Although Switzerland now dominates the watchmaking industry in the world, this was not always the case.
“Almost all of the principles you find in current Swiss watches were created principally in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,” said watchmaker Robert Loomes, chairman of the British Horological Institute. The Swiss lever escapement, which keeps mechanical watches ticking, is not even Swiss. Thomas Mudge designed it circa 1750 in London.
“There are some fantastic watchmakers who can compete with Patek Philippe. Companies like Players of Coventry created the most super, difficult, stunning, and expensive watches,” Loums adds.
So, what happened to British watchmaking? There were two world wars: WWI and WWII. Many studios were bombed during the Blitz, and many watchmakers joined the service. “When these workshops were destroyed after WWII, very few people considered reopening them,” Loombs said.
Smith Industries, which collapsed in the 1970s, was the last British watch firm to create high-quality mechanical timepieces on a large scale. Till recently, British watchmakers mostly exported cheaper watches or produced limited batches of exquisite six-figure timepieces entirely by hand in tiny workshops like Roger W. Smith or Loomes & Co., which was helmed by Loomes himself.
Art is now returning to British shores with a massive impact, thanks to Nick and Gilles English. Bremont Watch Co.’s two founders launched the Wing, a 35,000 ft2 state-of-the-art facility that processes case and movement components and assembles its watches, in 2021. Wing, officially named as the Bremont Centre for Manufacturing and Technology, is the first industrial-scale watchmaking facility in the UK in more than fifty years.
The British brothers were attracted by clocks, vehicles, and planes as they grew up in Cambridge in the 1970s. Euan, their father, is a holder of PhD. Graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in aeronautical engineering, served in the Royal Air Force, and repaired old planes for leisure.
Nick and Giles followed in their Dad’s footsteps in aviation, getting their pilot’s license at seventeen and flying in the RAF Reserve while still in college. They went on to work in corporate finance in the City of London, where they would still be working today if it hadn’t been for a tragic accident involving Nick and Euan during the 1995 RAF Air Show. Their father is killed in the collision, and Nick is gravely injured. The brothers fled the city and bought North Weald Flying Services Ltd., a company that repairs old aircraft, to pursue their passion for mechanics.
Eventually, their concentration switched away from aircraft and vehicles and toward timepieces. The brothers did not follow the patterns in style within the first 2000s, which Nick describes as “extremely bright and big.” They intended to make traditional watches with military-inspired designs that could withstand harsh environments.
Bremont was created in 2002 using funds raised from the live streaming and data protection network they founded in 1999. Making watches in the UK was part of their mission statement, but they had to start with Swiss employees and producers because there were no suppliers in the nation.
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They released the first watch in 2007 after years of research and development, a dozen chronometer-level devices with an entry-level price tag of roughly $3,400. Actors Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman participate in a high-profile marketing campaign by riding their motorbikes 13,000 miles across Central and South America while wearing watches to help win over fans.
The organization places its watches through brutal paces: It began a partnership with Martin-Baker craft Co., a British producer of fighter jet ejection seats for air forces around the arena, to ascertain opt for watches as a result of its examined seats. Bremont’s MB1 is completely bestowed to pilots who’ve required to eject from a craft the usage of a Martin-Baker seat, however different fashions are accessible to the final public.
The designs have a classic feel to them. Some come with old leather straps, and Bremont even employs a cream-colored Super-LumiNova for some of its glow-in-the-dark numerals to create a historical impression. The bright-white Super-LumiNova acquires a beige-toned patina as its ages. Bremont makes customised timepieces for the British Ministry of Defence and other militaries across the world.
Bremont took 20 years to reintroduce components of watchmaking and manufacture back to the UK. The final “movement,” or chronograph mechanism, is constructed by assembling all of the components. Case production, on the other hand, includes purchasing and configuring computer-controlled cutting equipment to make thousands of case pieces each year. Finally, Nick and Giles arranged for the pieces to be hand-finished on location, ensuring that each one was flawless.
Even a luxury brand like Patek Philippe does not manufacture every component. The British brothers got to do is produce a U.K.-based all provide chain for countless watchmaking, named Operation Bulldog. They work with local vendors wherever feasible, including packaging, screws, sapphire glass, and straps.
The Wing is positioned on the outskirts of Henley-on-Thames, a traditional English rural town. Vintage biplanes influenced the design of Spratley & Partners’ curving, futuristic edifice. On one side, floor-to-ceiling windows fill the area with light and expose the grounds of the Black Bears Polo Club.