Last year’s opening of Bremont’s £20mn creation and innovation focus, on the edges of Henley-on-Thames, was intended to say something: The production of British watches has returned to the UK.
The 35,000-square-foot, wing-shaped facility can produce up to 50,000 watches annually, house hundreds of employees, and employ millions of pounds in machinery.
However, there is another aspect to Britain’s horological renaissance: the numerous small-volume producers that have emerged throughout the country over the past ten years. The majority of these producers adhere to the adage “designed by us but made elsewhere.”
The majority are little more than microbrands, so there is no need for large industrial facilities because there are no production lines to manage. Designer Giles Ellis, who is also the founder of the Schofield Watch Company, states, “We had been based in an old, asbestos-roofed industrial unit where we had been based since starting the business in 2011.” However, when a shop in Upper Beeding, West Sussex, where I grew up, became available for rent three years ago, it was the best decision we ever made for the brand.
“Having the shop has enabled us to be more analog and create a space representative of what Schofield stands for — a slower way of doing things and a lack of pretense,” says “We’ve been internet-based from the beginning.”
Schofield describes the tiny shop as an anomaly on the high street, where the only other businesses are a newsagent, a hairdresser, and a pharmacy. Schofield describes the shop as “akin to a 1920s dressmaking boutique.” The interior is decorated with pink walls, pink carpets, and terrazzo tiles, and tasteful window graphics replace the watches that Ellis’ insurance prohibits.
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Because Ellis has a workshop at his nearby house, the store only has a few basic tools for simple maintenance and strap-fitting tasks. However, he claims that it has evolved into a “destination” for those interested in learning more about his designs’ sources of inspiration.
35 miles west of Schofield, in Emsworth, lies the home of Zero West, established in 2018 by sketcher and creator Andrew Brabyn and colleague Graham Collins — a specialist with a foundation in creating military gear.
It was inevitable that models based on automobiles, motorcycles, boats, and aircraft would form the foundation of the portfolio when the pair set out to create watches that paid homage to historical engineering milestones and featured dials that displayed the latitude and longitude of the location where they occurred.
However, Brabyn didn’t realize that their choice of location might have been influenced by serendipity until they moved into their new home, a former boat house on Bridgefoot Path.
Andrew Brabyn of Zero West Daniel Tidbury recalls, “I was unloading the car when an elderly man stopped and engaged me in a conversation about the war.” Andrew Brabyn of Zero West informed me just as he was about to leave that in the 1920s, the boat house was where Sir Henry Segrave built his 1000 horsepower Sunbeam speed record car. We slowly found out over the next few months that George Gray, a metal fabrication expert who had made the paneling for the first Vanwall single-seater grand prix car, was using the building.
“He likewise dealt with Segrave’s Brilliant Bolt land speed vehicle and Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird — and, during the conflict, the boat shelter turned into a shadow production line making fuselage parts for wartime Firecracker military aircraft after the fundamental Supermarine plant [in close by Southampton] was besieged,” makes sense of Brabyn.
Daniel Tidbury Brabyn and Collins design all of Zero West’s models in the boat house, where they also build prototypes and hand-make the leather straps for each watch they sell. Zero West CR-2 Café Racer watch
Large numbers of the parts they use are delivered in the UK by Collins’ non-horological designing contacts and are gathered by a nearby watchmaker, who will without further ado set up a seat in the vicinity.
Daniel Tidbury: “I’m sure the building’s history as a design and manufacturing space has helped to inspire us, and the ancient wooden floor and full-length windows make for a wonderful atmosphere.” Brabyn has added to the place’s nostalgic vibe by decorating it with items like a Merlin Spitfire engine that supports a meeting table, vintage lights, burnished leather sofas, and shelves and bookcases lined with memorabilia from cars, aircraft, and marines.
It is very different from the more minimalist approach that the draughtsman Gordon Fraser and the marketing consultant Oliver Goffe, who founded Marloe Watch Company, took.
When the two of them started the company in 2015, Fraser made his designs in Perth, Scotland, while the headquarters were in Berkshire, more than 400 miles away.
However, it made sense for Marloe’s base to move closer to Fraser when Goffe was forced to temporarily relocate to the Netherlands.
“It ended up being a genuine battle to see as anyplace reasonable in Perth, where I was working in a tasteless old modern structure,” says Fraser.
“However, a chance conversation with Lynsay Bell Manson and her husband, Jeff, who run an architecture firm, led to the discovery that they planned to transform a decrepit, L-shaped milking shed in the Kinross countryside. After that, we agreed that they would construct a studio for Marloe in the other part of the “L,” and an office for themselves in the first.
Oliver Goffe (left) and Gordon Fraser of Marloe Watch Company Ryan McGoverne completed the construction during the Covid lockdowns, marrying the shed’s old stone exterior walls with a minimalist, contemporary interior.
None of our watches are based on anything that already exists because I prefer to use a process of intensive research into specific things that inspire us. This suits me perfectly because I like to design from a blank sheet of paper. These are sometimes based on human endeavors like breaking water and land speed records, pioneering aircraft, mountaineering, and other similar endeavors, and other times on nature and the landscape.
“Thus, being in this magnificent, perfect, cleaned up space in the wide open empowers me to turn out to be totally drenched in a particular subject with next to no interruptions.”
Currently, Marloe’s watches are assembled overseas using components from Japan and Switzerland; however, Fraser claims that the 2,500 square foot building has sufficient space to bring servicing, repairs, and assembly in-house.
However, when it comes to spaces that are truly minimalist, none compare to the long, narrow punt boats that the fledgling dial name Beaucroft uses to take customers on river trips in Cambridge, where it is based.
Matt Group, a mechanical specialist and item planner, helped to establish Beaucroft with marketeer Karim Faisali. After being introduced by their wives, the two realized that they wanted to start a business because of their mutual love of watches.
They sold their first items in person “with a box of watches and a bottle of hand-sanitizer” when they launched the company last year during the Covid pandemic.
The up close and personal experience caused Group to understand that a sub-£500 Beaucroft would, for some clients, be a first prologue to claiming a mechanical watch. ” We made a deal with Rutherford’s Punting so that we could talk to people while I sketch designs and figure out what they want in a watch because it seemed important to get in front of people and explain the history and significance of mechanical watches that led us to start Beaucroft.
The case of the most recent Beaucroft, which recently became the official watch of Cambridge University, was inspired by the curves and forms of some of the city’s river bridges.
The Cambridge Gin Laboratory is the company’s other unusual land-based headquarters: a bar and distillery housed within a Grade II-listed structure.