The History of Aviation Watches

Britain's past as a manufacturing base for pilot's watches has always been an important inspiration for Bremont Co-Founders Nick and Giles English since it's inception in 2002.

Although the earliest wristwatches were made for women during the 19th century (the first notable record of men wearing them dates back to 1880 when Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany ordered 2,000 for issue to the officers of his mighty navy), it is generally agreed that the wrist watch truly 'took off' thanks to pioneer aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont. 

The Brazilian-born pilot was a close friend of jeweller Louis Cartier and, so the story goes, complained to him about the difficulties of having to use a pocket watch at the controls of his aircraft - so, in 1904, Cartier presented him with a watch designed specifically for wearing on the wrist while flying. Seven years later, it went on public sale as the 'Santos’.

By then Santos-Dumont's regular appearances at flying events had resulted in a 'wrist watch' being regarded as an essential piece of operational equipment by many of his fellow pilots, especially as rapid advances in design were enabling aircraft to travel further, faster and for longer – thus necessitating a convenient timing device that could be used for making speed, distance and fuel calculations. 

Indeed, Louis Bleriot is said to have worn a wristwatch in July 1909 when he made the first-ever powered flight across the English Channel. Subsequently the first wrist chronograph was developed around 1915, an invention that was quickly adopted by First World War pilots. 

U.S. Navy captain Philip Van Horn Weems, meanwhile, later devised an independently adjustable seconds ring which enabled pilots to precisely synchronise their watch with a radio time signal without stopping the sweep seconds hand - thus eliminating a potential margin of error that could send them off course by miles. After making his celebrated Trans Atlantic flight in 1927, aviator Charles Lindbergh worked with Weems to develop the Hour Angle system which also enables the determination of longitude.

It was during World War Two, however, that the production of dedicated pilot watches really accelerated, with makers in America, Germany, France and Switzerland gearing-up to produce accurate, often large-cased watches, chronographs and bomb timers that were the true forerunners of today's 'tool' watches.

The design of the new Bremont Airco range has been inspired by the pilot's watches of World War Two.

Britain, too, played a significant role in the development of the wartime pilot's watch, notably through the Cheltenham-based Smith's firm which, during the early 1940s, was making more than 1,000 wrist chronographs a week for supply to the military.

It was Britain's past as a manufacturing base for pilot’s watches, combined with a passion for flying and for aircraft that was instilled in them from an early age, that inspired brothers Nick and Giles English to continue the heritage by establishing Bremont in 2002 with the intention that, first and foremost, it should be recognised as a watch brand with aviation at its core.

As a result, the first Bremont offering comprised a three model line-up of pilot chronographs which has since been followed by numerous designs linked to aircraft and to the act of flying, such as the Spitfire-based EP120 and Mustang based P51 limited editions; the MBI and MBII models made in conjunction with U.K. ejection seat manufacturer Martin-Baker; the Wright Flyer limited editions containing actual wing fabric from the Wright Brother's historic ‘plane and other models made in conjunction with the Boeing aircraft company.

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