While Switzerland is regarded today as the world leader of watchmaking, Great Britain can lay claim to a wealth of horological milestones throughout its history as well. From Thomas Mudge’s development of the lever escapement in 1755 to John Harrison’s invention of the marine chronometer in 1759 to the innovations of clockmaker Thomas Tompion and his protegé George Graham in the areas of science and astronomy, England was an undisputed leader in timekeeping throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The 20th century brought the decline of the British Empire and, with it, British watchmaking, as nations like Switzerland, Germany, and (for a while) the United States stepped in with modern mass-production techniques while the Brits held fast to traditional, artisanal methods. The United Kingdom essentially ceased being a major producer of timepieces by the end of World War II, but as the 21st Century dawned, a handful of entrepreneurial Britons have made great strides in bringing high-end watchmaking back to their native land, establishing new brands — and in some cases, resurrecting old ones — to make watches that appeal to today’s discerning enthusiasts in the U.K. and across the world. Whether the focus is military-style tool watches, avant-garde complications at approachable prices, or ultra-high-end pieces for well-heeled collectors, each brand boasts an identity that is proudly British and at the same time distinct from its peers. Here are ten British watch brands that you should be paying attention to right now.
Headquarters: Henley-on-Thames, England, U.K.
Founders: Nick and Giles English
Notable models: Altitude, MBI, Supermarine, Longitude
When Nick and Giles English — yes, that’s these British brothers’ real surname — started Bremont in 2002, they had two goals: spearhead the return of watchmaking to the U.K. and pay tribute to their late father, a pilot, watch collector, and inveterate tinkerer who stoked the brothers’ own passion for aviation, horology, and all things mechanical. Most would agree that they’ve been successful at both. Bremont watches channel the spirit of aviation, particularly military aviation, in a distinctly stylish manner, whether they’re classical pilots’ models (like the MB1 and Altitude) racing-inspired chronographs (like the watches made in partnership with British automaker Jaguar) or divers’ watches (the Supermarine series, taking its name from the manufacturer of WWII-era Spitfire aircraft). Bremont has developed numerous partnerships over its relatively short lifespan, including one with the British Ministry of Defence, from which arose an officially licensed series of Military timepieces for the civilian market. Most notably, Bremont draws closer every year to its goal of making all of its watches in Britain; in 2022 it released the Longitude, a dual-time watch with its first proprietary caliber, made in its London manufacture.
Headquarters: Maidenhead, Berkshire, England, U.K.
Founders: Mike France, Peter Ellis, Chris Ward
Notable models: C60 Trident Pro, C1 Moonglow, C63 Sealander GMT
Conceived during a boat ride down the Thames in 2004, Christopher Ward was the brainchild of three entrepreneurial British watch enthusiasts looking for a new challenge in their professional lives. Named for the co-founder with the most “quintessentially British” name, the company set out to make premium Swiss-made watches that could be sold at much lower prices than their competitors by avoiding large marketing overheads and retailer margins. Setting up shop in a converted chicken shed on a farm in Berkshire, Christopher Ward, whose watches are designed in London and built in the Swiss watchmaking hub of Biel, began operations in 2005 as one of the first direct-to-consumer watch brands. Starting out with two models, the C5 Malvern Automatic and C3 Malvern Chronograph, the line has since expanded to include the Trident series of diving watches; the C1 Moonglow, an innovative moon-phase watch; and the Sealander GMT, inspired by dual-time “explorers’ watches” of the 1970s. Christopher Ward added more feathers to its cap in 2014, with the introduction of its first in-house movement, Caliber SH21, and again in 2016, with the launch of the C65 Super Compressor, the first dive watch in 50 years to revive the 1950s-style compressor case design.
Headquarters: Warfield, Berkshire, England, U.K.
Founders: Stuart Finlayson, Jono Holt, Ben Lewin, Paul Sweetenham
Notable models: Lander GMT, Bernina Chronograph, Titanium Aqua Compressor
Farer set up shop in 2015 with a mission to offer “Swiss made, British-designed” timepieces at a high price-to-value ratio. The company name, which comes from “Seafarer” and “Wayfarer,” reflects the adventurous, exploration-based theme that inspires the design and names of its products. Farer’s first watches, which contained quartz movements, were named after legendary British Explorers, including the Mallory, named after Sir Thomas Mallory. The brand has since expanded to include many watches with mechanical movements — such as the Dubois-Dépraz calibers that power the Chrono-Classic collection of bicompax chronographs and the Sellita SW330-2 movements inside Farer’s GMT-equipped watches like the Lander IV. Among Farer’s corporate partnerships is a collaboration with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT), with proceeds from Farer’s Titanium Series of Aqua Compressor dive watches going to support that organization’s goals of rescuing and preserving sea mammals in the waters off Western Scotland. Its range of pilots’ watches all feature soft-iron Farady cages inside the cases for antimagnetic protection and offer a variety of unusual dials, including a Roman/Arabic numeral California dial on the Cayley models, and a 60-minute main scale with 12-hour inner ring layout on the Morgan.
Headquarters: London, England, U.K.
Founder and CEO: Jonny Garrett
Notable models: Jubilee, Triumph, Valiant, Fearless collections
Founded in London in 2016, William Wood Watches pays tribute to its namesake — founder Jonny Garret’s grandfather, who was a decorated 25-year veteran of the British Fire Service — with its use of upcycled firefighting materials in its watches. The crowns are capped with a medallion crafted from melted-down brass London Fire Brigade helmets from the 1920s. Among the variety of interchangeable straps and bracelets available are tough, supple rubber straps that have been hand-cut from fire hoses used more than 10 years by the U.K. Fire and Rescue Service, which still maintain a faint smokiness from their decade-plus of service. Other aesthetic nods to firefighting culture abound throughout the company’s growing portfolio, including a checkered ring around the dials’ perimeter, in place of a traditional minute track, echoing the livery of a British fire engine; double indexes at 12 o’clock that resemble the collar markings on the lapel of a U.K. Fire and Rescue Service Crew Manager; applied vintage fire helmet icons above the logo; and counterweights on the seconds hands which take the form of the chime inside a historical fire bell. William Wood Watches are offered with a choice of two different types of mechanical automatic movements, either a Japanese Seiko NH35 or, for a slight upcharge, a Swiss Sellita SW200. William Wood donates a percentage of the sales of each watch to firefighting charities, including the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which it supported In 2021 with the auction of a unique piece that commemorated the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. In 2022, William Wood introduced its newest collection, called Fearless (pictured), with colorful field-watch dials and rugged, black firehose straps.
Roger W. Smith Ltd.
Headquarters: Isle of Man, England, U.K.
Founder: Roger W. Smith
Notable models: Series 1 through 4, Series 5 Open Dial, The Great Britain
A protegé of the late Dr. George Daniels, a legend of 20th Century British watchmaking and the inventor of Omega’s co-axial escapement, Roger Smith continues his mentor’s traditional methods of watchmaking with his own eponymous, independent brand, headquartered on Great Britain’s Isle of Man. Smith’s atelier, which he opened in 2001, employs a small team of expert craftsmen trained in the so-called “Daniels Method,” in which all components are made from raw materials and nearly all production processes are executed by hand. This meticulous system allows Smith to make only 12 watches per year, all of which are both highly priced and highly prized by those connoisseurs that manage to acquire one. Roger Smith watches feature hand-engraved or engine-turned dials with unique, sculpted hands, and traditional English horological decorations on the movements, which are equipped with the Daniels co-axial escapement. The original Series 1 timepieces feature a time-only design with small seconds; the Series 2 adds a power reserve indicator to the Series 1 dial design; the Series 3 replaces the power reserve with a retrograde date; and the Series 4 (pictured) is the most complicated piece, with day, date, month and moon-phase displays. The Series 5 boasts a dazzlingly decorated skeleton dial, and The Great Britain lives up to its name with its sterling silver, multi-relief dial bearing an off-center Union Jack motif.
Founded: 1916 (original), 2016 (modern)
Headquarters: London, England, U.K.
Founder: Claude Lyons (original), Don Cochrane (modern)
Notable models: M60 AquaLion, M100, MP45 Series
Specializing in making watches in Britain with Swiss-made movements, Vertex traces its origins to 1912, when founder Claude Lyons borrowed 1,000 pounds from his father and started making watches for British troops in World War I. By the 1920s, the company had opened a factory in La Chaux-de-Fonds and had expanded into other types of timepieces, like ladies’ jewelry watches. Henry Lazarus, Claude’s son-in-law, took over the company in 1938 and shortly parlayed his stint as an Army Captain into opportunities to provide watches to the troops. Shortly thereafter, Vertex became one of only 12 companies contracted by the British Ministry of Defence in 1944 to produce watches for its troops under strict military specifications, a now-rare series of watches known as the Dirty Dozen, Vertex’s contribution was the chrome-topped, 35mm, Caliber 59-equipped W.W.W. Nav watch, which according to the modern brand was sent to troops preparing for the D-Day invasion in 1944. Vertex shut down in 1972 and reopened in 2015, run by Claude Lyons’ great-grandson. Like its fellow revived heritage brand Timor, profiled below, Vertex has revisited its Finest Hour of watchmaking during World War II to inspire its modern collection. The heavily Dirty Dozen-inspired M100 series is the modern collection's flagship; like their historical predecessors, the watch's dials feature the “broad arrow” emblem under the logo that traditionally denotes a watch as U.K. government property.
Cabot Watch Company (CWC)
Headquarters: London, England, U.K.
Founder: Ray Mellor
Notable models: British Military G10, 1980 Royal Navy Divers Reissue, Mellor 72 Mechanical
After serving in the British merchant navy during World War II, Ray Mellor became a U.K. distributor for American watchmaker Hamilton, establishing client contracts with the Ministry of Defence. When Hamilton shuttered its U.K. distribution during the Quartz Crisis, Mellor used his MOD contacts to build up a new brand, named after 15th-century explorer John Cabot, who famously sailed from Bristol, England, to North America under the banner of England’s King Henry VII. From the 1980s through the present day, Cabot Watch Company, or CWC, has become firmly established as the foremost supplier to Britain’s military units, including the RAF and Royal Navy, as well as BBC war correspondents. Early in the 21st century, CWC’s array of military-issue watches — made in Switzerland, still to military specs, with both quartz and mechanical movements — began catching the eye of civilian watch enthusiasts. The G10 series of field watches, based on some of the earliest models, remains a favorite, along with modern reissues of military-issued classics like the 1983 Royal Navy Divers Quartz and the so-called “Fatboy” G10, the first quartz-powered watch issued to British armed forces. The recently released Mellor-72 Mechanical, with a tonneau-shaped steel case, a gray NATO strap, and a hand-wound Swiss Sellita movement, is a tribute to the first watch Mellor ever designed for the MOD.
Founded: 1923 (original), 2018 (modern)
Headquarters: Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, U.K.
Founders: J. Bernheim & Co. (original), Benjamin Briggs (modern)
Notable models: Heritage Field ATP
Timor started making watches in 1923 in La Chaux-de-Fonds and was noted for making one of the first watches for partially sighted people in 1931; the timepiece featured a hinged crystal over the dial and Braille numerals. The brand was popular in Britain and made one of the first wristwatches for the British Army under the A.T.P. (Army Trade Pattern) military specs, as well as one of the “Dirty Dozen” field watches commissioned by the British government during World War II. Timor later made stylish dress watches during the 1960s “Swinging London” era before falling victim to the Quartz Crisis, as so many of its peers had, in the 1970s. The company re-emerged under new ownership in 2000 as a niche producer of competitively priced pocket watches which were sold in the Far East. In 2015, Timor returned to its roots, with a new headquarters in the U.K. and production in Switzerland, focusing on vintage-influenced pieces like the Heritage Field ATP, which evokes the look of the now-rare Dirty Dozen model from the 1940s. The original watch’s chrome-plated 36.5mm steel case contained the mechanical Caliber 6060 and its black dial hosted luminous pencil-shaped hands; the modern re-creation (above, next to the vintage Dirty Dozen model) has identical case dimensions and a hand-wound Sellita SW216-1 movement.
Headquarters: South Oxfordshire, England, U.K.
Founder: Piers Barry
Notable models: Pure, Neutron, Elapse, TT
Valuing “clarity over complexity,” and lavishing meticulous details on the cases, dials, and straps, Pinion Watch Company was established in 2013 by Piers Barry, an experienced digital graphic designer who had previously worked in the film industry. Barry, who became fascinated with watches as a child, started his brand with the “AXIS” collection, a trio of watches with automatic movements that referenced the design of tool watches from the World War II era. Pinion watches are built in Britain and use both modern and vintage Swiss movements; the limited-edition Revival 1969 (or R1969), which followed up the debut collection, was a chronograph wristwatch powered by a “new old stock” Valjoux 7734 caliber from the eponymous year of 1969, while the Axis Pure LE was a time-only model equipped with an antique, hand-wound Unitas pocket watch caliber. All Pinion watches are made in very small batches and many have long sold out. Currently on the market are models like the Neutron, with an electroplated guilloché dial and an ETA 2824-2, the Valjoux 7750-equipped Elapse chronograph, and the titanium-cased TT with a GMT (hence TT for "Two Timezones") functionality.
Fears Watch Co.
Headquarters: Bristol, U.K.
Notable Models: Redcliff, Brunswick
One of the oldest family-owned watch companies in Britain, Fears’ current management represents the sixth generation of the founding family. Edwin Fear established his watchmaking workshop and showroom in Bristol, where the firm is still headquartered, in 1846, and his descendants have steered the company through numerous ups and downs in the decades since, including heavy damage from bombing raids during World War II. Like so many others, Fears closed its doors in the 1970s’ Quartz Crisis era but started its second life in 2016 when Edwin Fears’ great-great-great grandson relaunched the company at Britain’s Salon QP watch fair with the Redcliff, a time-and-date-only model with distinctive syringe-style hour markers and a Swiss quartz movement, named after the street where the original workshop was located. The Redcliff was followed by the cushion-shaped Brunswick, named after Brunswick Square in Bristol, with small seconds and a manually wound Swiss ETA caliber. According to the company, today’s Fears watches are all built in small batches by a single watchmaker at a workshop in Norwich, Norfolk, with many parts sourced from fellow family-owned businesses in the U.K.
Join the Conversation
How about Rotary? A proper British brand with some Swiss history too
What about some of the Scottish watch brands like AnOrdain or Marlow?
I’ve followed William Wood for several years and find their line authentically intriguing and aesthetically quite handsome. Have not pulled the trigger but could see one on my wrist. I like that they continue to innovate while staying true to the roots of their firefighting heritage.