How Bremont aims to bring watchmaking back to Britain
Stand aside, Switzerland: here's how the UK can become timepiece central
Once upon a time, the world set its watch by Britain. Fuelled by a craving for maritime accuracy, Greenwich became a temple of timekeeping, and watchmakers fell over themselves to pass our internationally famous lab tests. But as the empire faded and the wristwatch took over, time fell into Swiss hands.
But all is not lost. According to one British brand, Britain can once again become a watchmaker’s Mecca. Bremont might be named after a Frenchman, but its founders are thoroughly English. Really – English is their surname, and here’s how they’re bringing watchmaking back to our green and pleasant land…Advertisement - Page continues below
Made In The UK
According to Bremont boss Giles English, making a watch 100 per cent British is easier said than done.
“We’ve had many watchmakers, but not many manufacturers,” he says. In other words, although Bremont – and others – have been assembling watches in the UK for years, there’s often still a reliance on the Swiss heartland for specialist parts, sourced from the hundreds of suppliers in the Jura Valley. But what if Britain had a similar support system? This is Bremont’s ambition, which is why the company has opened a new factory in Silverstone.
Its location is no accident. The facility is on an industrial estate originally built by Eddie Jordan for motorsport suppliers, and half of the staff come from the industries related to Formula One. The idea is that our very own Motorsport Valley already contains the expertise that translates directly into watchmaking.
Machinists, CNC operators, polishers, micromechanics – they’re all there. So even if the Bremont factory reaches capacity, someone nearby will have the right tooling and people to step in. “We’re building our own infrastructure,” says Giles. “We want to create a self-sufficient industry.”
On top of this, the company is upgrading its Henley headquarters, home to nearly 100 staff, including Northern Irishman Stephen McDonnell – one of only a handful of classically trained watchmakers capable of designing and making complete movements by hand. Might this mean we’ll see an independent, properly British watch movement in the next few years? Watch this space…
Stiff Upper Lip
All Bremont watches are officially certified chronometers. This means they’ve passed a stern test run by COSC, the Swiss body responsible for verifying the world’s hardiest, most accurate mechanical watches.
In the old days, there was a British equivalent known as the Kew Test, which was arguably stricter than the COSC process, even by today’s rules. So why should the Swiss be in charge? Wouldn’t it be great to re-establish a proper British standard, one to which the whole world aspires?
Again, this is something Giles would love to see. “The trouble is,” he says, “we’re pretty much the only ones needing this, and it has to be independent.” For now then, alongside the COSC test, Bremont subjects its own watches to a set of exams to make sure each one is up to the job. In the case of the MBII – made in partnership with British ejector seat company Martin-Baker – these include being frozen at -40°C for 24 hours, being raised 100,000 feet above sea level before being dropped back to Earth, and a juddery, time-compressed simulation of every vibration experienced during an ejector seat’s 30-year life in the air.
As well as the lab stuff, Bremont also puts its watches in the hands of frost-bitten explorers, high-altitude aviators and others who give them a generally hard time in the wild.Advertisement - Page continues below
If there’s one thing Bremont does well, it’s a patriotic partnership, and the most significant for us, with our TG hat on, is the one with Jaguar. It started last year when Bremont made six bespoke chronometers, for each of the ‘missing’ E-type Lightweights being made by Jag Heritage to Sixties specs, bringing the quota of cars to 18 as originally intended. These limited-run pieces led to two more E-type-a-like editions, both of which go on sale this month (from £4,950).
Bremont is named after a French farmer, who looked after the English brothers when they made a surprise landing in his field. As it happens, vintage aircraft feature heavily in their watches – quite literally, in the case of their early EP120, which featured actual bits of a Supermarine Spitfire. Another had parts from an American P-51 Mustang fighter.
In 2013, Bremont got together with Bletchley Park, the codebreaking centre that helped win the war. The watch, the Codebreaker, included timber from Hut 6, the centre of operations, and paper from one of the punch cards used to analyse reams of code. And part of the watch’s rotor was made from the wheel of a German Enigma machine.
HMS Victory – Lord Nelson’s French-flogging flagship – is perhaps the most important British ship of all time, and by incorporating fragments of oak timber and brass from the famous old vessel in its limited-edition Victory watch, Bremont became part of the very fabric of the nation. England expects...Advertisement - Page continues below
It might not sound like it, but the America’s Cup is a British invention, originally staged by the Royal Yacht Squadron. Unfortunately it was won by an American team, after which we politely named the trophy. It has remained in foreign hands ever since, but 2015 could be Britain’s year, not least because the official event timing is in Bremont’s hands…