The craft of watchmaking usually calls to mind the Jura valley in Switzerland, known as Watch Valley for its concentration of the Swiss watch industry; or perhaps Baselworld, the country’s annual watch fair, which showcases the finest new timepieces, many of which would not look out of place in a sci-fi film. The pretty market town of Henley-on-Thames in the UK borough of Oxfordshire is a less obvious hub of watchmaking prowess; but this is where the headquarters of Bremont are located. This watchmaker is a bona fide British success story that sprang to life thanks to two brothers who love adventure and the pioneering spirit.
Where it all began
‘Setting up the business was very much about being able to follow a passion that we’ve had all our lives,’ says Giles English, who founded the company in 2002 with his brother Nick. The pair had inherited a keen love of aviation from their father Euan, but in 1995, while flying a vintage 1942 aircraft, the plane crashed and he was killed. Nick, who was flying with his father, was seriously injured. From those dark days, the two brothers embraced a philosophy that life was very much for the living. As Nick recovered, they began a quest to honour their father’s legacy. As well as a love of aviation, Euan possessed an enthusiasm for mechanics which stretched, among other things, to watchmaking. It was to honour this that the brothers turned to a new venture: Bremont.
Bremont is not only a rare case of British watchmaking success in a field where Switzerland prevails as a front runner. Its watches have also become bywords for exceptional British craft. Bremont’s partners now include Jaguar and the America’s Cup; the brand is the official timing partner of the 35th America’s Cup, hosted by Bermuda in summer 2017. ‘We’re trying to grow a global brand, so it helps to be involved with global events like this,’ explains Giles English. ‘We’re a brand without history, really, so being the first British timing partner of the America’s Cup since 1851 means we’re really making our own history as we go along.’ That growth saw the 2012 launch of a flagship store on South Audley Street in Mayfair, a space reminiscent of a traditional gentlemen’s club, full of plump leather armchairs, bookshelves and aviation paraphernalia.
Part of the brand’s appeal, acknowledges English, is that in a saturated market, Bremont’s watches stand out for their relatively uncluttered designs. A very British sense of restraint runs like a current through Bremont collections, from the classicism of the handsome ALT1-C range to the elegance of the U-2. The sporting life – a constant draw for watchmakers, who long to imbue their timepieces with a story and sense of spirit – is referenced in the nautical Supermarine watch and the ALT1-Z Zulu range of pilot watches. The latter feature oversized numbers on the dial, all the better for reading at 30,000 feet, and plump, retro-esque onion crowns. ‘The good thing about working with my brother is that we agree on design,’ says English. ‘If you’ve got someone who you know likes the things you like, it means that you can design and develop things very quickly. There’s no design by committee or having to run things past people, we work very organically.’
At Baselworld 2016, the brand unveiled the America’s Cup Regatta range of watches, which employ the same high-grade carbon fibre used to build the Oracle Team USA’s yachts. Never let it be said that watch enthusiast cannot live the life more adventurous. Last year also saw the debut of the brand’s first range of watches for women. These are elegant, more feminine renderings of Bremont’s classic styles, but the brand’s adventurous DNA does not take a back seat. The Solo-32 LC, for example, takes its name from Lettice Curtis, a pioneering 20th-century female pilot.
It’s clear that Bremont is forging its own path in the world of haute horology. ‘If you’re buying Bremont, you’re not doing so because you want to be seen wearing a particular brand,’ says English. ‘You’re someone who loves engineering, likes being different, loves adventure and wants something unique.’