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Thursday 9th February
Top Gear Guide To Watches

TG's guide to watches: mayday mayday eject!

There’s a watch for every activity these days, including ejection from a jet

Back in the days of the Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane, British fighting planes were the envy of the skies. The Eurofighter Typhoon may be one of the best modern fighter jets, but it doesn’t have the mystique of the wartime planes. Plus, as the name indicates, it is a collaboration between European nations and Britain is only part owner. In a battle for aerial superiority, is there one thing we are best at?

Yes, actually. Tucked away in Middlesex is Martin-Baker, by quite some measure the largest maker of ejector seats in the world. It started off making aeroplanes in the Thirties before one of the co-founders was killed during a test flight. Sir James Martin switched the business to focus on saving pilots when something went wrong. The first test ejection took place in the mid-Forties, and the first real-world ejection in 1949. Since then more than 7,600 pilots have been saved by a Martin-Baker seat. The Martin family still runs the company, which supplies 70 per cent of the world’s armed forces.

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Ejecting from a fighter jet is a finely balanced task. You need sufficient force to clear the aircraft, but not so much that it puts the pilot through any more trauma than is strictly necessary. Finely balanced, but not exactly delicate. Being ejected from a plane is a little on the rough side, pulling up to 20g before being yanked back to reality by the chute. You can only imagine what such a shock could do to a person’s wristwatch.

Thankfully one company has put it to the test. Bremont was approached by Martin-Baker more than a decade ago and asked to produce a watch that could withstand its testing regime. Bremont made a prototype and from there a whole new range was born. Some of them only available to people who have themselves been ejected from a jet – not a club you necessarily want to join, but once you’re in, members are very proud.

Bremont is the standard bearer for a resurgent British watch industry. The company recently opened a new headquarters in Henley-on-Thames and is vocal about bringing back proper watchmaking to a country that once made more watches than anyone in the world. Will Britain ever be on top again? The Swiss may have something to say. As may Germany and the Far East, so let’s not get carried away. Britain’s watch industry may not be on top of the world, but it’s definitely off the ground again... 

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