8 British Watch Brands Leading The Industry In 2023

These UK watchmakers design and manufacture the majority of their timepieces on home soil, with results that rival Switzerland.

Where to start with a list of the best British watch brands? Maybe with the word ‘British’, which is contentious in and of itself. Back when Bremont was considered a niche watchmaker, there were purists who thought it had no right to call itself British given that parts and movements were sourced from Switzerland.

But the UK doesn’t have the kind of strictures the Swiss have – with 60% of manufacturing costs needing to be generated in Switzerland before ‘Swiss made’ can be added to the dial – nor does it have the infrastructure to manufacture at scale, yet.

So, for the purpose of this article, to define British, we have borrowed a quote from a WatchTime piece on this very topic by Farer founder Paul Sweetnam: “If Aston Martin can use a Mercedes engine and still be considered a very British car brand, should our goal as watchmakers be to make an in-house movement and drive up prices exponentially, or to continue to develop watches that are very British and bring great value?”

Therefore, this list runs the gamut from being designed in the UK and Swiss built to having varying degrees of assembly and creation in the UK. But all of them are uniquely British in some way.

Fears

This now-Bristol-based brand can trace its lineage back to 1846, making it the oldest name on the list.

It was closed in 1976 and has been resurrected by founder Edwin Fear’s great-great-great grandson, Nicholas Bowman-Scargill, who paid £12 for the company name back in 2016 after finding out about his family’s watchmaking lineage during a chance conversation with his mother.

How British are Fears watches?

Fears watches are part-made in Britain

All watches are handbuilt in Norwich, with one specialist in charge of a single watch from start to finish. The components are supplied by family-run businesses in the UK and Europe, with everything bar the movement, which is an ETA, and the onion-shaped crown being designed to Fears’ specifications, which makes the IP (intellectual property) very British.

So particular is Bowman-Scargill about the quality of his watches that he performs the final quality checks on every individually numbered timepiece himself.

Style of watch

Fears Brunswick watch with salmon dial worn on wrist

In keeping with Bowman-Scargill’s personal “gentleman about town” aesthetic, the watches take their cues from archive Fears pieces. For example, the Brunswick is inspired by a cushion-cased design from 1924. There’s also the Reverso-esque Archival, based on a design made by Fears in 1930, and a bold collaboration with fellow Brit, Garrick (below).

Dial colours are inventive on the Brunswick. Rather than sticking with traditional hues (though there is the option of blue, white or silver if you’d prefer), you have blush pink, a regal purple to commemorate the Queen’s Jubilee, a striking salmon that’s more orange than pink, and a lovely champagne shade that really brings out the applied numerals.

Model to buy

It has to be the Brunswick Champagne. Buy it and you need never wear another watch again.

Shop now: FearsWatches.com

Garrick

This Norfolk-based brand was set up in 2014 by David Brailsford and Simon Michlmayr with the intention of manufacturing as much of a watch as possible in the UK, with a little help from the Swiss.

How British are Garrick watches?

Watchmaker inspecting a Garrick watch dial

While Garrick acquires its mainplates, gear trains, spring barrels, balance and main springs from Switzerland, everything is highly modified in-house, sometimes with the addition of locally-produced parts.

Unsurprisingly this is not a mass-market marque. Garrick produces just 50 watches a year, with bespoke options available such as custom guilloche, the option to swap the regular dial for an enamel one, and personalised inscription either dialside or the back of the watch.

In 2016, it collaborated with Swiss watchmaker and movement designer Andreas Strehler to create its own hand-wound movement, which is used in the more premium models, while in its under £10,000 collection a highly modified ETA is used.

Everything is made to order, so expect to wait for your watch.

Style of watch

Garrick British watch on wrist

Garrick’s designs borrow from the golden age of English clock making – there is an air of the 19th century gent about them, thanks to the Roman numerals and exquisite guilloche, though recent additions to the collection – the S6 and Regulator – have leaned into more modern stylings.

Model to buy

For the classic Garrick aesthetic and a Strehler-designed movement, the S2. For something more contemporary, the S6.

Shop now: garrick.co.uk

Roger Smith

Although not technically a brand, you wouldn’t have British watchmaking without Roger Smith. Protégé of, and successor to, the legendary George Daniels – who pioneered making watches entirely by hand and also sold his overhaul of the escapement, the co-axial, to Omega – Roger Smith makes a handful of timepieces a year, in true Daniels tradition, with only a few tiny components, such as hairsprings, not made in-house at his workshop on the Isle of Man.

How British are Roger Smith watches?

Roger Smith, a British watchmaker

You can’t get more British than Roger Smith. Of the 34 skills required to make a watch, Smith and his team undertake 32 of them in-house, in the workshop Smith inherited from Daniels when he died in 2011.

Only engraving and balance-spring making are outsourced. This is why he only makes five watches a year and has had to close his order book (for now) in order to clear the backlog.

Style of watch

Roger Smith British watch worn on wrist

Timeless and elegant. Smith has said in interviews that Daniels drummed into him the notion that the two pillars of watch design were clarity and simplicity, and Smith’s creations adhere to that.

Even his perpetual calendar, the complication most likely to make a mess of a dial, is legible with a dial that feels uncluttered.

Model to buy

Good luck trying to buy one – each watch has to be commissioned and they rarely go on sale. But if you can get your hands on a Roger Smith, it should be the Series 1, the original and to some minds the best.

A recent exclusive Series 1 – designed for A Collected Man and auctioned last year to raise money for the Alliance of British Watch and Clockmakers – went for £660,000. So, a healthy bank balance is a necessity.

Shop now: rwsmithwatches.com

William Wood

The British fire service isn’t the obvious inspiration for a watchmaker, but it’s where William Wood CEO Jonny Garrett looked when he set up his company in 2016. The name is that of his maternal grandfather who was a firefighter in the Tyne and Wear fire and rescue service.

How British are William Wood watches?

Close up of the dial of a British William Wood watch

The fire service doesn’t just provide inspiration, it provides materials too. William Wood straps are made from upcycled fire hoses, initially just from the UK but now including fire services from around the world, while the brass inside every single one of its watches is taken from 100-year-old British firefighters helmets, which are melted down in London’s Hatton Garden. It’s a quirky and individual approach that has helped this up-and-coming watch brand quickly gain a foothold in a notoriously difficult industry to crack.

The watches are assembled in China, Switzerland and Hong Kong, with the higher-priced models powered by Sellita, the lower ones a Seiko. However, the inspiration and heart is British. Garrett does have plans for a UK HQ and retail space, which he hopes will be in a disused fire station. The challenge is finding one.

Style of watch

British William Wood automatic watch worn on wrist

Apart from the Chivalrous collection, which is William Wood’s interpretation of a dress watch, the aesthetic is rugged and outdoorsy. There’s a retro vintage feel to the designs, though the precise decade would be hard to pinpoint.

The real point of interest is the upcycled fire hose straps. Each hose will have been used for over 10 years before being repurposed by William Wood. The different colours denote different fire and rescue stations: red being the London Fire Brigade; yellow the West Midlands fire service; blue Garrett’s grandfather’s beloved Tyne and Wear; and green from the British Armed Forces.

Garrett has even sourced orange-coloured hose from Sacramento’s fire service and purple from Japan’s Fire Department.

Model to buy

Any colour from the Valiant collection. It’s quintessential William Wood.

Shop now: williamwoodwatches.com

Farer

Farer founder Paul Sweetenham started out in the fashion watch arena before being convinced that there was an appetite for premium quality watches at a reasonable price. The first collection, in 2015, was quartz, with interesting touches such as the now-signature bronze crown.

After just one year, Farer decided to up the ante and introduce a line of keenly-priced automatics and it now boasts a comprehensive selection including chronographs, GMTs and world timers.

How British are Farer watches?

Watchmaker making a Farer British timepiece

Sweetenham has been very clear, since the brand was founded in 2015, that the design is British and the architecture Swiss.

Every timepiece is designed in London with collection names taken from British explorers; roads around Greenwich Park, which houses the Royal Observatory, where Mean Time was declared in 1884; Olympic athletes; and even boats that sailed from England to the New World.

These designs are then brought to life by Swiss private label manufacturer, Roventa Henex.

Style of watch

Man holding a British Farer automatic watch

Vintage explorer with a touch of refinement or a sense of fun. The Meredith chronograph, for example, is very much a classic heritage watch design, while its selection of AquaMatics offer a striking pop of colour.

Model to buy

The Lander IV GMT. One, because it’s named after the son of a Cornish innkeeper who was the only person to come home alive from an 1825 expedition to West Africa. And two, because the dial colour is just beautiful.

Shop now: farer.com

Christopher Ward

From the beginning Christopher Ward’s MO was not to burden the customer with the cost of fancy marketing and advertising budgets, but to simply sell them watches. No middle man, all online sales, no extra costs; just pay for the materials and the labour.

The ‘no advertising’ rule may have gone out of the window – forum gossip suggests the brand spent £1.5m on it in a year – but it is still sold exclusively online, though there is now a showroom at the Maidenhead HQ should you prefer an IRL experience.

How British are Christopher Ward watches?

British watchmaker, Christopher Ward inspecting a watch

This is another British designed, Swiss-made brand. Except here, the Swiss arm in question is Synergies Horlogères, with whom Christopher Ward merged in 2014 to create Christopher Ward London Holdings.

Style of watch

Man wearing a Christopher Ward British watch on wrist

Whatever you want, except perhaps a precious metal three-hand dress watch. From classic automotive-inspired chronographs and retro diving watches to bronze field watches or reinterpretations of a moonphase, your every horological desire will be satisfied at Christopher Ward.

Model to buy

Hard to choose, but the C65 Super Compressor is pretty handsome. And it was the first Super Compressor launched in 50 years.

Shop now: christopherward.com

Vertex

Another familial resurrection, Vertex was rebooted in 2015 by original founder Claude Lyon’s great-great grandson, Don Cochrane. It is also another brand leaning into the ‘British design, Swiss manufactured’ formula that appears to work for so many names on this list.

How British are Vertex watches?

Close up of a British Vertex watch

Vertex started life in 1912, when Claude Lyons set up The Dreadnought Watch Company in London’s Hatton Garden. It supplied the British military with watches during WWI. In 2015, manufacturing moved to Switzerland and Vertex was born.

Although it made civilian watches, Vertex is most famous for being the only British watch included in the Dirty Dozen – a group of 12 watches, including IWC and Omega, that were designed to specific criteria laid out by the Ministry of Defence in 1943 as to what should constitute a ‘general use’ military timepiece. The design features now associated with military watches – black dial, luminescent Arabic numerals, small seconds at six o’clock – were born out of this set of criteria.

The post-war landscape was not kind to Vertex, and it eventually shut up shop in 1972. Today’s Vertex echoes Lyon’s original idea of ‘design in London, make in Switzerland’.

Style of watch

Man holding a British Vertex watch

Modern riffs on the Dirty Dozen style that made it famous, alongside more contemporary diving watches. The option of manual wind is a clever nod to the brand’s past.

Model to buy

It has to be the M100A, a tribute to the watch Vertex made for the British military. The updated M100AC is also well worth a look.

Shop now: vertex-watches.com

Bremont

When people talk about British watchmaking today, Bremont’s name is top of the list. Founded by Nick and Giles English in 2002, it has done more than any other brand to try and bring watch manufacturing, at scale, back to the UK.

How British are Bremont watches?

Bremont's British watchmaking HQ, The Wing

More every day. Since Bremont established The Wing in 2021, its HQ and manufacturing facility in Henley-upon-Thames, it has been able to bring more and more of its processes in-house. The supply chain issues caused by the pandemic and Brexit, and the fact that, as the brothers have admited, they are not at the top of Switzerland’s supply lists, has necessitated speeding up this process.

It now manufactures and sub-assembles its own automatic and balance bridges and mainplates, and also machines the base components and assembles its new ENG300 movement at the Henley facility – a movement, which, by sheer bulk of metal, is 80% machined in house and 100% assembled.

Bremont prides itself on testing the movement, with rotor and complications fitted at The Wing, to its own H1 Timing Standard, which has criteria comparable to the standard chronometer test.

Style of watch

Two Bremont aviator flight watches in front of a propeller plane

Given the brothers’ love of planes, an aura of aviation pervades Bremont’s design language. It is also known for its trademarked three-layered case construction – the Trip Tick – with the middle layer milled separately from the case bezel and often in a different material, such as aluminium or titanium in the Martin Baker designs, or precious metals for its limited editions.

That said, Bremont has recently dipped a toe into the 1970s integrated steel market, which shakes things up a little.

Model to buy

The quintessential Bremont is the Solo. It has the Trip-Tick case, the classic aviation design cues and is just pared-back perfection.

Shop now: bremont.com