As a watch enthusiast who’s also lucky enough to be a watch-industry insider, one tends to get blasé about meeting the legends of the trade – something that’s par for the course when it comes to doing the rounds at that annual extravaganza of all things horological, the Baselworld watch and jewellery trade fair. So, if you also happen to double as a hobbying petrolhead, it’s a real check-your-privilege moment to wander onto British brand Bremont’s stand and be greeted by the beaming grin and warmly extended hand of none other than Ian Callum.
The man is a legend in his own lifetime. Not only has Callum been attributed to the turnaround of an ailing British automotive icon as design director of Jaguar – from 2007’s XF saloon through to schoolboy poster du jour, the F-Type – but his draftsmanship at Aston Martin has proved so crucial that the heart-meltingly gorgeous lines of the DB9 not only remain core to James Bond’s preferred ride, but continue to influence car design from the Ford Fiesta to Ferrari.
Like a truly dedicated designer, ask him which car he’s most proud of, and his answer is frustrating but forgivable: “The next one!” However, that’s not to say he doesn’t have his pet projects. Which is where Jaguar’s C-X75 gas-hybrid concept car comes in – and James Bond again, too. Shelved in 2010 after being deemed too pricey (£1m to you, or thereabouts) it’s now being revived as the villain’s choice of car to pursue 007 and his DB10 during the superspy’s next cinematic outing, SPECTRE. (“Hopefully we’ll sell a few this time,” Callum notes wryly.)
C-X75 was the first time we saw Jaguar teaming up with Bremont, on a dashboard-mounted clock. And in the same year that the future-forward supercar gets another go, watch collectors are blessed with another hook-up between the British brands. This time, however, it concerns a dashboard resolutely stuck in the past: that of the E-Type. Or to be more specific, the Lightweight E-Type, whose truncated run of 18 cars in the Sixties is finally being completed, with Jaguar’s Heritage division hand-building the “missing” six (well over £1m to you, sir… if they weren’t all already sold).
“The Lightweight E-type project is so special,” says Callum, “that we thought we really needed to create something that complemented the cars. Since most classic enthusiasts also tend to be horophiles, a wristwatch seemed to be the answer.”
The genial Scotsman has always loved watches, and already loved Bremont as a paying customer, owning a Norton motorbikes special edition, “which I’ve worn relentlessly as I harbour very fond memories of Nortons and Bonnevilles from my younger days… and Lambretta, I’m ashamed to admit!”
For a watch brand founded by two pilot brothers, Giles and Nick English, more used to creating no-nonsense aviation watches than automotive “tribute” pieces, the resulting MKI model (£8,450) and MKII chronograph (£4,950) are blessedly beautiful things, free of gimmickry, yet touching on the E-Type rev-counter red zone, the old Jag’ logo and semi-circular dash numerals with just the right amount of rose-tinted nostalgia.
“It was lovely to work with other designers on this project – let alone Ian himself,” Giles English attests. “It forces you to think of things you wouldn’t normally consider; how do you put the red on the dial, are you pushing the relationship too far..?”
“Aye, yes,” Callum interjects in his soft Scottish burr, “It was quite brave of us to keep it so simple, actually! But the result is the perfect match I think.”
From Bremont’s very own high-performance mechanical engine ticking precisely inside, to the aeronautical-grade polished steel case, it’s difficult not to agree that in terms of British design and engineering, it’s a match made in high-octane heaven.