Words: Joanne Glasbey; Illustration: Neil Webb
The UK has history when it comes to fine watches. Great Britain’s list of eminent men of cogs and complications include Thomas Tompion in the 17th century, who mentored George Graham, inventor of the lever escapement, followed by 18th-century watchmaker John Harrison, who solved the problem of how sea captains could establish their precise longitude. Then there was Robert Hooke, creator of the balance spring, Daniel Quare, who introduced the minute hand, and John Arnold, Thomas Mudge and Thomas Earnshaw.
Collectively, these men developed every escapement design and around 75 per cent of other horological innovations that can still be admired today. But then the Swiss got in on the action, and British watchmaking was relegated.
The relevance of the country in the world of timekeeping holds strong, however, and British watchmaking expertise is kept alive in the hands of individuals and small companies around the UK.
And now, with the horological retailscape recontoured, London has emerged as the global capital in which to buy high-end watches. Mayfair’s Bond Street, Mount Street and Regent Street areas, along with Knightsbridge and Sloane Street, have become the watch world’s epicentre. A large number of standalone boutiques have added to the allure of the capital’s swankier thoroughfares, and the city’s multibrand timepiece stores are increasing their offering with special editions, pop-up events and concierge services.
Watch lovers travelling down Bond Street will encounter mono-marque boutiques from the likes of Hublot, Breitling, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Vacheron Constantin, Blancpain, Montblanc and Omega. Then there’s Cartier, Graff, Chopard, Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulgari, Chanel and Chaumet with outlets dedicated to watch and jewellery collections, and, opening in early December, a much-expanded Patek Philippe store. Over the other side of Mayfair, down Mount Street way, there’s a Parmigiani Fleurier standalone boutique, plus the newly opened Richard Mille, both joining the Bremont store around the corner in South Audley Street. Over in Knightsbridge, should you require a Rolex, One Hyde Park is your destination.
Multibrand retailers have been upping the stakes, too: this summer saw the opening of the new Watches of Switzerland emporium at 155 Regent Street. Europe’s largest showroom devoted to luxury watches, it houses 12 in-store boutiques and another 20 collections from other brands over three floors. Over in Knightsbridge, Harrods’ Fine Watch Room continues to expand, with more luxury brands and special-edition pieces. Then there’s the influential Marcus store, owned by the legendary timepiece tsar Marcus Margulies, one of the world’s leading curators of fine watches for more than 12 years.
This is heaven for watch aficionados. The standalone boutiques become ambassadors for their marques, displaying their entire collections in a dedicated space, while the multibrand stores are handy one-stop watch-shopping destinations. With the capital’s reputation for retail luxury and bespoke, London’s status as a global hub for high-end watch retailing looks set to continue.