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Inside Bremont’s British World Of Watch Making

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

Among the many things I didn’t know about “Bremont Chronometers London” was that at their Silverstone facility, they hired a group of former Formula 1 engineers to work on their watches. The Silverstone office is part of a group of facilities near the world-famous race track mostly comprising places where dangerously fast cars are built. This is just one of their manufacture locations, and they will soon be expanding further, as they have already outgrown their watchmaking facility in Henley-on-Thames – a small town outside of London that is about one-and-a-half hours away (perhaps less if you are driving with a local). Why did Bremont hire race car engineers to make watch cases and parts? Because those are pretty much the only available guys in England who can understand the unique issues present in the watchmaking world who aren’t traditionally trained watchmaking micro engineers. It is all about making very precise, very high-quality pieces in some manner of volume that allows any serious watch brand to operate.

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

Case production in progress at Bremont’s manufacturing facility situated among motor racing team’s workshops right outside the Silverstone race track.

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

What I also learned that was interesting is that watch parts are a lot tougher to produce than those for Formula 1 cars because the tolerances are much smaller. Even the most demanding race car parts (as I understand) can handle tolerances of about five microns, whereas watchmaking parts require tolerances of two microns. This seemingly small difference actually represents an entirely different production process that can only be achieved through combining the right people, machines, and techniques learned through trial and error. If there is anything brothers Nick and Giles English, who founded Bremont, understand, it is the value of learning from mistakes and doing it better next time.

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

A brass plate of to-be Bremont caliber components with the 30-foot-long hard sail tip of Team Oracle’s America’s Cup racing yacht.

Above a slew of new machines such as a fancy 11-axis CNC mill and laser engraver is the extremely long hard sail tip of Team Oracle’s America’s Cup racing yacht that just happens to be stored here. My guess is that Larry Ellison just handed it to the Bremont boys and said “can you do anything with it?” In the last year, Bremont announced their most recent partnership which includes not only sponsoring Oracle founder Larry Ellison’s “Team America” but also the America’s Cup in general – an event which originally began life in Portsmouth, England.

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

Bremont has had a whirlwind of recent history with a series of new partnerships, models, and its share of growing pains. The company’s sincere dedication to producing the best quality English watches possible hasn’t gone unnoticed, and the still-small brand which currently produces under 10,000 watches a year is trying to properly manage all the attention while slowly growing their capabilities and production. Bremont’s regular reminder of their “Britishness” is a lot more than just a marketing slogan because, at the end of the day, the company is really doing everything possible to bring serious watchmaking back to England – in the same way that it exists in Switzerland. Someday in the near future, I have a feeling, we will be seeing Bremont as a sort of English version of a company like Blancpain or Jaeger-LeCoultre that not only makes their own movements, but also their own cases and other components. It just won’t happen overnight.

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

Several feet long and 60mm wide, these rods of stainless steel from Norway are fed into the CNC machine to create the shape of Bremont watch cases

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

Perhaps, the most important recent step in Bremont’s move to bring as many things in-house as possible was to begin producing their own cases entirely in England. Picky with their steel, the company is among other watchmaking greats to buy steel from Norway. The 60mm diameter, several-foot-long rods are then machined and polished at Silverstone into the various distinct case shapes which make up the brand’s various products. Don’t forget that Bremont watch cases are in some instances deceptively simple, as many of them contain special components like a soft iron core Faraday cage, Roto-Click internal rotating bezel system, or a shock absorption ring that also serves to replace unreliable movement clamps.

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Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

Years ago, as some of the first Bremont watches started to come back in for service, the company realized just how much their customers “thrash” them. Bremont decided that their watches needed to be strong, and in addition to their patented “Trip-Tic” cases, the steel itself is sent to a facility in northern England to be hardened.

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

The move in-house of making these parts has not only increased Bremont’s quality and design flexibility, but also their costs. The cost to harden the metal of their cases actually doubles the cost of each case – something which has not been passed on to the consumer. Bremont’s ultimate goal is to reach an economy of scale by doubling or tripling their current production in order to have this attention to performance under abuse make sense. With that said, Bremont doesn’t have much of a choice when it comes to performance. One of the brand’s first major partners was Martin-Baker, another English company who is the world’s biggest maker of military aircraft ejection seats. Martin-Baker wanted a timepiece that would easily survive the rigors of being ejected from a military aircraft – something which is so intense they abandoned human testing back in the 1960s.

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

Andrew Martin of Martin Baker Ejection Seats showing off the Bremont MB prototype watches.

Martin-Baker is basically an insurance provider because their products are meant to keep highly trained professionals alive who have cost their governments millions of dollars and years to train. Martin-Baker continues to put an early version of the MBI watch that they developed with Bremont on ejection test dummies. Current leader of Martin-Baker Andrew Martin shows off a particular watch he is the most proud of which, according to him, has survived 16 brutal ejection seat tests. “I won’t send it in for serving even after all these years. I am waiting for it to break, but it hasn’t happened yet.” It should probably go without saying that Martin-Baker helped Bremont coin their slick sounding slogan, “tested beyond endurance.”

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

At Martin-Baker’s manufacture in England, wearing a Bremont watch sold to and worn by only those fighter pilots who have ejected from an airplane before.

One of the most deeply coveted Bremont watches is the MBI because you can’t buy one unless you actually survived being ejected from a Martin Baker ejection seat. Since the 1940s, the ejection seat company has reportedly saved near to 7,500 lives. These individuals are then invited to purchase an MBI watch that includes a distinctive red aluminum barrel ring and the name of the person engraved on the rear. According to Martin-Baker, about 400-500 MBIs have been sold, which probably represents a rather high percentage of modern aircraft ejection survivors. Accidents happen, and when they do, your body and watch should survive – at least, that is what both Bremont and Martin-Baker strictly endorse.

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

Bremont’s relationship with military outfits goes deeper, and if you think about it, this fact continues to represent why Bremont timepieces need to be so well made. A lot of people who buy Bremont watches put them through hell, so we are talking about some very demanding customers. Bremont fans are often aware of the company’s vast relationships with a variety of military squadrons and groups all around the world producing timepieces with unique dials and sometimes other parts for select groups of elite military individuals. This isn’t something they do for civilians, and these customers do have to buy the watches, of course. Only a few brands such as Breitling and Bremont are in this type of business, but it has given them a unique foothold into the true “professional” world of watch lovers. Having a watch exclusively made for your team also feels pretty bad-ass, I am sure, offering close-knit outfits the ultimate signal of fraternity and shared purpose.

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

Strapped into an ejection seat at Martin-Baker’s manufacture, wearing the Bremont MB1.

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

The military customization business actually represents about 20% of the brand’s profits, which should shed a little light onto just how important it is, and just how demanding as well as important the customers are. These are people accustomed to working with the world’s most dangerous high-performance machines, so you can imagine that they expect a lot from their watches. Still, Bremont is notoriously private about many of these relationships, and only a few of these military projects are ever publicly announced. At the time I was visiting Bremont, they reportedly had 50 military projects pending.

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

Bremont started all of this because Nick and Giles English wanted to make an aviation-themed watch brand that was home-grown in England. Horological enthusiasts are often well-acquainted with the major contributions England has historically offered to the development and refinement of timepieces. At one time in history, you could have easily argued that the world’s best watchmakers were British, but much of that ended during the Industrial Revolution as the society became increasingly focused on mass versus precision production. Like other places with important watchmaking histories (such as the United States), a dedicated cottage industry in England is rapidly trying to bring back watch making to the UK. I recall when Bremont decided to replace “Swiss Made” on their dials with “London,” which was an important step in the brand’s messaging campaign that told the world where their watches come from.

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

Watch components in production at Bremont’s Silverstone facility

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

Bremont isn’t at the point of producing 100% of their watch parts in England; they don’t claim to be. Though, each year, they have made additional steps in that direction. While Bremont recently introduced a Swiss La-Joux-Perret-based movement with an in-house, made-in-England movement plate, the majority of the mechanisms used in their timepieces are Swiss-Made – a fact few should take issue with. Bremont has a long way to go before they produce their own movements, but when they do, no doubt it will be special. Bremont’s employees are pragmatic enough not to reinvent the wheel just because they can invent something in England. Bremont is bringing more and more watchmaking in-house because it offers them freedom.

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

Consider the new product development process. Designing a new case, for instance, requires much more than just a fancy CAD drawing. There is numerous testing and tweaking that needs to be done in order to make a new case or even just a new part. Outsourcing that means that any company needs to wait weeks or months (even years) before getting a new part order in. By having production in-house, a watch company can also have a much more robust research & development department in-house which operates much faster. Thus, being able to do things yourself as a watch company doesn’t mean things get easier or cheaper (because they don’t), but it does mean a lot more freedom – something which a brand like Bremont absolutely needs.

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

The seconds hand on Bremont Martin-Baker watches mimic the strap that the pilots pull to initiate the seat ejection process

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

In some ways, I take issue with the fact that Bremont uses “London” so prominently in their full name. Sure, London is the closest major city to Henley, but Bremont is really a product of two chaps from the English countryside who happen to love getting their hands dirty and traveling really fast. I feel as though London makes their products feel like “city” watches, when Bremont timepieces are so much more about adventure and going places. Only in the last couple years have Bremont even begun to produce timepieces that one might consider “dressy.” For me, this began with the limited edition Victory (hands-on here), followed by other models such as the ALT-1C chronograph with the clean, classic dial, and the more recent America’s Cup AC1.

Inside Bremont's British World Of Watch Making Inside the Manufacture

It would not be unreasonable to come to the conclusion that the entire English family is entirely unconcerned about their physical lives given the number of famous accidents they’ve had. Both Nick and Giles can regale you with tales of speed-related injuries and crashes. The boys aren’t shy about admitting their “need for speed” as thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies. I just think they have some type of unnatural resistance to pain as they casually brush off the seriousness of things like being in a full-body cast. Though, as bold as the English family adventures can get, the two brothers are also deeply calculated in their actions. Sportsmen and mechanics by nature as a result of their father’s influence, Nick and Giles are amazingly calm when performance is necessary. One situation illustrates this fact rather well…

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Comments

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  • Cool – thanks Ariel. Looks like you and David had a fun flight with Nick.

  • SuperStrapper

    Very cool article. I wish I found Bremont watches more interesting.

  • Twinbarrel

    I must admit after their embarrassing statement last year regarding their ‘in-house’ movement Bremont sort of lost my attention but after reading this I can’t tell you how impressed I am. The brothers are doing everything right and taking on many challenges at once. The dedication and magnitude of their objectives is something I do not see in most if not all of the top brands.
    I bet that parts of that sail tip will end up in one of their watches. I might even be their customer.
    Good read. Thank you.

  • Ken

    I really like this back-story information and perspective. It gives us an idea of the heart of the brand. I would buy their watches, but not fly with them. 🙂

  • DanW94

    These “Inside the facilities of” pieces are immensely interesting regardless of the brand. Thanks for the article, and cool photos as well.

    And Bremont picked up some additional cool points with me with that picture of Ronnie Wood from the Stones and Faces hanging on the wall of one of the workshops…..

    • egznyc

      I agree – these kinds of articles are always fascinating. Coincidentally, I’m now reading Keith Richards’ memoir, “Life.” Good stuff!

      • DanW94

        Careful, you can get a contact high just from touching that book!!

        • egznyc

          I’m actually getting flashbacks 😉

  • Mark Baran

    Very interesting article!

  • BNABOD

    nice article. I am in a different field that cost a boatload more in r&d than watch making and some more yet it helps understand why their pieces cost more than the average Joe putting an eta into a Chinese made case. It goes to show it is not all about the movement even though I must admit I like the originality of a true in house movement when in reality it might not be any better than some eta/sellita/ljp off the shelf.

  • Marius

    Even after having read the article, I am still not convinced by this brand. At the end of the day, Bremont is just like Sinn and Damasko: a mid-tier brand, using ETA/Sellita movements and putting them in hardened-steel cases. At least, with the German brands you are mostly paying for the watches, whereas with Bremont you also have to pay for their association with brands such as Chivas, Martin Baker, Jaguar etc. In fact, is there a brand, movie, rock band, anything that Bremont is not associated with?

    • Tob Markotob

      Its the kind of watch you buy for the brand recognition and its association with certain things. Hublot does this very well on the higher level.

    • TrevorXM

      “…just like Sinn and Damasko: a mid-tier brand, using ETA/Sellita movements and putting them in hardened-steel cases.”

      WRONG. It is like Sinn, but it is not like Damasko. Not even close.

      In the first place, Damasko IS AN AEROSPACE COMPANY — they are not playing at being one like these people are. Conrad Damasko made his fortune with countless patents as one of Germany’s greatest metallurgists and Damasko makes everything from bearings for the Eurofighter and Airbus jet engines and had a contract to do the Space Shuttle’s fuel pump parts. In fact their cases are not AT ALL like Bremont or Sinn with this surface treatment nonsense. They are actually forged, nitrogen-infused nickel-free steel which Damasko makes at its own foundry on site. And the watch cases themselves are not formed like other watches — they are formed through electrical discharge using the same equipment for the aerospace parts, and not machined. Good luck at finding a used Damasko with any case damage, let alone a single scratch.

      Secondly, Damasko has moved into making its own in-house movements for its top watches. The DK10 with the A 35-1 movement, for example, is now Germany’s most technologically advanced. It has a free sprung balance, their own proprietary silicon hairspring, called the EPS spring, a silicon escape wheel, and ceramic micro ball bearing rotor. And Damasko makes it all in-house.

      And then there’s their new bracelet — likely the best in the world…

      But, of course, few know anything about Damasko and how good they are. Truly the German Rolex with their new in-house top end watches like the DK10. Certainly technically better than Rolex or Omega in several areas. But we never see any reviews of the DK10 on places like A Blog To Watch. Damasko doesn’t seem to care about advertising. Their waiting list seems to be good enough for them? So it’s no wonder you don’t know any better, Marius. It’s not your fault.

      • Marius

        You are right. I checked their Website, and I have to say that some of their watches are really nice. I would say they are certainly better and more interesting than Bremont, for the watches are produced by a real specialized brand.
        I am only wondering why almost no watch publication writes about them. Sinn and Bremont seem to be the press darlings these days.

        • Ariel Adams

          The Damasko watches I’ve seen are fine. I think they are coveted because of their price which is good, but its not as though they are some secret super watch. If you like good German tool watches you’ll like them.The reason we don’t cover them more is that we’ve never seen them at a show and they engage in no press reach out. Without any info from them we have nothing to share.

  • Fred Yeganeh

    Thanks for the great article. Having just started my watch collection with a Bremont, it is nice to see the investment that Bremont is making for the future; after all – Rome wasn’t built in a day. It is nice to see a family dedication to the brand that will allow the brand to grow hopefully for generations to come. Ultimately every brand is based on marketing and history. Bremont has set out a great path with a dedication to excellence and ruggedness.

  • Shinytoys

    Great article Ariel. Bremont certainly is producing a beautifully made product, with lots of rich history to go with it.

  • wallydog2

    Ariel, As an ABTW loyalist, if you ever need someone to visit a watch maker in a warm, sun drenched, rum soaked climate, I can clear my winter calendar. I hear there’s a new watch maker in the Turks and Caicos called Capt’n Tick Tock who specializes in Rollex’s and O-Meggas.

    • DanW94

      I just picked up one those Rollex’s the other day. A new Datejust II for 400 dollars! What a barg….aww shit!!!

    • wallydog2

      400 bucks? You got robbed. I got a Patrick Philip for $175.

    • commentator bob

      I hear that guy’s watches have dead beat seconds complications, very impressive.

    • Marius

      I bought a J.J. LeCool multi-axis Teflon for only $1,295 plus shipping.

      • wallydog2

        Teflon? You mean fried egg won’t stick to it?

        • Marius

          That`s correct. Moreover, it also features the new induction escapement technology, first developed by Abraham Brolin.

  • awildermode

    Not sure which is awesomer…touring the Bremont watchmaking facility, or riding in a plane piloted by Nick English.

  • Raymond Wilkie

    How frightfully common.

  • commentator bob

    If only Seiko were half as good at entertaining watch site writers and forming brand relationships.

    • Dinkee, H. O.

      How little one knows about the vital connection between lifestyle and watches can usually be seen in the posts one reads on lesser blogs such as this. I am sure many of my chums would take great exception to be referred to as “socialite hiers”! What is an hier for that matter? And just because mumsy and dear old dad bankroll your watch blog does not make it any less vital to the pulse of the world! Is that what you are implying?

      As for Seiko, I know from personal experience that their wining and dining of predominant watch bloggers is second to none! Many a fine meal have I enjoyed reviewing their Grand Seiko line. They even paid for one of my trips to Japan to gain my favor. In fact, commentator bob, Seiko spent $15 million in advertising last year! Now that is marketing savvy with the best of them! And much of it was lifestyle based. Where oh where have you been, commentator bob?

      Cry not, for Seiko. Nor lament your fantasies about them not forming brand relationships with bloggers. Not with legendary bloggers who matter, that is.

      If Seiko falls short in brand image, it lies in the millions upon millions of cheap watches they’re knocked off and continue to knock off for the Common Man Joe Slob each year. Does a Corvette have the same prestige as an Aston Martin or Ferrari? Of course not. Nor does a Nissan GTR. Now why do you think that is? If you apply yourself, you will, eventually, discover the answer.

      The HO.

      • Marius

        My esteemed colleague, may I express my gratitude for having you back on this blog. Educating the readers all by myself is sometimes a daunting task.
        I believe ABTW should take your example and secure an Interview with Ralph Lauren. Although, the English brothers seem to be two decent chaps, they can hardly surpass an Interview with the creator of the wooden bezel, Ralph Lauren himself.

        • Dinkee, H. O.

          I share your burden, and I am here to lighten the load and bring enlightenment to the masses when I can. As for this blog, I can only shake my head at times — what is their chance of being in the presence of the great Master who gave us the wooden bezel? Slim to none. For goodness sakes, they wouldn’t know the difference between a new modern classic like the ref. 4589b-6128889-f7 and the master’s 4589b-6128889-f8b! Completely different grains of wood! Imagine if one of the writers here were caught at a garden party at the Master’s estate and the Master overheard him being unable to recognize the difference? Catastrophe! Fortunately for them, they will never mingle in our circles!

          The HO.

  • tourbillon

    I have not read many articles before where I got immediatly the impression like on this one: “boys and their toys!” And this is valid for both – the founders as well as the writers. Though I’m impressed by the pictures of the “manufacture”. It seems nowadays enough to produce a case and one movement part (there are not more visible in the pics!) to be a “manufacture”. Wishing Bremont finding enough consumers being happy with their watches!

  • Baseless22

    Has anyone ever met Mr Bremont, the French farmer? I think if Bremont want me to ever believe they are more than a marketing brand they have to prove that he exists. Many many watch lovers think that story is made up and if you add that to the countless other half truths we get from them then it does not paint a nice picture.

  • iamcalledryan

    I like Bremont. What little they do to their movements they make up for in what they do to their cases. Some interesting and individual designs from a young and characterful company.

  • Lurch

    This article smacks of “lifestyle marketing”, from the car, to the airplane, to the Bremont countryside manor.

  • Richard Baptist

    The chrono with the yellow/black hands is different. I don’t think they have a model with those type of hands. Is this a Martin Baker prototype?