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British watch and clockmakers are generating annual sales of £125 million at retail, according to a survey by the recently created trade body the Alliance of the British Watch and Clock Makers.
The Alliance, which was launched last year, commissioned KPMG to conduct what it calls a Bellwether survey to get a gauge on the size and scope of the British industry and discovered over 100 UK-based watch and clockmaking brands producing over a million watches per year.
Chairman of the Alliance, Roger Smith OBE says the report highlights the current success and future opportunities for reigniting watchmaking in this country.
Until the middle of the last century, Britain was a major watchmaking country, but lost out to the Swiss as it developed a more complete network of component manufacturers and finished timepiece factories.
“We think there is enormous potential, both for growth and to encourage more of the ‘making’ back into Britain. Some British businesses are leading the charge in producing at least some of their components in-house, but now we can prove there is a growing market to further encourage the development of British supply-chain,” Mr Smith suggests.
Mike France, Alliance co-founder and CEO of Christopher Ward, one of Britain’s largest commercial watch companies, wants a currently fractured landscape of smaller players to pull together.
“The headline numbers reveal over 100 watch and clockmaking brands producing over a million watches per year. Most companies are niche or micro brands, but collectively they reveal Britain is back as a genuine player on the global stage,” he concludes.
Fellow Alliance co-founder, Alistair Audsley, is adamant that more manufacturing of components and finished watches can be brought back to this country.
“This is one of our major goals for the Alliance. Like most British consumer goods sectors, we’re still too reliant on off-shored supply chain,” he believes.
“But, from the outset we recognised that the only possible way to improve that is by working together; by sharing technical knowledge and encouraging British supply-chain partners. A single company can’t meaningfully make a positive difference for the sector, but this Bellwether indicates that, with over 100 companies out there, we might just have a realistic market for British supply chain.”
British microbrands are mainly selling direct to consumers via their own websites, with many exporting around the world.
The bellwether survey found that approximately half of the revenues from the 100 businesses that responded were made from UK sales during the last financial year, with North American the largest export market, followed by Europe, Asia Pacific, China, Australia, Gulf Cooperation countries, Caribbean, Latin America and India.
“This shows that international markets are growing fast for British watch and clock making and are driven by British qualities of innovation, unique designs and personalisation, as well as the stories behind the brands,” Mr France suggests.
While the aim of the Alliance is to boost manufacturing, there is a mountain to climb before that is a reality as the focus is very much on designing watches that are made overseas at this stage.
97% of the companies design their watches and clocks in the British Isles, but there is demand for skilled watch and clock makers so that more production can be brought onshore
“It’s vital for British horology to have sufficient skilled people entering our sector to maintain growth”, Mr Smith says. “A focus for the Alliance is to work with British educators to help develop talent and provide opportunities. Watch and clock making is a wonderful career choice and this Bellwether has shown it is also a viable career path for anyone with the right aptitude and training.”