Made in England
Since I began writing regular features on timepieces, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many watch aficionados. Most recently, I was introduced to a well-dressed man, Giles English, who co-owns Bremont, which recently launched in Dubai with Rivoli. I had never given the brand much attention. I’d wrongly assumed that a British watchmaking company would never catch on and was of the (also incorrect) opinion that if it’s not Swiss, then it’s not worth a second look.
But as my conversation with Giles continued, I became more and more intrigued. He was wearing a P-51, and the quality and finish was instantly evident. At 43mm, it is slightly larger than I normally wear, but felt right on my wrist. Unfortunately for me, this particular special edition has long sold out and I can understand why. It is a chronograph chronometer built with certain parts that have been machined from the famous 1944 Mustang WWII aircraft P-51K-10, hence its name. Many watch companies have limited edition pieces, but not many can say that their pieces contain parts from WWII aircraft.
The company has also used wood and copper from Nelson’s HMS Victory and wood from the shed at Bletchley Park where the Enigma code was cracked in WWII. In both cases, a portion of proceeds from sales has gone towards restoration. And rumour has it, Tom Cruise once specifically ordered a customised Bremont with a rotor made from a part from one of his vintage cars.
My brief encounter with Giles got me thinking more about the brand and I discovered its fascinating backstory. Bremont was founded in 2002 by Giles and his brother, Euan, who both had a love of all things mechanical. They caught this bug from their father, Dr. Euan English, who was a PhD graduate from Cambridge University and an ex-RAF pilot. It was Euan who also taught the brothers to fly, and while speaking to Giles, his love of this pursuit became apparent. But flying also bought tragedy to the family. In 1995, Nick and Euan were involved in a horrendous accident. Euan died and Nick broke over 30 bones. And just last year Giles sustained serious injuries after being forced to crash-land a vintage plane. Thankfully he has recovered well.
After the death of their father, Nick and Giles continued to run the family aviation business but also set about building a watch company. It’s hard enough for new Swiss brands to break into the market, so would anyone take them seriously? They therefore decided that in order to start, they needed the experience of the Swiss and their first operation was set up in Bein, Switzerland. The aim was clear; they wanted to create classical aviation-inspired watches that could be used in the boardroom or on Mount Everest.
Did they succeed? Recent boutique openings and the number of Bremont retailers around the world answers this question. And a quick look at the website shows that quite a few famous faces have taken to wearing their watches. Bear Grylls has been seen wearing a Bremont on many of his crazy adventures, but it’s not just adventurers or pilots who have taken to the brand. Orlando Bloom wore his P-51 at the Golden Globes last year. And this is through choice, not because these celebrities are being paid to do so.
So where did the name Bremont come from? In the late 1990s, Giles and Nick were flying through France in their 1930s bi-plane when they were forced to make an emergency landing due to bad weather. They more than happy to avoid the French authorities by accepting the help of an old farmer whose field they had landed in. The aircraft was pushed into his barn and the brothers stayed the night with the farmer and enjoyed being shown his workshop and hearing all of his flying tales. He too had flown aircraft during the war and was a gifted engineer. Old wall clocks lay around the place in mid restoration together with numerous engine parts. The farmer still wore his own father’s wristwatch, and his name was Antoine Bremont.
Bremont now has a British watch making facility in Henley-on-Thames, and assembles and manufacture as much as possible in Britain. There are many good watches to select from its range, but the one I really like is the clean dialled U-2.
It has been tested to 100,000 feet and minus 40 degrees Celsius and has also been tested by the elite U-2 Spy Plane Squadron based at Beale, CA in the US.
Thanks to Bremont, the British are giving the Swiss a real run for their money. Bremont have proved they have true aviation heritage and don’t need a huge marketing machine to generate sales – the quality of their products sell themselves. It’s no longer IWC that holds the crown of Pilot watches; I would say it’s a small company from Oxfordshire.