Entering the Palace at Baselworld 2015 (if only in my imagination), I am struck by the bright expanse of space; the translucent ceilings may recall Kew Gardens for some, but this conservatory burgeons with horology not horticulture. I’m tempted to stall in the entryway to marvel at Frères Rochat’s complications, then slip to the right and admire the extravagantly decorated dials and movements at Arnold & Son; but for this watch enthusiast the destination is stand 5C – to the left and almost in the rear of the hall: Bremont Chronometers. The romantic story of this brand’s inception is well documented so I won’t recapitulate it here. Suffice it to say that, in addition to the storied tenets of Bremont lore, the marque’s three distinctives capture my imagination: British Heritage, Aviation and Engineering. Bremont founders, Nicholas and Giles English, embrace and regularly expound their mission to bring fine watchmaking back to Britain. Once upon a time the moniker “British Made” had the cachet that “Swiss Made” has today. Consider Thomas Tompion (1713) George Graham (1751), the great John Harrison (1776), Thomas Mudge (1794) and John Arnold (1799); more recently, Hans Wilsdorf emigrated to London in 1905 and started what would become Rolex, and George Daniels in 1974 invented the co-axial escapement. Peter Speake-Marin in our own day produces stunningly precise and elegant works of haute horlogerie. But Bremont stand alone as the preeminent British company producing robust, functional and elegant watches for “the rest of us,” and they continue to take strides to bring their design and production processes to England.
Now, one might ask “why aviation? What’s British about that?” Ever since the Wright brothers “slipped the surly bonds of Earth” at Kitty Hawk in 1903, the world has thought of aviation as an American innovation; and this is partially true. However, nearly fifty years earlier the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain was established; this group held the world’s first aeronautical exhibition, and members constructed the first wind tunnel and developed the cambered wing. Further, Winston Churchill – the embodiment of “John Bull Britishness” – was an early adopter of this turn of the (last) century “high-tech;” less than a decade after Kitty Hawk Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty (British navy,) learned to fly. Now, this may sound mundane to us today, but consider that at that time one out of five-thousand flights ended in death; and Churchill was involved in more than one serious crash himself. He went on to establish the Royal Air Force, which fought the Battle of Britain as the last bastion against Hitler’s onslaught on the island nation. One can argue that World War II would have had a quite different outcome were it not for RAF aviators; in my view the free world owes a debt of gratitude to British aviation. This brings us to engineering; from their inception in 2002 Bremont have been devoted to robust design, construction and accuracy. Integral to the marque, and embodied in every one of their offerings, is rigorous field testing and chronometer rating. The Trip-Tick® case design, with aggressive anti-shock technology, unique hardened metal construction and water resistance to ten atmospheres, is the result of this commitment to structural excellence. Bremont’s 2009 partnership with Martin Baker, however, thrust them to a higher altitude. The ejector seat company required a watch for pilots who had ejected in their seats, but they didn’t just want a nice watch with a bespoke dial; they wanted an over engineered timepiece that could withstand the tremendous shocks and forces of ejection from a high performance aircraft. The English brothers were keen to comply and the result was the MBI, offered to the public as the MBII. The original three-sectioned case received a proprietary anti-shock movement mount and a faraday cage, and the MB technology now finds its way into much of the line, including the brand’s dive watches. True to the brand’s motto “Tested Beyond Endurance,” Bremont watches are designed and built to take whatever abuse their wearers mete out, while remaining beautiful and functional through it all. This brings us to Bremont at Baselworld 2015. The brand announced six watches; two of which are newcomers to the line, and the remainder enhancements to existing timepieces. One of Bremont’s several geniuses is their penchant for partnering with elite companies, initially with Martin Baker as already noted. Bremont next partnered with Jaguar in 2010, providing the digital and mechanical automatic dashboard clocks for the C-X75 concept car, clocks for the XJ-75 concept car, timepieces for the Queen’s Jaguars, as well as clocks for production models. This partnership continued in 2014 when the watchmaker developed six “limited edition” timepieces to accompany the special release of Jaguar’s six Lightweight E-types; the public versions, also released in 2014, were the MKI and MKII – highlighted now in the Palace. Bremont’s connection with auto racing started in 2009 when they became the official timekeeper of the Goodwood Festival of Speed in West Sussex, and they enjoyed the aforementioned partnership with Jaguar in 2010; however, the MKI and MKII are their first auto-racing inspired wristwatches. The MKI features small seconds, while the MKII is a chronograph; both have design elements that reprise the E-Type’s Smiths tachymetre. Through the crystal case-back one can see an exceptional rotor concept which ingeminates the E-Type’s steering wheel; outstanding rotor design is yet another distinctive that sets Bremont apart from other watchmakers. Next up in Switzerland is the expansion of the Boeing line. Bremont’s relationship with Boeing began, it seems, in 2013 when they purchased a computer numerical control (CNC) machine from the American aviation giant. The following year saw the release of the Boeing Model 1 and Model 247. These popular pieces are made from a special stainless steel called Custom 465, an alloy developed for the aerospace industry which has superior strength and durability. This year Bremont have taken the Boeing line to the next stratum by producing the Model 1 and Model 247 Ti-GMTs. The cases of these watches are made of Boeing Ti-64 titanium, an aviation grade element which is exceptionally light and strong. The Ti-GMTs also feature (as you might expect) a GMT hand for world-timekeeping, and Bermont’s very first ceramic bezel. Bremont released their first line of watches in 2007; it was composed of the BC-S1 and F1 (three handers) and the chronographs: ALT1-C, ALT1-P, and ALT1-Z. The three handers have been succeeded by the Solo series, but the chronographs remain. Bremont improves the original line this year with the ALT1-ZT. This is an elegant variation on the more workmanlike dial of the original offering. The simplified dial design, black subdials, and applied indices “dress up” the original; but all of the chronograph and GMT functionality loved by devotees of the original Z remain. Finally, another Bremont distinctive is their support of, and popularity with, military and paramilitary units all over the world. At my last count (and I’m confident I’ve missed some) the watchmaker has produced over seventy bespoke, limited edition, military watches; these timepieces’ dials, and sometimes rotors, are designed in collaboration with unit members, and only unit members may purchase them from Bremont. Some notable partners include the US B-52 Squadron, the Israeli Air Force Demo Team, the US Navy Test Pilot School, the Afghan Air Force Special Mission Wing, the Royal Navy Submarine Service, and Scotland Yard. The very first of these limited edition watches was produced in 2010 with and for the U-2 9th Recon Wing (150 pieces); that same year Bremont offered a “civilian” version U-2 to the rest of us; my favorite variant is the U-2 Blue. This year at Basel Bremont released the U-22; this version includes compass points on the dial and degrees at the indices, a copper barrel, and of particular interest to aviation enthusiasts, a date window that intimates an analog altimeter (similar to the date on some Bell and Ross and IWC watches.) — One of Bremont’s particularities is producing limited editions, often in support of charitable causes; these deserve their own blog post but, suffice it to say, they include the EP120 Supermarine MKLF “Spitfire” (120 Pieces), the Norton Motorcycle (200 Pieces), the P-51 Mustang (251 Pieces), the HMS Victory in support of the National Museum of the Royal Navy (250 Stainless and 40 Rose Gold Pieces), the Codebreaker in support of the Bletchley Park Trust (240 Stainless and 50 Rose Gold Pieces), and the Wright Flyer, supporting The Wright Family Foundation (300 Stainless, 100 Rose Gold and 50 White Gold pieces.) — Bremont have ascended to impressive heights since the English brothers launched the company in 2002. They’ve been supported by the likes of chairman John Ayton, designers Peter Roberts and La Joux-Perret, ambassadors such as Bear Grylls and Charlie Boorman, and owners including HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, Orlando Bloom, Ewan McGregor, Sylvester Stallone and Tom Cruise. Dedicated employees such as Mike Pearson and Antonia Southwell have established the brand’s customer service as second to none. They’ve won multiple awards along the way, have sponsored a host of expeditions and charitable efforts, and have produced special project “non- wristwatch” timepieces, including a pocket watch and marine chronometers. But the distinctives of this brand – English Engineered Aviation – find their genesis in Nick’s and Gile’s regard and love for their father Euan. An RAF display team pilot, Cambridge educated aeronautical engineer, and entrepreneur, the senior English bequeathed gifts and values to his sons, and they instill the same in each watch they produce. And for that I am grateful.
Tony Dawson comes by his love of English engineered aviation honestly; born at Purdue University where his father studied engineering, and the scion of grandparents with the supremely British surnames Dawson, Palmer, Boswell and Hayes, Dawson learned to pilot light aircraft before he could (legally) drive a car. Bremont embody many of the values he holds most dear.