Brothers Nick and Giles English launched their first Bremont watches in 2007, inspired by a love of historic aircraft inherited from their late father. With growth in sales of 40% last year, a number of high-profile industry award wins and a collaboration with Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood, Bremont’s story is one of British success and, as Giles tells square mile, a lot of hard work.
On why it takes far more than just a great story to sell watches
A story won’t sell a product. We set out to build a watch that we believed was of a better quality than any other watch at its price point in terms of the finish of the movement, the chronometer rating and the crystals, etc. If you’re not delivering that quality of product day in, day out you’ll never survive.
On achieving success in a short period of time
Shed loads of hard work has gone into it, but for us it’s been incredibly exciting. We’ve put our blood, sweat and tears into something and people have ended up liking it and going and buying it in what has not been the finest of markets. Because we set up in 2002 and only started selling watches in 2007, for Nick and me it feels as though we’ve been doing it forever, whereas everyone else sees it as having happened so quickly.
On growing and developing Bremont
We’ll make about 3,500 watches this year. We looked at our original set up in Switzerland and realised we couldn’t grow beyond a certain amount doing it the way we were, so we’ve invested quite a lot in a new workshop on the outskirts of Henley. By the end of the year we should have a fully operational workshop in the UK, assembling 95% of all our watches. At the moment we’re assembling about 30% here, and all our cases are finished in the UK. Will we ever produce a movement which is 100% made in the UK? I think that’s some way off.
On retaining Bremont’s independence
We get a lot of interest from VC-type people because there’s a trend of everyone wanting to invest in luxury brands – that’s just of no interest to us. To raise any money for growth I’d rather go and get a loan from a bank than give away equity in the company.
On surviving in turbulent economic times
It was five years before we actually started selling our watches; it just took us that long to build them, and create a collection we were happy with. Whether it was Bear Grylls or Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman on their motorcycling trips wearing them, there was some underlying promotion going on, but most importantly they were out there testing the watches. So when we were ready to launch we knew the game and were very well set up – we’ve never been in it for a quick buck, and I hope people see the real passion that Nick and I have for what we do.
On why he’s not surprised there are so few British watch brands
It’s just so damned hard to do. It’s very easy to forget what’s happened to the watch industry in the last 15 years; when we entered it ten years ago it was just ramping up. If you tried to do now what we did back then it would be next to impossible; no suppliers would talk to you, they’re just not interested. The whole market’s been captured by the big boys.
On seeing his watches on famous wrists
The other day I opened the Sunday Times and there was Hugh Laurie on the front page with a Bremont MB on, and I really was chuffed at that. It gives us a warm feeling when that happens, but you can’t push it too hard – we don’t pay people to wear our watches, you get stuck in a dark place when you do that.
On his time working in the City
I trained as an engineer and was asked to go to Williams de Broë as a corporate finance engineering analyst, but I quickly realised I was never going to be very good at it. I did about three years there, and I’m incredibly glad I did it because of the experience I got there. A lot of people go through life viewing the City as this hostile place, and I think it is quite hostile until you’ve been in it and then you don’t feel threatened by it anymore. I learned a lot about business in the City, but I just needed to build things…
For more information on the watches: bremont.com