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'Exclusive' wristwatches are not always so. Every luxury brand worth its weight in Swiss silver has them.
Some are deemed exclusive because of their price tag (think six figures and above), or made in extremely limited editions, or perhaps because of the provenance of a previous owner (the famous Steve McQueen Tag Heuer Monaco model for example).
But English brand Bremont’s Martin-Baker MB1 watch could arguably be the most exclusive of them all – and that’s because to get your hands on one you have to be lucky in every sense of the word.
Martin-Baker is a British aviation company that supplies 70 per cent of the world’s air forces with ejection seats. A decade ago the company approached Bremont’s founders, brothers Giles and Nick English, to create a special, ultra-engineered aviator’s watch.
This was no mere marketing gimmick; Martin-Baker, and Bremont, insisted the watch be subjected to the same brutal testing regime that the ejection seats (which have saved 7,595 aircrew lives since 1949) were put through.
Two years of intensive research and design later, the Bremont MB1 was born, a beautifully engineered sports watch featuring a hardened steel case protecting an automatic chronometer movement.
There was a catch to owning an MB1 though. The watch was (and still is) available only to those who have ejected from an aircraft – hence the MB1 is a very exclusive timepiece indeed.
Of course, Nick and Giles were also savvy enough to understand that the watch would create quite a stir among watch cognoscenti and they released two variants – the MBII and MBIII, natch – for the general public who had not been hurtled vertically and rather violently from a troubled jet aircraft.
These have been top sellers for Bremont, so it’s no surprise to see the launch this week of a fourth model – a very special limited edition that marks the 10th anniversary of the company’s highly successful partnership with Martin-Baker.
The MB III 10th Anniversary ($7,100) bears the watchmaking DNA of its predecessors (a rotating inner bezel and super-hardened steel case), plus some very cool references to the Martin-Baker ejection seat technology such as the ejection seat ‘danger’ logo on the dial and an F-35 fighter jet ejection set engraved on the case back.
You can set a second time zone via the GMT function and the automatic chronometer movement is protected from shock via a special flexible ring design.
A ‘soft iron’ inner case also protects the movement from the effects of strong magnetic fields. And just how tough is this watch?
Prototypes were tested in an altitude chamber, exposed to salt fog and humidity (similar to what would be experienced during a six-month tour of duty on an aircraft carrier), hooked up to an hours-long extreme vibration test (equivalent to that on an aircraft over a 30-year lifespan), blasted with heat (40C+) and cold (-40C) and then subjected to a simulated crash and ‘G-forces’ 18 times that of gravity.
After every test, the watches had to work perfectly.
Bremont isn’t, of course, the only high-end watchmaker with a close association to the aviation world. However, the brand's involvement with aviation has a poignant back story.
Nick and Giles launched Bremont in honour of their late father Euan who died in 1995 when the World War II vintage Harvard he was flying – with Nick in the back seat – crashed during training for an air show. Nick was seriously injured, breaking 30 bones.
Tragedy almost struck again in 2013 when a 1930 Gipsy Moth Giles was flying suffered engine failure. The plane crashed in a paddock, badly injuring Giles and his 11-year passenger, the son of a family friend. Their survival was attributed to Giles’ superb flying skills.
The brothers English clearly know well that flying can be a risky business. But despite personal tragedy and adversity, their love for aviation continues unabated.
And it’s because of that passion for aeroplanes and engineering, instilled in them by their late father Euan, that Bremont goes the extra mile to produce truly great watches with a unique story to share.