Launching a new watch brand in a market that esteems heritage and history may be one thing. Launching one with the proud boast, not of its Swiss or German design, but of its Britishness, may seem foolhardy. And yet when brothers Giles and Nick English’s father Euan was killed in 1995 in an air crash that also badly injured Nick, that is what the pair set about doing, putting their careers in the City behind them in favour of doing something for the love of it, rather than the tidy bonus.
It took a decade of planning, during which time they set up an aircraft restoration business, but in 2007 Bremont was launched.
“We were brought up building grandfather clocks, so an interest in watches was always there,” explains Giles English. “But there is also a practical appeal in these watches. Flying has everything to do with time.
“I’ll admit that I thought it would be easier to launch the company than it turned out to be. In terms of getting parts, for example, as a small company you’re right at the back of the queue. And how slow the watch industry can be is painful sometimes.
“But luckily, we have never had investors breathing down our necks, so we have been free to grow at our own pace. We’ve been able to create thewatches we most would like to wear ourselves, which is quite a luxury.” Indeed, what is perhaps more remarkable is the swiftness with which Bremont has been established among serious watch buffs (some models already have a three-year waiting list) and those, like the brothers, with a penchant for vintage aircraft. Vintage bi-plane. Any brand needs to have a theme.” provided expert advice. Palace of Westminster (also home to Big Ben). The brand’s association with flying is fast becoming its signature. Bremont comes from the French farmer, and former pilot, into whose pea field in Champagne the brothers once had to make an emergency landing in their Bremont’s EP120 model also contains parts of the Mark V Spitfire of the same name which, in one notorious day in 1942, made six German kills. It is all very Boys’ Own – and Bremont can count adventurer Bear Grylls, yachtsman Mike Golding and Everest climber Jake Meyer among its fans, enhancing the allure of a brand whose watches will be worn by men drawn to their spirit of adventure and the tough utility of their design. Even if the closest you come to sitting in a cockpit is turning left into First Class when you board for a business trip, the appeal is clear.
“Bremont watches are about going out there and pushing yourself, in whatever way,” suggests Giles. “A watch says a lot about you. The English brothers’ connections have put them on the inside track of the luxury goods industry too – John Ayton, founder of the Links of London jewellery chain, and Robert Bensoussan, former CEO of Jimmy Choo shoes, have both The company was also smart in supplying the actors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman with watches for their televised motorcycle trek, A Long Way Down, and it also now sponsors the Goodwood Festival of Speed. The timing, far from being a disastrous time for growth, has been good for Bremont. In part, Giles English argues, because other companies with a reputation for pilots’ watches have “lost a bit of their soul”, by becoming part of luxury goods conglomerates and by chasing fashion. If English likes to describe Bremont’s rigorously tested, tool-like aesthetic as being one of high functionality (later this year it launches its first diving watch the SuperMarine 500, named after the Schneider Trophy seaplane) it certainly makes its watches stand apart from the glitzier styles some more established brands have produced, perhaps at a cost to their image.
Bremont is also playing a part in a renaissance of British watchmaking.
The world-class bespoke watchmaker Roger Smith, based on the Isle of Man, has in recent years been joined not only by Bremont, but by the likes of Graham and also Dent, pioneer of the marine chronometer and maker of the clock mechanism on the tower at the Watch collectors are beginning to appreciate that before massmanufactured watches squeezed out the artisan, and the Americans andthen the Swiss came to dominate the industry, Britain once led the way.
Hans Wilsdorf, after all, launched a company here in 1905, renaming it Rolex in 1908; its name, inspired by the sound of the winder, coming to him while sitting on a London bus.
“Britishness is part of what makes Bremont different,” explains Giles.
“It is probably too soon to speak of a renaissance, but certainly there is a new credibility for British watches now; people are thinking about them again. “After all, there is a huge history in British watchmaking that nobody seems to know about. But there is very much a British style of movement, right down to the thickness of the plates.” The slowdown affecting many giants of the watch industry means Bremont is no longer at the back of the queue, and the downturn has freed up time and components from the Swiss workshops that supply the parts inside Bremont’s distinctive, curved, British-made steel cases – manufactured by a Cambridge company that also, appropriately, finishes jet turbine blades.
In fact, business is so good that the company can even afford to give its watches away, albeit once its recipient has undergone something of an ordeal. For when Bremont launched its entirely British-made MB1 watch at the end of last year, it awarded one to every pilot to survive a crash using an ejector seat made by the pioneering British company Martin-Baker.
Thankfully, a more commercial version, the MB2, was made available for those who would rather not go through the trauma of being rocket-propelled out of an aircraft at 30,000ft, which is a relief.