September 2023 16 Min read

The Evolving Craft of British Watchmaking

By Kwan Ann Tan

Where do we start when we talk about “craft” in the modern world? While the word is sometimes used interchangeably with “artisanal” to distinguish products from the mass-produced, prosaic items that flood our daily lives, true craft positions itself as a form of meaningful creation, a process that takes care and thought – and, perhaps most crucially, skill.

To practise a craft today is to participate in a small but growing sector, partaking in what was once the only way to do things, carrying forward traditions while re-examining their place in an increasingly technology-focused society. The desire to possess something designed and created by human hands has not diminished, but has instead grown with time, proving that what we truly prize above all is the spark of creativity and ingenuity that can only be found in the human mind.

Craft in watchmaking has evolved through the years, integrating modern advancements while also encompassing a range of traditional skills. Today, the term can be applied to a small, resurgent sector of British watchmaking which not only includes watchmakers themselves, but also other craftsmen such as the engravers, dial makers, and case makers involved in making and decorating the watches. In addition to more traditional forms of watchmaking, a modern definition of British craft also can expand to other brands and watchmakers who contribute to the craft through innovative design or assembly of parts on British shores.


Much has previously been discussed about Britain’s role in the advancement of timekeeping, and we have already covered the watchmakers that operated in and around London in a separate article.

As noted in our earlier piece, the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers was to thank for professionalising the craft in England, regulating all the trades involved with clock and watchmaking. Toward the end of the 18th century, a real problem emerged with fake watches that bore the names of English watch and clockmakers, and there was also the rise of industrialised Swiss watches, which was difficult to compete against in terms of price.

While the watchmaking guilds in England stood firm and remained uncompromising on quality and craftsmanship, this would eventually lead to the industry’s decline. Rather than taking this as a sad moment in history, it could be seen to serve another purpose – to highlight the way in which craftsmanship has always been a core tenet of British clock and watchmaking. This does not refer to a British style or type of craft, but rather indicates the emphasis on well-made, beautifully put-together things.

Peter Speake, an independent British watchmaker based in Switzerland and the founder of PS Horology, notes that it was also a time of great creativity within this craft: “When you look at early horology, what you realise is that there is never a single solution to a problem, and it’s incredibly creative — not only on a design or art basis, but also on a technical basis, how different companies came up with different solutions to the same problem. Some were simple, some were complicated, some were effective, and some were less effective.”

In subsequent years, British watchmaking would not be the same. This would only change nearly a century later, in 1980, when Dr George Daniels began his mission to revive the craft.

Smith working on an unfinished project George Daniels left behind.


Ask any modern watchmaker who their influences have been, and more often than not you’ll hear the name George Daniels. His impact on the industry at large deserves a much deeper examination than we can give at present, but he indisputably changed the landscape for independent watchmakers.

In Daniels’ pioneering text, Watchmaking (1981), he takes a pragmatic approach to the craft, stating: “I realised that there was to be no rediscovery of the pleasure of watchmaking by traditional methods, and that such methods had no special merit anyway. The best contemporary methods would be the ones that succeeded by adaptation of existing equipment.”

What this excerpt demonstrates is that in his own pursuit of the craft of watchmaking, he acknowledges that a contemporary approach to craft does not mean watchmakers must simply try to imitate older methods. However, it involves seeing how we can adapt them, building upon but going beyond what has been achieved in the past. We see this in his own work with the co-axial escapement, which pushed the frontiers of watchmaking. The mechanism aimed to increase the mechanical efficiency of watches and increase service intervals. Since Daniels, there has certainly been a resurgence in British watchmaking that is more craft-focused as a direct result of his influence and his championing of the craft, which has created long-lasting ripples throughout the industry.

Post George Daniels: A New Era

In terms of craft, British watchmakers who work with traditional techniques encompass mechanical as well as aesthetic skills, with quite a few retaining the handmade aspect while also relying on a network of other craftspeople. Restoration is the path that many of these watchmakers have taken, and makers from the last generation often began their paths working with older watches and learning the most traditional methods. For example, Stephen Forsey of the independent brand Greubel Forsey first started out restoring watches at Asprey, and Peter Speake acknowledges that his work has been strongly influenced by his time at Somlo, restoring antique timepieces. Notably, both Forsey and Speake left Britain to work in Switzerland, representing a different time when circumstances in the industry were vastly different from today.

In the last decade or so, it has been possible to create watches by hand in Britain that have commercial merit. Additionally, collectors’ understanding of watchmaking techniques, and a growing campaign to preserve history and vintage, have contributed to a resurgence in British watchmaking. This has manifested in the form of record-breaking sales and auction results for modern independent British watchmakers such as Roger W. Smith and Charles Frodsham & Co, while watchmakers working with traditional and modern techniques alike have experienced a much higher demand and respect for their pieces. Meanwhile, larger brands such as Christopher Ward are leading the charge in something of a renaissance for British watchmaking, as has Bremont’s larger-scale watchmaking which is comparable to Swiss brands. Meanwhile increasingly established ones like Mr. Jones Watches and Fears, have become better known on the world stage, and microbrands, the likes of which include Studio Underd0g, Zero West, and Sidereus, remain an integral part of the sector.

Read THE EVOLVING CRAFT OF BRITISH WATCHMAKING | A Collected Man Journal BLog | Frodsham

The Charles Frodsham Double Impulse Chronometer, which achieved a result of $225,500 at Loupe This in May 2023.

While a common struggle within the industry is that not enough watchmakers are being produced, there has been an effort to counteract that. Birmingham City University offers a BA in Horology that trains students in more technical skills. Students are required to pass modules on production techniques, with an overall emphasis on employability skills. Looking beyond the skills required for servicing, the British School of Watchmaking offers a 3,000-hour course which also tackles component manufacture in addition to servicing techniques.

Things have truly begun to flourish within the independent space, driven by craftspeople’s desire to revisit historical pieces or simply to create their own watches. A spectrum of craft has begun to emerge, with interesting results at every level.

Thus far, the most difficult question to define has been what “craft” entails. Upon talking to each of these watchmakers, you get the sense that each works in different ways and has different relationships and approaches to their work. In other words, craft is impossible to define. So many versions and meanings of it exist that it becomes necessary for us to showcase the ways in which each watchmaker interprets what craft is.

We begin with Roger Smith, Britain’s foremost independent watchmaker, whose work inherits and expands upon Daniels’ own discoveries. Craft in his watches takes two forms: first, the technical aspects of watchmaking to improve its workings, such as with the evolution of the single escape wheel co-axial escapement. Second, the classical aesthetics deployed on the watches, which involve traditional engine-turning on the dials in addition to carefully crafted and heat-blued hands, as well as creating the case from scratch.

Located on the Isle of Man, Smith’s workshop is a flourishing space for some of the best British watchmaking today.

Significant advancements are being made when it comes to technical aspects, such as Smith’s research into nano materials technology, which we have explored in a previous article. Meanwhile, the development of Smith’s single co-axial escapement has evolved across his various series. The reduction of friction in these watches represents a truly significant achievement against a problem that watchmakers have been battling for centuries.

It’s clear that these pieces are intended to be modern British watches – made with great skill, hand-finished to a high standard, deeply aware of their heritage, but unafraid of using modern techniques to aid their creation.

Located on the Isle of Man, Smith’s workshop is an intriguing combination of older pieces inherited from George Daniels and high-precision CNC [Computer Numerical Control] milling machines along with the staples of any watchmaker’s workshop – lathes, polishing tools, loupes.

While Smith notes that high-quality pieces can be made with machines, his approach to craft is still extremely personal. “It’s my own interpretation of the level of hand-finish I want to put into my watches,” he says. “That’s a very personal decision for me to spend huge amounts of time building our watches by hand. It’s something that makes our watches unique and distinct.”

Once a young watchmaker himself, Smith is now joined in his workshop by hand-picked young watchmakers whom he mentors.

In discussing Smith’s dials, we see that his approach is no less measured, and one that considers a more synergistic relationship with the client. “The process starts in my head, with regards to what a particular dial could look like and how we would achieve it,” he says. “Then it moves on to drawings – sketches to formalise these ideas. Sometimes it can be led by the client as well, seeing what parts of their ideas and ours we can use or build upon.”

The updates that have been made to Smith’s techniques and production methods have been in the name of creating something that is economically viable and sustainable in the long run. In a seven-part video series that can still be viewed on Youtube, Smith takes us through the steps of making a case, bending the metal into the shape of a ring. While impressive, it’s clear that the intensive nature of the work makes this difficult to produce consistently and on a larger scale. Additionally, Smith admits that creating these cases by hand yielded much lower water resistance, among other issues.

Smith's workshop is strikingly modern, almost clinically organised.

All things are relative: the rose and straight-line engines that Smith inherited from Daniels might seem much older in comparison, but while they are built in the traditional style, they were new when Daniels got them. Smith mentioned that Daniels also owned an antique engine but, to his knowledge, that was not used, as Daniels favoured the newer engines.

In evolving his work by making use of modern machinery, Smith has begun to model a possible way forward for modern, high-end British watchmaking. But, crucially, this approach is grounded in Smith’s expertise and understanding of how to hand-make these components from scratch, with the introduction of modern machinery playing a supporting role rather than being a crutch.

Smith demonstrates the function of two straight line and rose turning engines, which he inherited from George Daniels.

When it comes to craft in the aesthetics of the watches, Smith also works with an engraver, Peter Cusack, whose work decorates the movements on Smith’s watches. Cusack has had a storied career in engraving, spanning at least 40 years. His background is incredibly rich and varied, as he has engraved objects and scenes featured on bank notes as well as guns. Excluding unique commissions, which require more careful discussion, most of Smith’s watches are engraved with intricate scrollwork.

“The standard scrolling is basically done on two components: the barrel bridge and the balance clock,” says Cusack. “I would often do a standard scroll on the dial and a different scroll on some of the different dials. You can also get more elaborate forms where it’s on two levels on the barrel bridge, covering the whole visible area.

From prototype to finished product – the watch calibre, featuring delicate scrollwork on the movement.

“Probably the biggest learning curve we had to go through was figuring out at what stage would be best to send me a component to engrave – because if you imagine finishing a watch, disassembling it, and sending me something that’s the size of a nail clipping, I can probably engrave it, but have I distorted it or changed its shape? Even by putting it into some hard wax to engrave and then taking out the wax, I could easily have distorted it, and when it goes back it’s useless. I don’t think we actually ever destroyed anything, but we worked towards deciding at which stage of production I should engrave it.”

A CNC milling machine used to make cases down to the precise measurements that are required for Smith’s watches.

Another British watchmaker whose work focuses on the technical aspects of watchmaking, while leaning towards a more traditional aesthetic, is Charles Frodsham & Co – a heritage company revived by Philip Whyte and Richard Stenning.

Some of their projects have included work on a replica of John Harrison’s H4, which was begun by Derek Pratt, and Frodsham have most recently released the Double Impulse Chronometer, back in 2018. In addition to traditional methods, they don’t shy away from modern materials such as ceramic, and physical vapour deposition (PVD) techniques for printed text and tracks.

The engineering of their latest wristwatch is nothing short of a small miracle. Miniaturising George Daniels’ double impulse chronometer escapement took more than 16 years – what else can that be considered if not dedication to the craft? As Stenning commented in a New York Times article in 2012, quite a few years before the watch was officially released: “We’re not in a rush. It’s more important to get it right.”

Meanwhile, Belfast-based Stephen McDonnell differs slightly from the above examples in his staunch dedication to innovation over tradition, as evidenced in his work over the years. Best known for his collaborations with long-term partners MB&F, McDonnell’s work seeks to introduce something new each time. This ethos is present in the LM Perpetual Calendar, which featured a completely new system for calculating the number of days each month, as to the LM Sequential EVO Chronograph, which introduced the first-ever jewelled vertical clutch, and won the Aiguille d’Or at the GPHG in 2022 – making McDonnell the first Irish watchmaker to win the award.


Prototyping and getting the pieces down is nearly as important as the design itself.

McDonnell’s work marries design and making in an unusual way, thanks to his background and experience with both technical and practical aspects of watchmaking. Although his work focuses intensely on innovations within the movement, McDonnell makes prototypes of each of his watches in his own workshop. “I obviously work with a lot of CAD, for designing all the components, but prototyping the parts runs alongside that, because there’s no point in reaching the end of the project and realising that the bit you designed in the first three months doesn’t work,” he says. “So, every so often there will be technical milestones, which happen as soon as I come across a section of mechanism which seems that it could be problematic. I’m not creating a complete movement or watch, but just enough parts to analyse if this might be viable, and this happens a lot. There’s a lot of things that even the best computer modelling can’t predict until you physically try it in the metal and put it together to see how it performs. It’s particularly the case whenever you’ve got parts which are fast-moving and have to take dynamic forces into account.”

Taking a step back, we need to consider that often the tools needed for this kind of watchmaking can be hard to come by. The creation of such tools can become a craft in and of itself.

Occasionally, it can make more sense for the watchmaker to create their own devices from scratch, as David Cottrell, a relatively new face on the independent watchmaking scene, has done with his engine-turning machine. Cottrell is a strict disciple of the Daniels Method, and is a one-man operation in Bristol, where he is working on his second pocketwatch.

Once just a hobby, Cottrell has turned his attention more seriously towards creating watches, often spending 10 to 12 hours a day in his workshop.

Cottrell’s philosophy dictates that form follows function, something that can be attributed to his background in engineering. “I’ll have an idea about something, and it will be about how it should work, then the form of that mechanism, whatever it will be, will naturally emerge from that process,” he says.

This is evident when we discussed the engine-turning machine he adapted for his own purposes. Cottrell describes the experience as a long but ultimately fruitful one, mostly thanks to his previous experiences with machinery and engineering. “I ended up contacting someone from the BHI [British Horological Institute] called John Moorhouse,” he says. “He invited me up to his workshop for the day. The key thing was that John had a straight-line engine, but not a rose-turning engine. But he wanted to do rose patterns, so he’d worked out a little attachment to put on his machine that allowed him to do just that.

George Daniels’ Watchmaking sits below an image Cottrell took at a race long before discovering watchmaking – at the time not knowing that it was Daniels’ in his very own race car.

“That gave me the germ of an idea – to see that a machine could be designed from the ground up that did both patterns. The advantage of that is also that you can put the dial on the machine, and you never have to touch it, move it, realign it, or reset it up on another machine, which saves time.”

Cottrell refers to his combined machine for making dials as a “Straight-Rose engine”. What makes Cottrell’s machine different from the others, however, is that the entire dial can be completed on a single machine, and he has fabricated several attachments which can carry out other functions, such as drilling. “One of the main things I thought about was that if the dial could be put in one machine, then when the work began and everything was lined up, any changes or movements that needed to be made could be controlled in that one setting,” he says. “So you still need to move the dial around so you can pattern different areas of it, but it will always maintain its alignment to the machine because it all stays on that one machine.

“[I was aiming] to avoid making the dial out of multiple parts. I suppose there’s two schools of thinking when it comes to this. One is if you make a dial out of several parts, and if you make a little mistake in a part, it’s quite easy to fix … Yet, when it comes to soldering them together, you have to take care when heating things up that the solder doesn’t go in the wrong place. But if I spend two or three days on one dial and I make a mistake at the end, the whole dial is lost. There are challenges whichever route you take, and neither is perfect.”

Cottrell’s engineering background has given him a slightly different approach to watchmaking, instead of the restoration path that most take.

According to Rebecca and Craig Struthers, the duo that make up Struthers Watchmakers, part of restoration often includes making one’s own tools. This practice has spread into their original work, as they adapt and create to their unique specifications.

Rebecca highlights the difference between machined parts versus parts that need to be handmade. “What technology like CNC allows for is a more economically viable way to make more, or a greater quantity of pieces,” she says. “But for hand-making, the opposite is true. If you’re restoring a watch, you might need to make a tool to help you make a part, and that might be the only one of those watches that you’ll ever work on in your career. There’s no point in getting CNC to make that part. You’re going to hand-make the part because it’s just not economically viable to outsource it and have it machined. Working in that way, making tools to make parts then becomes the natural approach.”

Currently working on his second pocketwatch, Cottrell believes that handcrafted objects have become increasingly important in a steadily growing virtual environment.

The Struthers often also work with vintage tools, such as a set of apprentice’s tools from the 1800s that they inherited. These were used to work on Project 248, their take on the English pocket watch. Craig says these tools served both as inspiration and conduit for an old way of doing things. “The very fact that the apprentice probably made a pocket watch with these tools inspired us to do it along those lines, and that was another reason we chose to do things the old-fashioned way,” he says.

This theme of new work created with old tools is also evident in the work of Garrick, a Norwich-based, British brand. Some of their modern dials and striking aesthetics have been created on a particularly important machine. “We’ve actually got a really historic rose engine that did turn dials for Derek Pratt that was offered to us a couple of years back,” says David Brailsford, one of Garrick’s founders. “It’s been a learning curve, and we’ve also got friends in Switzerland who we regularly consult.”

Craft can also be found in adapting and reimagining vintage pieces, translating them for a modern audience and integrating knowledge the watchmaker has gained across examinations of watchmaking across time.

Located in Leek, Staffordshire, the Struthers’ workshop is not only an intriguing mix of vintage or antique tools and machines, but a sense of deep experience and endless curiosity. Here, the Struthers’ use of traditional methods is partly in an attempt to stay true to the ideals of handmade watchmaking.

Both Rebecca and Craig have a background in restoration, and occasionally still take on commissions.

When asked about the process of designing the Project 248 and where they began, Rebecca says: “It was definitely a trial-and-error process, and it’s not a like-for-like reproduction, either – we kind of took it as a foundation and then built in all the things that we love about various vintage watches, physically and aesthetically. We integrated a parachute shock setting, as well as an English rocking-bar keyless work, which was inspired by studying photos of Derek Pratt’s work, while the balance is from Daniels. Furthermore, we used German silver for the plates because we love that kind of turn-of-the-century look.”

Collaboration and communication with the wider watch community has been an interesting part of the Struthers’ journey, and a key part of their watch. While the image of the lone craftsperson painstakingly at work on a piece is certainly one archetype, the reality is that many watches require a whole village to create them and tracing the journey of an object like a watch is no less fascinating for it.

Enamelling and engraving – as much care and attention is paid to the dial as the movement for the Project 248.

“Our enamelling was done with anOrdain – we followed each other on Instagram, and we gave them our ideas,” says Rebecca. “Collaboration made sense here; it was quite natural. We were both doing the same things, but it was difficult to get the metal numerals looking like they were floating in the enamel. We realised that we had separately developed solutions to the other’s problems, so we just completely swapped all R&D and that created the technique.

“When we work on a piece over anywhere from 18 months to three years, there’s probably four to five – perhaps even six – people involved. We’ve got the strap maker, box maker, we might work with someone to design numerals, and an engraver – it’s like a little community for that one piece.”

The lo-fi atmosphere of the Struthers’ workshop, complete with salvaged vintage tools and wood blocks used to attach cases to for case making.

Back in the day, British makers would have had access to local talent and skills. However, through globalisation and a need for overseas talent, modern creators often work with skilled artisans from around the world. Among these, the Struthers also work with Florian Gullert, an engraver in Germany, and more recently with Seth Kennedy, a member of the British Horological Institute who comes from a restoration background but has experience in engine turning and creating traditional watch cases.

Another comparable experience to this type of network is McDonnell’s role in the development of his watches. During the process of designing his pieces, McDonnell is acutely aware of other craftspeople that will be working to create and assemble the watches he designs. This adds a further layer of complexity to his work, as he has to maintain a certain consciousness about the suppliers who make his parts and the watchmakers who assemble the watches.

McDonnell also adds, “I have to make the watches as watchmaker-friendly as possible, because they are the people who have to assemble it and take it apart to service, and all the rest. Similarly, I have to consider space for the hands and how the dials will fit. How are all the brackets and mountings organised in such a way that this isn’t a total nightmare to have to work with?”

Craft and Aesthetic Appeal

Besides technical or historical work, some companies, such as Scottish brand anOrdain, are also forging new paths in areas of aesthetic design. anOrdain’s enamelling is the star focus of their work, and they have an in-house typographer who specifically develops the fonts used on their dials.

The founder of anOrdain, Lewis Heath, who comes to the industry having worked as an architect and product designer, says, “anOrdain was born out of the desire to do something where there was a lot of creativity in the same place you were making things. If something didn’t work, you could see why it hadn’t worked, or you could see a better way of doing things, or something more interesting would come out of it. Before we launched the watches, the dial took three years. We were trying to work out how to do the enamel, because there really isn’t anyone in the country that does dial enamelling. The reason enamelling is special is because it renders colour in a way that nothing else can. It’s essentially a stained-glass window with a metal backing.”

Aside from their look, the thickness of the dials also presents a puzzle when they come to be fitted into the watches, requiring a significantly more custom approach. There are two main issues with enamel dials, explains Heath. “The first is that enamel dials are a lot thicker than normal dials, at about 1 or 1.2mm compared [with] a normal dial, which is under 0.5mm,” he says. “This means that the cannon pinions that go through the dial must be a different length, so a lot of standard movements wouldn’t work with them in the same way that a lot of cases wouldn’t fit. We often get requests from clients where they say, ‘Can you take my watch and put an enamel dial into it?’. But the truth is, if it wasn’t designed for one then it wouldn’t accommodate it.”

Much like the Struthers, Heath says it takes a team of experts to develop each enamel colour, and the workshop hosts a team of watchmakers, with collaborations not being unusual for the brand.

Craft and the Industry

When it comes to growing the industry, the rising number of brands has meant that we have begun to redefine what a new generation of British craft and watches look like.

Roger Smith notes that the world we live in today is drastically different from the one in which watchmaking was conceived as a craft. “You cannot build a lost watchmaking industry on the backs of people like [me],” he says. “You cannot build them on craft alone. That’s the reason we lost the industry: we weren’t prepared to industrialise; we weren’t prepared to build factories that mass-manufactured watches, mechanisms, and so on.

New horizons: to Smith, the only way to rebuild the industry is through an evolution of methods and manufacturing.

“The idea of replacing or replicating a failed 18th- or 19th-century approach to watchmaking is pointless. The only way we can [rebuild the industry] is to work with other watchmaking nations to have our cases made, our movements supplied, and so on. Where we can be different is perhaps with a touch of craftsmanship involved in small areas of the watch, but we can also create unique stories.”

Associations such as the Alliance of British Watch and Clockmakers have been instrumental to this growth. Founded in 2020, the Alliance is headed by Roger W. Smith, Mike France, and Alistair Audsley. Their work not only encompasses outreach, but also in providing support to many of these smaller businesses.

When asked about the growth of the industry and the Alliance’s role as a trade body, Smith says that the variety of members is what will strengthen the industry overall. “We have almost 80 trade members now, all of varying sizes – some very small, almost backroom-type businesses – but each of these companies have a very individual story and a unique approach to watchmaking,” he adds.

[Craft is] my own interpretation of the level of hand-finish I want to put into my watches. It's a very personal decision for me to spend huge amounts of time building our watches by hand. It’s something that makes our watches unique and distinct.

Roger W. Smith

Some businesses, such as Fears, headed by Nicholas Bowman-Scargill, have transformed their heritage to capture the attention of a modern audience. The story of Fears is an especially memorable one, as Bowman-Scargill worked at Rolex before discovering his familial connection to the watch company he now heads. Others, like Christopher Ward or Mr. Jones Watches, design their innovative watches on British soil and have produced diverse pieces such as the technically challenging Bel Canto or the playful “A perfectly useless afternoon” respectively. In this, modern British craft has evolved slightly to focus on design and conceptualisation.

Craig Struthers notes that a diversity of approaches and types of watchmaking has been beneficial as a whole. “I think the good thing about what’s being made now is there’s room for super-high technology and there’s also room for real lo-fi, hands-on craft,” he says. “Neither of them is wrong or right; [they are] just different ways of doing it.”

When it comes to handmade craft, David Brailsford says a developing industry of watchmaking has, in turn, continued to ensure that traditional craft stays alive. “The thing I like about it is that a lot of it is the same as what we’re doing,” he says. “A lot of smaller brands are up and coming, utilising traditional skills and they’re going elsewhere, looking for people to do more dials, external people to do cases, and finding craftspeople … And that’s what I love – it’s not just about doing everything in-house because that’s kind of impossible for most people. But again, it’s about reviving crafts and using people that maybe don’t have a lot of work, and their craft’s dying.”

Christopher Ward's C1 Bel Canto watch.

A huge influx of knowledge and people wanting to know how things are made and why something is special has contributed to the industry’s expansion. In a world where mass-produced objects are part of most of our lives, watchmaking and watches have been reinvented as a niche, enthusiast-led community, which places a high value on manually made objects, and can appreciate the virtues of thoughtful design.

Heath says, “The only reason we can do this is because the customers are very well-educated in terms of things like enamelling. When [anOrdain] launched, we were very much a microbrand, but luckily there is enough education and other things out there that help people understand how much work actually goes into each of these watches.”


In a series of five lectures titled Hopes and Fears For Art (1882), William Morris, famously the champion of the Arts and Crafts Movement, laments: “Time was when the mystery and wonder of handicrafts were well acknowledged by the world, when imagination and fancy mingled with all things made by man; and in those days all handicraftsmen were artists, as we should now call them.” Since Morris wrote this, we have rediscovered the “mystery and wonder of handicrafts”, and many of these decorative crafts – which may have once served a more practical purpose – are indeed considered art. Watches are perhaps one of the best examples to illustrate Morris’s hope that craft should be viewed from an artistic perspective, especially when we consider that design has taken a bigger role in the craft of a watch, beyond the making of its parts.

To watchmakers like McDonnell, watchmaking continues to evolve, taking on new meaning and importance to individuals.

To McDonnell, the most important part of craft is love. “You’ve got to care so much about what you’re doing,” he says. “If you don’t have an intrinsic love and obsession for the things you’re working with and what you’re trying to create, then it’s useless. It’s not just a job where you put pieces in place and follow some kind of pre-determined jigsaw puzzle. We’re trying to do something which is fundamentally wonderful and that is going to excite people in the same way that it excites you.”

He goes on to mention that the role of watchmaking has changed, and something once considered to be essential maintains a very different importance in our lives. “You could argue in the modern era, with all the technology we have, no one needs mechanical watchmaking. It’s impossible to think of anything which is more irrelevant. That’s what’s so wonderful about it. It’s actually better, because it’s been made free from its essential constraints and now just really exists because of love. It enriches [the wearer’s] life. It brings you that emotional response when you look at it, an emotion that is transferred from the person who’s created it to the person who gets to enjoy it in their life.”

According to David Cottrell, change is inevitable and necessary. “Things evolve because with the old way of doing things, you had someone making the case, someone making the main plate, someone making the screw, someone making the springs, and so on,” he says. “It was a very different world. I think [now] we’re evolving a new set of methods and techniques to see what’s available in this century, as opposed to what was available 200 years ago when things were done quite differently.”

When asked how craft should be defined, Speake had this to say: “Craft is an activity involving skill in making by hand. This might be entirely or partially, but the human element has to be present in the making process, not just in the design. There are many shades of grey in relation to what can be described as craft.” Indeed, in a world in which the craft industry is shrinking, the definition of what craft in watchmaking entails has begun to expand. For the British industry, this translates into a delicate ecosystem of watchmakers and craftspeople, alongside the entrepreneurial efforts and bold design required to bring watchmaking into the modern world.

When asked if there was an ideal world that he could imagine as a British watchmaker, Smith had this to say: “This is it – we are in that ideal world now. I think that there are more and more people [who] are looking for something different, and the more technically advanced this world becomes the better it is for people like [me] who can demonstrate skill. People are looking for real craftsmanship and integrity, so the more technically advanced the world becomes, the better it is for people like myself and others who do work based on individual skills.”

Our thanks to Roger W. Smith and his team, Peter Cusack, Rebecca and Craig Struthers, Lewis Heath, David Brailsford, Stephen McDonnell and David Cottrell for sharing their expertise and time with us.
Documented on film by James Partridge.