One of the most common questions we receive from active duty military, law enforcement and intelligence officers is how to organize a “unit watch.” We have previously profiled Tudor’s unit watch program and plan to cover all of the major players in this space.
UK-based Bremont Watch Company has made significant headway in capturing the market and providing unique watches to military and intelligence units, including the highest tiers of the US Intelligence, Aviation and Special Operations community. In order to document a first hand perspective, we asked Nic, an Australian military pilot, to write a Dispatch on his experience organizing a custom Bremont for his squadron.
As always, this content is not sponsored and the views and perspectives are of the author. At W.O.E., we are brand agnostic but do support any brand that supports our community.
Aviation Unit Watch Case Study: Bremont Military and Special Projects Division
The EA-18G Bremont U-2 on the wrist of a Growler pilot (Photo Credit: @outboundcourse)
In the world of horology, Bremont is a relative newcomer, having been founded by brothers Nick and Giles English in 2002. The siblings, inspired by their father’s passion for both aviation and mechanical devices, merged their interests to design, manufacture and release their first pilot's watch in 2007.
Bremont arrived on the scene as a fresh contender at a time when established players were coincidently shifting their focus away from the aviation and military markets towards more mainstream celebrity brand ambassadors. In 2009, U-2 spy plane pilots from Beale Air Force Base, California contacted Bremont to see if the brand would be willing to create a bespoke watch for their squadron. Bremont subsequently produced and delivered the watch as its first ever military project in 2010. The following year, they launched a partnership with ejection seat manufacturer Martin Baker and started to garner interest from the global military aviation community. Bremont was then approached by the US Navy Test Pilot School, USAF C-17 Globemaster community and US Navy VFA-81 Sunliners Squadron and asked to produce special military watches for their members.
The Military and Special Projects Bremont made for U-2 spy plane pilots was the brand’s first custom military watch. (Photo credit: @bremontmilitary)
Once the custom C-17 watch appeared on social media in 2012, the brand received significantly more attention from potential military clients. To cater for this increase in queries and requests for projects, Bremont’s Military and Special Project Division was established by Catherine Villeneuve. Over ten years later, Catherine – who is also Nick English’s wife – leads a sizable and dedicated team as Bremont’s Head of Military and Special Projects.
The C-17A Bremont ALT1-WT (Photo credit: @bremontmilitary)
I first heard about Bremont from a friend who had run his own project and so got in touch with the brand’s Military and Special Projects team in 2016 to enquire about developing a watch for my Australian squadron of KC-30A air-to-air refueling aircraft. Once I’d established contact the process was straight forward. Due to the expeditionary nature of our work, I chose the Bremont World Timer as a base model and then started the back-and-forth with the Bremont design team to determine how to make the project unique and meaningful to those of us who would eventually wear it. This mainly consisted of me sending poorly constructed Microsoft Paint pictures of airplanes and crests pasted onto watches and them responding with high quality renderings of potential design options. As the military traditionally offers limited opportunities for creative expression within its ranks, I really enjoyed the opportunity to play designer with the guidance from Bremont’s professionals.
Catherine explains that “The design focus is to base the client’s idea around an existing model, staying true to our brand DNA and then elegantly and subtly integrating design details within the watch dial and sometimes other watch parts, to best identify the military squadron, unit or community”.
The “triple seven," an Afghan unit trained/mentored by Americans for air lift assets, most notably the Russian built Mi-17. This watch was produced by Bremont for the American servicemen supporting that unit.
Bremont distinguishes itself from many competitors’ military offerings by allowing extensive customisation options. Beyond simply featuring aircraft silhouettes on the dial or unit crests on the case back, clients can opt for a variety of modifications, depending on the size of their order. For example, the C-130J Hercules project features a small seconds hand shaped like the aircraft’s six-blade propellers; the F-14 Tomcat project has hands coloured to match the jet’s tailhook; and the movement rotors of the A-10C project are carved into the shape of the Hawg’s iconic 30mm autocannon. For our project we were able to use a GMT hand coloured to match our refueling boom and a bespoke time zone bezel that showed the ICAO codes of our frequently visited airports and air bases.
The C-130J Bremont ALT1-Z (Photo credit: @bremontmilitary)
There are still some design rules to adhere to – Catherine notes “We have detailed documents regarding specific Terms and Conditions when it comes to designing and purchasing a Bremont Military and Special Project watch”. However, IYKYK acronyms sometimes appear on project dials that may skirt some of the restrictions (see: USAF KC-135’s “NKAWTG”, F-16CJ Super Weasel’s “YGBSM” and RAAF 75SQN’s “YKYMF”).
Custom Bremont MBIIIs for F-16CJ Super Weasels and RAAF 75SQN (Photo credit @bremontmilitary)
Once our design was finalized and eligibility criteria set, it was time for me to collect orders from my colleagues to meet the minimum number requirements. The amount of emotional energy invested during the design phase made this portion of the process particularly stressful. For many at military units, this is their first foray into the world of luxury mechanical watches so justifying the price tag can be a difficult feat but to help with this, Bremont offers significant discounts to it’s military customers. Once the minimum numbers were met and deposits paid, production began with the final product being delivered about nine months later.
While the completion of production and delivery marks the end of the journey for most customers, a significant number of us choose to maintain a connection with the brand by engaging through social media, sharing photos of watches in action (use your tools!) or by dropping into local boutiques to share a story and enjoy a drink. It’s also worth noting the project leader can decide whether the project is a limited run or not. Even years after the first batch of deliveries, latecomers such as new squadron members or people who didn’t have the funds at the time can still get on board as Bremont maintains contact with the original project leader to ensure accurate verification of eligibility.
Bremont's Military and Special Projects Division has become a pillar of the brand's success, accounting for almost 20% of its total sales. Interestingly, design ideas incubated by military projects can also overflow to Bremont’s core range. For example, the ALT1-WT was inspired by the C-17 Globemaster watch, the ALT-1B from a B-2 bomber project and the U-22 from an F-22 Raptor project. The purple, bronze and titanium-colored barrels across the MB range were all first featured on military projects.
The F-22 Bremont U-22. The exposed date wheel was first for the brand and went on to inform the design of the civilian U-22 model. (Photo credit @bremontmilitary)
The Bremont Military Instagram account showcases a myriad of professional and user-submitted photos, providing a glimpse into the vast number of individual projects the Military and Special Projects Division have produced with many more discreet projects remaining unseen by the public and unspoken about by the brand. When asked which projects were her personal favorites, Catherine responded “There are so many I could mention. Over the last 13 years Bremont has created and delivered almost 500 different military and special projects. Some of them are incredibly exciting but sadly the details of many projects cannot be shared. Design-wise, I would say the F-35 collection (F-35A, F-35B, F-35C and F-35 Dambuster) is very cool, the RAF Lancaster Bomber, HSM-85 Squadron, 89th Airlift, Grim Reapers 493rd Fighter Squadron, RSAF Tornado, the Royal Marine 350th, the new Royal Navy Submariners and of course the Australian KC-30A are personal favorites.”
The KC-30A Bremont ALT1-WT on the beaches of Diego Garcia (Photo credit @bremontmilitary)
Although military projects account for about 80% of the timepieces produced by the Military and Special Projects Division, watches are also made for civilian organizations. These clients have included BAE Systems, Oxbridge alumni, Rapha, FedEx pilots, Aston Martin Owners’ Club, Heathrow Air Traffic Controllers, REORG veterans’ charity, as well as rugby and cricket clubs.
Moving forward, we can expect to see (or maybe only hear rumors of) many more bespoke Bremont Military and Special Projects watches that not only tell the time, but also tell the stories of the elite units, squadrons, ships and regiments that they have been created for.
Author: Nic is an Australian military pilot that has been a follower of W.O.E. since the early days. He has a particular interest in custom military watch projects having designed and produced timepieces with multiple brands