“British made” is often associated with heritage and the very finest, bespoke, hand-crafted quality. But while you’d be safe ordering a Savile Row suit and a cup of tea in fine Staffordshire bone china, when it comes to the heritage of their motoring industry, the “handmade” selling point certainly came with its idiosyncrasies. While some marques notoriously borrowed the “best bits” from other brand cars for practical reasons and to curb costs, in a highly competitive, automated world their outdated approach to manufacturing no longer made good economic sense with many well-known brands such as Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Jaguar, and more recently Aston Martin being bought and sold, or bailed out, many of them by Europeans. In the hands of new owners, the more practical, reliable, commercially viable current models might seem stripped of their initial charm and raw driving appeal but a new generation of motorists, who don’t want to break down on every outing, might disagree.
The British adventurous spirit that inspired the creation of these famous marques is in their blood and also surged through the veins of the first clockmakers in the 17th century, with early inventions improving timing accuracy and aiding maritime navigation contributing to the expansion of the Empire to unchartered lands. From Thomas Mudge’s lever escapement introduced in the mid-1700s – still a feature in many modern watches – to John Harrison’s marine chronometer, the balance spring, automatic winding and centre minutes and seconds hands, the Brits certainly led the way. Even Rolex was founded in London in 1905 as Wilsdorf & Davis and only moved to Geneva at the end of World War 1 where their most famous invention, the Oyster case, was introduced in 1926. But much like their car industry in recent decades, the British watch industry couldn’t keep up with the quality, accuracy and pricing of the Swiss and American modern production lines of the early 1900s and soon went out of business. (While reading up on the history I came across the Great British Watch Company website which I thoroughly recommend for further insights.)