Man of the Hour – Nick English
To mark our new exclusive ALT1-C Watch Gallery Limited Edition with Bremont, we speak to the brand’s co-founder Nick English about the past and present of the British watchmaking industry.
Can you tell us how Bremont began?
So Bremont began, I suppose you could say, when we were tiny, as kids. Mostly through us being inspired by our father, who was an incredible guy. He was an aeronautical engineer from Cambridge, and we spent the whole time in his workshop, making things. It was all about taking things apart, putting them back together; whether it be aircraft, cars, motorbikes… but one of the things was clocks. We were passionate about mechanical devices from a very early age.
And then as life went on, we did a lot of flying. Flying was and is a really big part of our lives. Then I had this horrible accident with my father in 1985, and he died, I smashed myself up quite badly, and it was at that point that Giles and I said “let’s go off and do something we really want to do”. And to begin with, that was restoring aircraft. And then in 2002, we told our wives we’d need a year and a half, and went off to start a fine watch brand. Five years later in Switzerland we still hadn’t produced the watch we wanted! But that’s how it started.
So, you founded the brand with your brother; how does the partnership work?
Working with my brother actually works quite well. We both do similar stuff; we’re both involved with design. Funnily enough we don’t really argue, which I think is surprising for most siblings. I guess I do a bit more of the States, he’ll probably do a bit more of the rest of the world in terms of sales, but we’re pretty much duplicated, which I think you need to do. I don’t quite know how we’d manage with just one of us because you’d never be at home.
So how would you describe the brand, how would you describe the watches?
So Bremont for us is not about fashion, it’s not about producing a watch which is based on a trend of today… for us it’s about engineering. It’s about producing a watch which is beautifully engineered, and hopefully that will take care of the form itself. It’s about producing something which, if you put it on now, and then you decide to wear it again in twenty years time, it would still look lovely. It would still be relatively timeless. And any good watchmaker could take it apart and say this is a beautifully put together watch. That was absolutely key for us from the start.
So you’d say that’s what makes a Bremont watch so exceptional, the fact that it’s so well-engineered?
I think that’s what inspires us. Obviously we’re trying to do most of it in the UK, but it’s about getting the right components that are second to none, putting them together. We only make chronometer watches, the cases are hardened, and the execution on the movements is beautiful. I think what we wanted to try and do is within any given price point- say it’s a £3000, £4000, £5000 watch- you wouldn’t be able to go out there and actually find a nicer made watch. That was critical for us as a brand.
Could you tell us about the influences behind the successful Alt 1-C collection?
Yes, Alt 1-C is a funny one actually. When we started Giles and I both had a model or two that we were spearheading. Mine was the Alt 1-C, Giles’ was the P, and we both had a passion for both. We loved the simplicity, that you could, again, pick it up in twenty years time and it would still look nice. So we wanted to appeal to people who were twenty years old but also to those eighty years old. And that’s something you still see today, when people come in and ask for Bremont, there’s such an age difference. You can’t really say it’s this or that particular demographic, age-wise. We wanted it to appeal to all generations. Beautifully simple and the clarity of the dial was terribly important. And I guess it’s slightly more classic and less of a pilot watch than some of our other ones.
Could you talk to us about the new piece? What makes that limited edition piece with The Watch Gallery so unique?
We’ve worked with The Watch Gallery for many years now, pretty much since day one and it’s a wonderful partnership, something we’re very motivated by. The Watch Gallery is a lovely British success story as well, and it was an honour to produce a watch in partnership with them. We’ve very much used the blue of The Watch Gallery, it’s got beautifully polished applied indexes, and we’ve come up with something slightly more classical. It’s based on the polished white and the other polished black watches that we do, but it’s this beautiful blue coloured dial, with a blue strap, and it’s pretty unique actually. I think it’s very distinctive.
As one of a rare breed, a British watchmaker, are you proud of this heritage? Do you think that matters?
Watchmaking for us… the British bit is important. It has an incredible history, British watchmaking, if you look back at it the last century, and the centuries before that; the UK led the world in terms of watchmaking. The world sets it’s time by Greenwich, not by Geneva. You have John Harrison, and the race to make a clock to determine longitude. If you take a standard mechanical watch, probably 60-70% of the innovation in a mechanical watch comes from British shores. These things are very easily forgotten. Clearly we lost a lot of this during the First and Second World Wars, and there are a number of reasons for that. But we’re absolutely passionate about doing a small bit for British watchmaking, trying to bring some back. And clearly there are some wonderful watchmakers on this island anyway, like Roger Smith for example, but we’re trying to do something different. We’re not producing a handful of watches a year, but trying to produce beautifully made watches, but in numbers. And if we can carry on the way we’re going- we’re training up watchmakers, making our own parts (as we have been for the last couple of years) it’s very very exciting for us, and it’s a key differentiator between us and other brands.
So why is it that there are so few British watchmakers?
Well, I think that there’s number of reasons why, and it goes back over the years. If you look at the start of the First World War, you know, Rolex started in Hatton Gardens in1905, and then went to Switzerland. Part of that is down to duties and tariffs on luxury goods, you’ve got the First World War, and if you could build a movement for a watch then you could build firing pin for an Enfield rifle, it’s a very similar skill set. And also the Swiss and Americans just said, actually, we can produce what you’re producing in the UK, and you’re making beautiful watches but only ten a year. What we can do is produce ten thousand of them to a high quality, or that’s what we’re striving for. And to be fair, it took them a long time to get there, but by the time they did, we were history in that respect, because we just weren’t keeping up.
What are your ambitions for the brand, going forwards?
I think it’s carrying on with what we have been doing. It’s no small or mean task to carry on with production in the UK, everything takes a lot of time and effort, huge investment, in time, resources, machinery and so forth. I think if you looked at us in ten years’ time and say ideally, where would you be, if we could have played a tiny part in the reinvigoration of the industry in this country, well, we’d be very very very happy. I think that’s probably the most important thing for us as a brand. And if you cut into a Bremont employee, I think, like a stick of rock, it would say ‘passion for British watchmaking’! And it’s not easy, it’s going to be a long long road, but already with Silverstone (our new site) you’ll see us making several thousand cases and other parts there a year, it’s a great, great start.
Bremont has been very successful, why would you say that is?
In terms of Bremont moving forwards, in terms of success or not success, I think when we started in 2002 and in the years leading up to that, it was, I suppose, different to other brands, and what they were trying to achieve in the UK. I guess we turned everything on its head a little bit. Clearly we’ve got a long way to go, I mean, we don’t see ourselves as successful at all yet, there’s so much more to do. I think occasionally you’ll produce a beautiful watch and think this is wonderful, we’re very very proud of this, but then when you look at what there’s still to achieve there’s a long way to go.
Why should someone buy a Bremont watch, as opposed to another watch?
I think there are many many lovely brands out there. Let’s not kid ourselves. The competition is massively stiff and there’s a lot of brands out there that Giles and I think are wonderful. Properly engineered, beautifully made watches. I think the way we differentiate ourselves is the British bit, it’s quite important. I think though, we do go to extraordinary lengths to make sure our watches wear well- on my wrist now- but also wear literally, up Everest or in a cockpit of a fighter jet. So our relationships, our partnerships, that have led to a lot of technology and innovation that you won’t find in other watches. They’re very very robust. The material, the technology, the research we’ve done, it’s led to some very exciting developments. And then, the style. You cannot, if you look at the historic range we’ve done, the heritage range, not see something unique. We’re interested in watches and what British watchmaking is all about, but the key thing is, you’re able to take our watches apart and say “Wow, this is incredibly beautifully made”, and that’s what’s important for us.