When it comes to reviewing products for these pages I am not prone to sentimentality but as it’s nearly Christmas, I am going to indulge in an old-fashioned fairy-tale. It’s about beautiful watches, aeroplanes, an adoring father, a good Samaritan and a pair of quintessentially English brothers whose surname just happens to be English.
Nick and Giles English grew up in a big happy family. Their father, Euan, was crazy about planes. He had a PhD in aeronautical engineering, owned a Spitfire and was an RAF aerobatic champion. In March 1995 Euan was practising for an air display with his son, Nick. Giles was watching from the ground. The plane crashed, killing Euan. He was not even 50. Nick broke 29 bones but survived.
Despite the tragedy, the brothers continued flying. A year later they took off in an old German biplane to help friends who had crash-landed in Champagne. Stormy weather over France forced Nick and Giles to land in a pea field. If a plane makes an unscheduled landing in France, the police can impound it for weeks and the brothers could see the blue flashing lights approaching as they climbed out of the plane. Just then an old man and his daughter miraculously appeared and helped them drag the plane into hiding in a barn. Then he welcomed the brothers into his home.
They discovered their host, Antoine Bremont, was also a pilot and shared a love of horology. M. Bremont was still wearing his father’s watch and said that a wristwatch shares our life and is party to more experiences than any other object we own. Giles and Nick (who was wearing his own late father’s watch) listened attentively and at that moment decided to create a watch that would last a lifetime, honour their father and celebrate Nick’s survival. In gratitude to their host, they named their brand Bremont.
I meet Nick and Giles in London. Simply put, they have all the attributes of fairy-tale princes — they are handsome and charming but, above all, they are principled young men who have given up lucrative careers to build a business on a cherished memory. ‘Our father built boats we have sailed round the world in and we still fly his planes. We wanted to build something equally durable to honour him,’ explains Nick. ‘Our father’s death toughened us up,’ says Giles. ‘Perhaps it was a case of ignorance being slight bliss but we were either going to go broke or be OK and we mortgaged everything to start Bremont.’
In 2007, after three years of intensive research and development, Bremont was launched. What marks out a Bremont watch are the three principles on which it is made: individuality, precision and durability. Every watch is put together in a dedicated Swiss atelier at Biel-Bienne and then hand-finished in England. Whereas Rolex sells over 90,000 watches in the UK alone each year, Bremont limits its output to 2,500. Both brothers slip off their watches so I can feel the weight and admire the craftsmanship. I covet them instantly.
Bremont’s strapline is ‘Tested Beyond Endurance’ and one look at the calibre of Bremont’s ambassadors gives me no cause to doubt it. The watches were worn by actors Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor on their endurance adventure Long Way Down, by mountaineer Jake Meyer as he climbed the Seven Summits, by adventurer Bear Grylls as he was put through his paces in Man vs Wild, by yachtsman Mike Golding as he single-handedly circumnavigated the globe, and by world champion free-diver Sara Campbell. The watches are also worn by elite US Navy test pilots.
The last photograph of Euan English shows him smiling from his Spitfire cockpit with Nick and Giles’s eight-year-old sister sitting on the wing. Now the brothers have launched the ultimate tribute to their father — the Spitfire EP120. Beyond being entranced by the brothers’ princely qualities, I admit a personal interest in this watch — my father flew Spitfires during the war. The watch contains parts of the EP120 Spitfire that shot down six German aircraft in a single day during 1942 and has since been used in films like The Battle of Britain and Pearl Harbor. The plane is still flying today.
Only 120 Spitfire watches have been made, making them one of this Christmas’s most desirable, exclusive presents. The Bremont stable, including the Spitfire, is now on sale in 25 outlets in Britain and America, reflecting the brand’s meteoric rise over the last year. A tragic start has given way to a fairy-tale ending and I trust the English brothers will live happily ever after.