What gives you the licence to do that?
Riddle continues its look at the British watch industry and talks to Mike France, co- founder of Christopher Ward
Article by Andy Barnham and Rupert Watkins
Why do you think there’s been a resurgence in British watchmaking?
Interesting question. This is an issue that is very close to our hearts. There has certainly been a resurgence in talking about British watchmaking. I’m not certain that there is actually a resurgence of any real scale in British watchmaking but it’s good to see the raised level of debate and interest.
However, I think this debate all too often gets carried away into marketing hype and needs to be tempered by realism. Some brands are clearly desperate to proclaim their ‘British watchmaking’ credentials but the fact is that, particularly when compared to the nation’s extraordinary watchmaking heritage, the industry at scale remains all but non-existent.
A true industry revival will require huge long-term investment and commitment to develop the missing infrastructure and skills required. It’s a very laudable ambition to revive British watchmaking and we applaud the brands, such as Robert Loomes, seeking to develop a British movement but I actually believe that the unrealistic hype generated by some brands clutching the flag could actually be damaging the prospects of that ever happening.
On the positive side, as well as increased debate, the resurgence of artisan watchmaking is a very welcome ‘grass roots’ sign. This will, by definition, never produce a large-scale production industry to challenge the Swiss of course, but it does develop the potential for British watchmaking to revive and demonstrate its specialist skills and creativity.
Any revival has to start somewhere and a comparison could perhaps be made to the way that Formula 1 technology has developed as a British specialism. Backed too by expansion of training and education opportunities, as well as apprenticeships and jobs, this points to a small but viable starting point for the industry to revive from . From there, anything is possible. As a brand we would absolutely love to be part of a genuine widespread revival of British watchmaking.
Due to your success – being known for very keen pricing and minimal fuss – do you believe other brands will follow suit?
Well… we’re ten years on from our 2004 launch and we still feel that we hold a unique position in the market! We innovated in 2004 as the world’s first pure online luxury watch brand and, while our model may look simple to understand, copying it clearly isn’t quite so easy.
‘Value’ remains absolutely at the heart of our business and yes, we make ‘minimal fuss’ – but those phrases don’t fully express what our brand is really about. The quality we offer matches the top brands but at a much lower price and whilst we eschew the extravagant marketing so common in the industry, we do also create a true brand personality, especially through our online presence, but also through the fact that we put more emphasis on customer service than any other brand.
There are other brands that aim to offer value of course, but the customer decision in choosing a luxury watch is not simply about price. Our customers love the value we offer but there is much more to the Christopher Ward brand than simply the price tag on the watch. For example, our 60:60 guarantees give 60 days ‘no quibble’ returns and a unique five-year guarantee on the watch movement – I don’t think anyone has copied that yet either.
There’s a lot of kudos associated with ‘Made in Great Britain’; how have you found being British affects your position in the watch market?
We have a very strong British aesthetic in our design, especially through our passion for British landscapes and British motoring heritage, which actually inspire a number of our designs. All our watches are actually ‘Swiss Made’ in our own atelier in Biel and our design work takes place right here in the UK at our Maidenhead HQ. Being a British brand is certainly a powerful part of our brand identity and with our passion for Britain’s watchmaking heritage, we want to play our part in supporting the industry in this country. Last year we merged with our long-time Swiss supply partner, Synergies Horlogères, and we take pride in both our British heritage and the fact that our watches are ‘Swiss Made’.
Note: just to clarify, CW have never claimed to be “Made in GB”
You’re proud of your customer service ethos; what’s been your biggest compliment so far?
I guess it has to be the first compliment we ever received. When we first launched, a hugely influential Australian blogger, Dave Malone, couldn’t believe that our watches were genuine. He actually bought one with the intention to expose us! When he received his watch he was absolutely stunned to find that we really were creating great watches at these amazingly low prices. To his credit he immediately held his hands up and shared his review with the world – and word has been spreading ever since.
What’s been your biggest criticism to date and how have you countered that?
No individual example springs to mind, but I think the general attitude of some major brands in regarding us as an upstart that doesn’t fit with their model of how a luxury watch brand operates has been the most noticeable criticism we’ve encountered. Actually, to be honest, I think we regard such comments as backhanded compliments.
In fact, the CEO of one of those major brands responded to our in-house movement, Calibre SH21, with the outraged comment “What gives you the licence to do that?”… For us, that epitomises everything that is wrong with this industry– and everything that is right about our brand.
What’s the future for Christopher Ward?
We’re growing well and, more importantly, creating some extraordinary watches and have a fanatical following but we never take anything for granted. We’ll continue to offer the industry’s best combination of value and quality and will stay true to our brand values but we know we can never stand still.
We’ll continue to innovate and develop new and better offerings. For example, last summer saw the launch of our first in-house movement, Calibre SH21. This opens up a range of opportunities for us to use the movement across our collections, such as our recent launch of the new Trident collection, which includes the use of SH21 in the flagship Trident COSC model. We’ve had an amazing first decade and we have lots more to come.
Enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org/ www.christopherward.co.uk