September 19, 2020
by Ariel Adams
I remember the meeting at Martin-Baker well. I was visiting Bremont in London a few years back and they asked if I wanted to visit the headquarters of the famed ejection-seat maker. “That could be cool,” I thought. Bremont was still been a very new brand when it first released the original Martin-Baker watch. The UK-based company is one of the historic major companies that produce the seats that equip a large number of military planes. Many Martin-Baker seats are ejection seats, which are designed to shoot out of a cockpit (pilot still seated) if a plane is going down and its captain feels like trying to live another day. Ejection seats have a powered separation from the plane, and then once they are a safe distance away, deploy a parachute on their way back down to the ground.
Bremont and Martin-Baker cooperated to develop a mechanical wristwatch, designed in England, that would survive the rigors of the challenging conditions. Being ejected from a plane involves a lot of shock, g-forces, and vibration that can weak havoc on a wristwatch’s ability to be reliable. A pilot might end up safely on the ground after being strapped into an ejection seat, but his or her wristwatch may not. To many people, the Martin-Baker and Bremont relationship might appear to be more about marketing than mechanics — that would be unfair and untrue to say. Andrew Martin of Martin-Baker showed me a watch box filled with at least 10 different prototype Bremont Martin-Baker watches the two companies worked on during the development of the final timepieces. Abused and clearly well-tested, it became clear that the two companies, indeed, worked together to solve the interesting problem of what types of timepieces can survive being ejected from a plane. The challenge eventually led Bremont to develop a shock-absorbing gel-style ring that sits around the movement to protect it. That, along with a host of environmental and shock-resistance features in the case help make a Bremont Martin-Baker watch… well, a Martin-Baker watch. You can read more about the Bremont and Martin-Baker relationship and history on aBlogtoWatch here.
While the Bremont Martin-Baker watch collection has been extremely successful for Bremont (with both civilian and military clients), certain versions of the watch are not available to sell to the general public. A signature element of most Bremont watches is the colored aluminum middle case. At this time, with the Bremont Configurator, you can select among one of nine different case barrel colors. Just not red. Why not red? The hue is available only available for purchase by people who have been launched out of (and survived) a Martin-Baker ejection seat. It is an odd thing to consider but, indeed, Martin-Baker and Bremont offer special red-barrel versions of the MB collection watches to those who have used them to survive. That’s pretty cool.
The 43mm-wide Bremont Martin-Baker case (water-resistant to 100 meters without screw-down crowns) has become an icon and even the subject of many copycat designs. In most respects, the Bremont Martin-Baker watch collection has become a real luxury watch classic, despite its relatively short life. Bremont has rendered the Martin-Baker in a few forms, and come out with the MBII and MBIII watches (aBlogtoWatch hands-on here). The latest evolution of the Bremont Martin-Baker MBII was announced in early 2020 on aBlogtoWatch, and further introduced a new online-based MBII Configurator. In addition to the refined and cleaned-up dial, the configurator is part of a new and important trend in the luxury watch industry. The idea is to allow consumers more variety in how they want their watch styled, but at the same time to prevent over-production of watches. So what Bremont does is produce a limited number of parts that it can use to assemble watches on demand. It still takes a few months to get your watch via an order from Bremont’s Configurator, but it is proof that the system works and both brands and consumers can be happy.
It takes a lot of artistic confidence to customize a watch for you, and only slightly less to choose from available options via a configurator system like this. Bremont doesn’t actually have all that many options to choose from when selecting the parts and colors for your MBII, but it can be unnerving to select when you have multiple handsome options. More so, watch colors and finishes never look the same online as they do in real life. That makes it even more challenging to trust your eyes when selecting from the perfect shots brands use in such product configuration systems.
To test Bremont’s MBII watch Configurator, I felt it was best to have someone from Bremont walk me through it. Nick English, co-founder of Bremont was nice enough to show me the process and help me make some design decisions I wouldn’t have otherwise made. My goal was to show the aBlogtoWatch audience what it was like to configure an MBII watch, and then to subsequently show what the final result was. A video of my discussion with Nick English to configure this MBII watch is below.
I’ve long been a fan of Bremont’s MBII case. The case itself is really elegant in design, and I love that it uses specially hardened steel. Bremont also happens to make its own cases. You can configure the MBII watch with or without a display caseback. Without it, you have a more complete soft iron core to protect the watch against magnetic fields. These models have a “coin-style” caseback with the brand’s famed “Tested Beyond Endurance” slogan (which originally arose from the Martin-Baker relationship). It is, however, hard to resist the display caseback because the movement and its Bremont in-house modifications look pretty cool. More on that below.
In addition to the middle barrel color, the MBII Configurator allows you to choose a natural steel or DLC-coated black case, as well as one of three available dial colors. The remaining options relate to the choice of strap. Dial-wise, the MBII’s facelift is subtle but nicely done. The original MBII dial has more of a cockpit instrument look to it, whereas this 2020 model falls a bit more in line with classic wristwatch dial design. Core design details of the Martin-Baker collection remain, including the black & yellow-toned pull-tab-style counterweight on the seconds hand and the “anti-shock” graphics on the dial. The biggest new element on the dial is the more traditional hour hand, as opposed to the original hour hand, which has a different shape and lume just on the tip.
Around the dial of the watch is an internal rotating “roto-click” bezel with a 60-minute scale on it. It is operated via the lower of the two crowns located on the right side of the case. Inside the watch is a movement Bremont called the caliber BE-36AE. The movement begins like a Swiss Made ETA 2836-2 automatic (4Hz with 38 hours of power reserve). Bremont modifies it and gives it a COSC Chronometer certification. If you look at the movement through the sapphire crystal exhibition caseback window, you can see the new black component which is part of the automatic winding system. This Bremont-designed and -equipped component is more shock-resistant than stock ETA parts when it comes to protecting the delicate axis point of where the automatic rotor connects to the rest of the movement. Even though a display of the movement gives the MBII a bit less tool watch cred, in my opinion, the view of the movement is worth it. At the least Bremont allows consumers to choose whether or not a solid or display caseback meets their personal needs.
Bremont doesn’t innovate in the strap or bracelet department here, but a slew of high-quality sport straps with matching stitching are available for the MBII watches. There is also the pictured steel metal bracelet (in natural or DLC-coated finishing) that is available. This is a legacy component for Bremont, and, while it’s not a bad bracelet, it doesn’t offer the experience available with many other bracelets at this price point. For me, the biggest issue is the lack of end-links to visually integrate the bracelet better with the case. This isn’t really a big issue, to be honest, but once you have become accustomed to the look and feel of bracelets with end-links, bracelets without them end up looking incomplete sometimes. Also, while the deployant hardware is solid, it lacks any of the fancy micro-adjust features a lot of consumers find compelling these days. The MBII watch looks pretty slick on the bracelet, but it is most comfortable on one of the many available leather or rubber straps.
Bremont’s experiment with an online configurator isn’t just a marketing concept. It is very much an important part of how I believe many luxury timepieces will be selected and ordered in the years to come. The watch industry ends up losing a lot in the long-term if they produce watches people don’t buy. That said, they also lose when consumers aren’t offered enough aesthetic options. The solution will be more and more modular watch designs and complimentary online configuration systems. These will allow consumers to have something more exclusive, while brands are provided with a responsible tool that helps prevent over-production. Consider this a glimpse into a very likely future.
For now, Bremont makes its MBII Configurator experience optional, as you can buy several “pre-configured” MBII watches directly from the website. To see all the options, though, you’ll need to play around with the configurator. Price for the Bremont Martin-Baker MBII watch start at $4,995 USD. Price as configured in DLC and on the bracelet is $5,860 USD. Learn more or configure and order at the Bremont website here.
>Model: Martin-Baker MBII collection
>Price: $4,995 – $5,860 USD
>Size: 43mm-wide, ~13mm-thick, and ~50mm lug-to-lug distance.
>When reviewer would personally wear it: In this deep and somber color palette mixing black, blue, and purple (as I styled it), the MBII makes for a slick stealth watch for midnight adventures.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Modern military watch lover who happens to be a bit of an Anglophone. Someone who knows exactly how to fashionably pull off the colorful middle case with their style.
>Best characteristic of watch: Subtle but attractive facelift to MBII watch dial and core look. New movement components and optional views are really welcome. After more than a decade, the Martin-Baker collection of watches still feel fresh.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Price remains a challenge for some buyers. Configurator is easy and fun to use, but aesthetic options remain limited. Bracelet lacks an end-link to fit it to case.