British watchmakers could fall foul of European Union regulations designed to tighten controls over the manufacturing of finished goods.
The draft EU proposal, which is still in consultation, aims to make it easier to trace the origins of all manufactured components, which could make it more difficult for brands to use Made in Britain as part of their promotion. The majority of British watch companies assemble timepieces using Swiss or Far Eastern movements, and the latest EU directive suggests that, if accepted, these companies will now have to declare the origin of all components and ensure they meet UK and EU safety standards.
The watches will only be able to say they are Made in Britain if at least 45% of the “value content” can be attributed to this country.
This would replace a previous definition that stated that a product’s origin is the place where it “underwent its last substantial, economically justified processing or working”; a definition that favoured companies designing and assembling watches in the UK.
British watchmakers are still digesting the possible implications of the draft legislation. Mike France, co-founder of Christopher Ward, believes that clear labelling should benefit brands, retailers and customers.
The company’s watch faces carry the Christopher Ward London logo, but they clearly state in their packaging and promotional material that they are made in Switzerland.
“As a brand, Christopher Ward takes provenance extremely seriously and we believe that the customer should be as well informed as possible about where a product substantially hails from. Therefore, we would actually be in favour of any legislation that improves this for the customer and prevents the practice of placing a Made in Britain label on any product when relatively little of that product is actually manufactured here – as happens today across many product sectors, including watches,” said France.
Fledgling watch brand Axion, which launched at July’s London Watch Show, manufactures in Switzerland, but is keen to assert the Britishness of its brand through design and customer service. “Axion markets itself on the collaboration of British design and Swiss manufacture,” explained Glynn Barker founder of Axion.
He fears that the proposed EU regulation will make it more difficult for British companies to add value through their design skills. “A customer buys British because they want the craftsmanship and attention to detail we are renowned for and that will be lost if this change comes into force,” he said.
Barker admitted that, in his opinion, British watchmakers will ultimately need to develop a broader base of manufacturing capability if the industry is to grow. “We could be looking at the catalyst for Britain to grow even stronger in the watch manufacturing world and be the start of us as a country making all the component parts for a watch instead of us using imported items,” he suggested.
“Axion as a brand is exploring new manufacturing techniques that have been developed and perfected only in the UK. I certainly hope that is the case but it will be some time in the future before it happens fully,” he adds.
Simon Rainer, chief executive of the British Jewellers’ Association, which represents jewellery manufacturers in the UK, believes that the EU is creating rules that will be impossible to enforce across the entire European manufacturing landscape. “The new proposals are typical of the European Union’s one-size-fits-all approach,” he concluded.
This article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of WatchPro.
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