The United Kingdom is a country with a truly unique and fascinating culture. One that has given the world everything from classical literature, to famous rock music, and even its very language. However, watch brands from Britannia have had difficulty in the past standing on their own two legs. A serial fabrication of pocket and wristwatches was never able really to come to fruition, even with this island nation’s role as a pioneer in the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. An odd outcome, especially considering watchmaking has a long standing connection to the United Kingdom. Historic legends such as John Arnold, Thomas Mudge, John Harrison, Thomas Tompion, and George Graham have all left their mark on the pages of watch history.
Keeping that in mind: here’s a shoutout to all the disheartened, Anglophile watchmaker enthusiasts. Horology in Great Britain is making a comeback. New brands are on the up and up and are building upon the foundation of this country’s watchmaking traditions with entirely new angles on designs and giving the industry a fresh pulse. To give you a better overview of the watch cartography in the United Kingdom, we’ve dug into the best this horological industry now has to offer, and we’re here to file our report on the top 10 British Watch Brands.
Founded originally by two brothers, Bremont is the largest watchmaker in the British Isles. The company’s mechanical know-how, dedication to aeronautics and construction, as well as a deep passion for watches has taken shape in its inventions. The UK watch brand’s portfolio consists of pilots’ or adventure theme based watches.
However, Nick and Giles English have also gone one step further and added several unique to Bremont, manufacturing twists e.g. the Trip Tick Case Design or the anti-magnetic Faraday cage. It has a substantial amount of classic aviation styled timepieces in its portfolio. For example the U-2: a watch tested and designed by the U2 Spy Plane Squadron in the United States.
Also among its number, the SOLO: a classic pilot’s’ watch based on aviation timekeepers from the 1940s. However, Bremont also has in its repertoire a divers’ watch with a water resistance of a staggering 2,000 metres. The photo above is the Bremont ALT1-P-BK: a COSC, DLC coated, automatic chronometer.
While the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea isn’t a part of Great Britain it’s still under British Crown dependency. Its founder Roger Smith is the protégé of George Daniels: widely regarded as the greatest watchmaker in the 20th century and also as the father of the co-axial escapement. Smith’s famous mentor bequeathed the entire workshop to him and it’s a studio geared towards constructing timepieces from start to finish. Smith is very outspoken about the current state of watchmaking within the United Kingdom and has launched a debate about the future of British watch brands amid the dominance of Swiss movements.
Among his most noteworthy creations is the Series 2: a very refined dress watch that has incorporated vintage craftsmanship and is designed with the modern professional in mind. It’s a very limited series, with only 10 pieces crafted per year. Adding to its premium allure is its Daniel’s co-axial escapement: a special modification of the lever escapement with attributes of the detent escapement and considered to be among the most important horological innovations altogether.
As an added measure of luxury, Smith has also created the Series 4 Triple Calendar Moonphase timepiece in 18k red gold, which retails for a premium price of 250,000.- GBP. Also, Smith is also an accessible watchmaker and can be commissioned to create a customised, individual timepiece from the ground up. However, be prepared to sign the waiting list for a unique UK watch from the forges of the brand, as the current time span before receiving a Smith timekeeper is upwards of two years.
Located in the horological hotbed of La Chaux-de-Fonds, Arnold & Son is a watchmaking company that unifies the bells and whistles of Swiss workmanship together with the British tradition of adventure and sea based exploration. In 1787, John Arnold founded the brand and specialised in the manufacturing of ship chronometers. These unique maritime devices saw action aboard the ships of the legendary, seafaring exploits of Captain Thomas Butler, Sir John Franklin, and even Captain James Cook.
While the brand is now Swiss, Arnold & Son still builds upon this British legacy by offering nautical inspired timepieces in two collections: the Royal and Instrument. In 2015, it celebrated its 250th year anniversary by launching five new in-house movements. The moon has long been used as a point of reference to guide ships at sea. In the spirit of the importance of this celestial body, the Arnold & Son Double Hemisphere Perpetual Moon with a very attractive moon phase complication is just one example of the excellence this British watch brand outputs.
Graham is a traditional British watch company that’s had new life breathed into it by The British Masters, a Swiss company. It’s a sister company to Arnold & Son and its brand name is based upon the namesake of George Graham. Graham is famous for their chronographs which have been incorporated into almost every single watch in the company’s portfolio.
However, Graham is also capable of adding visually interesting and unexpected twists to its watches. For example, the crown placed on the left side of the dial of its motorsports oriented watches invokes the imagery of the TAG Heuer Monaco.
Its UK watch bestiary consists of timepieces with bicompax GMT chronographs as well as chronographs with skeleton dials among others. Pictured above: the Graham Chronofighter above is an oversized 47 mm chronograph
Next on our list is an Oxfordshire based company, originally founded by the professional British digital designer, Piers Berry in 2013. One might think that Piers has an unlikely background for watchmaking as a designer of apps. However, this horology enthusiast is a great example of how a transition can occur from a love for mechanical watches to their actual workbench creation.
He’s also staunchly British and follows a business philosophy that his UK company shouldn’t be influenced by outside forces of any kind. This is reflected in his employee roster, with Piers pooling experienced personnel from the British Horology Institute (BHI). Pinion’s first wristwatch collection was the AXIS: a series of watches with automatic movements designed in the likeness of World War II instruments. It followed up shortly after with the AXIS Pure and the Revival 1969 collections, both based on hand winding calibres.
The automatic Axis II has a very classic dress watch look and a visually sharp, hunter green coloured, winding rotor decorating the modified ETA 2824-2 ticking inside of it.
Christopher Ward was initially established by three university graduates, on a boat as it sailed on the river Thames. The English watch brands’ leadership is headed by Mike France, Chris Ward, and Peter Ellis who have a different approach to watchmaking and retail compared with their contemporaries. It’s a company that aims to cut out middlemen and sell directly to its customers. Rather than hiring high profile brand ambassadors to push its product lines, it has chosen to place its focus on up and coming athletic talent in its Challenger programme.
Its portfolio is diverse: from divers with helium escape valves and a water resistance capability of up to 600 metres, to elegant slip-under-the-cuff dress watches with a moonphase complication, and even larger sized pilots’ timepieces. Christopher Ward aims to bring the right kind of UK watch to the everyman at an affordable price and it’s even created its own in-house movement, the Calibre SH21. Its JJ Calibres series, is an interesting and visually appealing collection with a mixture of different complications.
Depicted above: the Single Pusher Chronograph LE at 43 mm, is a very sharp, clean dialed timepiece with chronograph functionality operated over its monopusher.
This London based company is another English watch brand in our list that sets out to contribute to the revival of Britain’s watchmaking tradition. Garrick was created by the entrepreneur, full time watch collector, and horological enthusiast David Brailsford. With his profound interest in traditional High Horology, he even partnered up with one of the most gifted watchmakers out there, Andreas Strehler, to create an innovative hand wound movement.
Brailsford made it his mission to create the finest timepieces while upholding traditional British watchmaking values. By working together with Strehler and his company UhrTeil AG, Garrick was able to launch its own high-end UT-G01 movement, which is built and finished in the Garrick workshops in Norwich. This movement can be found exclusively in the Portsmouth and S1 timepiece and boats everything a truly great watch needs. Neither costs nor trouble have been spared to refine it to the maximum.
Four collections are in Garrick’s current line-up: the Norfolk, Regulator, Portsmouth and the S1. In addition to that, Garrick allows customers to create bespoke watches, showcasing that the customer is still king and that their watches are more of a horological gem than just a simple mass-produced timekeeper. As far as the refinements go, Garrick does not flinch away from going an extra mile. Whether it is heat blued hands and screws or their own free sprung in-house balance wheels, the brand is able to display their immense knowhow in a variety of ways.
Peter Speake-Marin is both the namesake and founder of this British-themed watch brand. Born in Essex, England and formerly employed by Audemar Piguet Renaud et Papi, this English watchmaker eventually set out on his own path and launched his first wristwatch model Piccadilly in 2003. While Speake-Marin is based in Bursins, Switzerland, its models are primarily characterised by conservative English styles.
It’s a company which has just begun to get a substantial amount of recognition among horological enthusiasts. In its three collections (the Spirit, J-class, and Cabinet des Mysteres) it offers timepieces in limited batches with perpetual calendars, tourbillons, and minute repeaters. Visually impressive and with the timekeeper mechanics to boot: the Magister Vertical Double Tourbillon. It’s a 46 mm, manual winding timepiece in 18k white gold with a 60-second tourbillon.
Schofield is a newcomer to the UK market with some very interesting products and a fresh business concept. Originally founded by Giles Ellis, it’s a British watch company from Sussex that designs aeronautical timepieces with an old-world tone. While it’s timekeepers were once tagged with “Made in Germany” branding on their dials and some models were partially manufactured in Deutschland, its watches are now entirely produced in England since 2013. It’s a significant source of pride for this company.
A modified ETA 2892, the Soprod A-10, is the engine that ticks inside many of its timepieces. In terms of complications, it usually has a combination of a power reserve, date display, or GMT functionality. However, the real trademark of a Schofield is its uncrowded dial. The three complications are visually unobtrusive and don’t disrupt the very crisp feel of the watch’s visuals. Schofield Signalman timekeepers are clearly for the man or woman who like their timepiece neat and tidy in best British fashion, but who still value a unique timepiece with some measure of functionality on their wrist.
Robert Loomes family watchmaking roots reach as far back as the 16th century. The son of a literature expert on antique clocks, he also creates watches in small numbers, usually a maximum of 50 to a 100 pieces. However, creating limited batches isn’t the only notable characteristic of this UK watch brand. Robert Loomes also creates old stock Smith movements: the very calibre type that was in Sir Edmund Hillary’s watch as he climbed to the roof of the world, Mount Everest, in 1953.
Building on this legacy, Robert Loomes participated in a new expedition to reach its peak by creating completely reworked Smith movements and constructing them into its Robin watches in 2015. The recipients of these revamped timepieces were none other than soldiers from the elite Royal Gurkha Regiment, commemorating the 200th anniversary since the formation of the first Gurkha battalion in India and almost 62 years after Hillary’s legendary Mount Everest ascent. Really, you can’t make this stuff up people.
Unfortunately, the expedition collapsed due to the Nepal earthquake in April 2015 and the disastrous impact it had on the populace as well as the camp of Everest mountaineers. However, this very unique brand gets a big nod from us as the final entry in our Top 10 British Watch Brands list not just because of its very clean themed Robin and Robina collections. For example, a timekeeper with blue steeled hands set against a crisp white dial, a hand wound movement, and sharp case back that beautifully displays a reworked historical movement for a new period in time.
True to their motto of: “Better to die than to be a coward”, the Gurkha pitched in with the disaster relief work at the Everest base camp and Robert Loome created a fundraiser with one of the Everest expedition Robin watches with a Smith movement as the prize. Hats off gentlemen.