Ever wondered why we set our watches in relation to London’s Greenwich Mean Time? Surely Geneva Mean Time would make more sense, given Switzerland’s famed watchmaking industry. And yet, during the 17th century, Britain was a leader in the watchmaking world, pioneering some of the most important innovations in horology, such as the first marine chronograph. Created by Yorkshire-born John Harrison, the watch enabled sailors to navigate at sea. It was even used by the famous explorer Captain Cook.
In 1800, around half of the world’s watches were produced on British shores. While that statistic has shifted somewhat significantly since then, a handful of watchmakers are hoping to put Great Britain back on the watchmaking map. Leading the charge is Bremont, the British luxury watch brand founded by brothers Nicholas and Giles English. Inspired by their late father Euan English and his lifelong love of mechanical engineering and aviation, the brothers, both pilots, set up Bremont in 2002. They then spent five years in Biel-Bienne studying the art of Swiss watchmaking before releasing Bremont’s first models in 2007.
Despite these Swiss origins and the fact that the name comes, somewhat ironically, from France – after Antoine Bremont, a local farmer who helped the brothers following an emergency landing in one of his fields – the brand’s British identity is at the core of its values.
“Our goal as a brand is to reinvigorate Britain’s watchmaking industry, and we have invested heavily in machinery as well as training watchmakers to help us achieve this goal,” Giles notes. “The fact that we manufacture our watch cases and watch parts in volume in the UK is something that resonates internationally.
“Every Bremont watch is made with the highest level of craftsmanship. All watches leave our workshop with a guaranteed accuracy of -4 to +6 seconds per day, which when you consider that there are 86,400 seconds in a day, is a remarkable feat of micro-engineering.”
“We modelled the design of the watch on Orville Wright’s pocket watch and the priceless material is sealed inside”
The family’s strong ties to the aviation world are woven into the very fabric of the brand’s DNA; Bremont watches are known for being put through their paces by the best military pilots in the world, and almost a quarter of the business is dedicated to making bespoke squadron watches worldwide. One of Bremont’s most specially designed, limited edition timepieces is the Wright Flyer. Created in collaboration with Amanda Wright-Lane, the great-grandniece of Wilbur and Orville, the brothers responsible for pioneering aviation as we know it today, the watch is named after the historic plane they flew, and incorporates a piece of muslin material taken from the lower left wing of the original aircraft.
“Previously, the recovered materials had only been given to presidents or the likes of Neil Armstrong when he went to the moon,” marvels Giles. “We modelled the design of the watch on Orville Wright’s pocket watch and the priceless material is sealed inside, in a capsule in the rotor.” The funds raised through sales of the watch was used to restore the Wright family home.
Like the Wright Flyer, many of the brand’s timepieces are inspired by a spirit of adventure. Despite their obvious luxury appeal, watches are created with the express intention of being able to withstand the most challenging conditions on earth. Hence the brand tagline of ‘Tested Beyond Endurance’.
“When we started, we had a very clear view of what we wanted to achieve – beautiful and classic-styled watches that looked great in the boardroom but were also robust enough to be used in any situation.”
One of the most famous examples of this is the Limited Edition Bremont Endurance, which was created with Bremont ambassador Ben Saunders, a record-breaking polar explorer. The watch was tested during his attempt at the first solo and unsupported crossing of Antarctica, a 1,800-mile journey under punishing conditions. With its bright orange strap, light titanium case and the rotating, bi-directional compass bezel coated in Super-LumiNova®, the watch helped Saunders navigate the terrain even when visibility was at its lowest.
It’s little wonder that Bremont has attracted a number of high-profile fans known for their sense of adventure. Prince Harry famously wore a Bremont timepiece for an expedition to the South Pole, which he undertook with the charity Walking With The Wounded. Meanwhile, Hollywood star Tom Cruise, a qualified pilot, and something of a daredevil himself, is known to favour the ALT1-C, which was the very first watch that Bremont produced back in 2007 (although the brand added two new models to the range earlier this year).
There are more adventure-inspired timepieces in the pipeline to look forward to. Along with a new historic limited edition timepiece due to be released this autumn, Giles is particularly excited about the upcoming launch of the Bremont Waterman Limited Edition, a new diving watch created in collaboration with legendary surfer and diver, Mark Healey.
“Not only is this new timepiece truly over-engineered, but it has also been a real joy working with Mark, one of the world’s best big wave surfers, free divers and environmentalists,” he says. “We are honoured to be working with an adventurer who is so driven by perfection, the ocean environment and who is totally uncompromising when it comes to his equipment.”