Bremont is determined to play a pivotal role in the reinvigoration of this industry on British shores. Before looking into what mechanical watch parts are made in the UK today, it is incredibly interesting to look back at what has previously happened in Britain from a horological perspective. It is not completely unexpected to find that the world sets its time by Greenwich Meantime and not by Geneva. While Geneva and Switzerland may produce the vast majority of luxury wrist-watches today, this certainly wasn’t always the case. In 1800 half of the world's watches, around 200,000 pieces a year, were produced on British shores by British watch makers. Another wonderful statistic is that around 60-70% of the innovation in modern-day mechanical watches has come from Britain, including every major escapement design. The 200,000 watches made in 1800 had fallen to roughly 100,000 a century later.
So what happened? While the British watchmakers were still very much engaged in making beautifully crafted watches, both Switzerland and the United States were looking into mass manufacture. Great Britain also had a couple of World Wars to occupy it, which meant much of the skill set used in watch manufacture was poached by the armaments industry. There was a brief resurgence after World War II and up until the 1960s England was still chronometer testing watches for the likes of Rolex and Omega certifying them at the Kew Observatory, calling it the “Kew Test”.
As a brand, Bremont is passionate about bringing mechanical watchmaking back to Britain and is under no illusions of how difficult a journey this will be. Bremont started in 2002 with the first watches launched in 2007, and since this time, there has been a progressive moving over of the necessary horological skill-set to Bremont’s facility in the UK. The first drive was to train-up watchmakers by putting an apprenticeship scheme in place and also hire watchmakers capable of developing, servicing and assembling mechanical watches. This can now be found at Bremont’s workshop in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. The second was the desire to start manufacturing watch parts and bring all the technical design in-house. Bremont now manufactures its own case and some movement parts at its facility in Henley-on-Thames, UK. It is an investment that the brand is immensely proud of, in an industry so dependent on Switzerland. Bremont is currently the only watch brand in the UK manufacturing cases and selected watch parts in the UK on any scale.
While Bremont currently manufactures some parts for its BWC-01 movement and finishes many more, the end goal is its own British movement built and designed from scratch; a base movement that will provide a platform for further complications. With many years of development now under its belt, and with very talented British movement designer Stephen McDonnell (responsible for MB&F’s ‘Legacy Machine Perpetual’) designing the movement, a working prototype is on the not-too-distant horizon. The challenge will be to make this movement in numbers to chronometer specification, as per all Bremont watches. While there is certainly always much more to be achieved, it is a development and direction that can only be seen as a positive one for the future of watchmaking in the UK.