We sit down for a tête-à-tête with Bremont co-founder Giles English when he was in town recently, and chatted. As usual, our In Conversation discussions are diverse, and we touched on Bremont and the founders, the return of industrial watchmaking to England, the movie Kingsman and some business aspects.
Bremont. The story.
The origins of Bremont, the company is interesting. The English (both in name and nationality) brothers, Nick and Giles have enjoyed a great childhood in the workshops of their father: Dr. Euan English. Dr. English was a gifted engineer and a former RAF pilot, and Giles told us that they spent a lot of their time tinkering around the family workshop. He had fed the boys with a steady diet of blue grass music, repairing old clocks and watches, restoring cars and building airplanes.
On a fateful day in 1995, all three were practicing for an air display, when the WWII aircraft in which Euan and Nick were in crashed. Giles was on another plane, waiting to take off himself, when he was told that his father was killed. Nick survived, but had broken over 30 bones. It was a huge shock, and as soon as Nick was out of hospital, Giles took him for a flight on his plane. The brothers decided that they had to continue doing things they had loved doing with their father, and started the company in 2002. The initial years had the company being based in Switzerland. But from the start, the plan was to return to England.
We asked, why the decidedly French name for a true blooded English company? Giles told me they chose the name Bremont as a tribute to a farmer who provided shelter and saved them on an emergency landing in France due to bad weather conditions. They found the farmer had clocks and watches all over the farmhouse, and the brothers returned the hospitality by naming their company after the farmer: Antoine Bremont
They collaborated with manufacturers in Switzerland like La Joux Perret (now part of Citizen). Chronographs were based on the Valjoux ebauche, and announced their first proprietary movement n 2014. This was to be used in their Wright Flyer watches. A huge internet fiasco ensued as many web horologists quickly pointed out that the caliber BWC/01 in the Bremont was actually manufacutred by La Joux Perret as their C. 6901. We will not go into detail on this incident, but a great deal of detail can be found at ABlogtoWatch’s article.
In our discussion, Giles also confirmed to us that Bremont did put in work with La Joux Perret in the creation of the movement, and that it was proprietary and exclusive to Bremont. The movement was build using an existing La Joux Perret gear train that Bremont redesigned and modified. For example, LJP sister company Arnold & Son uses the same base but with an additional complication module as AS6003 in their Arnold & Sons DSTB (Dial Side True Beat). Giles told us that the primary reason to use La Joux Perret as a resource as to optimize the cost of development and production and as the C.6901 was a proven movement, reliability and durability was assured.
Giles also revealed that they are now working with Stephen McDonnell on new movements. McDonnell also played a part in our BWC movement, and recently came to the limelight as the movement designer for the MB&F LM Perpetual.
Made in England – eventually
For the first 5 years, the company was based in Switzerland. But the brothers started to move their operations to England. The goal of Bremont is to be able to bring industrialized watchmaking back to England and they began planning in earnest. Phase 1 was to do assembly and created an apprentice training scheme. In Phase 2, which started in 2013, and they started to make components like main plates, and all the case machining in their facility in Silverstone. And with Phase 3, Bremont will be to be able to completely manufacture the main movement components, prototype and assemble in England.
This was quite impressive to us, and we pressed Giles if he had encountered significant difficulties as watchmaking have disappeared from the British Isles for a greater part of nearly 200 years. Giles revealed that though they encountered several challenges, they found a big and ready pool of highly skilled technicians who were specialized in metal work in the area. As it turns out, they have chosen the location well at Silverstone, which is the heart of the English Formula 1 race car industry.
Strong Engineering bias
Believing strongly in these core values, Giles explained that they focus on their English-ness by being classic and understated while delivering a high quality engineered product.
One example is that all their watch cases are machined in-house in Silverstone using 11 axis CNC machines, and are treated to a special hardening process which they adapted from technology Rolls Royce uses to coat their turbine blades. The process is called B-EBE2000, and at a special stage in the case production,, the metal is heat treated and defused with carbon to make an ultra hard layer of about 2 microns thickness. This process is broadly similar to PVD, but more even specialized than other specialized PVD variants like DLC and Sinn’s Tagiment treatment. As a result all their watch cases are hardened to 2000HV on the Vickers scale. Regular 316L Stainless Steel has a Vickers hardness of 300Hv.
Normal hardening process like DLC and Tagiment alters the quality of the finishing. But with the E-EBE2000 process, Bremont is able to preserve the traditional finishing like polishing.
Another is that they use a soft iron cage in all their watches which do not have a sapphire display back. This ensures that the watch can be used in environments with magnetic fields. When asked if the Bremont watches which carry this Faraday cage have been certified, Giles replied negative. The reason is that in the aircraft industry certification is a very expensive exercise. We spoke a bit on Omega’s METAS process which guarantees their watches up to 15,000 Gauss as an example. Only large companies like The Swatch Group can see the benefit of such certification.
The discussion diverged a bit to why they offer technical watches with high engineering appeal with sapphire display backs, and Giles said that this was a market demand to be able to view the movements. If it were up to them, they would prefer the more engineered approach of the Faraday cage and as this meant a soft iron case surrounding the movement, opening up the case back would only make the case visible and not the movement.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Bremont’s strong ability in quick prototyping came into good play when they were involved in making watches for the movie Kingsman: The Secret Service. Movie director Matthew Vaughn had wanted the watches worn by the Agents in the movie to be special, and military inspired. So they came to Bremont, being also an English company, to make them. Nick and Giles designed the watches for the movie, and produced the working pieces as well as prototypes, and facsimiles. Giles alluded that Vaughn had a very peculiar eye for detail, and was very specific on the exact hue of the rose gold that was finally used for Galahad’s watch.
Giles also told the interesting story that for the movie. Some 30 to 40 watches and facsimiles were produced, as the watches would be destroyed on the set on a regular basis. For close up shots, actual watches were used. And for others, pieces which were 3D printed and painted were used. We reviewed the watches used in the movie here.
Nick was given an interesting part to play in the movie, and appeared in a cameo. But more interestingly, he was asked by Vaughn to name the characters. As a result, the names of the characters were of Nick’s friends, and were actually used in the movie.
Giles told us that with Martin Baker, they are doing wear simulations using apparatus designed for accelerated aging. From these, they develop vibration mounts which were initially for a Martin Baker range of watches, with unique rubberized movement mount enclosing the inner workings. A flexible ring then connects the mount to the outer case, absorbing shocks and allowing the inner case and movement to float.
Collaboration with Boeing is with their various research facilities in the UK, and the work is primarily in manufacturing processes.
With Jaguar, they embarked on several projects. Interestingly the current Jaguar factory is the old Smith’s watch factory, and Jaguar had come to them to create clocks for their custom cars. They made a clock which was installed on the Queen Elizabeth II’s Jaguar.
The first project was for the six remaining Lightweight E-Types in 2014. Jaguar had planned an initial run of 18 cars in 1963/64, but only 12 were built. In 2014, they decided to use the remaining 6 chassis which were made in 1964 into new cars. Jaguar commissioned six clocks for these cars. And Bremont also made six watches to go with each of these cars with matching chassis numbers. It was an interesting challenge, Giles says, as the dials on the clocks and watches were to be modeled after the old Smith wall clocks. But the factory in Silverstone was up to it, and as Giles proudly proclaims, if its in metal, they can make it, and delivered the watches to Jaguar’s delight. A further series was made available to the public. We carried an article on that series Bremont Jaguar Mk1 here.
The Bremont Business
The facilities in Silverstone and Henley-on-Thames now employ some 100 persons, with a strong core of 14 watchmakers, 15 machinists, 5 in prototype and design. Annual production is about 8000 watches. With price ranging from S$8k to S$25k for the special limited edition pieces.
Bremont still takes special commissions in military projects which take up about 20% of their capacity. These are special projects and are usually done with their partners: Boeing, Martin Baker and Jaguar. Some of these projects are quite interesting.
Current key markets for Bremont remains in the UK, with the US, Asia and the Middle East following close.
We rounded up the conversation as it was getting late. An initial schedule for 1 hour had turned into 2 before we knew it, and we had to part. It was certainly an interesting discussion with Giles English. We found him to be a very serious engineer but with a wry sense of humor as many Englishmen do. His passion for his work, for the company and the watches are evident. And as watch collectors, we hope to be able to see more interesting products from this watchmaker who we hope, will bring industrial watchmaking back to England.