Every traditional and long standing industry has its upstarts, those who forge their own path to heights and praise that is seldom achieved quickly and done in an environment that sees more brands flash and burn than it does succeed. The world of exotic cars has Pagani, Koenigsegg, and Noble who flaunt their youth at the kingdoms of speed built by Bugatti, Ferrari, and Mercedes Benz. The same comparisons, albeit with different timelines, can be drawn in fashion, sports, technology and even watchmaking.
The luxury sport watch range (conservatively $2500 – $25,000) is one of the most difficult segments within which a new brand could to attempt to build its credibility. The competition is exceeding fierce and includes perennial favorites and horological icons from Rolex, IWC, Omega, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Panerai, Hublot and even some watches from elite manufactures like Audemars Piguet. If watchmaking were more sporting, this would be the big leagues where only those willing to innovate and play at the highest possible level will garner any attention at all. One of the few young brands jostling for just some of that spotlight is the British brand Bremont which formed in 2002 under the direction of Nick and Giles English. Their appreciation for fine craftsmanship, top notch design and an understanding that this unforgiving market meant they didn’t actually have a watch to show until 2007. Bremont is a brand deeply rooted in the English brothers love and fascination for military aircraft. They quickly carved out a reputation for making high quality military inspired watches that melded Swiss technical prowess with a distinctly British flair. In 2009 Bremont released their first dive watch, the S500 Supermarine. The Supermarine is a beautiful dive watch with classic styling cues that, for only a brief a moment, mask the considerable amount of research and technology that is represented in its design and execution as Bremont’s first dive watch.
- 43 x 16 mm hardened steel case
- 50.5 mm Lug to lug
- Sapphire crystal with dual-sided 9 layer anti-reflective treatment
- Fully luminous sapphire unidirectional bezel
- Bremont BE-36AE Automatic movement (COSC)
- Proprietary Faraday cage and anti-shock system
- Day/date display
- 500m water resistant
- Automatic helium escape valve
- Screw-in case back
- Available in blue, silver, black, black/green
- $5150 ($5600 with bracelet)
Bremont’s brand statement is “Tested Beyond Endurance” and the Supermarine features a series of specialized systems that should make it one of the toughest and most reliable divers on the market today not to mention one of the most advanced sport watches in its class. While that brand statement may seem like a nice footer for business cards and power point presentations, Bremont takes these words as more of a mission statement than marketing buzz words.
The Supermarine is named after the famed British aircraft manufacturer that made the Spitfire fighter plane which was flown in the World War II and the S6-B which can be seen on the case back of the S500 Supermarine. The case design its self is one of Bremont’s biggest achievements. The Trip-Tick case features a three piece design (see expanded diagram in gallery below) which incorporates an upper hardened steel frame and lug chassis, a central DLC treated stainless steel barrel and a screw down case back. From a design standpoint this allows the lugs to carry a more sculpted, downward curve resulting in a more comfortable and slimmer feel than the S500’s 16mm height might suggest. The steel used in Bremont’s watches is heat treated in Britain to harden its composition using a similar process to that which hardens jet turbine blades. The end result is a hardness rating of 2000 vickers (HV) which is some nine times harder than conventional 316L steel used in most watches. Rolex uses 904L stainless steel which is only rated to ~490 HV and Sinn makes some watches out of Tegimented submarine steel which has an outer layer rated to 1200 HV. A hardness rating of 2000 HV literally brings the hardness of the Supermarine’s case into the same range as a quality sapphire crystal, so while the Supermarine is not scratch proof it is going to fight the signs of use better than most watches including all of it competitors.
The crown is located at two o’clock on the Bremont Supermarine and the right side of the case also features a gorgeous crown guard that is essentially a design element that raises the outer edge of the case to protect the screw down crown from direct impacts. Please take a moment to view the included photos as this is both a clever solution compared to conventional crown guards and suits the style of the S500 flawlessly. The left side of the case features an integrated automatic helium escape valve for saturation diving. While the HEV will not be used by the majority of Supermarine buyers, it is a technical benchmark seen on most luxury dive watches produced today. Technical benchmarks aside, the Supermarine has definitely been made for diving and in testing nearly tripled its 500 meter water resistance rating. Bremont does not take your attention for granted and has gone to great lengths (or depths) to make a watch that will keep up as well on a dive as it will to dinner that evening.
One of the few elements that is instantly noticeable on a high quality watch is the crystal. Budget watches use mineral glass while pricier options employ synthetic sapphire that can vary in clarity and hardness. In the luxury range the sapphire should be almost invisible under normal use and be as hard as possible (1800+ HV). Bremont takes their crystals very seriously, believing that the crystal should be protective but other wise unobtrusive and not distract or distort the view of the dial. The S500 Supermarine features a slightly domed sapphire crystal with nine layers of anti-reflective coating on each side. The crystal does not distort the dial nor does it exhibit much of the blue flaring that is seen on many crystals with anti-reflective coatings. The Bremont’s sapphire crystal carries the same hardness rating as the case so it is quite unlikely you will scratch or superficially damage the crystal in any way. On wrist the crystal seems to disappears and leaves you to enjoy the beautiful details of the dial.
The dial, including the hand set, is likely what will first draw buyers to the Supermarine. The design of the dial matches beautifully with the overall styling of the Supermarine which is classic without being faux-vintage or feeling outdated. The rich black of the dial is contrasted well by the slightly off white luminous paint used on the markers and hands. The twin aperture day/date window border is nicely finished and the white text on a black background is easily legible. Bremont has not cluttered the dial with paragraphs of text or busy logos. Instead, the S500 carries the Bremont name and minimalist logo, its own name, and its water resistance. The center of the dial is largely devoted to a gorgeous striped pattern bordered by a circular design similar to railway tracks. The striped pattern looks engraved like a counter-relief, not painted or applied to the surface but rather part of the dial and very much three dimensional. It is excellent in every way, and gives the S500 a unique aesthetic which dresses up an otherwise simple dial. Lastly, the hands are an attractive design that also aids legibility and accuracy as they are long enough to fully reach their designated scale. The “lolly pop” hour hand is a somewhat divisive style but one that I think is lovely and makes the Supermarine instantly recognizable among steel clad, black dial divers much of the world is wearing. The dial, applied markers and beautiful hands make for a very legible design that is as functional as it is attractive. If you want something with more color than the model shown here (the S500/BK) there are also options with blue (S500/BL) or silver dials (S500/SI) or a bezel with a cool green twenty minute scale (S500/BK-GN). Lastly, Bremont released the Supermarine Descent LE which boasts a complete DLC coating and a black/green bezel for a more stealthy look.
Most dive watches have unidirectional counter-clockwise rotating bezels that are used to time different aspects of a dive ranging from total dive time to decompression times. The bezel on the Bremont Supermarine is a 120 click unidirectional bezel that features a sapphire insert which sits above a minute scale that has been treated with luminous paint. The markings on the bezel charge via available light just like the hands and markers on the dial and the end result is as much fun as it is practical (see photos and video). The sapphire insert shares the same 2000 HV hardness rating as the domed sapphire crystal and should have no problems warding away the scratches and markings from normal use. The edge of the bezel is notched for grip and works well with wet or dry hands. The action of the bezel is positive and it does not exhibit any wobble or tendency to “swim” between each click. The S500’s bezel is high quality, easy to use and should be more than tough enough for even a sporting owner.
The internal elements of the case are just as advanced as its exterior. The entire movement and its anti-shock system is housed inside a Faraday cage to protect the movement from magnetism. Inside the anti-magnetic casing is a proprietary anti-shock system that incorporates a rubberized movement mount that keeps the movement “floating” and confined to minute tolerances as opposed to being clamped to the case its self. Bremont developed this anti-shock system in co-operation with Martin Baker, the company responsible for manufacturing 70% of the worlds ejector seats for over ninety air forces world wide. The Bremont MB series was developed to be able to withstand the use of an ejector seat which subjects the timepiece and all of its internals (not to mention the pilot) to over 30Gs worth of force. Bremont’s research subjected the test units to 40 years worth of vibration, and additional tests for shock, magnetic interference, corrosion and climate tests. All watches in this market are tested extensively but few are put through the kinds of field testing that Bremont subjects their watches to while they advance through development stages.
Underneath all of this hardened steel, sapphire and layer upon layer of luminous paint is of course the S500’s movement. The Supermarine is powered by Bremont’s BE-36AE which is a modified ETA 2836 Swiss automatic movement with a 36 hour power reserve. The BE-36AE boasts 25 jewels, a glucydur balance, an anachron balance spring and a nivaflex 1 mainspring. All of Bremont’s watches are certified COSC chronometers and come fitted with a custom Bremont rotor. The movement cannot be seen on the Supermarine as it uses a solid stainless steel case back. The model provided on loan from Bremont ran a steady -1s per day on wrist and held a +3 average time on a winder, this variance is well within COSC timing and we think it simply suggests the Supermarine prefers a spot on your wrist over a spot in your watch case.
In person the Bremont Supermarine really shines, if you have not experienced a luxury watch on your wrist they have a distinctively different feel and visual appeal when compared to entry level options. The case design on the Supermarine (and indeed all Bremont watches) is outstanding, even in their price range. The lugs are drawn from the top section of the case and curve downward with a very unique shape. The mix of brushed and polished sections on the lugs is excellent and the shape of the case is unlike anything I have reviewed.
In addition to their visual quality, the short downward shaped lugs make for a very practical lug to lug distance of just over 50mm. The Supermarine feels and looks 43mm wide and I think that is a perfect size for this watch. The case wears closer to 12mm or 13mm thick and was not prone to catch door frames, table tops or edges any more than a thinner watch would. When on wrist the Bremont comes into its own, its comfortable case is mounted to a soft but sturdy rubber strap that features a low profile buckle that hugs the edges of the rubber and reduces the buckles tendency to catch on sleeves or deep pockets.
With such a solid feature set and attractive design you’re likely not expecting the Supermarine to be cheap, and it isn’t. The Supermarine on a rubber strap carries an MSRP of $5150. The Supermarine battles directly against models from Omega, Breitling and IWC. At the $5000 price point, the Bremont is expensive but not overpriced. Most options from Omega, Breitling and IWC use modified ETA calibers but cannot match the S500’s exclusive case design, anti-shock system or low production volume. The most obvious competition is the IWC Aquatimer with its modified eta movement, illuminated sapphire bezel, and a matched list price of $5200 USD. I think the Bremont has the IWC outmatched in many crucial ways. Yes, the IWC is a more well known brand with more history than the Bremont but as a watch you’re actually going to spend your own money on, the Bremont is simply better value and for my money, a better looking watch. The Supermarine features a more advanced and robust case design and composition, it will be more exclusive than the IWC, and (for the time being) you will pay less for the Bremont brand name.
In all reality, most buyers choosing a watch solely on its brand name will overlook IWC or Bremont for Rolex, Omega or even Tag Heuer. Bremont is still a young brand that is proving its self on a watch-by-watch basis which means you are getting a different pricing structure than you will with a Swiss marque where the brand alone commands a price point regardless of the features or technology showcased by the watch. Bremont is commanding its price point with excellent and attractive designs that are backed by a relentless testing process and company leadership that places craftsmanship, quality and longevity above all else. While there are not a lot of distinctively British watch manufacturers there is a rich history in the UK concerning engineering, technology and design which can be seen in world class projects like the Concorde, the McLaren F1, the Millau Viaduct, and even planes like the Supermarine Spitfire and the S.6B. All of these endeavours were upstarts in their own way, challenging the status of their industry by boasting cutting edge technology, game changing design and raising the bar for the competition. The Supermarine is a beautiful, well made and thoughtfully designed watch that shows there is room for yet another serious contender in the luxury dive watch segment.