What is The Future of British Made Watches?

What is The Future of British Made Watches?

In the beginning we, as innocent bystanders, looked upon the fledgling British watch scene with awe. We knew what we wanted to do - bring affordable mechanical timepieces of bespoke design to market, allowing the layperson to see the stunning beauty of mechanical watches. At that time, early 2015, there wasn’t really anyone fulfilling that end of the market, and so we arrived and things went well for us.

The long-term objective back in 2015 was to bring watch manufacturing back to the UK. Not since the 1970s have watches been mass manufactured here. Single pieces handcrafted by Roger W Smith aside, the facility to make thousands of watches in the span of a year couldn’t be found on these shores. Gone were the artisans, the craftspeople, the watchmakers, the engineers and machine shops capable of producing this level of watch parts.

But that was changing. One company above all others was marching steadily towards bringing that capability back to the UK. As the British watch scene blossomed and folk willing to join the fray grew in number, we all looked on in anticipation and expectation at this company, as a template for doing it ourselves - a blueprint if you will.

As the years ticked by and Marloe became more established, our attention began shifting closer towards this goal and how we could supplement the collective drive towards British Made watches. How could we, with our modest size and budget, contribute in a meaningful way to the growing, bustling British watch scene? It would start with securing the level of skills required to assemble, repair and service a mechanical movement, and to assemble watches in house from parts we had made elsewhere.

It’s with no small sense of pride that we welcomed our first Head Watchmaker into the fold this month. Alison will lead the way in Marloe’s in-house technical capability, bringing years of incredible experience and ability into our arsenal. It’s such an exciting time for me personally, knowing I have a comrade in the design department whom I can bounce ideas off and discuss the technicalities of what we want to achieve. It’s a dream step towards the goal of doing things ourselves.

Packing up the stand at the British Watchmaker’s Day in March we heard rumblings from other exhibitors about the changing situation at one of the leaders of the British Made movement, the brand trailblazing the way towards British manufacture. The word on the street was that they were abandoning the British Made ship. According to the gossip, the term “British Made” didn’t have the kudos, the gravitas or the sway to make it a worthwhile endeavour. Like it or not, “Swiss Made” reigns supreme.

If that were true, I said to Oliver as we navigated the bustling London streets, then not only would it be a hugely surprising turn of events, given the significant investment in expertise, machinery, a new HQ and all the time spent making it happen, but it would send a very clear signal flare into the night sky: bringing mass manufacturing to British shores cannot be done. There’s no possible way, Oliver reasoned, that they’d bin all that graft, all that they had been working towards over the years. It’s unthinkable.

However, this week we've seen exactly that, and through various interviews with the people in charge about the direction of their company, the message is crystal clear - there is no demand for “British Made” watches in the wider world, and furthermore, there’s no value in manufacturing parts here. Now, you and I know that’s not strictly the case. In our world of excitement around British Design and celebrating British achievements, there’s a huge case to be made for a fully British manufactured watch. But if millions invested and many years of work cannot achieve it, then what does it mean for those without that level of support? I think there’s going to be a sea-change in attitude towards the “British Made” target.

Alison's arrival is perfectly timed, allowing us to take more control of aspects in our business that can be problematic. Aside from her technical ability and the streamlining of our designs for manufacture, it means we can do smaller runs, more bespoke editions and even, maybe, probably, one-offs. In-house servicing is now happening. Repairs and troubleshooting are done here, in Sonning Common. But charging head-first towards manufacturing our watches here? I think that dream has suffered a setback.

Let’s not get too upset. There are many positive things to glean from this move by one of the leaders of British watch brands. There’s a lot of insight that we can use to redirect our own energies towards what’s important, and most of all recognise that throwing money at problems and expecting them to work out in the end is not a good strategy. There’s also the very sobering realisation that decisions are being made based on what will deliver the most profit (obviously, this is what generally informs most business decisions) which in turn will have huge ramifications on the British watch industry. We’re all human, and ultimately even those with infinitely deep pockets have realised that it’s a task too difficult to surmount.

We are still a small player in the British watch scene and we do what we do with the same passion we’ve always had. But are we still focused on the collective goal of bringing manufacturing to the UK? On the whole, no. There are elements of our watches that we can make here, and have already started doing so: watch dials are the one thing that can change the entire look of a watch, so having the ability to make dials here is a huge bonus. Having a custom run of dials made just up the road from our HQ means we can quickly create special runs or smaller batches, and that means more exciting things coming from Marloe, more often.

Are we excited about assembling watches here? Absolutely we are - imagine being able to see your watch being assembled right there, in front of you? A powerful storytelling mechanism if ever there was one. Is it a shame that “British Made” has suffered such a setback? Of course it is, but I’m also glad that the realities of such a tough challenge have finally been recognised, and that we can move on from pursuing what was probably a mountain too high to climb.

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  • I am an avid watch collector, with far too many watches, I hold a special place for British watches; they mean something special to me. I started really collecting watches seriously with the purchase of British watch, from a brand that was originally set up to make stunning and original British designed watches, at an afford and attainable price point, with excellent after sales and a 60 month warranty. However, as that particular company became more successful, they took on their own watchmaker to create bespoke movements for them. This lead them to increasing move up market to a point where many of their watches were costing well into four figures. Eventually the founding name sake left, and now they produce a range of largely similar looking watches (the originality seems to have been lost), that are a lot more expensive, and in-house watches that are well beyond the mean of most collectors. Effectively they abandoned those who got them started, by pricing them out of reach. Sadly this happens all too often, as soon as watchmaker starts to become successful, they expand their ranges upwards, and eventually brings in their own watch maker and the prices double.

    I have one Marloe watch, purchased at a time when they were more affordable. It is absolutely stunning, unique and beautifully made. I’d love another Marloe, but each time they launch a new model it seems to be just that bit more expensive, and like others, I see their ranges steadily creeping up in price. Marloe will soon, I fear, reach a point where I will no longer be able to even consider another one. I believe that the true challenge in watch making is to remember those customers who were there for you when you got started, when you produced watches at a more affordable price point. Making new ranges that are still genuinely affordable, help keep your original customer base, it’s an interesting challenge as a watchmaker to achieve a unique watch at an entry price that those on smaller budgets can still afford and support you with. I’d dearly love to buy more Marloes, but as you grow, and introduce new ranges, my fear is that you will become increasingly unobtainable to those of us on tighter budgets, necessitated by the limitations of the cost of living. I hope sincerely hope that doesn’t happen, and you will succeed where others haven’t quite managed to do that. Thank you.

    Rick Lawlor
  • I think for the time being you are going the right way about it. Whether this is a fashion fad however that will go away to say that only Swiss watches will always be supreme and there can never be room for British made watches is debatable. Common sense however dictates that while you are a relatively small fish in a big pond means you cannot buck the trend – but don’t lose sight of the ultimate dream..

    Lynn Reid
  • I have 8 watches, three of which are the brand being spoken about.
    Two of the watches I wear once a year and the other 6 times a year.
    My one Marloe watch at the present time, a very early kickstarter model I wear far more frequently.
    The reason I wear the the Marloe is its look, feel and the fact that it is a British Watch that delivers on all fronts.
    It is my go to going out watch and I frequently get asked what it is.
    I would love to get an everyday Marloe watch but I am waiting for the right watch !
    The position of Marloe in the marketplace is that the watch I am waiting for will more than probably arrive whereas if a brand gets too big it seems that price point increases but watch quality does not follow. And watches become more generic.
    Please keep your principles and focus and individuality and wearers like myself will be looking to buy again.
    A few years ago Marloe asked a question about what there next watch should be called.
    I suggested The Lathkill Dale river in Derbyshire because it appeared and disappeared underground. Somewhat magical.
    How many watch brands involve customers like this.
    I got a reply from Marloe as well.
    Keep up the great work Marloe.
    You are already putting British Watchmaking on the Map.
    Most of us Marloe owners do not want more Swiss Clones.

    Andy watson
  • I came into “watch collectung” accidentally… I wanted a nice watch and there were thousands to choose from. So I narrowed the field…. I wanted a British watch. Now, admittedly my first was not a Marloe…. I found another British design, Swiss made… But I see them stretching the brand and in my opinion, losing their identity and direction somewhat.
    …and now again the same with a bigger brand with the in-house manufacturing capability looks to be going the same way.. Changing and seemingly losing the strong core of their brand faithful.
    I can see and admire the desire to see the dream through, but Marloe is still a young and growing company.
    I would hate to see the real Marloe that we have grown to love be.consumed by the dream and changed to by trying run before it is truly ready.
    Patience and observance of what is happening cureently, may give everyone valuable lessons and guidance to what is, truly desired by the Marloe fan, what is feasible, possible and practical.
    I would love a Marloe with the proud Made in Britain badge, but not at the cost of losing the plot and therefore the heart and public.

    David Babb-Farrell
  • As long as the key Marloe qualities of inspired (British) design, excellent construction and great value are maintained, I think the customers will go on being happy. In-house servicing and repair are obviously important, and the plans for in-house assembly sound great. But from there to total manufacturing in the UK does sound like maybe a bridge too far. For a few decades anyway.

    Howard Colquhoun

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