The romance of flight, the mystique of secret flight, the durability of extensive testing. Each of these concepts is a major part of the Bremont U-2 watch - new limited edition made specially for pilots of the U-2 spy plane. This review is really a review of two watches - the U-2 as well as the Bremont Martin Baker watches (that I wrote about previously here). Bremont shouldn't require any introduction at this point as I have been gushing about their pieces frequently. I was happy to report on the sexy look of their Supermarine watches here, and now for something more flight oriented.
It all started with the Martin Baker project - where Bremont needed to make a watch suitable not only for professional pilots, but also to survive an aviation WCS (worst case scenario). This basically meant be thrust out of an aviation seat at god knows how many G's and making it to the ground OK. All with your watch still working. Thus, the Bremont Martin Baker watch (MB1 and MB2) needed to withstand magnetism, vibrations, shock, high pressure, low pressure, fast movement, and still needed to look good in the process. You can see video below that touches on the testing the watches went through.
The result was a roughly 42mm wide steel case with Bremont's Trip-Tick construction and coated in black DLC (diamond like carbon). Case is water resistant to 100 meters. The movement of the watch is actually suspended in a shock absorbing material (see the red areas in one of the movement images below). Trip-Tick is where Bremont uses, 1) a hardened steel bezel and sapphire crystal, 2) a central body (barrel) section of the case done in either titanium or a PVD coated steel section (in that cool grated texture), and 3) and steel caseback - often with a sapphire crystal exhibition window. In the case of the Bremont U-2, everything is in steel - save for the inner barrel that is in anodized aluminum - and coated in DLC - a material coating that is very hard with amazing scratch resistance.
Over the dial is a domed sapphire crystal with a lot of AR coating on it. This makes the dial very easy to read - despite having such a domed crystal. Such doming can often lead to lots of glare and distortion - but that isn't the case here. The watch dial is very much an evolution of the MB1, with some added elements for the U-2's purpose. Like the plane, the purpose of the U-2 is a secret. No not really, but actual American U-2 pilots will be given special serious of the U-2 watch to wear. And there will be other models made available to the public.
The U-2 is a spy plane that saw service first back in 1957 - they are still used today. I remember as a kid seeing one out at Edwards Airforce base in the CA desert. The planes are matte black and long. Really long. They look like flying pencils. Their use was for very high altitude recon. It was a cold war era spy plane after all. Meant to be stealthy and useful for long distances. Really, the plane looks like a cockpit and a large fuselage mounted jet engine. An image of the plane is placed right on the watch dial to remind you that the U-2 watch is themed on a plane, not a pop band.
The government will eventually ground all the remaining U-2 planes - even though they are still being used for limited missions today. Why? Unmanned spy drones and orbital spy satellites have become more useful, much more useful. While I will never call a super cool spy plane is obsolete, the U-2 is a historical token of the ingenuity that the need for secrecy can create, and will eventually be only a reminder of the past. But they still have a good 5-10 years in them. I want you to check out the two cockpit images. One is of an original U-2 cockpit, and the other is of a more modern one with upgraded instrumentation. Notice that even with more reliance on computers and screen, there are still analog instrument. Cause the bottom line is, electronics can fail, and in many events people trust mechanical things more. So a watch like the Bremont U-2 not only looks like it belongs in the plane, but is useful to wear while in it as well.
See those four red crosses on the watch dial? Look at the tail of the Dragon Lady (nickname of the U-2 series planes). These and other little touches will be part of the U-2 theme. The name of the watch is charmingly applied on the dial. Instead of the 3 hour indicator being lume filled and done with a large Arabic numeral, 2 o'clock is - and there is a dark colored "U" next to it, spelling out "U-2." That was a cute touch. Aside from being another limited edition with its own story and some cosmetic changes, the U-2 watch retains most of the DNA of the Martin Baker watches. Also, note that the specific watch you see before you is a prototype version of the U-2. So the final versions will have some changes.
The dial design was curious to me at first, but proved highly enjoyable and useful. It is clearly styled after airplane cockpit instrumentation. Maybe more so that Bell & Ross aviation themed watches. Bremont founder restored vintage aircraft before making watches, so they know a thing or two about airplane instrument style. This includes the style of the hour and minute hands, the matte black metal dial, the hour indicators, and the damn good clarity. Though I have to say, the Bremont U-2 dial is probably a lot nicer in quality that most airplane cockpit instruments. Like the MB1 watches, the seconds hand has an emergency eject handle as the counterweight. This handle would rest between your legs in a Martin Baker ejection seat - ready to be pulled in the case of an emergency. It has no such function in the watch! Imagine an ejection lever that would eject the movement from the case. That would reach new heights of pointless complications.
Bremont uses a very healthy amount of SuperLumiNova all over the dial. Night viewing is very good, as the luminant is richly applied. I found myself very confident that I could read the time in the dark. The dial also has an inner rotating bezel, that is operated via the lower crown on the right side of the case. Unlike many inner bezels that seem to just freely turn around, the one here has small, but discernible notches for precise use. Again, Bremont has a charming British name for this feature - "Roto-clik." Like all true aviator rotating bezels, this one also turns in both directions (unlike diver bezels that only turn in one direction).
I do really like this watch and find myself claiming it for wrist time more often than not. Other people seem to like it as well. When they do, it gives me the opportunity to tell them all about Bremont, and the U-2. I like that it is an English watch (with a Swiss movement). Something about "London" written on the dial as opposed to "Swiss Made" that feel fresh. The movement is Swiss, like I said. Bremont uses as base ETA 2836 automatic - that has a day and date feature. Bremont modifies it a bit and calls it the Bremont Caliber BE-36AE. The movement has further been COSC Chronometer certified for accuracy. In addition to having some really nice perlage polish and blued steel screws, it has a very cool black colored custom Bremont rotor. There is a great (though watch nerd) joy when you hand someone a cool looking functional watch, only to have them turn it over and say "wow" when seeing the unexpected decorated movement.
Bremont pairs the U-2 watch with its calf leather strap and a NATO style fabric strap. They did a nice job with the buckle - nice elegant look that feels to thematically match the case lug design (at least to me). This buckle is in polished steel while the case is black. Again, this is a prototype watch - so I am not sure the exact buckle that will be on the final pieces. There will be at least 150 of these watches available to the general public. As well as another version that is toned down a bit (no DLC as well) that should be less expensive, and more widely available. Price for a model like this should be in the $4,000 range. A great limited edition timepiece with a design that won't disappoint, function that won't fail you, and story that is fun to tell.