Bremont Martin-Baker Timepieces: And You Only Have To Be Ejected From A Jet Fighter To Get One!
If you follow my articles on Quill & Pad or my suspense/thriller novels then you already know I’m a fan of the working man’s timepieces. Those watches that do their job without complaint day in and day out, employing the bare essentials and without frou-frous embellishment. It was only a matter of time before I discovered the Bremont Martin-Baker line.
You can readily tell the Bremont MBI ejection survivor watches by the red barrel. No other Bremont Martin-Baker watch has it. It’s subtle: not obvious unless seen from the side. It doesn’t scream, “Look at me and what I did.”
Like the MB1, the two men I spoke with – Lt. Terry Cox, USMC ret., and Flight Lt. Ian Ferguson, RAF ret. – are humble people. They are also very, very grateful.
Grateful to one company whose sole mission it is to save their customers in the most demanding of environments on the worst day of their lives. Perhaps Martin-Baker’s corporate tagline should be We save butts.
Martin-Baker ejection seats sit quietly in the cockpit without complaint, never being called on, hopefully for the life of the aircraft. Then suddenly the yellow-and-black-striped ejection handle jerks and the seat rockets to life, doing exactly what it was designed to do – perfectly and for less than a single life-saving second. It is that second that makes all the difference.
Bremont and Martin-Baker partnered to create a watch recognizing the experience for those who lived through it.
Bremont and Martin-Baker: an unlikely partnership
Since Bremont’s founding in 2007, its watches have earned a reputation for durability under the most extreme circumstances. The company seems about as British as it can possibly be. In a good way. Adhering to a code and to the practice of excellence embodying all that is meant by the predicate Made in Britain.
Founders of the Bremont Watch Company, Nick and Giles English, have a long memory. In the late 1990s they were forced into an emergency landing while flying their 1930s biplane across France. They wound up in a farmer’s field.
It turned out this particular farmer was a World War II pilot and an engineer: the perfect combination for assisting the brothers in getting their plane back in the air. Nick and Giles didn’t forget this kind hospitality and honored him in the best way they could: that farmer was Antoine Bremont.
Martin-Baker is a privately held British aerospace company that makes one thing: high-performance aircraft ejection seats. There are currently 80,000 Martin-Baker ejection seats in service in 92 of the world’s air forces in 80 aircraft types.
As of this writing, Martin-Baker seats have saved 7,613 lives.
I asked Bremont spokesperson Natalie Keigher why her company wanted to partner with an ejection-seat manufacturer in the first place.
“Martin-Baker was the first official brand partnership that Bremont announced back in 2009; this year marks the tenth anniversary of our partnership. They approached us with the idea to create the ultimate aviation timepiece. Martin-Baker was adamant that they didn’t want just an MB-branded dial. Instead they wanted a watch that had survived the same testing as their ejection seats,” she explained.
“For Bremont this was a unique opportunity to work with a pioneering and world-leading British engineering company on something that would redefine the aviation watch space. We developed new technology to go into the watch so it could withstand the severities of live ejection testing.
“Bremont’s military business really grew from our partnership with Martin-Baker. As a pilot’s watch brand, working with Martin-Baker was something we were incredibly excited about. The extraordinary ejectees who wear our watches each have such life-changing stories. A watch that commemorates their experiences is something we’re very proud to produce. Bremont’s MB line of watches is now iconic to the brand.”
Bremont’s relationship with Martin-Baker punched the afterburner on the extreme engineering both companies are known for. They combined Martin-Baker’s knowledge of testing, materials, and design with Bremont’s watchmaking skills.
The goal was to apply the life-and-death standards of ejection-seat durability and reliability to a mechanical watch design. Think temperature extremes, G forces far exceeding the launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, and salt fog equivalent to a six-month carrier flight deck deployment.
No other watch that I know of is held to such exacting standards. Then again, no other watch is designed to survive sitting idle, hopefully for decades, then rocket out of a suddenly created convertible going 1,000 kilometers an hour.
But that wasn’t all there was to the Bremont/Martin-Baker partnership: one production segment of this very special watch – the MBI – would be set aside exclusively to honor those pilots who survived exiting their aircraft in a Martin-Baker ejection seat.
Without the Martin-Baker ejection seat number that saved your life followed by vetting from Bremont, you can’t get this special edition watch bearing the telltale red barrel. No exceptions. And just one MBI per ejection.
I did hear of one pilot who qualified for more than one MBI: Bill Mnich’s story appears at the end of this article.
Owners of the MBI are an exclusive club, yet none aspired to be members. The two I spoke with are extraordinarily proud of their accomplishments and that they survived. The MBI owner group includes U.S. congressmen and senators, CEOs of leading publicly held companies on both sides of the pond, and the chiefs of six air forces around the world.
A word about the Bremont MBI price
So far, I haven’t been able to obtain the MBI retail price from Bremont. Probably because I’m not qualified to order one – if you have to ask, you really don’t need to know.
However, there is an aftermarket for them. I’ve heard of one put on offer in April 2018 by U.S. Marine Corps pilot Jim Bernthal. He broke his back ejecting from a T-45 single-engine Goosehawk fighter trainer. He says he rarely wore the watch – but always on the anniversary of his plane crash. Crown & Caliber represented Bernthal in offering the piece for $55,000.
Though the MBI with its vivid red barrel is reserved for the few, the MBII is available to all and has become a Bremont bestseller. It is identical to the MBI with the exception of the red aluminum barrel: the MBII comes with an orange barrel and the choice of either a white or black dial.
An MBIII, also available to the public, was introduced in 2014. It is a GMT watch with a rotating inner ring and a secondary hour hand for displaying the time in two time zones. The MBIII is every bit as rugged, having suffered through the same intensive schedule of shock, vibration, temperature extremes, and salt-fog tests.
I discovered that an approved ejectee may include the exclusive red barrel on a different project watch based on either the Martin-Baker or U-2 lines. All you have to do ask.
What makes the Martin-Baker watches different?
First and foremost is the rarity and exclusivity of the MBI. Unless you have ejected from a fighter jet in a Martin-Baker ejection seat (and survived), forget it.
With just 7,613 ejections using Martin-Baker seats, the pool of potential buyers is very small. Not all of them will want such a remembrance of the worst day of their lives.
Neither Terry Cox or Ian Ferguson had ever heard of the MB1 until they were either contacted by Martin-Baker (Cox) or a reporter told him about it (Ferguson).
Since Cox resides in the United States, his correspondence with Bremont was all in writing. Ferguson, a resident of Great Britain, where Bremont is also at home, was treated like royalty with a personal watch delivery ceremony, tour of the manufacturing facility, and meetings with the Bremont executives.
When Ferguson ejected from his F4 Phantom on a training flight – he was an RAF flight instructor teaching low-level intercepts that awful day – he was going 600 mph at just 250 feet off the deck.
His flight controls malfunctioned, and he made the decision to eject in just four seconds. The accident investigators retrieved the ejection seat handle that started Ferguson’s life-saving sequence from the crash site and mounted it on a plaque along with the explosive shells that fired him out of the cockpit.
Bremont presented the memorial to Ferguson along with not only his new MB1 but also the RAF-issued flight watch he wore that day. Both still function perfectly, he says.
Bremont’s Martin-Baker series comprises all aviation tool watches. They are designed for maximum legibility in any condition.
The MBI and MBII have day and date displays added to the hours, minutes, seconds (whose hand includes the telltale yellow-and-black-striped ejection handle at one end), and a rotating inner ring for elapsed time.
The MBI has the Martin-Baker logo front and center on the dial; the MBII offers the anti-shock icon; the MBIII has the red Danger Ejection Seat triangle on the dial. The MBIII replaces the elapsed time ring with a 24-hour ring as a second time zone display.
Is there any commercially produced watch that is tested by firing it from a live jet-fighter ejection seat? No, of course not.
Except for Bremont’s Martin-Baker line.
This life-or-death standard of engineering, durability, and reliability puts the MB series above every other tool watch in existence. Essentially, these watches prove they could survive an ejection. Just like their owners did. This shared experience binds both watch and owner and cements the partnership.
The image above is not out of focus. It is one of the vibration test beds that both ejection seat and MB watches are subjected to. It simulates a 30-year life of an aircraft in the space of a few days.
Ferguson remembers his ejection as a sensation of raw power. “I inadvertently screamed as the air was forced from my lungs. Then I saw the jet slide out ahead of me and crash into a mountain. I tumbled for what seemed a long time before the parachute opened. Then everything became peaceful until the ground came rushing up at me.”
Attributes that make the Bremont MB line extraordinary
Shock absorbing ability
The watch movement is situated within Bremont’s own Trip-Tick (three-piece) case, which encloses the movement in an inner case connecting to the outer case through a flexible, shock-absorbing, rubberized ring.
Further, the movement and regulating parts employ the latest shock-absorbing technology along with a special-made Bremont shock-absorbing rotor.
The Trip-Tick case, inner case, shock absorbing parts, purpose-built assembly and testing procedure, and the relative weight (107 grams on strap) allow the MB series to withstand the most violent handling any watch anywhere is likely to endure.
“It happened so fast,” recounts Terry Cox of his ejection.
“We were on a bombing run over Indian country in North Vietnam. Everything was going fine then the SAM threat board lit up. Suddenly we heard a huge bang as the missile hit the center of the jet. The port engine caught fire but was quickly extinguished. Everything seemed normal for a while. We turned for base, about 15 miles away. But the port engine caught fire again. A short time later, so did the starboard. Then the pilot dispensed with the usual ‘eject, eject, eject’ call and just shouted to me in the back seat, ‘Get out, now.’ I ejected at 1,500 feet. There was a moment of tumbling. Next thing I knew I was floating down beneath my parachute looking first for my pilot, then for a place to land. No fear. No real emotion at all other than the steps I needed to do to avoid capture and survive. It took a god-awful long time to float down, all the while I was exposed to ground fire. I landed in waist-deep water on a beach.”
The Bremont Martin-Baker watch is immune to extreme magnetic fields, accomplished using an inner case that completely encloses the movement. This inner case is made from soft iron that works as a Faraday cage, protecting the movement from high magnetic fields. The movement’s regulating components are also made from nonmagnetic materials.
Dial and inner bezel
The dial design allows clarity and reading visibility in all conditions (including frozen salt fog). Its hands and hour markers are coated with Super-LumiNova, glowing a cool blue under dim light. The MBI and MBII also have a rotating inner bezel that a knurled crown at the 2 o’clock position rotates to track elapsed time. This employs a ball-click locking system that is unique to Bremont’s Martin-Baker line.
Hurdles the Martin-Baker watches watches must surmount
My sense of the testing procedures for Bremont’s MB watches is nothing short of crazy. Like the brand’s diver’s watches rated to a depth of 500 meters (1,840 feet), if you ever find yourself in a position to need everything the watch can take, time of day will be the least of your worries.
This is also true of the MB watches. What other watch must survive G loads of 0-30 in less than one second? As the Martin-Baker ejection seats do, as part of the overall flight system loadout, so must the watch. Some of the other tests Bremont’s MB series watches must survive include:
- Aircraft Carrier Deck Test: Simulates the level of salt fog and humidity that an aircraft carrier deck would endure during a six-month deployment. Exposure to salt, and then drying for 96 hours tests the watch against corrosion and the binding of moving parts. Pass the test and we can pretty much guarantee the watch is impervious to a life at sea – or any other hostile environment.
- Altitude Test: The MB watches are taken up to an altitude of 100,000 feet for 60 minutes before being rapidly brought down again. I presume this is done in a land-based pressure chamber since the cost of jet fuel alone to repeatedly test each new batch of watches would wipe out any profit.
- Extreme Temperature Endurance: Again, if this was done on a human wrist, passing the test
likely means the pilot was either extremely uncomfortable or died of exposure. The watch is held for one day in temperatures as low as -40°C and then run up to +40°C for another 24 hours.
- Vibration: The watch is placed on the wrist of a crash-test dummy, then set in an extreme vibration machine for four hours to simulate the 30-year life of an aircraft.
- Ejection Test: My favorite. The watch is again placed on the wrist of a crash-test dummy strapped to a Martin-Baker ejection seat installed in the cockpit of a rocket sled. This provides a real-life evaluation of the watch’s survivability under actual ejection G loads and the forces of acceleration and (sudden) deceleration. Today’s modern ejection seats employ explosives and rocket motors to get the seat and pilot out of the aircraft. You already knew that, right?
- Other more routine tests: Compared to these tests, the rest seem routine. Bremont tests the watch’s water-resistance and antimagnetic properties in a manner similar to that of other top watch manufacturers.
Why such a rigorous testing requisite for a wristwatch probably worn everywhere but in the cockpit of a top-line fighter jet? My opinion is that it’s to honor the service of those who survived an ejection. These are tough individuals. They deserve a watch that can survive what they did.
Besides, like the Martin-Baker ejection seat that has saved so many lives, it may find itself in the cockpit flying routine missions for decades. But on that one day, for less than one second, if called upon it needs to work perfectly. Doing so is a matter of life or death.
Who wouldn’t want a watch with such survival capabilities?
Watch design features
The differentiating element between the MBI and MBII is the aluminum barrel color. The MBI’s barrel is a vibrant red. This watch comes on a black calfskin leather strap with triangular stitching near both lugs to again identify the ejection seat theme. It also comes with a cool-looking canvas NATO strap.
The MBI comes only in a black dial with hours, minutes, seconds, day, date, and a rotating inner bezel marked in minute increments with large markings every five minutes. Bremont has ever so politely (a skill the British seem to have perfected) declined to provide an OEM price.
This watch is available to the general public. There are some variances from the MBI. First, the aluminum barrel on the MBII can be ordered in a plain anthracite knurled finish in orange, blue, or green. But not red. Never red.
You can also order the watch with either a white or black dial. The movement and functions are the same as the MBI: hours, minutes, seconds, day, date, and a rotating inner bezel. Finally, you can opt for either the leather strap or a steel bracelet. The price of the MBII is $4,995 on a strap and $5,595 with the steel bracelet.
Case backs of the MBI and MBII are engraved with the triangular ejection seat warning icon. Included on the MBI’s case back engraving is space for up to ten characters – usually the owner’s name, call sign, and Martin-Baker Ejection Tie Club membership number. Bremont does not offer engraving on the MBII.
The MBIII marked the first time that Bremont introduced a GMT movement into any of its watches without a chronograph. Like the MBII, this latest addition to the Bremont/Martin-Baker collection offers a choice of barrel colors that include anthracite, orange, or bronze.
Functions include hours, minutes, seconds, date, a 24-hour GMT hand, and a rotating inner bezel. The dial color of the MBIII is black only. Prices are $5,795 on a strap and $6,395 with the steel bracelet.
There is also a special MBIII anniversary edition marking the ten years Bremont and Martin-Baker have collaborated on this special series of watches that was introduced earlier in 2019 at the brand’s “Townhouse” event.
This anniversary edition limited to 310 pieces comes only with a white dial. Marking the milestone is the engraving of an MK16 ejector seat on the solid case back. Prices are $5,595 on a strap and $6,195 with the steel bracelet.
Note that the regular MBIII edition is slightly more expensive than the limited edition tenth-anniversary version. If you can get it, why not save the $200 and opt for the white-dial anniversary edition?
Jimmy Fallon gave a Bremont MB1 to his father in law
Late-night comedian Jimmy Fallon seems like a thoughtful guy, especially where his family is concerned. The story goes that he was walking down the street in London and saw the MBI in the window of a watch shop. He thought it looked interesting, so he went inside.
As the salesperson described the watch and the qualifications it takes to buy one, Fallon recalled that his father-in-law had been a military pilot who had ejected from his aircraft. He whipped out his cell phone and got his father-in-law’s Ejection Tie Club number.
The salesperson contacted Bremont to get the vetting process going. Fallon’s father-in-law personally made the application while Fallon paid for the watch. He presented it to his father-in-law on national television, which you can see below.
Terry Cox didn’t know anything about the MB1 until Martin-Baker sent him his Ejection Tie Club number and a necktie, at the same time offering the MB1. He says it’s special because it is so rare. Cox only wears it at special military events. No one has ever asked about it.
Ian Ferguson sees his MB1 as encapsulating the physics and stresses of ejection – things he experienced firsthand in the Martin-Baker Mark 7 seat. For Ferguson, his ejection was definitely not the worst day of his life. But it was a turning point where he experienced the power of faith at 1,000 kilometers an hour and just 80 meters above the ground. Today he is an ordained minister.
Yet Ferguson, like Cox, rarely wears the watch – sometimes to church or military reunions.
Obtaining a Bremont MBI
This is a club to which you don’t want to belong: ejecting from an aircraft has got to be the last resort. That puts the owners of Bremont’s MBI watches in highly select company. With just 7,613 successful ejections (i.e., survival) this makes for a very small target market.
First, each ejectee is limited to one MBI purchase. Here are the application steps:
- Applications must be made by the ejectee personally. Martin-Baker must approve each interested individual before the next step.
- Each pilot saved by a Martin-Baker ejection seat is assigned a number. This becomes the exclusive Ejection Tie Club number and is retained on record with Martin-Baker. As soon after the ejection as possible Martin-Baker contacts the pilot and – probably among other things such as “congratulations, you lived!” – provides them with the Tie Club number for safekeeping.
- The candidate then contacts Bremont. The company will ask for the ejectee’s full name, Ejection Tie Club number, and ejection date.
- Bremont then confirms this information with Martin-Baker.
- Assuming everything checks out – name, Ejection Tie Club number, and ejection date – the candidate is invited to purchase the MBI (or other MB or U-2 watch) with the exclusive red barrel signifying the owner ejected and survived.
- Bremont makes the watch, engraving the pilot’s Ejection Tie Club number, ejection date, and call sign on the case back.
Life stories of those who ejected
Bill Mnich is now a Boeing test pilot. However, he has the dubious distinction of ejecting twice. I’m happy to say Mnich did not suffer injury in either accident. Here’s his story published by Bremont on Facebook in 2013.
The first ejection occurred in 1981 when a young Lieutenant Mnich was training for night operations on the U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk in the North Arabian Sea. Mnich was in the backseat of a Grumman F-14A, callsign “Screaming Eagle,” getting ready for launch. A flap malfunction called for a mission abort. They began taxiing back across the darkened flight deck to the tie-down spot. Suddenly all the lights on the angle-deck illuminated, indicating “ready deck” for a landing aircraft. In the distance, Mnich saw the landing lights of an A-7 Corsair on final approach off the stern of the ship. Being on a different frequency, he couldn’t radio the A-7 to tell them to abort their landing.
“Seconds before impact, my front-seat pilot flicked on our external lights and jammed the throttles to full power to move us out of the way. The Corsair finally waved off just above the flight deck, but the aircraft still cut off both our vertical tails with his left wing. The Corsair staggered back into the air. We both put our trust in Martin-Baker and banged out of there as our jet accelerated over the port side, engines roaring. We got wet, then watched from the wave tops as the massive Kitty Hawk slipped into the blackness at 25 knots. After what seemed like a very long time the rescue helo hoisted us to safety, dripping but uninjured.”
Mnich’s second ejection occurred in 1987 after a routine takeoff from Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego, California.
“Launching into a clear blue sky on a Friday morning, within one minute the bleed duct caution light illuminated followed by dense, pungent white smoke in the cockpit. We immediately knew the cause: A bearing failure in an air conditioning turbine causing a titanium fire in a mission critical area, which nothing could extinguish . . . the worst possible F-14 emergency.
“Seconds later all the lights went out . . . a total electrical failure, followed by uncommanded wingsweep to the full aft position and divergent pitch oscillations increasing to about 4 Gs. The sudden blast of intense heat and the flash of orange flame in the rear cockpit prompted my forceful tug on the ejection handle. Martin-Baker to the rescue! Less than three minutes after takeoff I was looking at cars on I-15 a couple thousand feet below.
“The crippled jet exploded into an empty hillside and nobody got hurt. After evaluation at a downtown hospital we returned just in time for happy hour at the O’Club.
“That’s really the story of the MBI. It’s a beautiful timepiece, but more importantly it’s a symbol of being pulled back from the edge of the abyss and being handed an incredible gift: the rest of your life. It’s something I’ll never take for granted.”
Quick Facts Bremont MBI
Case: 43 mm, hardened stainless steel, Trip-Tick construction with red aluminum barrel, soft iron anti-magnetic Faraday cage (inner case)
Movement: automatic C.O.S.C.-certified Caliber 13 1/4”’ BE-93-2AE (modified ETA), 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, 42-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; date
Price: provided by Bremont on approval of buyer’s qualifications; secondary market prices vary widely based on supply (watches appear only rarely)
If you qualify and are interested in ordering one of these very special timepieces, contact Bremont at https://us.bremont.com/collections/watches-mens-mb/products/mbi.
For more information, please visit www.bremont.com/products/mbi.