It’s a funny old place, England. Looking out of the window as I write this I can see Burford Priory. Built around 1580 in Jacobean style, it was rebuilt in the seventeenth century, left to fall down and then restored in the 1800s. It used to be home to a community of monks. If you look in the back garden of a house just a few yards away you’ll find an arch from around 1500 just next to where the current owners keep their bins. You can’t move without falling over a bit of medieval abbey. But drive a few miles down the road to Henley and you’ll find Bremont’s new HQ, The Wing, with as much hi-tech manufacturing capability as an F1 team (in fact they make bits for Williams F1). Head north and you’ll find the Cotswolds outpost of Bamford Watch Department, headed by George Bamford. England still has its history, but its watchmakers are looking far more to the future than the past. Now the two firms have got together to launch their first co-developed watch, the S500 Special Edition.
A word of advice before you read on too far. The last Bamford collab with Casio sold out in under a minute. OK, this one is a tad more than the price of the Casio (£3,995 versus £149) but we can’t see these hanging around.
There’s a typically idiosyncratic story about how the collaboration came apart, as told by George Bamford. “I have known Nick and Giles for a while now and we became firm friends when I was moving into my Mayfair ‘Hive’ office 7 years ago and they were parking a very cool Jaguar in a car park opposite. I always said we should do something together.”
The S500 – S for Supermarine – on which the collaboration is based has been around a while. Nick and Giles English, Bremont’s founders, sent it out into the world in 2009. The other half of the name comes from the watch’s water resistance rating – a submarine-embarrassing 500m (most subs are rated between 300-450m). In the real world, you’ll never even come close to that sort of depth even if you’re a commercial diver. But hey, it’s good to know you’ve got some margin for error. In other words, should you find yourself on the bottom of the English Channel, the water resistance rating of your watch won’t be a worry.
This is all down to the construction of the watch which, bluntly, is built as solidly as a hockey puck (or the watch crown-shaped door handle on Bamford’s Mayfair HQ). Bremont mill their own cases out of stainless steel bar in Henley, then protect them with DLC (diamond-like carbon) – the screw-in caseback too. This particular case comes in at 43mm diameter and a pretty reasonable (given you could use it as a Challenger tank engine mount) 16.5mm deep. In the case wall at 9 o’clock you’ll find the helium escape valve; handy if you fancy wearing the S500 for saturation diving and pub bragging rights even if you don’t.
As well as the He escape valve, you’ll spot the screwed-in crown guard at 2 o’clock. It’s there because that’s the least likely place you’ll bash the crown in the first place (in automotive terms, a bit of passive safety) but it’ll also reduce the chances of the crown digging into your wrist. The bezel is, as you’d expect on a serious diver, unidirectional. No fading inserts here either – this one’s scratch and light-resistant ceramic.
To add to the whole robust theme, inside the case is a floating rubber anti-shock mount that both holds the movement and absorbs knocks from the case. We’ve seen these in action on the MBII and they’ll take some serious abuse. It’s one of those designs that looks simple but actually took a great deal of thinking, time and testing to perfect. So not only is your S500 built like a hockey puck, you could probably use it as one too.
Now the dial is where things really get interesting – at least from a Bremont/Bamford collaboration angle. Bamford are known for DLC, that blue colour and doing things rather differently. So this is the first Bremont with a California dial (the mix of Roman and Arabic numerals). The black DLC works with the ‘California Blue’ Super-LumiNova on the arrow hands and the indexes, but you’ll spot there’s something different too. The dial is a sandwich dial – so the lume is trapped underneath a cut away top dial plate and shows through the openings. Often, the lume gets blobbed on the bottom plate only where it’ll show, but the Bamford/Bremont team have used a solid disc of luminous material. It adds depth and legibility to the dial as well as showing off the Cali numerals. By the way, if you can’t see this watch in the dark you should probably have a word with your optician; it would double as a torch. The dial sits under a domed anti-reflective, scratch resistant sapphire crystal.
The movement driving the whole thing is the automatic Bremont BE-36AE, evolved from the ETA 2836-2. Bremont do a significant amount of work on an already superb movement (these are all chronometer grade with Glucydur balances, Anachron balance springs and Nivaflex mainsprings) that you get the best of both worlds; a movement that’s easy to work on, will never run out of spare parts, but with a quality of its own. Practically, there’s 38 hours of power reserve, it beats at 28,000bph, and there are 26 jewelled bearings keeping things running smoothly. Following the hockey puck theme, the bridge has been modified by Bremont to increase its shock resistance.
The 22mm strap picks up the black and Cali Blue theme. It’s cut from black sailcloth with light blue stitching and the same colour lining on the rear face. The buckle is, like the case, as black as your hat.
So should you buy one? The question will probably be more a case of ‘will there be any left to snaffle? The run is limited to just 250 watches and, if previous Bamford collaborations are anything to go by, they’ll go rapidly. All credit to both Bamford and Bremont; the price of the Special Edition is around the same price as several of Bremont’s other S500s and cheaper than a good few.
Not much more than the standard watch. Bremont