There is a definite reawakening of the horological spirit in the British Isles, but what is being revived? And why now?
From roughly the middle of the 17th century to the early 19th century, Britain—or more correctly, England—was a watchmaking superpower. This dominance was not because of the number of timepieces produced, but because of the quality and elegance of the replica watches being turned out. Indeed, during this long heyday, there were reports of Swiss makers marking their watches “Made in London” because of the greater desirability of the British product, especially in China, an important market in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Along with the quality, another feature of the British golden age was its inventiveness. Thomas Tompion started using a spiral balance wheel in 1675. Five years later, Daniel Quare invented the minute repeater. The invention of the anchor escapement came in 1750, with Thomas Mudge. Then John Harrison produced the first marine chronometer, acknowledged as such by King George III himself in 1772.
Stylistically, British watchmakers preferred frosting or gilding over Geneva Stripes and perlage—pearl patterning—on the movement. The fake watches also had an understated elegance, present in the movement, case and dial.
These properties have been carried through to contemporary British watchmaking, most notably by George Daniels (1926-2011), inventor of the coaxial escapement. This master among makers also produced supremely elegant creations, with perfect symmetry and proportions in the case, dial and movement. He eschewed movement finishes much beloved of the Swiss, preferring the subtle, frosted look of gilded brass favored by earlier English makers. His legacy has found expression in the work of Roger Smith. Just look at the latter’s Series 4, a calendar watch displaying the date, day and month, and moon phases. Mr. Smith has also significantly changed the Daniels escapement.
Further development of the British watch is in the hands of a few companies: Robert Loomes & Co, Struthers of London, and Garrick—all edging toward a more contemporary rendition of the classic British watch, maintaining some stylistic traditions but with a more flexible approach to design.
Then there is Schofield, run by designer Giles Ellis, whose replica watches uk use Swiss movement finished in the Swiss style. So, can any of them truly be called a British watch? My answer is, in the context of this article, no. Mr. Ellis is producing a British design product that tells the time. It is very much of the 21st century—characterized by the use of new materials, particularly carbon fiber—rather than born out of an ethos of the past.
Bremont and Christopher Ward, too, are often cited as part of the British watchmaking revival. Both produce pragmatic watches meant to be used every day. But, crucially, both are also aiming to show that even though the British watchmaking golden age never gave birth to world-class brands, this British revival period can.