructure. For Ward, when the movement and other components are still coming from Switzerland, applying the British Made label is a moral issue because the timepiece is not completely made in Britiain.
“I think you have to ask yourself is that morally right,” he said. “If you’re not being totally transparent, are you being honest with the consumer?”
Despite some reticence about how far a Brit revival has come at this stage, Ward added that he would like to see advances made in terms of British watchmaking but suggested it would be a long process. “We decided we would stay in Switzerland but do all of our marketing in the UK,” he said. “We would jump at the chance of being totally British made but in my lifetime, I can’t see that happening.”
While achieving total British manufacture may be something of an uphill climb, some British brands are certainly already embarking on that journey. For instance, the Bremont Watch Company has a watch workshop in Henley-on-Thames and is making every effort to do as much watchmaking as it can in-house, which could even include movements in the not too distant future.
At the London Watch Show, English shared his opinion that the UK needs to work on building a similar infrastructure to Switzerland to be able to create multiple pieces rather than just one offs. “It’s a slow process but we’re doing what we can towards it,” said English.
A UK ORGANISATION?
Although the other panellists were more optimistic about the progress that has been made within the UK than Ward, they recognised there was still a lot of work to do. However, they reiterated that every effort in the right direction is important and that being a British brand doesn’t have to be about where the parts of the watch are made or even put together but can be about the operations and spirit of the business.
In terms of defining where a British-made label can be used, the panel mooted idea of creating an associations similar to those in other industries, for instance in jewellery, the British Jewellers’ Association, which not only sets and maintains high standards that must be adhered to by all members but that also brings the industry together providing opportunities to newtwork and share ideas.
In the meantime, for Ellis the British revival is about endeavour. “Watches may not be 100% made in the UK but it’s the fact that companies and owners are doing what they can to get there,” he explained. “As separate companies we are all doing what we can within our business models.”
Each company is working hard in its own right to promote and develop British watchmaking but there was still a great deal of enthusiasm for working together. At Accurist, which puts a small number of its watches together in the UK but has most of its products made abroad, Crocker said he would like to see and be involved with more British watch manufacturing
“The conversations that started at the London Watch Show are set to go on and help continue to elevate British watchmaking,” says Crocker. “There were some really interesting points raised during the conversation and it has been continued with some of the other panel members, and others, since.
“I feel that the subject is too important to leave as rhetoric and during the summer would like to pick it up again either formally or informally to see if we can agree on some tangible steps.”
The panel session at the London Watch Show highlighted that the good of the industry as a whole relies on competition being put aside. Mutual support and ideas sharing will drive the industry forward in the common goal of ensuring British watches are desirable exports and widely respected both at home and abroad. While plenty of work is already being done to achieve this by individuals and specific brands, the talk idenitified that more progress is likely to be made when channels of communication are open and forces combine. Watch this space.
This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of WatchPro.
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