They might have a French name, and use Swiss chronometer movements, but Bremont couldn’t be more British – from their no-frills, mug-of-tea-and-a-biscuit, tally-ho, chocks-away aesthetics, right down to the aptly named Brothers English, who embody their brand so thoroughly and so energetically that if you cut them, they’d probably bleed blued screws.
But if the Britishness was in any doubt, we’d recommend hitting the M40 and paying their shiny new Henley-On-Thames headquarters a visit. Situated in an Area of Outstanding Beauty, with chalet-style architecture housing sterile watchmaking workbenches, it’s a regular slice of the Swiss Jura, deep in the heart of bucolic England.
What’s more, all of Bremont’s watches are now assembled here (their Jura workshop is no longer), with Giles and Nick English’s eyes set firmly on the horizon.
“The important thing to mention is that this is very much stage 1,” says Giles, stood by one of their eight, bespoke-made workbenches. “The basic operations are in place: assembly, quality control, stock control… But stage 2 is next, and this will be a huge investment; hardcore machinery, the works.
“It’s all really exciting but it takes time…”
Presumably anticipating the day when Bremont starts making separate components and assembling their own movements, rather than just receiving chronometer-rated ETAs from COSC, Nick and Giles have recruited cleverly, deliberately populating their atelier with bona fide watchmakers.
“If you go to any typical Swiss atelier, you’ll see row upon row of ‘watchmakers’ who are actually just assemblers. People who conduct a very few tasks repetitively and relatively unskillfully. We’ve chosen not to work with assemblers – only proper watchmakers.
“It’s impossible to keep good watchmakers if they’re only putting on a crown, so everyone in this workshop, bar the apprentices, constructs a complete watch. Our view is that, this way, you make a better watch. Plus there’s not so much production management, and more straightforward after-sales.”
Ironically, despite the boom in watchmaking and watch sales, this sort of skillbase is rare, and Bremont have recruited from all over the UK. “Which is why we have a flat in Henley at their disposal,” says Giles. “You have to keep this calibre of workforce happy, as they’re hard to come by!”
Given their beautiful but modern surroundings, I can’t see this lot going anywhere soon. The architect is a local firm, Spratley (www.spratley.co.uk), who codenamed the project ‘Sawmills’ on account of the new building falling within the footprint of a disused sawmill. According to their website:
“At first view a traditional barn, it houses a 4000 sq.ft contemporary office, with white vinyl flooring… It’s cruciform frame is of green oak, and local materials were used wherever possible. Pitched roofs, brick plinths, plain bargeboards and open eaves all echo the character of local farm buildings, resulting in a building that rests comfortably within its site and surroundings, whilst blending the old and new. This quality building took 8 months to construct and was delivered on time and on budget.”
Sterling work, Spratley.
“They worked on the oak-framed barn design,” recalls Giles, “then Nick and I worked on the interior design, the flooring, ventilation. We wanted plenty of light, plenty of character, but within that character cleanliness!”
Which is when it dawns on us that, unlike most Swiss facilities who have sealed, positive-pressure rooms, Bremont’s minstrel’s-gallery workshop opens out onto the foyer and open-plan office space below. As Nick attests, “It’s a nightmare keeping this place clean, an absolute nightmare!”
But, ever the more cautious half of the sibling relationship, Giles is quick to add that, in anticipation of more ‘involved’ watchmaking in future, the workshop space will soon be sealed off with glass partitions.
As for the décor itself, it’s as if Steve Jobs went into watchmaking rather than computers. It’s all crisp, white and contemporary – but with key bits of Bremont-esque, gentlemen’s club ephemera. Rather like the Boutique on Mayfair’s South Audley Street, it’s all down to a clever curation of quirky objets d’art and furniture that Biggles would be happy to call his own.
Should you have an empty house and a bob or few to spare, the wing desk in reception – calling to mind Marc Newson’s iconic riveted Lockheed Lounge chaise longue – is a bespoke item by Ham Interiors (www.haminteriors.com), while the rest, from the propeller that greets you at the door to the nosecone table in the design studio, comes from POP Store (www.popstore-commercial.com).
Your move, Switzerland…
Behind Bremont’s new doors
The British brand’s English brothers take Alex Doak on the half-crown tour, somewhere in a field in Oxfordshire.
All photos © Bremont
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Alex is a lifestyle journalist and watch designer (who hasn't heard of the iconic Royal Doak?) who cut his teeth at watch magazine QP, and now writes on watches etc. for titles as diverse as Wired, FT and Men's Health. When he's not creating classic timepieces or penning articles for these illustrious titles, he somehow finds time to edit Drive for H.R. Owen, too. Young Alex is also a proud Blue Peter badge holder and occasional unicyclist.
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