Watches fittingly remain an important part of a 150-year-old business whose founder started out in Sheffield as a travelling watchmaker.
“Mechanical watches have come back in a big way,” says HL Brown’s managing director, James Frampton.
“They are the ‘acceptable face of jewellery’ for men. A lot of men like to have a luxury modern timepiece on their wrist. It’s a piece of jewellery with a technical interest and they are fascinated by the wonderful engineering.”
As an example, James Frampton quotes the Omega Seamaster – the ‘James Bond’ watch – the self winding mechanical version of which sells just as well as the battery-powered quartz version, despite being twice its price.
While mechanical watches are a growth market, the number of apprentice watchmakers and repairers is falling as colleges close their horological courses and the cost of training is rising.
But, HL Brown remains committed to maintaining in house expertise in addition to using trusted experts who, in many cases, worked for the firm before going freelance – in just the same way as it maintains its skills in selecting stones and mounts and making jewellery.
“We like to bring people on. It’s nice to develop people,” says James Frampton.
“Our head jeweller started with us at the age of 16 and he’s double that age now. Our previous head jeweller works for himself now and we brought him up.
“We still train apprentice watchmakers. Watchmakers have a different temperament to many people because they are dealing with extremely fine tolerances. If they have a problem they think about it very carefully.”
James Frampton says HL Brown is blessed with a very loyal workforce – something that is encouraged by the variety of work. “We enjoy our jewellery, we enjoy our watches. We have a lovely variety of work,” he says, but he remains worried by the prospect that the company could lose some of those skills.