The Swiss are not averse to a bit of light gloating about the British watch industry. Our clockmakers may have led the world in the 17th and 18th centuries, but a slow and apparently terminal decline led to Switzerland diligently taking up the slack. By the middle of the 20th century a resurgence in British watchmaking looked about as likely as us deciding to switch our national sport from football to alpine skiing.
But the fight is back on, and nobody is getting stuck in more enthusiastically than Bremont. Founded by brothers Giles and Nick English in 2002, in 15 years the company has gone from passion project to being a major player in the watch world and a beacon for other British watch companies.
The English brothers are both aeroplane-crazy, and aviation has been the biggest source of inspiration for Bremont watches from the start. This has led to a research collaboration with Boeing, as well as a range of watches developed with the ejector seat maker Martin-Baker.
While aviation is still a central theme, Bremont has expanded its horizons, making watches for America’s Cup yachtsmen, Royal Navy divers and high-altitude climbers. Among Bremont’s most talked-about designs of recent years have been the E-type-themed watches that were developed with Jaguar design chief Ian Callum.
Bremont’s collaboration with Norton goes back to 2009, and new for this year is a watch inspired by the bike maker’s Isle of Man TT campaign. A resurgent British motorcycle manufacturer is a more than fitting partner for a watch firm that is doing whatever it can to put British watchmaking back on the map.
Every year there is a vast watch fair in the Swiss town of Basel, a gathering of watch brands, buyers, journalists and excited punters from around the world. This year Bremont chose to skip Baselworld, instead bringing everyone to a vast Georgian townhouse in London that was converted into an exhibition of all things Bremont.
It was a sign of confidence from a brand that says British watchmaking never died, it was merely resting. We may not be anywhere near back on par with the Swiss, but if Bremont has anything to do with it, the message is clear: the British are back
in the game.
BREMONT Norton V4 chronograph has a dial in Norton metal and an automatic movement displaying a winding rotor crafted to look like a Norton VR rim. £5495
Creating the Porsche 911 should be enough of a professional achievement for any man, but Ferdinand Alexander Porsche felt the need to spread his creative wings further and in the 1970s he started Porsche Design, which became known for wonderfully crafted watches and sunglasses.
A separate company that is now back in full Porsche ownership, Porsche Design has made its first watch with a movement that was designed in-house. The automatic chronograph will only be available to buyers of Porsche’s limited 911 Turbo S Exclusive Series – a carbon-fibre roofed, power-boosted version of an already frighteningly quick car.
Porsche Design Chronograph 911 Turbo S Exclusive Series features an automatic flyback chronograph housed in a lightweight titanium case. £8700
Bamford and Zenith
Another Briton doing well in watches is George Bamford, son of the JCB magnate Lord Bamford. Rather than making his own watches, George Bamford produces highly customised versions of big-name watches, specialising in beautifully blackened Rolexes. His work has been lapped up by buyers, but greeted by the likes of Rolex with a silence that has been dignified, but also definitive – they do not approve of anyone daring to try to ‘improve’ their products. But now a partnership has been announced that makes Bamford a kind of official customisation department for the LVMH-owned brand Zenith. Watches from the existing Zenith range get a characteristic makeover, showing that at least one Swiss brand is prepared to admit that Bamford is onto something good.
Bamford Zenith Type 20 Chrono “Ton Up” Aqua has an automatic Zenith El Primero movement and a military-grade titanium or graphite particle coating. £8500