Arts & Leisure

Issue date: April 17, 2017

A soldiers’ watch

BRITISH watch brand Bremont -- which combines the unassailable strength of British notions of luxury with the grit of its military -- is finally in the Philippines.

HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, has been presented with a watch by the brand, as have been many people in the military, from the Royal Air Force to the US Navy. While it seems like a mere treat to the soldiers, Bremont cofounder Giles English’s RAF background gives credibility to the watches.

The company began in 2002, after a tragic flying accident that killed his father and severely injured his brother Nick (his cofounder). The two English boys had been brought up with an interest in mechanics, aeronautics, and engineering, as their father had been an engineer. According to Mr. English, while their family ran an aviation business repairing old aircraft, “We’ve always had a passion and a hobby in watches and clocks.”

Although a relatively young watch brand, it has already generated some buzz. As mentioned, they have presented a watch to Prince Philip, and have been featured in the film Kingsman: The Secret Service. The brand is also trusted by the military units mentioned earlier -- according to Mr. English, 20-25% of their production goes towards making watches for these units.

“I think being independent, and being British, helped us in many ways,” he said in an interview with BusinessWorld. “We [were] lucky in the early days. The watch market was a lot smaller when we first started out, and we’ve got some very good people on board on the mechanical design level, that could help us build these watches very well, which was the key part.” As a former pilot, Mr. English knows what a pilot needs in a watch. “No one could dispute our credentials, as pilots, as ex-RAF... we had a big background in that space anyway.”

The transition from flying to watchmaking is surprising, but apparently, it should be completely natural. “When you analyze a watch,” said Mr. English, “it really is no different from an aircraft engine. Now, the components are a lot smaller, but it’s all cogs and gears. Mechanically, it’s not a great leap. The challenge, in a watch, is making something to such a small level.”

The precision involved in watchmaking takes its turn from the timekeeping and navigation necessary in the military. Wristwatches reached mainstream popularity after the First World War, when pocketwatches proved impractical in the trenches (an example of another watch that came out from this conflict was the Cartier Tank).

“An aviation watch, ultimately, has to be easy to read,” he said.

It also has to be strong. Bremont watches go through a battery of tests to prove their worth: for example, tests for vibration and hardness. They have even been tested for strength by being worn on the wrist of people who need to eject from a plane. The company markets such watches, called the MBII and the MBIII (named after the Martin-Baker British aviation company). If you’re wondering what happened to the MBI, that’s reserved for pilots who have been ejected from an aircraft using Martin-Baker seats. Mr. English, however, noted that watches made both for military and consumer purposes follow the same testing and design regimens.

It is a luxury product, but it was built for hard work. “What we go through in the military, makes our product even more luxury,” he said. “A jet pilot to someone in a very fancy restaurant or working in the City are two worlds apart -- but actually, they work very closely in terms of branding and what goes into the design of a watch.”

Technology has largely eliminated the need for wristwatches, especially in the military, where complex systems can tell you what time it is, and where you should be going. However, Mr. English said, “If you’re flying an F18 [military jet] for five years of your life, for the rest of your life, you talk about those five years, and... that watch on your wrist is the ultimate memory of your flying.”

A friend of his, a British musician of some fame (whom he did not name), had a watch owned by his father, which the said musician liked to look at on his wrist. Mr. English asked if the watch was particularly gorgeous. “No,” his friend said. “It always reminds me of my father’s wrist.”

“That’s what wristwatches do,” said Mr. English.

In the Philippines, Bremont is distributed by the Lucerne Group. -- Joseph L. Garcia

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