Why 'British Design' Means Something

Why 'British Design' Means Something

Trolls. Depending on whether you’re of the social media generation or not, the word may conjure up either an image of a squat, unloved creature dwelling beneath a bridge, or it might make you think of an – often otherwise respectable – individual who scours the internet looking for companies or people that they know very little about to fixate upon and attempt to engage in verbal warfare. It isn’t just teenage boys with excess testosterone who do this; middle aged school teachers, doctors, professors, builders, chefs, stay-at-home parents… you name the profession, there’ll be a troll within their midst.

It’s a telling sign of the age we live in; a keyboard or phone provides an excellent mask, weapon and shield all-in-one for anyone wishing to try and expel any bitterness within them onto complete strangers on the internet. It comes with the territory to a certain extent, and it’s not always coming from a bad place. Not everyone who criticises, questions or challenges us is a troll; far from it. The vast majority of the time, people just want clarity on who we are and what we do, and we're always happy to provide that; we are very open company who make a habit of sharing how we work, and we love talking about all things watch-related. But occasionally, a comment is made and it’s immediately clear that the individual isn’t interested in a chat or an education; they simply wish to attempt to belittle either us, as a brand, our watches, or the British watch industry as a whole.


The vast majority of the time, if we notice such a person residing in our exceptionally positive, engaging and clued-up community, we don’t give them a second thought. If any attempt to educate or inform further inflames their rage, we won’t push it; it really doesn’t bother us. Our watches aren’t designed to resonate with everyone, and if throwaway criticism is what makes them happy, then so be it.

However, there’s one comment that we have spotted a few times – both on our own social media platforms, and on others’ – that does somewhat arouse our passion. And it's this one; ‘British design doesn’t mean anything’.

Marloe Watch Company is a design-led business. Design is where our expertise lies, it’s where our passion comes from, and it’s what we like to occupy our days doing. It’s where we know we can bring something unique to the market; we aren’t watch builders, and we certainly aren’t going to win in a competition against our Swiss or Japanese manufacturing partners in a battle of ‘who can make the most reliable watch movement’. There’s a reason they’re world leaders, and there’s a reason why we don’t manufacture our watches in Britain; that reason is just not immediately obvious to those who dip in and out of the watch world, as most do. Again, that's OK; we love designing watches, and some of us are rabbit-hole watch people; but not all of us are, and that's ok.

Coniston Caseback

Great Britain led the way in watchmaking in the 17th and 18th centuries. Many argue that the watch was itself a British invention. In the 17th century, King Charles II introduced the waistcoat to the fashion elite. This unusual garment required a slimline pocket watch to complement it, rather than a common, rounded pendant style clock which had, until then, been strung around the neck. These early timepieces were, ironically, pretty bad at telling the time, but nevertheless they paved the way for horologists to begin to hone their craft and build something more akin to the watches that we know today.

By 1800, Britain was making around half of the world’s timepieces – about 200,000 a year. Many of the great innovators of watchmaking were British, wholly responsible for many of the techniques and common features which are still used within mechanical watchmaking to this day. Daniel Quare added a minute hand in 1690, Thomas Mudge invented the lever escapement in 1755, Thomas Prest discovered keyless winding in 1820. John Harrison, best known for his marine chronometers of the mid-18th century, solved the problem of accurately telling time while at sea; something which allowed sailors to accurately determine their longitude, which in turn was a huge factor in the growth of the British Empire. Every one of these British men was a pioneer, an inventor, and one of the founding fathers of watches.

Thus, the foundations of watchmaking were shaped in Britain; even Rolex, the world’s most successful luxury watch brand, started out in London. So what happened?

In the 1800s, the watchmaking industry was largely based in London’s northern suburbs. Producing high-end objects of luxury and beauty, despite the poverty and overcrowding which surrounded them, British watchmakers continued to thrive until both Switzerland and the USA began to offer far cheaper alternatives to their customers, opening up the market to a wider customer base. In 1846, a Swiss watchmaker named Pierre Frédéric Ingold set up a workshop in Clerkenwell. Ingold brought with him extensive plans for machines that he had built with the intention of mass-producing watches, but he was met with furore and distrust by his British counterparts. Eventually the uproar spilled into the Houses of Parliament; and the verdict was damning; mechanised watchmaking was simply not welcome in Britain at that point. And so, Ingold took his ideas to Britain’s main competitors; the USA, and to his native Switzerland, where they were welcomed with open arms. And they thrived. By 1900, there were just three British watchmaking companies remaining in the UK. The British industry had, by this point, realised that they must embrace factory production, but it was too late. Switzerland had attained a near monopoly on the high-end watch market, which remains the case to this day, while Asia leads the way in manufacturing low-cost battery-powered quartz watches.

A sad tale, indeed. Ironically, the near-death of the British watchmaking industry was, largely, due to a desire to preserve tradition; and now, that’s where a few companies are focusing their efforts in an attempt to revive the industry; starting with tradition, and rediscovering the true spirit of British watchmaking. Today, there is only really one truly British watchmaker in existence; Roger W. Smith, whose team produce watches comprised of entirely hand-made, British parts – including their own British movement - from their Isle of Man studio. Clients often have to wait for around three years to get their hands on a Roger W. Smith wristwatch, and will pay anything from £100,000 to £250,000 to obtain one of his timepieces. Needless to say, as incredible as his work is, it’s not for everyone.

Morar Emerald

We are often asked why we use Swiss or Japanese parts and manufacturing. The simple answer is that they are the best, and there are no real other options if we are to continue to create what we'd consider affordable watches, that live up to our expectations in terms of reliability, durability or quality. The vast majority of watch brands don’t manufacture their own movements; you will often find the same movement within a £5,000 watch as you will within a £500 watch from two different brands, and often supplied and built, together with the rest of the watch, by the same manufacturing partner. Therefore the only distinguishing feature of these watches is the design. It’s the heart and soul of the watch; it’s what makes it unique, what causes one customer to fall in love instantly and another to turn their nose up. Design goes beyond the colours chosen or the shape of the hands; it’s the shape of the case and how waterproof it is, it’s the durability of the crystal, it’s how the crown sits and the sweep of the hands as they traverse the dial. Much of what makes a watch high-quality is down to the design, rather than simply the movement within.

Marloe Watch Company was born from a moment of disappointment; when Oliver opened up his relatively pricey fashion watch to reveal its empty, battery-operated core. Our customers will never experience that feeling, for within each of our watches lies a miracle of engineering. They may not be British movements, but they’re selected for their exceptional performance, reputation and heritage – which, ultimately, is still partially rooted in Great Britain. What encircles the movement is, in the case of Marloe Watch Company, British to a molecular level. Inspired by Great British endeavour and bodies of water, every element of a Marloe watch is carefully considered and designed to reflect its roots; whether they lie in the Lake District, in the churning oceans off Scotland, or in the spirit of British adventure – our home permeates every one of our designs.

British Design

For any British company to acquire the expertise, tooling, machinery and workforce necessary to begin to manufacture their own British movements, an incomprehensible sum of money would be required; far too much for one, or even a collective of brands to consider. British watchmaking will almost certainly never be what it was, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be something great, and different. That’s where Marloe Watch Company, and a number of other British watch design companies, come into it; and that’s where we are keen to emphasise the importance of British design. Far from meaning nothing, it means everything if we are to begin to rebuild what has been lost, and write a new page in the history books. With the foundations of watchmaking still rooted in Britain – albeit under a pile of rubble now – there is an inherent desire among British watch designers to create, to encapsulate this spirit within beautiful timepieces once again.

So when we are told, by a generally ill-informed passing individual who is mid-scroll on their Facebook or Instagram, that ‘British design’ means nothing, we are liable to want to educate them; because it matters. It means everything to the watchmaking industry, to us, and to our customers. There is absolutely no secrecy or shame in us working with the Swiss or Japanese to bring our watches to life; on the contrary, we sing the praises of the movements that we have carefully selected. They’re in our watches for a reason, and, we are incredibly proud to be working with some of the very best in the world while ensuring that we still sell our watches at as accessible a price level as possible. While it’s wonderful to think that, one day, Britain might regain its manufacturing capabilities so that we can all call ourselves ‘British watchmakers’, it’s an unlikely prospect in our lifetime. And we’re at peace with that, as proud British watch designers.

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  • As a brand new member to the Marloe Clan, (Taken delivery of a Coniston Black today, and awaiting Christmas Day for the great unboxing !) can I just say how much I admire your philosophy and commitment to delivering style and quality without having to pay the ludicrous sums demanded by the mainline mega-brands.
    One suggestion for a future theme – maybe you should talk to Linn Audio based in Glasgow; who like yourselves are committed to British design coupled with audio engineering excellence… could be a partnership made for one another for a new Marloe/Linn range ?

    Malcolm Morris
  • Just taken delivery of my Coniston watch and am absolutely delighted.It looks fantastic and can’t wait to show it off.
    Many thanks

    Ronnie Scott
  • Picking up on Oliver’s point about expensive watches with cheap quartz movements. I gave up long ago taking watches back to jewellers to have batteries changed and do it myself. My wife’s £20 L….S watch stopped so I took the back off and changed the battery and all good ! Then my expensive L……S Hydro…….t stopped and I thought, should I risk that with such an expensive piece…nothing ventured… imagine my surprise, shock, horror and annoyance when I got the back off and the movement looked absolutely identical !
    Fortunately my Coniston Speed Edition and the soon to arrive Morar Black Edition won’t give me those sort of issues…good old fashioned British design and ultra reliable Japanese engineering… an unbeatable combination.
    Thank you both.

  • What a great article, I have over 40 watches and love horology, my wife pointed out MWC and it is a breath of fresh air, beautiful designs. I have 2 on order and will be ordering more in time. Good luck for the future and keep those British designs coming

    andrew clark
  • Good morning, I love how you have come up with the naming of each model. How these subjects have inspired your thinking.

    I found my current watch, Oris, over thirty years ago. Back then the cost was the prohibitive factor. The design however was the one thing that never left me.

    Then in 2011 I had a heart attack, I did survive, otherwise this is my ghost writing this! Fortunately I had insurance that I had forgotten about. This provided me the funds to purchase “my” watch, the Oris Big Crown Date Pointer. I believe it was designed for pilots to adjust with a gloved hand. It also has some kind of a reminder of my father who was in the RAF serving the Far East based it Indonesia in WW2. Fortunately that’s also were he met my Mother.

    To date, I have not yet found a design that has been able to pull me away from this brand and model. I’ve subscribed to your news letter so I live in hope you can pull that one out of this “timeless” bag.

    Wonderful to see such Great British Design and style back holding the flag. Bringing it back to Britain.

    Note; regarding bringing it back. Whilst you’re out there checking and searching, if you find “common sense” wondering about lost, can you bring that back as well, been lost for the most part of forty years.

    Michael Minster


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