Pictured above: Ian Elliot (left), and Alex Brown (right)
Some watches talk the talk, others walk it. Elliot Brown, based down in Poole, Dorset, are all about the latter. Started by long term friends Ian Elliot, who co-founded Animal back in 1988, and Alex Brown, who turned down a lucrative job at luxury goods company Cartier to help establish Animal’s watch offering, the pair set themselves a mission to “build the most wearable, affordable, toughest watches on the planet.”
With an outdoor playground right on the doorstep providing the perfect backdrop for inspiration, and idea testing, the ‘partners in time’ didn’t mess about in pursuing their vision for Elliot Brown – rapidly building up an incredibly loyal following.
“We’d prefer not to mention the unit by name. That’s not how we do things”
Their watches have faced down and survived extremely challenging conditions on the planet’s oceans. They’ve dealt with overbearing heat and bone-chilling cold, handled dramatic changes in altitude and air pressure, and are now being used by a specialist branch of the British military in some of the world’s most hostile places and environments.
“We’d prefer not to mention the unit by name. That’s not how we do things,” says Ian during a phone call that covers everything from baking during lockdown, to the journey of Elliot Brown, to what sets their hard-as-nails watches apart from the competition.
Here’s an edited down version of that conversation.
How did Elliot Brown come into being? What’s the story there?
We’re very lucky in the sense that Alex and I share a unique background, which enabled us to ask ‘how good a watch could we make’, if we really set our minds to it.
There aren’t many people who could even ask that question of themselves, let alone make it happen. And so, that unique background where Alex has sat at Animal, helping them to understand what was and wasn’t possible through manufacture, through delivery, and through servicing as well has been key.
He’s not just seen the design process but also what’s gone wrong with the watches that came back. That’s a really unique place to sit. Normally, you’d be doing one or the other but you wouldn’t be doing all of those things.
I, on the other hand, was responsible for designing our very first watches. A velcro watch strap at Animal was my first invention, and then I went onto researching making a watch – which took about four or five years. Eventually, we launched that in ’94 and tripled our turnover… the week we launched watches.
I’ve always had a big soft spot for watches. I love the engineering side, the details side and the doing things differently side of life.
With Elliot Brown, we set about thinking what we could put into a watch to make it tougher, longer lasting, more durable, more pleasurable to wear and own than anything else at the equivalent price point. It was clear there was a big gap in the market so we set about addressing all the weak points, then over engineering them.
“The devil is in the detail with us”
The devil is in the detail with us. We’re quite opaque in that we don’t go to town in telling everyone, everything we do. What we prefer is for people to buy our watches because they like the look and fit of it, and they maybe like our image. Then as the watch is worn and survives scrapes and knocks, they realise how good it is and some become massive advocates because it might be the first watch they have ever owned that they never need to take off.
We’re just people who’ve been lucky enough to spend our lives doing what we love. We live by the water. Yesterday, I was being towed behind a mate’s boat – learning how to foil because I’m going to take up wing foiling having been a windsurfer, and a surfer, and a paddle boarder. We live and breathe the things that we love.
Our watches are just a means for us to enjoy that without having to worry. You can just slap it on your wrist and never give it another thought. They’re not expensive drawer queens, watches that get left in the drawer because they’re too valuable to wear, but they have the engineering prowess, and finish, and fit of something much higher priced.
So, you get a lot of pleasure of owning and wearing with none of the downsides.