There are three British watchmaking shows this year for the first time I can remember. There are more people employed in the UK watch industry than at any time since the early 1980s.
My partner, Robina Hill, summed it up by saying: “If the 20th century was about globalisation, then the 21st century is about localisation”.
Gone are the days when price was the deciding factor in buying a watch. It is accepted that one can purchase “a watch” for a few pounds. For now we accept that we are more interested in buying a work of art for the wrist. It doesn’t matter if that is a mass produced £60 piece or a unique £600,000 piece – the motivation is the same.
The last decade has seen rapid growth for some British names. Tom Kennett of Glasgow and Christopher Ward of London are great examples. The reason is quite simply that they have fulfilled a pre-existing demand, which is customers who wanted to buy locally, who wanted to support a British business rather than a foreign one.
It’s equally rewarding to see firms like Accurist finally embrace their heritage, which is a strong asset for them, to produce a range of watches which demonstrate their Britishness. In almost every county in Britain, if you scratch deeply enough, you will find watchmaking businesses. By this I don’t mean repairers. Here in sleepy Lincolnshire we have three watchmaking businesses who produce mechanical watches at very different price points. There are also dial makers, a firm who produce bezels for the international market, even a firm who designs, makes and sells complex watch escapement analysis software.
These local assets though, have to be supported by bricks and mortar – better still by jobs and best of all by real manufacturing. I’m just old enough to remember the government funded I‘m Backing Britain campaign of the 1970s. The campaign collapsed embarrassingly when it was reported that the slogan T-shirts had been printed in Portugal to keep costs down.
The simple fact is that there is no assured route to success. A Union Jack sticker won’t sell a watch on its own. The road is already paved with firms that died, starved of cash or having failed to do their research into the market and introducing a product that was, essentially, already there. But more and more Brits are now delivering interesting wristwatches to market and generating revenue. As they do so, they are typically keen to reinvest in the industry. We live in exciting times.
This column was taken from the July 2013 issue of WatchPro magazine. If you work in the watch industry and would like to write a guest column for the magazine email the editor at email@example.com.