Guides Watches

What Does “Made in Britain” Actually Mean For Watches?

Bremont Workshop

There’s a certain pride to the words ‘Made in Britain’. It resonates with the kind of classic, stiff-upper-lip craftsmanship of yore, a sign to the world that yes, this is a product made in honour of Queen and country! It’s a term that resonates around the world in fact, with British products doing incredibly well, especially Stateside.

That’s why we have the Made in Britain mark, a registered trademark that, on the surface at least, states outright that whatever it graces, be it cheese, car or indeed watch, is made right here in Britain. The problem is that the word ‘made’ is doing some seriously heavy lifting there.

It’s easy to assume that Made in Britain in its simplest sense ensures that everything, every material and every part that goes into a product is from here. That however is not the case, at least not as defined by the term. Instead, it’s a little more nebulous: the economic origin.

Ettinger Lifestyle Double Watch Roll

British luxury leather goods company Ettinger’s Lifestyle Double Watch Roll, £300

Now, when it comes to heritage brands that have been here for centuries – your Florises, Ettingers and the other ancient labels – that’s not a problem. They tend to use local products that are turned into perfumes and bags locally. All good. Even in the case of fashion brands, which naturally have to import many of their textiles, it’s pretty clear-cut, turning raw materials into a bespoke suit.

But when it comes to watches, things are a little trickier. A pile of movements, sapphire crystals and handsets only have wholesale value, which tends to be minimal, especially if said products are coming from China rather than Switzerland. It’s the assembly that turns them into ready-to-sell timepieces with some serious market value.

Christopher Ward C60 Lympstone

Christopher Ward watches are designed in England and manufactured in Switzerland

So, if you import the vast majority of components and simply assemble them here in Britain, here will be the finished product’s economic origin and you can slap ‘Made in Britain’ right there on the dial. That’s the case even if your movements, cases and other swathes of the watch come fully built.

But let’s take that ‘economic value’ to its logical extreme. British products have an inherent perceived value, so what if you simply bought a finished or semi-finished product elsewhere, imported it, repackaged it and sold with a significant mark-up? Here would be the economic origin, so would it be Made in Britain?

Bremont Watchmaking

The workshop of British watchmaking brand Bremont

Fortunately, not. There is no specific law pinning it down, but the Trades Description Act of 1965 does include one helpful line: ‘Goods shall be deemed to have been manufactured or produced in the country in which they last underwent a treatment or process resulting in a substantial change.’ That rules out simply repackaging, thank God. Finishing though, it does not.

Roger Smith Series 4 Triple Calendar

Roger Smith Series 4 Triple Calendar

If you take your ready-made timepiece, bought in bulk from a factory in the Far East that puts Rolex to shame. You bring it back home and add a custom rotor, jazz up the dial a bit and add a shiny new British leather strap, then that counts. It might be the very last stage in production, but the bottom line is that it’s all that counts. Now, it’s not just watches that have this issue of course.

Not too long ago, ceramics were under fire, with teapots, plates and the like stating that they were ‘Made in Stoke’ when only the final glaze was done there. I mean, there was obviously something dodge going on; who wants to be from Stoke? But we’re a watch magazine so we’re always going to focus on timepieces.

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About the author

Sam Kessler

Legend has it that Sam’s first word was ‘escapement’ and, while he might have started that legend himself, he’s been in the watch world long enough that it makes little difference. As the editor of Oracle Time, he’s our leading man for all things horological – even if he does love yellow dials to a worrying degree. Owns a Pogue; doesn’t own an Oyster Perpetual. Yet.