Elliot Brown: Rugged Watches worn by Real Adventurers and Heroes
When it comes to watch brands, the UK market is incredibly over-crowded. For a new brand to gain market share, it needs a clear identity. Fortunately for Elliot Brown: they have that in spades.
Elliot Brown Watches are for anyone who demands a rugged, durable watch where nothing is left to chance. Whether you have an outdoor lifestyle or physically punishing job, your watch needs to be up to the challenge. Many watch brands market masculine-looking watches that purport to be tough and dependable. However, their appeal is often largely aesthetic. With celebrities paid to endorse them, they will rarely be worn up a mountain or on the wrists of military personnel or lifeboat crew. That’s where Elliot Brown are different.
A British Brand – Based in Poole, Dorset
A British brand, Elliot Brown was launched in 2013 by long-term friends Ian Elliot and Alex Brown. From engineering and horological backgrounds, the pair live and breathe a coastal lifestyle focused around the water and bikes. Combining their unique skills, they set about creating a watch from scratch that was “as good as it could be” without corporate constraint or the need to work to a price point.
In a relatively short time, Elliot Brown has established itself as the “go-to” brand for real life adventurers. Genuine stories of endurance and survival have given the brand momentum and an extremely loyal following. Moreover, Ian and Alex don’t see Elliot Brown as a watch brand, rather as “an outdoor brand that makes watches”. This distinction is incredibly important as the “outdoor” element puts functionality firmly at the forefront of design.
Based in Poole, Dorset, it seems only natural that the EB HQ is in a working boat yard on the edge of the harbour. It’s an almost constant reminder of the sort of environment for which the watches are designed. It’s also the perfect place for visitors to enjoy and experience Elliot Brown.
I was recently invited to Poole to meet Ian, Alex and their team. They wanted me to understand what sets them apart and makes their brand so special. They did not disappoint. Like so many others, I have come away with a real affinity for the brand. Let me tell you why.
Attention to Detail
Enjoying an in-depth overview of a brand with its founders is an experience not to be missed. You get to see their passion and drive first-hand. However, what really comes across from speaking with Ian and Alex is their almost obsessive attention to detail.
Canford and Bloxworth
The brand launched with two strong ranges: Canford and Bloxworth. Canford is a supremely tough but understated watch with the elegance of a “Super Compressor”. Bloxworth is a classic “tech diver” chronograph designed for those who like a little more function. Today, both ranges are still integral to the collection.
A close look at Canford and Bloxworth, the foundation timepieces for Elliot Brown, very clearly demonstrates the point of difference between EB and “the rest”. Not content with using widely accepted, off-the-shelf elements such as spring bars, straps and buckles, Ian and Alex started from scratch. Every aspect of the design was carefully considered with no short cuts taken. Put these unique elements together: and something very special emerges.
Case and Dial
Firstly, Canford has a beautifully contoured 44mm case in marine grade 316L steel. You can see the painstaking effort that has gone into creating the optimal shape for comfort and aesthetic appeal. Also, the dial is the perfect balance of instrument-like graphics and indexes. SuperLuminova on the hands and dial, ensures the dial is always easy to read. Additionally, the date wheel has been customised so that it is horizontal – a small detail but one which you rarely see when the date is located at 4h. Ian comments “well, yes, because why would you want to stand on your head to read the date?” Well, quite.
Screw-in Strap Bars
Similarly, both Canford and Bloxworth demonstrate the brand’s brilliant screw-in strap bars. A solution to the problem of flimsy telescopic spring bars which break, EB have created heavy-duty bars which screw directly into the case. Every watch is supplied with its own 5-lobe screwdriver. I have a go at unscrewing the bars and it’s really quick and easy to do. EB know that their customers want more than one type of strap. As practical types, they also know that they want to be able to change it themselves. Therefore, they make the process even easier by ensuring that all of their watches, across all of their ranges, take the same width of strap. 22mm for men’s watches, 20mm for women’s watches. A simple, effective solution.
Nato Strap version 2.0: Complete Redesign
On the subject of straps, this is another area where EB really impress. It would be so easy for them to buy ready-made straps and customise them with their own logo and buckle (as so many brands do). Not Elliot Brown.
To understand the importance of straps to Ian Elliot, we need to go back to the beginning. In the ‘90s, Ian worked for “Animal” and developed the incredibly successful webbing strap with hook and loop (Velcro) closure, worn by surfers everywhere. At their peak they were selling almost a million straps a year. Alex and Ian met at “Animal” when the brand decided to take the next logical step and produce a range of watches. With his horological background, Alex was drawn by the coastal lifestyle that working for the brand offered. He turned down a job with Cartier and the rest is history.
With this background, it’s clear to see why straps are not an afterthought for Ian. The lengths they have gone to, to get their webbing strap just right are hard to comprehend. However, when you see the end result, you realise that the investment of time and money was worth it. Every aspect of the typical Nato strap has been completely redesigned. So much so, that Ian suggests that you think of it as “version 2.0 of the typical NATO/Webbing strap”.
Perfecting the webbing
The straps are woven for EB by Bowmer Bond in Derbyshire, UK using a recommissioned Victorian shuttle loom. Using soft textured yarn, dyed in small batches, each slice of fabric is technically perfect and unbelievably soft to the touch. Moreover, each piece has a durable double selvedge which you don’t get with a modern needle loom. The straps are ultra-light, fast drying, virtually unbreakable and low profile. Furthermore, the yarn is treated with lifetime anti-bac so even if you don’t wash it too often, it won’t smell. This special webbing costs over a hundred times more per metre than webbing created on a needle loom. However, it seems that Elliot Brown will stop at nothing to achieve the best product they can.
Perfecting the buckle
Now with the perfect fabric, Alex set about rethinking the buckle. His patented design is a clamp which allows the adjustable end of the strap to tuck away neatly on the inside. This leaves the tip at the perfect length to tuck under the hinged retainer built into the buckle, so there’s no bulky material left to fold or tuck away. Also, there’s no need for exterior hardware on the strap which can get caught or scratch surfaces. Furthermore, you have the added advantage that you can close the clamp at any point on the strap providing millimetre perfect adjustment.
Water Resistance Testing
EB also stand out in their approach to water resistance testing. Although many brands will only test a small proportion (often 5-10%) of their watches in a pressure testing machine, Elliot Brown go much further than that. Not only do they pressure test every single watch, each watch is tested three times: twice in a pressure testing machine and once in water to at least 200m. When I ask him about it, Ian simply explains “I want to sleep at night”. Elliot Brown know that their watches are relied-upon pieces of kit used in some of the harshest environments on earth. Only by rigorously testing them can they be certain of their infallibility.
Not content with regular production-style testing, it’s clear that Elliot Brown like nothing more than testing their watches in the most extreme ways imaginable. At their HQ are a series of battle-scarred watches with some incredible stories behind them. Firstly, I’m shown a green-tinged watch which was “tied to a post under the sea in Poole Harbour for 6 months and came up ticking”. Most recently, a watch was strapped to a petrol bomb as part of a police counter-terrorism training exercise. Ian shows me a video of it on his phone: it’s unbelievable. I’m invited to look at the watch and can see it’s pretty black and charred-looking but otherwise fine. Recently, at the launch of the new Land Rover x Elliot Brown Holton in collaboration with Land Rover, stunt driver and EB brand ambassador Jess Hawkins drove over the watch in a new Defender “about 15 times”. Unbelievably the watch remained intact.
Elliot Brown Ambassadors
Apart from testing their watches to the point of destruction (something which they clearly enjoy and have a lot of fun with) Elliot Brown love nothing more than seeing their watches on the wrists of real people taking part in amazing adventures and challenges.
The explorer, Craig Mathieson is one of many amazing EB ambassadors I could mention. However, I find his story particularly inspirational. He runs The Polar Academy – a charity dedicated to giving disadvantaged young adults a chance to train for and lead a ten-day expedition in the wild. This helps turn them into role models for the next generation. Craig wears a Holton Professional which he describes as “indestructible”.
EB don’t pay their ambassadors, so the affection these brave adventurers have for their watches is totally honest and genuine. Also, it’s clear that a community of like-minded people has been established. EB are bringing unique people together who boost one another in practical ways. Chatting with Gem who works closely with the ambassadors at EB HQ, she shows me the live tracking of Duncan Roy and his team rowing in the Great Pacific Race. It’s clear that she’s tracking their progress all the time. This isn’t a brand that gives away a watch and asks for some nice pictures in return when the challenge is complete. Elliot Brown see their ambassadors as part of their “team” and are actively behind them all the way, helping them on their individual journeys with morale-boosting encouragement. Since my visit, Gem tells me that Duncan Roy and and his team have completed their row and “smashed the current record by 9 days!”. She couldn’t be prouder. Read about it here.
Another challenge currently in progress is being undertaken by Ian Rivers. Ian set out in May 2021 on a Solo North Atlantic Crossing from New York to the Isles of Scilly. Using only a sextant as the main form of navigation, this is a test of human endurance, navigation and seamanship. No one has ever completed an unsupported solo from New York. The row is designed to raise money for the Special Air Service Regimental Association and St Michael’s Hospice. Also, it’s raising awareness of the mental health challenges facing serving and veteran personnel. Read more about Ian’s incredible challenge here.
Links to Charity
Through their associations with the many charities represented by their ambassadors, Elliot Brown has formed strong links. They regularly produce bespoke watches which are auctioned off to raise money. They also create special editions such as the RNLI Canford with £35 from every watch sold given back to the charity. In recent years, charities such as MIND, Mountain Rescue, the Air Ambulance, The Firefighters Charity, NHS and many armed forces charities have also benefitted from substantial donations made by Elliot Brown.
As a consequence of their many charitable military projects and through word-of-mouth recommendation, Elliot Brown design and produce bespoke watches for the Military and Security and Intelligence communities. These special watches usually remain firmly under the radar and only those “in the know” understand the significance of the subtle detailing on them. Alex Brown clearly loves this side of the business. He explains “it’s so much more than just slapping a logo on a dial”. The team go deep into the story of each organisation or unit, looking for the special nuanced details they can highlight on each watch to make it really special. Be it certain colours, a significant date or a special code, these details are incorporated not only on the dial but on the case, caseback and even on the strap so that only “those that know, know”.
The Holton Professional, the brand’s most requested watch, was borne out of a collaboration with a specialist branch of the British armed forces. The first new military issue watch to be created by a British watch company in more than ten years – it’s quite something.
Elliot Brown: The Quiet Revolution
There’s so much to like about Elliot Brown. What started as two friends creating the best watch they could for like-minded people has evolved into a movement. It’s what Alex calls a “quiet revolution”. Giving back, supporting those who support us, enjoying what we have… they’re all a recipe for a better life. Also, it’s easy to see why those that own an Elliot Brown watch are so keen to talk about it and explain what makes it so special to others. It’s like a not-so-secret club. The watches are incredibly well-made, verging on indestructible and great value for money. They’re made to be worn, used and enjoyed.
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