How To Start A Watch Company
For Giles and I, our interest in all things mechanical began as young children. Our weekends and evenings were spent with our father in his workshop, tinkering with balsa wood, cogs and wheels and any other spare materials we could find lying around. Our father was an incredible engineer.
To this day we still fly aircraft he constructed, drive cars he painstakingly restored and play musical instruments he lathed and carved from an assortment of interesting materials.
His curiosity in clock restoration was just another hobby that rubbed off on us. I produced my first very crude timepiece made from brass and string at the age of 11. Although not fully chronometer tested, it managed to win the schools physics competition.
One passion that left a lasting impression on Giles and me was our fathers love of flying historic aircraft. As an award winning military aerobatic pilot and experienced display pilot, he quickly got us involved in flying incredible aircraft at a very young age. Flying a WWII Harvard across the channel by yourself at low level in formation with other WWII aircraft ending in a adrenalin fuelled display in Normandy when you are still in your teens was something that you don’t forget.
Life for my brother and me changed dramatically in March 1995. I took off with my father as passenger in the back of the 1942 North American Harvard. Ten minutes later Giles heard the Mayday calls. My father was reported dead and I was probably dead. I still don’t remember the accident. All I can remember is lying in a ploughed field looking at a blazing wreck, and in an awful lot of pain. I had broken over 20 bones.
Strangely this accident didn’t put us off flying, but what it did do was bring two best friends even closer together. It also made us reassess our lives. We were both working in the City and hated it. The adage life is too short is used by numerous people, but for us now, it really did appear that way.
We left our careers in the City and set about restructuring a historic aircraft maintenance facility at North Weald, near Epping in Essex – a company which we are still involved with to this day. Whilst working, and naturally flying lots, we wrote our business plan for our first company that was to eventually float on AIM. The company distributed, protected and watermarked digital files for the FTSE 500 and the music industry. We left this a few years later with a goal that had been with us for many years. The ambition to set up our own watch brand.
Giles and I still wore our fathers watches. They had been on his wrists for many years and had experienced so much with him. As a result they meant so much to us too. This is what is so special about a watch. Watches for men easily have the same impact as a girl receiving her grandmothers engagement ring. A good mechanical watch can last many lifetimes, and with it its accompanying memories. In addition, when your father explains to you that a watch is the most accurate mechanical device on the planet, you are naturally quite interested.
But where do you start? We both had a mutual Swiss friend who lived in Biel-Bienne in Switzerland and used to work for the Swatch Group. We met up with him to discuss our plans. He knew a lot of people and it wasnt long before we had small workshop making and sourcing the best parts for our watches. He helped us because he was a good friend, but also he was fascinated to see what these two eccentric Englishmen were up to.
When we started, we were immensely confident that the process from design to production would take a maximum of two years. It was four and a half years later that we released our first watch. This was in July 2007. Giles and I are now very happy with the fact that we were so nave and green when it came to watch production. If we had known any more back then, we would have realised that this would not have been the decision of a sane man to follow this path!
The aim from the outset was to produce a range of beautifully made, limited production and robust timepieces that could be used in the boardroom and also on the top of Everest. Every watch leaving the workshop was to be Chronometer tested. They were not to be fashion items but watches that would pass the test of time both aesthetically and physically. Due to our love of flying, much of the inspiration for the watch design came from working with and flying in historic aircraft.
When it came to choosing a name for the brand, our surname wasnt really a viable option. Giles and I remembered a flight we had made over France a decade earlier. We were flying an old pre-war Bucker Jungman bi-plane over France when we had to make a forced landing due to poor weather. In England you apologise to the farmer for landing in his field and that’s that. In France you get your aircraft impounded. When we landed in this field, this old chap rushed out to help us. We pushed the aircraft into his barn as we saw flashing police lights in the distance. We ended up staying with him for two nights. His name was Antoine Bremont, and hed been a pilot during the war and his house reminded us of our fathers workshop. He passed away three years ago but we were able to tell him that we were going to use his name.
Around the time of launch we were very lucky to be chosen by the British luxury organisation Walpole to become a British Luxury Brand of Tomorrow. For us, this was an incredibly high accolade. To be mentioned in the same category as some of Britain’s leading luxury brands was very special. We were also extremely fortunate to have caught the interest of some very special individuals who can now often be seen wearing a Bremont timepiece, from the actors Ewan McGregor and Orlando Bloom, to the adventurers Bear Grylls, Charley Boorman and Jake Meyer.
The market, and indeed the industry soon became interested in this new British watch brand and thankfully the build quality and effort that had gone into the watch manufacture was quickly recognised. A month or two after we launched, Bremont could be found in some of the UKs greatest watch stores, including Harrods and Selfridges. We are also now dipping our toe into the US market through very well respected stores like Barneys and Tourneau.
Working with Giles continues to be a lot of fun, and because we have worked with each other for so long now we know exactly what to expect from one another. We are both heavily involved in the watch design, and we both spend a few days in Switzerland each month at the workshop. Our roles, more by luck than judgement, appear to be completely inter-changeable. We are also under no illusions of how much work lies ahead for us.
The daunting bit for us is competing with the giant watch companies that have endless budgets, especially when it comes to marketing. We just about sleep at night knowing that we are only ever trying to appeal to a rather limited market a market where the last bastion of adventure and achievement is left to a select number of very unique individuals.
More information on Bremont can be found on their website www.bremont.com.