The British watchmaking industry, which has been taking a rest for the last one hundred years or so, has been awakened from its slumber by brothers Nick and Giles English, writes Ryan Hewlett.
“This is the first time that production on this scale has happened in Britain for decades”
Switzerland has already laid claim to private banks, Emmental cheese, little red pocket knifes and expensive ski resorts – and if this wasn’t enough they’ve made a pretty big name for themselves in the world of mechanical timepieces. Rolex, Tag Heur and Breitling all call Switzerland home. Even one of Britain’s biggest exports, Mr James Bond, takes on the bad guys with a Swiss-made Omega clasped around his wrists.
But why is this? Britain has a long history of watchmaking. During the 17th and 18th centuries, Thomas Mudge invented the lever escapement; John Harrison’s marine clocks solved the longitude problem, increasing the safety of long-distance sea travel; Robert Hooke discovered the science behind the balance spring; and John Arnold pioneered the first wearable watch.
Meet brothers Nick and Giles English, founders of Bremont, the new name in luxury watchmaking. Established in 2002, Bremont has set the standard in the manufacturing of beautifully crafted aviation chronometers, and is leading the way in bringing watchmaking back to the UK.
It all started in March 1995 when Nick English was practising for an air display with his father Euan. Tragically, the 1942 WWII Harvard aircraft they were flying was involved in a serious accident. Euan English died, leaving Nick English in a critical condition, having broken over 30 bones. The event changed the brothers’ lives forever. Doing something they loved became essential – after all, life is short. The brothers both left finance jobs in the city and instead decided to pursue their passion – making mechanical watches.
Getting the brand up and running was no easy task. The brothers set up two manufacturing works; one in the UK and a second in Switzerland.
Central to a watch brand is the story behind it, and this company takes its name from a French farmer and aviation enthusiast called Antoine Bremont, whose field Nick and Giles English crash-landed in the late 1990s on one of the pair’s many adventures.
With a name and manufacturing plants in place, Bremont was born. The company now has a headquarters and assembly workshop in Henley, a parts manufacturing facility at Silverstone, and over 25 watchmakers.
These 25 watchmakers are key to Bremont’s success, and training young and aspiring watchmakers is taken very seriously. By manufacturing products in the UK, the brand is safeguarding skills which would otherwise have been lost, and which are now forming the backbone of the industry for the future.
Bremont now has the capability to build its own watchcases, as well as key movements and parts. This is the first time that production on this scale has happened in Britain for decades, and is a giant step towards the repatriation of watchmaking in the UK.
After five years of perfecting the product, Bremont’s first collection, the ALT1-C series, hit the market in 2007. Since then the brand’s expansion has been phenomenal. In less than 10 years Bremont has established a flagship store in London Mayfair, which opened in 2012, followed by further outposts in Hong Kong, the City of London’s Royal Exchange and, more recently, New York’s Madison Avenue.
All of Bremont’s watches have been designed and engineered to be 99.998 per cent accurate, and meet the rigorous chronometer certification requirements of the COSC (Controle Officiel Suisse des Chronometres). As well as its consumer ranges, Bremont now supplies watches for various military squadrons such as the Royal Navy Clearance Divers, the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, and the US Navy Test Pilot School.
The company has acted as the official timekeeper for the Epsom Derby and the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, and runs regular events for its ‘Adventurers Club’, which boasts members like record-breaking climber Kenton Cool, polar explorer Ben Saunders, and Seven Summits mountaineer Jake Myer – the youngest Briton to have successfully climbed the highest mountain on each continent.
Last year saw Bremont fully cement its place as a top luxury brand, when it became the Official Timing Partner of the 35th America’s Cup – ousting one of the world’s most valuable luxury brands, Louis Vuitton.
Despite its success there is still much that Bremont hopes to achieve. The company has been working on a whole new movement design, which it hopes to complete this year. Ultimately, Bremont hopes to be able to manufacture all of the parts for this new movement in the UK, although this is likely to take some time to achieve. If successful, the company will truly be able to say it has brought watchmaking back home to the UK.
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