It is possible to revive British watchmaking

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By Roger Smith

About three years ago George Daniels asked me to help him make a new series of Daniels watches. At the time he was about 82 years old and still had plenty of ideas and drive but physically wasn’t able to sit and make the watches.

We had worked together in the past but now he wanted to create a completely new Daniels production wristwatch, something he’d always wanted having concentrated on making one-off timepiece. Now we’re close to launching the first piece from the production line of 35 watches. Fortunately he saw the prototype about a month before he passed away.

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We only make about 10 watches a year. While there has been a resurgence of people in Britain wanting to make watches, I wouldn’t say it’s a watchmaking industry, more of a scene, an interest resurgence. Lots of old names have been pulled back up.

It’s bizarre as there is no real connection to the original companies and many of these British companies are totally reliant on the Swiss watch industry. I wouldn’t want to brag but we’re the only ones actually making watches in Britain. There are seven of us, a big number for our output but it’s because we’re skill-based. We’re all different ages. About six months took on a 22-year-old apprentice local to the Isle of Man where we’re based. He’s never handled a watch before but it’s been really good, it’s been great to see him learn and gain an interest in watchmaking.

I think it’s possible for us to revive British watchmaking. We can buy the same machines as the Swiss, we’re just lacking the quality and knowledge and to do it on any large scale we’ll have to bring in Swiss expertise to run factories and teach people. And you need to have the turnover too, but who knows maybe one day.

From the experience we have had with our apprentice here I think that we want to build on it and the best way will be to offer training from scratch. The way we work is so unique that if we were to take employees from [watchmaking course] WOSTEP, which is a very good course, we’d still have to train them up. It would certainly be great if the government could put funding back in to watchmaking in Britain but at the moment it’s too early.

I launched my own company in 2001 so we’ve celebrated a decade already. We have some really interesting customers. They all want something different and will often wait a year or more for one of our watches, but for them it’s often their grown-up watch. In the future I will continue to produce watches under my own name and we’re running my name and George Daniel’s together. I certainly see a very good future. I have plans to increase production to maybe 20 or so pieces a year.

 

This column was taken from the September 2012 issue of WatchPro magazine. If you work in the watch industry and would like to write a guest column for WatchPro email the editor at rachael.taylor@itp.com

 

 

 

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