A decade back, the ALT1-C made its maiden flight, launching Bremont as British watchmaking’s potential savior and proving there was life yet in the pilot’s chronograph
By Alex Doak
Neither Bremont or its seminal workhorse, the ALT1-C chronograph require anything by way of introduction to readers of SalonQP.com. Launched “as one” precisely ten years ago, both the brand and the watch itself were so perfectly conceived from the outset that they still seem fresh as a daisy and just-distinct enough to bear comparison to the big boys without fear of niche dismissal.
So instead, let’s celebrate a chronograph whose first iteration remains remarkably unchanged, save for the brand’s newly sans-serif logo and “London” rather than “Swiss Made” at 6 o’clock.
Arguably, the latter alteration pushes things a bit, but it can’t be denied that the past ten years’ breathless expansion and increasingly homespun manufacturing (considerably west of London, in Henley, and considerably north, in Silverstone) means the UK appellation will at least be fully justified in the near future. Meanwhile, the horological shire horse that is the Valjoux 7750 continues to drive proceedings – albeit tweaked and preened over here in preparation for COSC certification, rather than at Soprod as it was originally.
And this is likely to remain status quo for the foreseeable. Thanks to Bremont’s early partnership with La Joux-Perret (now owned by Citizen), the Brothers English et al. have a time-only calibre to call their own, but an in-house automatic chronograph is a different kettle of fish entirely.
“Certainly no British and very few Swiss movements could ever compete with the Valjoux chronograph,” co-founder Giles English told QP during an interview at North Weald airfield in 2007. “Just look at all these aeroplanes,” he gestured towards the surrounding metal. “They’ve all got Lycoming or Pratt & Whitney engines because they’re the best engines out there. They’ve probably all got the same disc brake manufacturer too, because they’re tried and tested for 70 years or so. If a new plane landed here and the pilot said he’d designed and made his own engine, we’d just cock our heads and go, ‘uh huh…’.
The ALT1-C is honest and clean, and decorative flourishes are limited to interesting colour combinations such as anthracite dials or black counters against a creamy background (the cream on brown strap could be considered the most iconic of the brand as a whole, and is still used in the ads). The face itself is inspired by the clocks found in the cockpit of a Spitfire but the brothers’ insider knowledge of aeronautical engineering means it’s more than a pretty face. Take the case – a complex structure made from three main components using a registered system they call “Trip-Tick”. A central barrel of PVD-treated steel is sandwiched between the bezel caseback, allowing the middle section of the case to be made of a different material or colour.
From the outset, Bremont’s three-piece “Trip-Tick” case has been heat-treated and defused with carbon, then bombarded with electrons – the same process for jet-engine turbine blades. On the Vickers’ scale, this yields sevenfold hardness over other steel watches.
“The hardest thing was coming up with designs that are new, yet still keeping a classical feel,” says Giles’s brother Nick. “It’s a fiendishly complicated process and we couldn’t afford to be trendy – that way you run the risk of overcomplicating things. When you’re flying, you want to be able to look quickly, see that ‘Oh, I’ve got 15 minutes of fuel left,’ and move on.” As is evident from our timeline, Giles and Nick got it bang-on – surely there’s no better endorsement for a pilot watch than a special-edition commission from an elite fighter-jet squadron?
This is part of our Modern Classics series, profiling the most significant watch designs of the last 30 years. You can view the rest of the entries here. Disagree with our choices? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook or by email.