Can Bremont's venture really go like clockwork?

They've launched a luxury goods business into the teeth of a downturn but the founders of Bremont tell James Moore their time has come
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The business concept looks a little crazy: launching a new luxury watch brand into a £15bn market already dominated by multinational luxury goods groups with multi-million- pound marketing budgets and grand old names.

But two former stockbrokers have done just that and maybe, just maybe, they are crazy like a fox. These are brothers Nick and Giles English, who have persuaded Robert Bensoussan, the former chief executive of Jimmy Choo, and John Ayton, the founder of Links of London, to buy into their concept, join the board of "Bremont" and sink some of their own cash into the venture.

Their watches, on the market for less than a year, can be found in Harrods, Selfridges and many other "right" places. They can also be seen on the wrists of the likes of Ewan McGregor and Orlando Bloom.

Crazy is the impression one gets on first meeting Nick, who used to work at Henry Ansbacher, the bank that floated Manchester United. It's not easy to imagine him as a sober-suited number cruncher. The 37-year-old has an unruly mop of curly blond hair and comes to our meeting wearing a designer-scruffy pair of faded jeans and a flight jacket, along with a wide, slightly goofy, smile.

Giles, 34, is shorter and slightly more reserved. Formerly in the City with Williams de Broë, he is also rather more conventionally attired and lets his brother do more of the talking.

The two describe their careers in corporate finance as "a means to an end", saying they always had the idea of setting up on their own. But that their vision became a reality owed much to their expensive hobby of flying – a passion inherited from their father, a former RAF pilot and a successful businessman in his own right. That passion had tragic consequences in 1995 when the plane they were flying – a North American Howard, designed to be hard to fly because it was used to train pilots for Spitfires during the Second World War – crashed. Their father died, and Nick nearly lost his life too.

"I must have broken 25 bones," says Nick, with a matter-of-fact shrug. "It got me thinking about what I was doing. After the accident, I went out for a beer with Giles and we talked. We decided we weren't enjoying what we were doing and I said, 'Why don't we go off together and work for ourselves?' "

Despite what had happened, they founded a company that restored old planes, though their fortunes were made by another enterprise: the launch of a media firm that was involved in the early development of internet video and worked with record companies to find a way of sending music files around securely. At the time, this solved a big problem for record companies; sending promo CDs by courier created a tempting window during which the music could be copied on to a computer and sent out on file-sharing networks such as Napster weeks before the intended release date.

All the while, though, another fascination was nagging away at them – one stirred by childhood days spent with their father in his workshop as he restored old planes, boats and cars. In other words, engineering, and how things worked, was in the blood. So gradually they sold their business and headed to Switzerland. "We've always had a passion for watches," says Nick. "At the turn of the century the English dominated the industry and we wanted to take it back."

Giles explains the attraction with a simple calculation: "This is a market that is worth £500m in the UK and the UK has about 5 per cent of the market. Globally it's worth £10bn to £15bn."

And so here they are, trying to establish a luxury brand at the start of what could be an extremely nasty downturn.

"We're watching it," says Giles. "There is no doubt the UK and Europe are going to have a hard time over the next year or so. But we are coming in from a low position. Even if the market is contracting, that shouldn't affect us because we're small and new and can grab an increasing share. There is great potential and we have had a lot of enthusiasm from places like Asia and the US."

They hope Bremont will be known globally before long. The watches are big and blokey – ideal timepieces for old-school pilots. They are fully mechanical – the clockwork ingeniosly fuelled by the kinetic energy generated by the wearer when he moves his wrist – and they are pricey, with the cheapest of them selling at just under £2,000.

Ultimately, the brothers hope to produce up to 5,000 a year and have plans to transfer their Swiss workshops to the UK to solidify the new "British" watch concept.

So why the name Bremont? There lies a story of coincidence and shared passions. Undaunted by the crash that killed their father, the brothers were flying over France when they were forced into an emergency landing in a farmer's field.

"The local farmer helped us get our plane into a barn and we stayed a while with him because the weather was awful," says Nick. "He was a real fan of clocks and timepieces and had rooms full of them." His name? Monsieur Bremont.

With serendipity like that, they might just be able to pull this one off.

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