Bremont’s new chief executive is in ebullient mood. “There is a real opportunity over the next 10 years to become one of the big players in watchmaking,” says Davide Cerrato, who joined the UK watch company in May. “But only if we take the proper strategic decisions and elevate the brand.”

Cerrato’s appointment to Britain’s largest maker of mechanical watches caught many in the industry off guard. The 53-year-old Italian watch industry veteran had only recently begun a rebuilding job as chief executive of the eccentric Swiss independent HYT, in which he had also invested. He left at the start of 2023, citing a lack of financial backing for his plans.

His first role in watches was with Panerai 20 years ago, but he came to prominence as head of marketing, design and product development at Tudor, where he was pivotal in the company’s hugely successful international relaunch in the early 2010s. Before HYT, he did a five-year stint as managing director of Montblanc’s watch division.

But, after relocating with his family to the UK, Cerrato has joined Bremont’s board and says his future is with the company. “In five years’ time, I will be opening a jeroboam of champagne because we made £60mn and 30,000 watches,” he predicts.

Getting there would involve almost tripling Bremont’s current revenues and annual watch production. In its most recent accounts, to the end of June 2022, the company’s annual revenue was £22.1mn. Cerrato says Bremont currently produces around 10,000 watches a year and that, while it was recruiting him, several projects were halted, meaning there will be no signs of growth when the company next reports.

However, his confidence could be more than wishful thinking. In January, Bremont announced that US private equity fund Hellcat Acquisitions and billionaire American hedge fund manager Bill Ackman had invested $59mn in the company.

“We have this capital to invest in the future of the brand and to scale up,” says Cerrato, who has visited Ackman in New York. “But there is no rush. The investors know watchmaking takes time and they also understand the potential in the brand.”

Cerrato has identified geographical expansion as key to growth, starting in the US. “We are really only in the UK,” he says. “How much can we do in the US? A lot. There is an opening there to non-Swiss brands and they like variety. There is no barrier.”

Bremont’s accounts indicate 72 per cent of the company’s turnover is in the UK and that the US is its second-largest market, with revenues of £4.2mn in 2022. It operates boutiques in New York and Los Angeles and has several wholesale partnerships, including with Watches of Switzerland’s US retail network. “We are assessing a number of multi-door wholesalers and looking for long-term partnerships,” explains Cerrato.

Bremont’s manufacturing centre, The Wing opened in 2021 in Henley-on-Thames © Bremont
Bremont currently produces around 10,000 watches a year © Bremont

Cerrato says he intends to appeal to buyers with masculine tool watches themed around adventure and exploration, which will slot into what he calls the “premium” pricing segment, between £2,000 and £3,000. Next year, he says he will introduce a new design inspired by historic British military watches, with a price point around £2,500, lower than anything in the current collection.

“There are so many customers entering the market at this point,” Cerrato says. “And, when you don’t have the awareness and spend of the bigger brands, you need to buy a bit of your market share through clever price positioning.”

He drops the hint that a new watch could be released at the Watches and Wonders Geneva watch fair next spring. “It’s a catalyser for the industry and a very good opportunity to present novelties to retailers, the press and customers,” he says.

Cerrato’s vision for Bremont would put it in competition with his former employer.

Prices for the Tudor Black Bay watch he developed start at around £3,000. But, with brands that once dominated the space — such as Omega and Tag Heuer — still pushing prices up, Cerrato believes the door is open. “We need to take that part of the market,” he says.

Cerrato’s appointment comes two years after Bremont opened its manufacturing and technology centre on the outskirts of Henley in southern England. Known as The Wing, because of its swooping roofline and the brand’s ties to the world of aviation, it is thought to have cost in excess of £20mn.

The H1 Supernova
The H1 Supernova features Bremont’s ENG300 movement

The 3,200 sq m property is the only centre of industrial watch manufacturing in the UK, housing machining rooms, assembly workshops and hospitality areas, as well as Bremont’s H1 Timing Standard chronometer testing centre. Cerrato says that, at capacity, the facility would yield 50,000 watches a year.

The Wing has enabled Bremont to produce some of the parts for its ENG300 movement, a proprietary automatic developed in partnership with Swiss company Horage. Cerrato says he expects this to be used only in top-line products, while most lines will continue to be powered by third-party movements outsourced to Switzerland. “ENG300 will be 10, perhaps 15, per cent [of our collection],” he says. “It’s the pinnacle of what we can do, but you also need to be competitive.”

Cerrato also says Bremont needs to refine its designs. “Bremont is a super-serious player, but there is no iconic product,” he says. “There is no Black Bay, no [Montblanc] Geosphere 1858. We can be the champion of tool watches and own the exploration and adventure territory, because it encapsulates all the strengths of Bremont: it’s British, like Livingstone and Shackleton, and who better than a British brand to own the territory that was born British?”

Following his brief tenure at HYT, some industry observers have questioned whether Cerrato, who describes himself as “at heart, a man of product”, will prove a good fit for Bremont. The founders, Nick and Giles English, remain involved and it is as yet unclear who will be front of house. But Cerrato, who claims to be an anglophile and to own a bowler hat, says he is in the right place.

“Coming back into this market segment that I know since a long time has been a very pleasant experience,” he says. “Like coming home.”

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