- Words by Mr Mansel Fletcher, Features Editor, MR PORTER
In an industry obsessed with history, used to counting the age of companies in centuries rather than decades, and dominated by Swiss brands, Bremont stands out. Not only is it a young firm, it is further distinguished by being English, with its headquarters situated in the genteel Oxfordshire town of Henley-on-Thames. In 2002, two brothers, Messrs Nick and Giles English, abandoned a career restoring vintage aeroplanes to found the company, which they named after Mr Antoine Bremont, a French WWII pilot and horologist that they met while flying across France.
The English brothers' love of aviation is at the heart of Bremont's philosophy and it feeds equally into the design of the watches, their rugged construction and sophisticated functionality. The watches are also conspicuously - or rather inconspicuously - British, thanks to their understated designs. One of the brothers' ambitions for Bremont was "To develop a mechanical watch that would not look out of place in the boardroom but was also capable of being subjected to some of the harshest environments that nature or man could throw its way." The way these watches combine elegance with sporting credentials is central to their appeal - and to their versatility. These are watches that work as well with a dinner jacket as they do with a ski suit.
While the eye can tell you about the elegance of the watches, their durability is harder to visually ascertain. So it's lucky that a range of Bremont ambassadors, all with extreme working lives, ensure that the timepieces are tested to their limits. These ambassadors include an air show aerobatic pilot, a mountaineer with 11 Mt Everest summits to his name, a former five-time Olympic skier and a stunt man. It's fair to say that the watches have been put through their paces in some of the world's most extreme situations, and Bremont also supplies bespoke chronometers to seven different military squadrons, including the US Air Force's B-52 squadron and the British 3 Regiment Army Air Corp.
However, the watches are also subjected to no-less exacting tests by the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC), the Swiss body that designates the level of precision that a watch must meet to be classified as a chronometer. All Bremont watches are COSC certified, meaning that their accuracy is guaranteed to within -4 and +6 seconds per day - in other words, an impressive 99.998%.
For understandable reasons many men have come to believe that Switzerland has a monopoly on the fine watch business, but Bremont is increasingly challenging this view. The UK has a long and illustrious watch- and clock-making history, which takes in Mr John Harrison, who revolutionised sea travel with his 18th-century invention of the marine chronometer, as well as Mr George Daniels, who died in 2011 and is widely considered to have been the world's finest watchmaker.
Despite this, however, when Bremont launched in 2002 the watchmaking industry had largely disappeared from the UK, and the necessary skills had gone with it. For this reason the company has a workshop in Biel/Bienne, Switzerland, as well as in England, and although the movements are bought in from Swiss producer ETA they are heavily modified and upgraded before being fitted into the watches. Assembly now takes place at the Bremont headquarters in Henley-on-Thames, where work is also done to finish important movement and case components, and the company has a structured investment plan to develop mechanical watch manufacturing in the UK.
Bremont is a true expression of British taste, it heralds the welcome return of a traditional British industry, and, given the dangers inherent in piloting vintage aircraft (the English family hobby) is a story of triumph over adversity. These truly are watches for high fliers.