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The British are Coming

Elizabeth Doerr
From the Print Edition:
Saturday Night Live: How it Shapes Our Politics & Culture, September/October 2011

It’s seldom remembered in this age of Swiss dominance, but quality watchmaking was once the purview of the English. The art of fine horology was actually once cornered by the British Isles’ scientific thinkers who needed accurate timepieces to solve the weighty problems of navigation and astronomy, long before this know-how ever transferred to Switzerland via France. Now a spate of English-inspired wristwatches celebrates that heritage.

George Graham (1673-1751) and John Arnold (1736-1799) were two of the leading watchmakers of their day, inventing groundbreaking improvements for pocket watches. Graham also worked on chronograph technology, which is why the modern company bearing his name concentrates on this wristwatch style. Arnold specialized in marine chronometers. Both names were resuscitated in the 1990s by a joint venture spearheaded by a Swiss businessman, with the two brands bundled under the name The British Masters. The brands have meanwhile been split, though both are still manufactured in Switzerland.

Arnold’s new HMS1 represents a real return to classic style. Available in a moderately sized 40-mm rose-gold ($18,603-$18,855) or stainless-steel ($12,300-$12,550) case, it is outfitted with Arnold’s own manually wound caliber, which boasts 80 hours of power reserve.

Graham’s penchant for oversized chronographs with visually dominant buttons and crowns continues in the Chronofighter Fortress. Its style harks to fighter pilots of the 1940s, who wore pocket watches strapped to their thighs for greater legibility and easier maneuvering. Retailing for $8,025, its vintage look is offset by a modern 43-mm stainless-steel case and an automatic chronograph movement.

In stark contrast to Graham and Arnold, Bremont cannot rely on the assurance of quality that a grand old name inherently brings to the customer. Therefore, the aptly named founding brothers—Nick and Niles English, professional aviators who christened their brand in honor of a Good Samaritan—have made darn sure that their watches are outfitted with everything a British luxury watch should have, and more. In fact, nine-year-old Bremont even won the Walpole Award for Best Emerging British Luxury Brand at the 2008 Walpole Awards for British excellence.

The brothers’ most recent release is once again a pilot’s watch: the P-51 is housed in a 43-mm stainless-steel case crafted from a specially hardened steel. While the automatic movement is Swiss, the watch is assembled in Bremont’s workshop in England. Released in a limited edition of 251 pieces that will be available at the end of October, it retails for $11,950. Its rotor, handcrafted from aluminum and original parts of the famous 1944 Mustang WWII aircraft P-51K-10—only visible through the sapphire crystal case back when you turn the watch over—is particularly cool: it resembles the aircraft’s propeller.

Visit arnoldandson.com, graham-london.com. and bremont.com.

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