Shaper: Nick English

Show aired on 17th February 2018

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Dr John with The Right Place And The Wrong Time. Good morning, it’s me, Elliot Moss here on Jazz FM and it’s Jazz Shapers, it is the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul, and right alongside them we bring someone who is shaping the world of business, we call the Business Shapers. I am super pleased to say that my Business Shaper today is Nick English. Nick is the co-founder of a beautiful watch brand called Bremont and you are going to be hearing all about his story, and a pretty fascinating one it is too. In addition to hearing from Nick you will also be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya, some words of advice for your business and then of course we’ve got a brilliant mix of music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul; Eliane Elias is in there, the one and only Quincy Jones is too and so is this from Charles Turner.

That was Charles Turner, lovely it was too, When You Are In Love. Nick English is my Business Shaper today here on Jazz Shapers. As I said earlier, he is the co-founder of the watch brand called Bremont and he founded it with his brother. His brother isn’t here…

Nick English
He’s not.

Elliot Moss
… but just one of you. No. But I think one is enough.

Nick English
Elliot, very good to see you. No, he’s not here, just myself I am afraid.

Elliot Moss
Lovely, lovely to meet you. You’re, it’s a really interesting story around where these watches come from, their origin in a way and their inspiration. Tell me a little bit about why you set this business up all those years ago?

Nick English
That’s a very good question. I mean, I think it, most of it came down from inspiration passed down to me from our father. I think so many of us are influenced by our parents obviously. Our father was an incredible engineer, aeronautical engineer, spent all his time in the workshop and as a sort of babysitting my father dumped us in there and we, you know, we had a tremendous childhood making things, sort of restoring planes that we still fly, car, old motorbikes and clocks are one of those things he was passionate about and there is this amazing sort of history of British watchmaking which he would sort of talk about and that’s when it really, really started. So, and when he wasn’t in the workshop making whatever he was making at the time he would be off flying so it was a sort fusion of a few things in our upbringing really.

Elliot Moss
And this business was set up sixteen years ago but, is that correct 2002?

Nick English
Yes, correct, no it was.

Elliot Moss
A long time ago but I believe that the first watch wasn’t actually available for a few years. Is that true as well?

Nick English
This is very true. You know, the worst thing we did was we told our wives at the time it will take a year and a half to make the first watch, so 2002 we trundled off at the time literally with a blank sheet of paper saying, you know, how we are going to do this and we set up a little workshop in Bienne in Switzerland. But it was a year and a half was the initial plan but, you know, these things take, you can’t release something which is less than perfect and so by the time we were ready it was indeed 2007 when the first watch, and so it officially came to market.

Elliot Moss
And jumping forward to now, how many different watches does Bremont produce, roughly?

Nick English
That’s a far too difficult question.

Elliot Moss
I know but only roughly. I’ll give you the rein.

Nick English
I think, I believe there’s a sort of hundred or so different skews or different varieties but I think if you go to a retailer, you know, if you go to, I don’t know, Watches Switzerland or Selfridges you would probably see 35-odd in a stand, I think more than that it becomes slightly confusing, there is too much choice, so, but there are obviously more on the website if you go there.

Elliot Moss
And there are lots, and these are not the cheapest watches in the world, these are the sorts of, one would call them luxury items, I guess. Is that fair?

Nick English
Yeah, I mean, luxury is an interesting word in itself but, I mean, there is an incredible lot of time and effort goes into them, we only make mechanical watches so they are all beautifully engineered, engineered product is what we, you know, strive for and it’s not based around fashion it’s all about producing a watch which was something that you, you know any good watchmaker could take the back off without knowing which brand it was and go ‘actually this is beautifully made’ and that’s what sort of we’ve always sort of been a mission for us.

Elliot Moss
We’re going to talk a lot more about what makes a watch beautifully made and what goes into it and that’s going to be coming up in a little bit with Nick English, my Business Shaper and co-founder of Bremont and we are also going to talk about the name because it’s a good story around that as well. Time for some more music though right now, this is Oye Como Va from Eliane Elias.

Eliane Elias with Oye Como Va. I am talking to Nick English today, co-founder of the Bremont Watch Company. Sounds great doesn’t it, ‘The Bremont Watch Company’, it needs to be up there, we need to put some big lights up as well and they can flash. Set up in 2002, as I said, as you’ve said there is more than a hundred watches, there is quite a few of them and I have been to the website, I might be interested in one in particular, they are amazing. Tell me a little bit about the name as well because obviously your surname is English and Bremont doesn’t sound very English at all to me.

Nick English
So, when we started Giles and I had a sort of belief that we didn’t want to buy a watch brand and sort of reinvigorate it, a lot of that happens in the industry where you are trading in a history which isn’t particularly yours and many of these brands have been dormant and then come back to life over the last twenty or so years and what Bremont is passionate about is about producing these watches in the UK so we have our own manufacturing facilities and training schemes and everything else over here and so the obvious thing to have done when we started was, I suppose, buy an old watch brand, there are some incredible masters out there, the Harrisons, the Mudges, the Tompions, the Grahams, there are some amazing guys out there but it’s not a history and what we wanted from day one is Bremont very much to stand on its own two feet and as you correctly pointed out our surname is English and having a British watch brand called English would have, I think the irony would have been missed on a lot of people around the world and also quite hard to trademark so it actually came down to a flying trip, there is a big sort of flying DNA in our family and my brother and I are flying an old sort of vintage aeroplane down through France, this is in the nineties or late nineties, and we had a precautionary landing, in inverted commas, and we landed in a French field and if you land in a field in America or England you buy the farmer a bottle of whiskey and take his wife for a flight and everything is very easy, in France it’s illegal, well it’s very bureaucratic, the aeroplane gets impounded and it gets very, very expensive. So, we landed in this field and the chap who came to help us, because admittedly we had been flying in weather which we probably shouldn’t of so it was pouring with rain, and we ended up pushing the aeroplane into this barn and we ended up staying two or three days with him because the weather was still so bad and our father had died a couple of years earlier and had our father lived for another thirty years this was this guy, it was, he was into exactly the same things as our father and what a wonderful guy, into his mechanical things, used to, you know, fly himself and his name was Anton Bremont so when it came to naming the watch brand, which actually we didn’t do for the first three or four years of having started Bremont, because it didn’t really mean that much to us to begin with and it was all about getting the product right and the name was sort of secondary, Bremont came up and that’s what we ended up using, so it’s very much Giles and I and our father in that but it’s a name which we felt was right.

Elliot Moss
I am assuming you asked him as well if it was okay?

Nick English
Sadly, he is no longer with us, he was 78 years old when we met him but…

Elliot Moss
I am sure he would have said yes.

Nick English
Exactly, I am sure he would have been very, very good about it.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for much more from my Business Shaper, Nick English, and we are going to get into how someone who hasn’t made watches for a business, as a profession, is actually able to go and do it and create this, I am really interested to find out more about that. That’s coming up very shortly but before that we have got some words of wisdom, I hope, from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya, for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss, every Saturday, I am very lucky I get to meet someone who is shaping the world of business, someone who is making an impact, doing something that we all wished we could have done, or at least that’s how I feel and that’s why I enjoy meeting all these people so much every week. If you have missed any of the programmes go into iTunes put in the words ‘Jazz’ and ‘Shapers’ or if you are flying with British Airways in the near future you can also find us on BA Highlife and talking of flying, Nick English is my Business Shaper today and he is the co-founder of the Bremont. The watch company, Bremont Watch Company and if you had been listening earlier you would have heard that his family and he are very, very involved in and love the world of flying and that indeed has informed a lot of the way that the watches have been designed. Can I ask you a question about this, so obviously you made stuff, your Dad made stuff, you came, you talked about that and I can envisage and see you there with your brother sitting there probably at the age of three months, not sitting but lying back, watching Dad doing things. That’s very different to making a business out of building watches when you haven’t been a professional watchmaker. Just tell me a little bit about that hump that you had to get over where there was the passion and there was the desire but actually converting that into a real business that really does pay people salaries, that really does give you a going concern. Tell me about those first few years.

Nick English
I think with any business it’s all, if you can get the product right obviously the rest is almost easy in comparison and we came from an engineering background, before Bremont we were restoring, you know, historic aircraft and we always had that love of all things mechanical, something beautifully engineered, something which if it was well made it should last, you know, a hundred, two hundred, three hundred years which is what’s so special about a mechanical watch, if you look after it and service it every sort of four or five years there is no reason why that won’t be around for literally centuries and many watches are. So from day one getting the product right was obviously paramount. We talked about earlier on, taking five years rather than two years to get to the stage where we were willing to release the product and that was because we were, you know, absolutely fastidious when it came to how this watch would be designed, how it would look but also how it would work. So we decided very early on we were only going to make chronometers which is the sort of the highest echelon of timekeeping in watches and as I have said they were only going to be mechanical but they were something which any good engineer or watchmaker would look at and go ‘I love this’ so it did take time and you, you know, you have mistakes, that’s why it took so much longer than we thought, you know, instead of getting there in two years and saying we are ready to release it you will change the smallest thing but that smallest thing may take six months to turn around so, you know, it’s a long process, you can’t go into this for the short-term that’s for sure.

Elliot Moss
And very briefly, the relationship between you and Giles, he’s your brother and you know siblings, everyone has relationships with their siblings and they vary. How does it work in a work environment? Are you able to distinguish? Does it matter that you don’t? Is it just a conversation, you know, obviously Sunday lunch and families are together do you inevitably talk about work?

Nick English
Well, first of all, you know, he is an amazing photocopier, floor sweeper and general admin…

Elliot Moss
The younger brother.

Nick English
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, he’s, he has a bit of use but no, do you know it’s very hard not to talk about work, that’s the hardest thing is you live and breathe it obviously and I’d say we are quite similar in outlook, we both have the love of the same product, product design is so easy because we both like the same thing, you can’t design by committee, we know we are not going to appeal to everyone but that’s not the point, we’re, we have a certain ethos, a certain look and feel that we like and that’s Bremont. So, in that respect it’s very easy with Giles and we duplicate quite a lot of things which is good because, you know, he can go off and do the same thing in Asia as I am doing in America and vice versa so it’s quite handy having a double, effectively, and of course we do need that photocopying done as well.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for the boss of the photocopier, that’s Nick English, Giles’ brother and also the co-founder of the Bremont Watch Company. Time for some more music, Quincy Jones with Betcha’ Wouldn’t Hurt Me.

That was Quincy Jones with Betcha’ Wouldn’t Hurt Me. Nick English has been talking to me about the Bremont Watch Company, about useful photocopiers, he is going to have a problem with this obviously, you do know that you are setting up a fight with your brother.

Nick English
He’s very good at it, he’s very good at it.

Elliot Moss
Do you ever argue, actually, on a serious point?

Nick English
Do we argue?

Elliot Moss
And if you do, how do you resolve it?

Nick English
No, we don’t, you know we don’t really which is to a lot of people’s amazement. You have, no we don’t. We all sit down and obviously we will have a difference of opinion sometimes but you very quickly resolve it and we are not ones to sort of stew over anything so I think we are just a sibling partnership that seems to work and which is obviously a good thing for us.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of the team, there’s around a hundred people that work in the business, is that right?

Nick English
Yeah, just over that.

Elliot Moss
And how many of them are in the same place because I imagine that some people are dotted around?

Nick English
We are in a few different countries but the main two areas are close to Henley, Henley-on-Thames so you will have a, I guest the HQ is where all the watches, or two-thirds of the watches are put together and that’s where you will see rows of people in their white coats, people being taught, apprenticeships, to put these watches together, and then we have another facility workshop which is about, I don’t know, ten/fifteen minutes away which is where you will literally see a bar of metal going in and watch parts coming out, engineered watch parts, which is probably the first time that’s happened in this country for fifty/sixty years and then we also have watchmaking there as well.

Elliot Moss
I was going to say about that, the British manufacturing, I mean I had your friend Will Butler-Adams on the programme a while ago talking about…

Nick English
He’s great, he’s amazing.

Elliot Moss
…and his is another British manufacturing success story. You are very keen to make your watches in Britain, is that what your plan is for the foreseeable future?

Nick English
Oh, it’s everything we are about. So back in 2010 or so we brought back all the assembly for watches and from 2010 to now we have been working very hard in the manufacturing of the components as well and it takes time, it takes, you know, it’s not cheap, it’s not the easiest but once you have mastered it, and particularly a component, you know it’s a breath of fresh air. You know we are buying bars of metal we’re not waiting for a supplier to mess up and as I was mentioning earlier this is incredible history of British watchmaking, if you go back a hundred years 60% of the world’s watches, luxury watches came from British shores, you know, first ships chronometer, John Harrison 1730’s led to sort of the expansion of British Empire with navigation at sea, you’ve got probably 60/70% of the innovation mechanical watch came from this country as well so there is this amazing history and it also it’s a great differentiator between us and the seven hundred or eight hundred sort of Swiss watch brands out there, and I think when you talk to anyone from Bremont you will see that passion about what we are about, what we are trying to achieve and, you know, it’s quite special.

Elliot Moss
Without sounding too lofty about it, do you see it as an important position that you take anyway or are you doing it because you are being respectful of the history and because you really believe that this is the place where brilliant watches should be made?

Nick English
A bit of both actually. I think once you, once you’ve started making things yourself, we find it easier as a business to grow, you have far more control, you have control over supply chain which is very, very important, you have control over quality, you have control over a number of things which you don’t have when you are dependent on another supplier. So a big part of is that in terms of we needed to do it to grow the way we wanted to but also, you know, we have a huge respect as I said, for what people have done in this country in the past and it, you know two world wars knocked us out, you know, if you could build a movement part for a watch you can build a firing pin for an Enfield rifle and, you know, unfortunately went through two world wars and it was a sort of battle for survival and that’s what we spent our, you know, manufacturing skill set doing in this country so to try and bring that back is something, yeah, which is quite special.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for my final chat with Nick plus we will be playing a track from Liz Wright, that’s in just a moment.

That was Liz Wright with What Would I Do Without You from her 2017 album Grace. Nick English is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes. Nick, we’ve talked about lots of stuff; the team, and the distinction between you and Giles, in a word, an adjective, how would they describe you and how would they describe your brother?

Nick English
Ooh, that’s quite a, that’s quite a hard one. Clearly is a…

Elliot Moss
He’s going to be mean and I can see it, it’s written all over your face and I just…

Nick English
I think it clearly is. I would say Giles is probably, he gets his business hat on, he is probably slightly more serious, is that fair? Is that slightly more serious in terms of business chat and he loves his stats, he loves his stats.

Elliot Moss
So he’s statto and you’re?

Nick English
He’s statto. I probably get involved with a bit more of a creative side, probably, I mean that’s how it sort of worked but then Giles is, you know, the thing about this business is, it’s a really difficult business because you’ve got to be, you’re an engineering company, you are a manufacturer, you are a retailer, we have our own stores around the world, you are a wholesaler, you sell through other stores, you are a marketing company as well because obviously if you don’t market yourself nobody, you can be the best product in the world but if people haven’t heard of you, and we have to be involved with all these parts so Giles and I actually could, you know theoretically, fit into any of these parts and we have to, we enjoy the marketing it’s a great part, it’s a fun part of the business, we both the love product. I think naturally, you know, Giles likes, he likes to get into his statistic actually which is good, which I think one of us has to which is good.

Elliot Moss
And the, the happiness of your team obviously really important and you do interesting things, I am assuming it’s important, I know that you have a charitable side to the business, you are interested in all sorts of different things.

Nick English
Yep, yep.

Elliot Moss
What is that you think keeps your team motivated, is it the sense they are creating literally one of the best watches in the world, is there something beyond that?

Nick English
Do you know, I think that doing what we are doing in this country certainly is a great glue between everyone and you see, you only have to walk into one of the workshops and you will see the passion they have, ‘Look Nick, we’ve just made this part and we never thought we could do this, this is amazing’, that’s really special. But then you look at, you go and talk to our military team, you know, 25% of our business is military around the world dealing with some incredible squadrons and regiments and things and it is very humbling, the people you are working for, you know, we are sponsors for the Invictus Games, we’ve done a lot with the likes of Walking the Wounded, RAF Association, these injured servicemen, there isn’t a dry eye in the house when they come in to talk to you, people with PTSD. You are meeting some amazing people daily and I think that is genuinely, and then the ventures we work with, you know, the Ben Saunders who has just, you know, gone to the South Pole or the Leo Houldings or the, you know, there’s some amazing people there on a daily basis, it’s a very interesting industry in that respect that you are confronted with amazing people on a daily basis.

Elliot Moss
But talking of amazing people, I mean you, you know, you lost your father in an accident which was many, many years ago, twenty or so years ago now, you were very badly injured in this accident, it was in a plane, you obviously have huge amounts of resilience both physical and emotional because you are talking about these amazing people but that’s a pretty extraordinary thing, not just to cope and not just to get over, but to then use as the platform and the springboard to do something pretty special.

Nick English
Do you know, that’s very sweet, but I think it was, is, certainly a tipping point in Giles’ and my life because it affected us both quite significantly. I was smashed up I, you know, broke thirty odd bones and I was in hospital for a long time but Giles was there trying to pick up the pieces with the family and he was, you know, he was twenty years old at the time so he was very, very young, and it is very, very bonding and I think our father who died at forty nine years old in the same field, he, there is so much more, he achieved so much in a short period of time and he would have achieved so much more as well and you suddenly come out with thinking, you know, ‘Life is so incredibly short’ and that’s probably why we have thrown caution to the wind in so many cases and gone off and bought a big machine to do something because you just think, actually, you know, why not which is good and bad I suppose but it’s certainly something that’s driven the brand forward to this stage.

Elliot Moss
Well listen, it’s going to carry on driving the brand because you guys are in charge and it looks like you have only just got started.

Nick English
I am in charge, don’t bring my brother into this.

Elliot Moss
Poor Giles, you’re in so much trouble, Nick. Just before I let you go, and it has been a real pleasure talking to you, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Nick English
Okay, well the song is Rock This Town by the Brian Setzer Orchestra and the reason I chose this is Giles and I grew up, since we were in our teens probably fifteen/sixteen, we’ve been a really bad sort of rockabilly blues band and our whole repertoire actually hasn’t improved at all over twenty/thirty years but it’s huge fun and our idol for many, many years is this incredible jazz guitarist called Brian Setzer so this is him playing with his Big Band and it’s an amazing tune, it’s a lovely fusion between all these types of music so hopefully it fits in with the channel.

Elliot Moss
Here it is, just for you. Thank you.

That was Rock This Town from Brian Setzer Orchestra, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Nick English. Someone who absolutely understood the importance of getting the product right, as he said you can’t design by committee. Someone who is so passionate about what he does it just came through in everything he said and everything he felt and finally someone who is an advocate for British manufacturing, someone who is standing up for what we can do in this country and what we can do brilliantly well. Really, really good stuff. Do join me again next Saturday for another edition of Jazz Shapers. I do hope you have enjoyed today. Meanwhile stay with us here on Jazz FM because coming up next there is more brilliant jazz, soul and blues.

Nick English

Nick English, one half of the The Bremont Watch Company, was born and raised in Cambridge, and graduated with a First in Geography from Manchester University in 1993. During his teen years he spent many hours flying and displaying historic aircraft with his father Euan, and his brother and company co-founder, Giles.

Nick qualified as a Chartered Accountant with PriceWaterhouseCoopers in 1996, and then went on to work at a Corporate Finance boutique called Henry Ansbacher in the City. These years were interrupted by a horrific vintage plane crash which took place in 1995 whilst practicing for an air-display, in which his father, Euan, died and Nick broke over 25 bones. This was a tipping point in Nick and Giles’ lives. The brothers left the City in 1997 to restore and maintain historic aircraft in a business their father had set-up as a hobby.

It was in 2002 that the brothers decided to follow one of their main passions in life – mechanical watches. Fully appreciative of the role Great Britain had played in the evolution of horology over the centuries, they embarked on the bold decision to set up a workshop, and so The Bremont Watch Company was born. The watches, all of which are chronometers, took five years of development to get them to the stage where the brothers were happy, and it was in July 2007 when the first watches were sold in the UK. The watches are now sold all over the world through high-end jewellers and Bremont’s own boutiques. The brand has won numerous awards and prides itself on manufacturing the watches on British shores.

Follow Nick on Twitter @BremontNick.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“We had a tremendous childhood making things, restoring planes that we still fly, cars, old motorbikes and clocks and there is this amazing history of British watchmaking and that’s when it really, really started.”

“The worst thing we did was telling our wives at the time that it would take a year and a half to make the first watch. In 2002 we trundled off with a blank sheet of paper and we set up a little workshop in Bienne in Switzerland.”

“Luxury is an interesting word in itself but, I mean, there is an incredible amount of time and effort that goes into them. We only make mechanical watches so they are all beautifully engineered”

“My brother and I flew a vintage aeroplane down through France, this is in the nineties, and we had a precautionary landing, in inverted commas, in a French field. If you land in a field in America or England you buy the farmer a bottle of whiskey and take his wife for a flight, in France it’s illegal”

“Something which, if it was well made, should last, a hundred, two hundred, three hundred years which is what’s so special about a mechanical watch”

“We decided very early on we were only going to make chronometers which is the highest echelon of timekeeping in watches. They were only ever going to be mechanical but any good engineer or watchmaker would look and go ‘I love this.’”

“Internally and externally we work with great people so it makes a big, big difference.”

“60 – 70% of the innovation for mechanical watches came from this country, there is this amazing history and it’s a great differentiator between us and the seven hundred or eight hundred Swiss watch brands.”

“Life is so incredibly short, and that’s probably why we have thrown caution to the wind.”