Since its establishment in 2002, Bremont have been building beautifully engineered timepieces, each one crafted meticulously by hand from their headquarters in Henley on Thames. We had the opportunity to sit down with one half of the luxury brand’s founders, Nick English, to discuss Bremont’s origins, aviation, and British watchmaking.
THE FOXLEY DOCKET: Your father was in the RAF, meaning aviation and aircraft were an integral part of your childhood. When did your own relationship with aviation begin?
NICK ENGLISH: We grew up with our father always flying, who got his flying license when he was 16. When we grew up, at about 7 or 8 years old onwards, we were always going to air shows that he’d be flying in. We often sat in the back of the cockpit, which was so exhilarating. I vividly remember barely being able to see over the back of the aeroplane or out of the window. You’d suddenly feel the aeroplane speeding up and you’d realise “wow, we’re going in for an air display!”, and that was very, very exciting. We started doing quite a lot with him. It was a big part of his life so during our teens, we were lucky enough to learn to fly ourselves. We went solo at 16 and got our licenses not long after that. We went on a lot of cool adventures as teenagers in old aeroplanes flying around Europe and Scandinavia and places like that, and we used to say to our parents – Giles would be 16 or 17, I’d be 18 or 19 – and off we’d go! We’d say “I’ll see you in three weeks’ time” and head off and go on these adventures around Europe and that’s how we got into it, really. We’ve lived with it from a really early age.
TFD: Throughout Bremont’s advertising, your passion for both aviation and intricately crafted watches, which seems to be quite a common combination, is evident – why do you think this is? How do you combine these passions in your work?
NE: With us, it’s our background, so it wasn’t a conscious decision like “we MUST make an aviation watch”, it was what we grew up around. I’m sure if we’d being immersed in motorsport in a huge way, it would’ve naturally gravitated towards that, but with flying, there’s an intrinsic connection. When I learnt to fly, there was no GPS – it was a map, a compass and a watch, and that’s it. That’s how you got from Norfolk down to an airfield in Cambridge or Oxfordshire or wherever you were – it’d be following this particular heading for this particular amount of time, and hoping that you vaguely crossed the right place of the map. Often you weren’t, and that’s when it got quite scary – that’s how navigation works. Time is such an obvious thing in the aircraft, and you can’t rely on these old clocks that are stuck in a 1940’s aeroplane because they’re not massively reliable, they probably haven’t ever been serviced. Having a watch was quite important, and I think that’s where the combination really lies. Also with aviation, it’s not about fashion, it’s about having something which is readable and accurate. You can imagine that five seconds at 200 miles an hour or 100 miles an hour or whatever speed you’re doing is actually quite a lot of distance! That’s the difference between being in the side of a hillside and not, so it does make a difference in terms of safety, and you’ve got to be able to see the thing. The whole lot comes together quite nicely, and I think that’s why so many brands have adopted that as a selling point.
TFD: How did you find the transition from aircraft restoration into luxury watchmaking?
NE: It took us a long time to learn – we had an intrinsic love of all things mechanical from our father. He was an engineer, so he understood aircrafts. He was at Cambridge and did a Doctor up there as well in it. His other passion, as well as flying, was spending a lot of time in the evenings and on the weekends in the workshop making things. He’d restore cars and planes and boats and things, but also clocks! At the end of the day, a clock is an engine – it’s filled with lots of small parts that come together. Anything mechanical, he loved. Although we got involved with the business of restoring aircrafts, we still never lost or shied away from that love of watches as well. When it came to making watches, clearly we’re not watchmakers by background – we’re keen amateurs – but it was still a big jump from being a keen amateur to developing a watch. That’s why it took us a lot longer than we originally thought – we thought it’d only take us a year and a half, but it took us more like five years. It was doable, but not massively smooth – it had its challenges along the way, definitely.
TFD: The name ‘Bremont’ is quite unusual – what are its origins?
NE: The key thing for us is we didn’t want to develop a brand or buy a brand with someone else’s history. There’s an incredible history of British watchmaking but it’s not about going to buy any other brands and say “hey look, we’ve been trading since 1762!” It was very much about developing a brand which was true to its own roots, and that was Giles’ and I. To develop a brand like that, we had to really make sure that we understood where we wanted to take the brand.
The name Bremont is very different, we didn’t want to use our own surname. It came from a flying trip when we force landed in a farmer’s field in France. The chap who came to our aid’s surname was Bremont, so for us, it meant a lot. Our father had died two years previously, and this guy really did remind us of our father, had he lived for another thirty years – he was only 49 when he died. This chap had a workshop, a love of aeroplanes and aviation and all the sort of bits that meant something to us. So when it came down to naming the brand, it seemed like a lovely thing to do, and it’s totally us.
TFD: The brand has a close partnership with Boeing – how did this relationship begin? What was it about the brand that made them an essential aspect of Bremont?
NE: It’s not essential, but I find it very flattering for a brand as large and as esteemed as Boeing to say they actually want to work with a relatively small, British brand like us. It came from a couple of things really; one is a good chunk of Bremont’s business is military; Boeing had been watching and saw that we’d done the Apache Squadron, C17 Squadron, F18, F15, and the Chinook. All these different brand of aircraft are Boeing! They looked at us and said “these guys do some pretty cool stuff, also they’ve done a few historical pieces too [like the P-51], which is brilliant – they only do one small project a year but they’re integrating parts of very famous Boeing aircraft in the watch, that’s quite cool as well.” A few years ago, they approached us and said “we love what you’re doing, we’d love to develop a watch line with you”, and we said “why? what’s it about?” and they said “we’re the leaders in the world when it comes to materials, and we can certainly do something with you guys on an R&D level” – that was very appealing to us. We started working with new metals with them, started working with new titaniums and alloys and things – we still are! Some of those are used in these watches. It became a lot more than “let’s just produce a watch with a logo on the dial.” They had a big research facility in England which allowed us to work with them, we still do. We even have our own PhD students there full time!
TFD: How long does it take to build a Bremont watch?
NE: It depends how you look at it. It can take up to a year and a half to get most of the parts together, and then a good watchmaker can probably put three together in a day. But it does take 18 months to get the parts to the stage where they’re ready to put together, so you could say it takes 18 months or you could say the assembly time is a couple of hours.
TFD: What do you feel is gained through making watches by hand?
NE: I don’t see how you can do it any other way, really! When you see the pride that these watchmakers put into building these watches, it’s amazing. They genuinely have a really close affinity with what they’re doing. You might have a client that comes in three years later asking to meet the watchmaker who built their watch; you can say “yeah, he’s in the corner there!” and they get chuffed with the fact they’ve met the person who produced it, so that’s a lovely thing to have. You can track it back, and the care and attention you can put in by hand is unrivalled. These things aren’t flawless, you always have the odd issue with parts and the creator is probably best positioned to understand if there is an issue with one of the parts. It’s just a lovely process, it’s about getting the best quality that we possibly can. We feel certainly at this stage that physical watchmakers are the best people to do it.
TFD: What are the challenges faced by manufacturing in the UK? How important is your Britishness in a Swiss dominated industry?
NE: A lot of parts in the watch industry are made in Asia, so the challenge for us is competing with a high cost base, so costs are always going to make it more difficult. The way we counter that is by mechanising quite a few of the parts’ manufacturing, which gives us consistency in quality, which is very important, and accuracy too. There’s an incredible history behind British watchmaking, but a lot of it disappeared over the last century, so we’re having to retrain a lot of people – that is always a challenge. Alongside that, the fact we are doing more and more in the UK is a great differentiator between us and the Swiss. There are several hundred Swiss watch brands out there; there are very few British. It’s important for us. If we can play a small part in reinvigorating the British watch industry, then that’s very important, I think.
TFD: What sets Bremont watches apart from other aviation inspired watches like Breitling?
NE: I think from our perspective, the making, as we only make mechanical watches. A lot of Breitling are also Quartz, so in the military world, most Breitling watches or any other watch brands delivering watches to a lot of aviators are Quartz. We only make mechanical, that’s a big part. We come with a proper tried and tested military pedigree. There are endless squadrons out there who are using our watches, which is lovely. A lot of these watches have been developed alongside them, so they’ve probably played a big role with design inspiration and that’s why you see quite a lot of close ties between military and civilian life, because they take inspiration from our watch, but the main thing is we’re purely mechanical. We’re not fashion, it’s all about the engineering, and that’s how we differentiate ourselves. You look at a Bremont watch and you say “wow, that is so beautifully engineered.” You can pick it up in thirty years and it’ll look good – I think that’s the main way we’ve tried to differentiate ourselves. We get 21 year olds buying them, and we get 85 year olds buying them – I think that’s quite nice.
TFD: You’ve stated that “the golden age of aviation is a period we have always loved.” What is it about this particular era that appeals to you? How do you feel you’ve replicated this in your work?
NE: That period was the period where aeroplanes got to a stage where they were becoming more reliable – they were becoming faster, they were becoming more capable and because of that, a number of significant records in the 30’s started breaking, such as the race from England to Australia, and the first solo trip to Australia in the late 20’s and early 30’s. It’s such an incredible period, post-First World War where the aviation industry realised, “Blimey, we can really shrink the world in terms of travel – look what we’re doing!” and that’s part of what that race was about. It can only happen once – this is a period where they all happened, pretty much. The guys and girls flying them were utterly heroic. Whether it was an Amy Johnson or a Bert Hinkler, whether they feared the unknown or not, they managed to disguise it fairly well and off they went, with just a compass and a map and a watch, and flew from England to Australia or to Cape Town and back in record time. Some of these records have stood for 70 or 80 years, which is just phenomenal. As many people died doing it, and I think they all are utter heroes. When Scott arrived back after doing his flight from Australia, there were hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people lining the Thames – it’s phenomenal. Like when Amy Johnson landed in Australia, and there were hundreds and hundreds of people there. It inspired not only the country they landed in, but the world, like “wow, we can suddenly get to Australia or America.” The watch itself is quite retro, there’s a lot of inspiration taken from that age, and it also has a contemporary look to it. You can imagine a watch like that sitting on the wrist of a pilot, so it’s harking back to the history and the ways we’ve integrated some of the most famous aircraft in the world into a watch.
TFD: A percentage of the proceeds from the Bremont DH 88 are going to The Shuttleworth Trust, a unique museum with over 40 flying aircraft exhibited, some of which are the only flying examples of their type in the world. What made this charity a vital aspect of the campaign?
NE: They always have been. Whether it’s Bletchley Park or HMS Victory, there’s always a charitable angle. I remember going to Shuttleworth being a seven or eight-year-old for the first time and seeing these amazing aircraft – it’s awe-inspiring. It’s a trust, running off people coming to visit these aircraft. But these aircraft aren’t hanging from the ceiling gathering dust, they’re flying – that’s what’s so amazing about them. Any way we can help in keeping these aircraft up in the air is important to us. They’ve got the best collection of British aircraft out there, everything from the Second World War to pre-First World War – the 1912 Blackburn Monoplane is the earliest flying aircraft in existence – it’s still flying! It’s a lovely charity to get involved with.
Find out more about Bremont at:
Bremont Watch Company