British Watchmakers Day event shows the time for British watchmaking is now and its future is bright

10 March 2024, 14:11

BŌKEN Watches really stood out to me
BŌKEN Watches really stood out to me. Picture: EJ Ward
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

On a rare sunny March Saturday morning, the historic Lindley Hall in Westminster was abuzz with anticipation.

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March 9th, 2024, marked a significant moment in the revival of British horology: the inaugural British Watchmakers’ Day, hosted by the Alliance of British Watch and Clock Makers.

This event, dedicated to showcasing the craftsmanship and innovation of over 30 member brands, both new and established, represented a pivotal chapter in the resurgence of watchmaking on British soil.

The hall remained busy all day
The hall remained busy all day. Picture: LBC

The UK has a storied legacy in watchmaking, having been at the forefront of horological advancements during the 16th and 17th centuries.

However, the industry faced a decline, culminating in the Quartz Crisis of the 1970s, which saw the demise of many esteemed brands, including Fears. Yet, the turn of the millennium heralded a renaissance, spearheaded by luminaries like George Daniels and Roger W. Smith, and bolstered by brands such as Vertex and Christopher Ward.

The Alliance of British Watch & Clock Makers, founded in 2020, stands as a testament to this revival, now boasting over 80 brands.

The exhibition at Lindley Hall was not just a display of exquisite timepieces but a narrative of resilience and rebirth. Walking through the venue, attendees could immerse themselves in a blend of history and modern innovation. Each brand told a story, from the meticulous craftsmanship of atelier watches to the contemporary appeal of mainstream wristwatches.

For me the Vertex Watches stand stole the show, not only did it seem to be the largest stand at the show, they also were the only one with a vintage motorbike!

Vertex is not just a brand, it's also a story.

They were also unveiling their slightly smaller M100 model coming in at 36mm which is slightly smaller than its 40mm cousin.

The Vertex Stand had one addition which stood out more than any watch ever could
The Vertex Stand had one addition which stood out more than any watch ever could. Picture: LBC

However, you could not walk around the hall (literally you could not avoid the queue) for the Studio Underd0g stand.

This was because it was one of the few occasions watch lovers could pick up one of their pizza watches, as like pizzas they are only available 'hand delivered'.

The design of both pizza-themed watches features a classic 38.5mm stainless steel casing, equipped with rectangular pushers and a branded push-pull crown. The thickness of the watch, measured from one sapphire crystal face to the other, is 13.6mm. Designed with relatively short lugs, the distance from one lug to the other is a comfortably wearable 44.5mm. Through the transparent case back, one can admire the core components of these "pizzas". At the heart of each watch beats a manually wound Chinese Seagull ST1901 chronograph movement. This mechanism operates at a frequency of 21,600 vibrations per hour and boasts a power reserve of 50 hours when the chronograph is not in use.

It was strange to see people not only queuing to buy a watch but also joining a queue to get a selfie with a watch maker.

One another of my favourite stands, Poole-based watchmakers Elliot Brown were offering their Beachmaster Automatic - FADE, which was limited to just 20 pieces for 24hrs at the British Watchmakers Day, London.

Emerging from discussions with the Royal Marines and as a tribute to the D-Day operations, the exclusive, patent-holding mission timer known as "The Fade" was created.

Limited to a mere 20 units, this timepiece embodies the essence of its predecessors while introducing a striking red-green gradient on its inner timing bezel, a homage to the historic Normandy invasion, particularly the sectors Easy Red and Fox Green on Omaha Beach, during the landmark 80th anniversary of D-Day.

The Beachmaster Fade is a watch which has clearly had a heck of a lot of thought put into it
The Beachmaster Fade is a watch which has clearly had a heck of a lot of thought put into it. Picture: LBC

This timepiece is a GMT automatic, boasting a ceramic 60-minute uni-directional diver's bezel and is driven by the premium Swiss Sellita SW330-2 Automatic movement, which offers a 56-hour power reserve.

It's a design that encapsulates resilience, housed in a shell that's designed to withstand shock, encapsulating the movement within a fortress of durability. Its patented feature, an innovative click lock, split internal bezel synchronized with the GMT hand, allows for the meticulous timing of missions up to 12 hours in advance, transitioning seamlessly to track time elapsed after the commencement of the event.

For instance, if you're nine hours from the start, aligning the split-scale inner bezel nine hours ahead of the GMT hand prepares you for the countdown. Once the mission begins, the hand moves across to the other half of the bezel, enabling you to track time past the initial hour. This mechanism exemplifies the beauty of simplicity in design.

The Beachmaster is designed to outlast and outperform, rigorously tested to ensure its integrity even under 300m of water, embodying a construction that's fortified at every conceivable point against failure. This design philosophy extends to the storytelling imbued in each watch, a principle we adhere to across our special project collections, albeit discreetly to respect the privacy of our clientele.

The author's, well worn, Elliot Brown Holton made an appearance at the EB stand
The author's, well worn, Elliot Brown Holton made an appearance at the EB stand. Picture: LBC

The watch features an exquisitely divided dial, with a distinct metallic separation between the outer and inner sections, and a textured inner dial inspired by the NATO symbol for amphibious operations. The double arrow GMT hand not only offers a second time zone reading but also integrates with the inner 24h track for mission timing.

In low light or darkness, the watch transforms, with Superluminova illuminating the functions in blue for mission timing and green for standard timekeeping, offering a blend of simplicity, functionality, and elegance.

Every aspect of its construction, down to the compression-sealed, perfectly aligned case back, enhances its performance under pressure, symbolized by the deeply engraved "Beachmaster" above the NATO symbol for amphibious assault on the center zone.

But the innovation doesn't stop there. The tactile satisfaction of adjusting the mission timing bezel, facilitated by spring-loaded ceramic ball bearings that lock into place, reflects our commitment to mechanical excellence and the pleasure derived from operating a perfectly engineered object.

The design finesse of the Beachmaster extends to the visual distinction of its functions, achieved through a meticulous selection of numeric line weights and a bezel design that exudes elegance without the clutter of additional markings. This timepiece is not just an instrument of precision but a masterpiece of design, reflecting an obsession with detail that is palpable with every interaction.

I loved this watch, having worn a friend's Beachmaster Blackout, and being a huge fan of the EB metal bracelet I have to say I really do wish I was one of the 20 people who walked away with one.

The, huge, Odyssey was my favourite watch of the day
The, huge, Odyssey was my favourite watch of the day. Picture: LBC

The standout watch of the show, and my personal favourite was from BŌKEN Watches who are making a modern-day, titanium, adventure watch with a cause. They pledge to donate £50 of each watch to charity in the form of Just One Ocean.

The Odyssey, it is massive! Having worn an Omega Ultra Deep and a Rolex Deepsea I have to say this felt almost bigger.

A proper drive/adventure watch this one is rated down to 1,000mtrs

The Odyssey is set to launch in three months time (so start saving now, although not too hard as it comes in at under £1,000).

I have to say the whole BŌKEN Watches setup looked slick and you could easily believe they have been in business for years, but speaking to Daniel, the founder of the company, he revealed they have been running for just six months.

I was amazed, their existing watch The Nomad, a 42mm diver came in a package that looked so slick you could easily believe there was a huge team behind the brand.

Each watch comes in a BŌKEN branded Black Chest case (to quote one reply on their Instagram who summed it up far better than I could, "That’s some next level watch box game right there!!")

The Nomad comes in a range of eye-popping colours (my favourite was the Moonlight Onyx which has a black bezel and an artic white dial)

With 300 meters of water resistance, a ceramic bezel and brushed titanium throughout, it truly is an all adventure timepiece.

But my favourite watches aside it is clear the Alliance’s inclusive approach to membership, eschewing stringent production locality requirements, underscores its mission to foster growth and unity within the British watchmaking community.

This contrasts with the rigid criteria of the "Swiss Made" label, offering a more accessible platform for British and Irish brands.

However, the absence of certain brands like Bremont and CWC was noticeable to me

The British Watchmakers’ Day was more than an exhibition; it was a celebration of heritage, innovation, and the enduring spirit of British watchmaking.

It marked the beginning of a new era for the industry in the British Isles, promising a future where tradition and innovation walk hand in hand.

As the doors of Lindley Hall closed on this inaugural event, the message was clear: the time for British watchmaking is now, and its future is bright.