A year ago Bremont told WatchPro that bringing its watchmaking production to the UK would be near impossible, despite its dreams to do so, but a year on it has announced it will open a production space on English soil by the end of the year. Kathryn Bishop finds out more.
The tradition of British watchmaking, from the streets of Clerkenwell through to the legacy of George Daniels, is today being spearheaded by Bremont, a brand that has become the foremost British watch company.
While the big dream of Giles and Nick English, the brothers behind Bremont, has long been to bring its entire production to the UK, limitations owing to the availability of watchmakers on our shores and the investment involved in setting up a production facility has hampered the pursuit of that dream.
However, last month a brief announcement from the brand revealed it is one step closer to making British production a reality, with the news that it intended to move production to the UK within the year.
Giles English spoke with WatchPro about the news, describing the move as coming at a very busy but exciting time for the brand.
“We’ve got lots going on but the workshop should be open by early December [this year],” he explains. “We have always pitched that we would do as much of our watchmaking in the UK as possible and have a long-term commitment to do so.”
At present Bremont produces some of its cases, straps and packaging in the UK and carries out the final assembly of certain timepieces in the UK, but the new production facility – due to be opened close to Bremont’s headquarters in Henley, Oxfordshire – will mean that more elements of its production will follow, including component making.
“With the history of British watchmaking this is an amazing move for Bremont,” says English. “We can bring the quality control and shipping under one roof, and it will allow our client services to grow.”
The brand also plans to work with its retail partners to offer clients a chance to go behind the scenes at the production space, which will no doubt offer clients a better understanding of the watchmaking process if they are unfamiliar with it. “If someone wants to buy a Bremont watch they can come by and watch it being assembled at the new Henley space,” explains English.
This behind-the-scenes initiative will be part of a wider focus on Bremont’s background story, which English says it will begin work on this year. The plans include creating videos – one in particular will focus on those who were involved in the making of its Victory watch – with the aim, in English’s words, of showing that its watches are more than just “a piece of steel on your wrist”.
The news of the production move to the UK is sure to have set many a tongue wagging in the industry, and it is certainly a modern milestone in British watchmaking history. Only last year English spoke to WatchPro and said that financial and logistical hurdles had prevented this dream of a move to the UK from being realised sooner. At the time he said: “When we started out our ethos was to do as much in the UK as possible, but Switzerland is a cottage industry – you can walk round the corner and get something done.
That’s not the case here. We don’t care if we don’t have Swiss Made on our watch faces, we’d much rather have London.”
Today, however, English is happy to reveal that the brand’s dreams are finally coming to fruition. But how has the company managed to overcome the hurdles it faced last year?
“We’re finally making enough watches to justify the move,” says English, who notes that the North American market is “working very well” for the brand. It has opened more than 40 doors in the United Stated in the past 18 months.
For Bremont the biggest challenge has been sourcing watchmakers to embark on this new and exciting journey, and English says that the majority of the watchmakers it has employed have been found through word of mouth among the industry. “We’ll probably have 12 or so watchmakers and some assemblers lined up, and hope to take more on board at a later date,” he explains. The watchmakers who will be working with Bremont have, in some cases, been working for other brands or as watch repairers while two others are being trained by Bremont as apprentices.
“There is demand for UK watchmakers,” says English. “It’s not always easy to find them, especially for a smaller business.”
As with all that Bremont does, attention to detail is of utmost importance, something that is reflected in the new building itself that the facility will be housed in. The space is an old oak saw mill that has been taken down and is now being re-built from scratch, something English says has been another challenge.
“Getting the lighting right has been a bit of a hurdle but we’ve ensured the space is custom made to fit with our needs,” he says. “We’ve had our watchmaking benches custom made and all of our systems such as the air pressure systems have been custom built for us.”
Before the watchmaking facility it complete, however, another major milestone for the brand has been underway – the opening of its first standalone store, in London’s Mayfair.
The store opening marks another UK first for Bremont and will give fans of the brand – and the summer’s influx of international shoppers – a chance to view its collections in one place.
The store will channel a more traditional retail space, though its club-like atmosphere (less nightclub, more gentlemen’s club), will mean that a bar will be in situ, perfect for allowing shoppers or watch enthusiasts to chat, network and take in more of the brand.
“As a British company we felt we needed a showcase to promote ourselves to visitors from all around the world,” explains English.
“The boutique will be more than a traditional watch store. There will be an explorers club based from there, a considerable watch library and it will also be the only place in the world to see unique items like the Bremont B-1 Marine Clock.”
For a brand that was founded only five years ago, Bremont is one success that the British watchmaking industry should be proud of – and backing – as it builds into a global brand working out of our little isle. And if there is one thing the industry can hope for, it is that where Bremont dares to tread, others will follow.