A tour of Bremont’s The Wing facility
Bremont opens the doors to its new - and state of the art - home of British watchmaking
When brothers Nick and Giles English set up Bremont in 2002 they had one aim in mind, to help rebuild the British watch industry. The aim may have been straightforward but the task itself was enormous. Indeed, since Rolex relocated its operations from London to Geneva after the First World War, the UK, despite an extraordinary heritage, had become an also-ran in the world of watchmaking. In other words, with no British manufacturing industry to talk of, the English brothers were looking at starting from scratch.
But 19 years on, with the opening in March of Bremont’s The Wing, its new manufacturing facility, the realisation of this dream has taken a massive step forward. Built on the edge of the brothers’ hometown of Henley-on-Thames, this 35,000 sq ft state-of-the-art building is a new manufacturing centre with a machine shop and watch assembly that promises to create genuine British-made timepieces.
The result is a triumph and plays to Bremont’s strengths. Even in the earliest when the brand had no choice but to buy-in components and outsource assembly to Switzerland it always felt that this was a journey with a clear destination in mind.
The roots of Bremont have always been in aviation. Both brothers are pilots and the name itself comes from the French farmer – Antoine Bremont – in whose field the brothers had to make an emergency landing in their vintage biplane in the 1990s. To celebrate this, local Henley architects Spratley and Partners have created a low, curved building inspired by an aircraft’s wing. Inside it is equipped with high-tech filtration systems to create a dust-free environment. Huge windows mean the facility is flooded with light and for its environmental credentials it has a living roof.
“We started building one-and-a-half years ago,” says Giles English, “and the result could almost be described as Bremont Mark Two. From the beginning, we have been trying to invest in bringing watchmaking back to the UK and this will enable us to do full movement assembly and make more movement components as well. This is the foundation for our next 20 years and that’s what gives us the kick.”
It is more than just a factory, however. It is a home. “We wanted to build a place where Bremont owners can come and see a watch being built,” explains English. “This is rare, even in Switzerland. We have included a full entertaining space with a bar in there so you can just hang out, alongside a boutique and a museum. You can look at a watch on a wrist and think, ‘Why does this cost £5,000?’ My answer is to say come and see the people and the skills involved and you will get it. Perhaps, with the gift of hindsight, we didn’t pick the best time to build this but then again, coming out from the problems of the past year, people now want to come and see us.” It should be mentioned that profits from future tours will go to children’s charity, the Jon Egging Trust.
Not surprisingly, the single biggest headache was funding as the brothers refused to compromise. “We wanted to make it look really good so we hired an amazing architect and worked with Soho House designers for the interior. Budgets very quickly went through the living roof!” And it didn’t stop there. For the exterior landscaping Bremont hired Andy Sturgeon, one to the UK’s most celebrated modern garden designers.
Watch-making will always be at the heart of the project, however, and this year Bremont has also announced a new collaboration with F1’s Williams Racing plus a new ambassador, former Royal marine and mental health advocate Jason Fox as well as a number of brand-new models. So, there’s already plenty to learn even before you book your post-lockdown visit to Henley.
All images by Alan Schaller