You might not realise it, what with Switzerland touting itself as the home of all things horological, but Britain was once the cradle of fine watchmaking. Yes, yes, that was centuries ago, but like the House of Lords, the Commonwealth and an innate feeling of global superiority, it’s something we’re hanging on to.
Not just hanging onto either; over the past decade, watchmaking in the UK has come back in a big way. That’s across the spectrum, from British-designed, Swiss-made pieces to serious fine watchmaking; vintage throwbacks to the 1920s and wartime classics to funky, modern pieces that are just downright cool.
Sure, we’re still not playing with the big boys like Germany or Switzerland yet (the official albeit newly instated industry mouthpiece, the Alliance of British Watch and Clockmakers is coasting around 30 to 35 members currently) we’re on the up. And here are 10 watch brands that prove it.
Sometimes, less is more. In the case of British Watch designer Uniform Wares (featured image, top), less is everything. Despite the militaristic name, their entire collection is minimal enough to make Glashutte’s Bauhaus brands seem cluttered and fussy.
Opting for quartz over a mechanical movement – though still from industry giant ETA – means that not only do they look great, but they’re light on the wallet. If you don’t want to have to overthink your wrist game, look no further at their range of minimalist watches for men.
Affordable watches have never looked as good as those coming from Christopher Ward. Sure, some are occasionally lacking originality, like the standard Trident models, but brighter, off-kilter pieces like the C65 Chronograph and Glow series make for funky retro fun.
A good part of their collection still uses third-party movements but keep an eye on these guys as they’ll soon be making a lot more of their deceptively solid in-house calibre SH21.
Founded by brothers Jonathan and James Ward – sons of the aforementioned Christopher Ward – Tribus is one of the newest British watch brands but has already become the official watchmaker for Liverpool FC. They’re not subtle with that association, with a bright red TRI-08 Premier League Champions Special Edition. However, the core range is a lot more pared-back with a nice small seconds layout. One to watch, for sure.
Proving that there is still watchmaking at home, Garrick’s Norfolk workshop is going overtime with engine-turned dials the equal of any Breguet and a solid core, in-house movement. There’s a serious premium on them (their flagship S2 will set you back £15,000), but considering what you get they’re still serious value.
That’s especially true in the S4, which balances a third-party movement with completely customisable guilloche across the ornate dials, complete with Garrick’s signature nautical touches on hands and crown. It’s a serious British watch from a serious British Watchmaker.
Want something a little quirkier than another archival-inspired throwback? Enter Farer, whose collection consists of an impressive array of horological archetypes given a playful makeover.
Field watches inspired by national parks, Pilots watches with California dials (split between Roman and Arabic numerals) and some seriously cool Supercompressors, there are a lot of designs you won’t find anywhere else.
Hands on the table, I bought one of the first of Fears’ superb cushion-cased Brunswick models after wearing it for review. I didn’t want to take it off, so I didn’t.
Classical, affordable and with an attention to detail that belies an obsessive behind the wheel, Fears is perhaps my favourite British brand at the moment. The latest coppery, salmon-dialled version though has a bit of a waiting list. That’s great for British watchmaking, not so good for the rest of us.
Still riding the old-school military watch trend they helped kickstart with the Dirty Dozen-inspired M100, Vertex’s output isn’t huge but each watch is a solid take on that high-contrast mil-spec formula.
The Bronze 75 Limited Edition is one of the few bronze-cased numbers I’ve genuinely loved – a lot more so than the black version – and each new edition is well-made and well-presented. I’m just waiting for them to finally get around to their mooted dive watch.
Superlative enamel dials combined with otherwise pared-back designs show that anOrdain know where their skills lie. They’re one of the few brands able to make vitreous enamel dials in Britain and the colourful hues and fume finishes show they’re pretty damn good at it.
Throw in a few quirky indexes and you have some seriously beautiful wrist shots in the making. Those dials are the stars of the show and as such are backed by standard but solid mechanical watches.
No discussion of British watchmaking is complete with Bremont, who have had an unprecedented impact in putting home-designed watches on the map. They’re almost as prolific as Christopher Ward but working to a higher degree of prestige and, while I have to roll my eyes at every limited edition with a relic embedded in it – the latest being pieces of Stephen Hawking’s writing desk – at least the watches tap into what makes those relic’s special. Plus, they get to work with Nims Purja. Look him up, the man’s a living legend.
William Wood came out of almost nowhere after founder Jonny Garret won Esquire’s Entrepreneur of the Year back in 2019 and since the firefighter-inspired brand has gone from strength to strength with a range of solid, rugged divers and straps made from fire hoses.
Now they’ve added a chronograph to their line with the Triumph collection, adding heavy metal pushers to the fire-fighter details. And don’t worry, there’s plenty of fire hose to go around.