Last Updated: June 13, 2024By

The Rise of British Watchmaking: A New Era in Timekeeping

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Watch aficionados and timepiece enthusiasts marked a significant addition to their event calendars this year. But this time, the spotlight wasn’t on Switzerland, the epicenter of luxury watches, nor did it shine on the glamorous gatherings in fashion capitals like Paris or Milan. Instead, all eyes turned to a rather unexpected venue: a lecture hall at the Royal Horticultural Society in London.

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The debut of British Watchmakers’ Day drew in visitors from across the globe, including the US, Dubai, and Norway. Tickets were in such high demand that they sold out six weeks prior to the event. From a timepiece fetching over £595,000 in a closed bid auction to watches priced around the £100 mark, enthusiasts eagerly snapped up their favorites.

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While still modest in scale compared to giants like Watches And Wonders Geneva, which draws 45,000 visitors annually, British Watchmakers’ Day reached its full capacity of 1,400 attendees. It was a testament to the burgeoning interest in the industry.

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In the early 1800s, the UK led the world in watch production, crafting around 200,000 timepieces annually. Despite a brief revival after the war, the industry witnessed a steady decline—until now.

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“This surge has been brewing for quite some time,” remarked Alistair Audsley, co-founder and CEO of the Alliance of British Watch and Clock Makers, the force behind British Watchmakers’ Day. “It’s a blend of fresh offerings from manufacturers and collectors venturing beyond the ‘superbrands’ to explore new horological delights.”

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British watchmaking is capturing attention at a time when the global luxury watch market is experiencing a downturn. With exports down, particularly in China, and vintage timepiece sales declining, the spotlight is shifting towards a new frontier.

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The cult following of certain British watchmakers has been instrumental. Tracy Llewellyn, editor of the Horological Journal for the British Horological Institute, highlighted the impact of individuals like George Daniels and his apprentice Roger Smith. Their dedication to handcrafted excellence paved the way for a new generation of artisans.

London-based Charles Frodsham & Co and Birmingham-based Craig and Rebecca Struthers are among the revered names in British horology. Rebecca Struthers’ book, “Hands of Time: A Watchmaker’s History of Time,” received acclaim akin to Dava Sobel’s “Longitude,” resonating across borders and languages.

Diversifying the market are innovative designs at accessible prices. Brands like Mr Jones Watches, known for their quirky timepieces with messages like “Remember you will die,” and Studio Underd0g, whose designs are inspired by food and sold out at the fair, are redefining the industry landscape.

Personal narratives also play a significant role. Paulin Watches draws inspiration from Glasgow’s architectural heritage, while William Wood Watches honors the founder’s grandfather, a firefighter, by crafting timepieces from upcycled materials.

Jonny Garrett, founder of William Wood Watches, believes that British watchmakers’ freshness to the scene breeds unparalleled creativity: “We don’t have centuries of tradition behind us like the Swiss. We need to carve out our own identities and excel in our niches.”

This newfound camaraderie among British watchmakers signifies a promising future. As Audsley noted, “We’re witnessing exponential growth, fostering long-term prospects, and nurturing our own major brands. It’s a journey ahead, but we’re taking strides.”

Garrett echoed the sentiment, emphasizing the need to challenge the perception that quality timepieces must hail exclusively from Switzerland. With British watchmaking on the rise, the industry is witnessing a renaissance of craftsmanship and innovation.

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