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IN CONVERSATION WITH IAN ELLIOT OF ELLIOT BROWN
AN AWARD-WINNING WATCH BRAND WITH IMPLACABLE DURABILITY
We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Ian Elliot from Elliot Brown Watches. Ian is a co-founder of the award-winning watch brand that is renowned for its implacable durability within harsh elements and are relied upon for ocean crossings, mountain rescues, and just about any kind of extreme or arduous adventure.
Is Elliot Brown a subsidiary company to Animal? Why are they not called Animal Watches?
"Elliot Brown is a totally independent company. I spent 12 years after selling Animal setting up and running a design agency which is when myself and Alex Brown got talking and hatched a plan to use our unique knowledge, start with a blank sheet and create the toughest, most beautifully made watches. Alex left Animal when Elliot Brown launched in March 2013."
What is so unique about the Elliot Brown watch strap that makes it unbreakable?
"Our straps are a mix of solid steel, fitted leather with deployant clasps, EPDM subtly moulded rubber and webbing. They are all extremely tough due to having strengthening inserts inside their fitted ends. They aren’t unbreakable like the original velcro straps but they are more than durable enough and in a different league in terms of style and function. It's really the watches that are almost unbreakable. Every Elliot Brown is built to incredible standards. Every watch features a unique shock absorption system to protect the precision movements and crowns are protected with triple seals that still work even when the crown is pulled out of the case into the adjust position. Every watch is submersed in water and pressurised to 200m of pressure in addition to a raft of other extreme tests including smashing a percentage of watches with a 3kg pendulum mallet to test for shock protection. No other watch brand comes near this level of testing in the sub £1000 price bracket."
Where are the watches manufactured and how hands-on are the founders with the watch designs today?
"We have an obsessive attention to detail born out in our recent design of the Kimmeridge ladies collection, which is basically a smaller more elegant version of their Canford gents watch. The dial design alone took nearly 50 versions before they were happy they’d reached ’the one'. Every surface and every component is meticulously designed, detailed and specified. The watches are constructed in a fantastic facility in China where all the components that have been specified are married together, such as Swiss movements, marine grade stainless cases, case hardened bezels and so on. It's quite like assembling a car where all the components are developed specifically to work together. Making watches in China enables the business to retail exceptionally fine watches at very reasonable prices with typically British inventiveness in their design and unique make-up."
How many releases of Elliot Brown watches has there been and what has been the most successful launch?
"Initial launch ranges consisted of Canford and Bloxworth of which Canford has seen slightly greater success to date. In addition, the brand launched a special edition Mountain Rescue Canford watch in 2015 and also a Limited Edition Clipper Round The World Race Crew watch as the official timing partner of the race. Both models have proved a great success. They launched their first Automatic range at £800-£850 last October and had sold out by January and are working with military and other organisations on hugely successful one-off projects. To date, every launch has been a success with six model launches planned for this year including Kimmeridge ladies’ collection and a new GMT model called Broadstone."
Where is your main demographic, age and location, and do you have international flagship stores?
"Our customer demographic is determined by lifestyle not age or region. Customers purchase because of style, function, price and the strong brand associations we enjoy. Currently Elliot Brown is deliberately only available in UK retailers but of course online the brand sells all over the world."
What complications or functions do Elliot & Brown watches have to assist and improve on mountain rescues and ocean crossings?
"Telling the time reliably is the most important function, with the addition of an internal timing bezel perfect for a race start or for counting paces in 10 minute intervals, combined with a compass on the mountain in poor visibility. In sunlight a watch can be used as a compass and we explain this in every set of watch instructions for customers. Mountain Rescue tell us they have suffered an increase in call outs as a direct result of people becoming increasingly reliant on electronic devices that can run out of battery and/or signal - much like following sat nav then feeling lost when it goes wrong. The new Broadstone Clipper Race UTC watch, due to be launched this summer, has an additional 24 hour hand to tell the time in a second time zone so crew can keep tabs on the time at home while they race around the world's oceans."
Where do you see the brand within the market place and who are your contemporaries?
"The brand sits in a niche on its own in the £350 - £850 sector. Casio have their G-Shock and Victorinox make some more durable models but we’re finding that due to the extensive technical specifications of our watches and their incredible fit and finish, many watch collectors who own much more expensive watches are buying Elliot Brown as their ‘daily wearer’."
Do the original watches still hold their value and are they collectable?
"Yes they do and we’ve see one or two pop up on the watch specific auction sites. Our limited and numbered editions are particularly popular with collectors, such as the Tyneham automatic models with display case backs individually numbered and limited to 500 per model."
What have been the main vicissitudes of the industry that has effected the brand the most, e.g. Quartz crisis in the 80s, inception of Instagram, economic recession, e-commerce?
"We started Elliot Brown in a recession, in a price bracket that many felt was awkward middle ground and in the face of smart watch development. We instinctively know that our customers appreciate certain things in a watch from our years of experience. We have carved out a niche all of our own and we’d like to think that we understand our trade and our USP more than any company that’s simply distributing a watch collection made elsewhere, so our customers feel a far stronger sense of personal belonging and service. For us every day is like a school day as we are constantly learning and improving. We enjoy customising watches to individual tastes, we’re agile so we can bring new models to market quicker than most and we have a strong and growing customer base eager for more. It has been far easier starting a brand today than it was back in the late 80s because we are able to embrace social media and reach a wide audience very quickly. And of course having a transactional website where we can honestly communicate our brand values and ethos is absolutely pivotal."