Bremont Codebreaker watch turns history into a timepiece
By David Szondy
July 14, 2013
Watches are meant to keep time, but the UK-based firm of Bremont and the Bletchley Park Trust have teamed up to produce a watch that preserves time. The Bremont Codebreaker is a limited edition chronograph that uses original artefacts from the famous cryptographic facility to commemorate British code breaking efforts during the Second World War.
Bletchley Park was one of the best kept secrets of the Second World War and remained so for decades after until the story was made public in 1974. The ancient estate with its Victorian mansion was the headquarters for the Government Code and Cipher School (GC&CS;), where 9,000 scientists, mathematicians and others were tasked with decrypting enemy ciphers from the German Enigma and Lorenz machines. It was where Alan Turing laid the foundations for modern computer science and artificial intelligence and was the birthplace of Colossus, the world’s first programmable electronic computer.
The efforts of the team at Bletchley Park were perhaps the greatest single strategic advantage of the Allies and may have shortened the war by two years. The Codebreaker is meant to not only act as a commemoration piece, but also a physical container of some of that story. According to Bremont, the Codebreaker was Inspired by a classic 1940’s officers watch and that 240 steel Codebreaker watches will be created along with 50 rose gold watches. Each numbered watch has a flyback Chronograph GMT automatic movement and is made from materials directly related to the code breaking efforts.
The rotor of the watch is made from the wheel of an original Enigma cipher machine. The Enigma was not only Germany’s most advanced coding device, but the most advanced in the world. Based on a Polish commercial design, it used a combination of rotors and wire plugs to scramble electrical circuits into about 158 trillion possible settings and encrypted messages in so complicated a fashion that the Germans thought it unbreakable. In 1939, this was true, but the Axis powers didn't count on was human genius coupled with the first generation of computers.
An example of the new technology can be seen on the reverse of the Codebreaker, which is designed to reflect the look of a Bombe machine, an electromechanical device based on a design by Alan Turing. The Bombe acted like several Enigma machines strung together and, put simply, it was an arrangement that allowed for running possible solutions to the problem of deciphering a message by reproducing the suspected settings of the Enigma machine for a particular message. It couldn't solve the problem completely, but it did reduce the work involved by at least discovering stock phrases in the encrypted message, such as “message number” and “nothing significant to report.”
The crown of the Codebreaker includes a piece of pine taken from the floor of Hut 6. Built in 1940, Hut 6 wasn't much to look at. It was just another knocked together wartime shelter thrown up on the grounds of Bletchley Park, but it was the center of the effort to decrypt German Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe Enigma ciphers. It was here that the Enigma settings partially deduced by the Bombe were used to complete the decryption before going on to Hut 3 for translation and analysis.
The series numbers in the cases of the limited edition watches seem a bit odd at first glance because they’re actually from the few remaining punch cards from Bletchley Park. A small avalanche of punch cards were used to find the Enigma keys and wheel orders by allowing operators to limit the number of wheel settings studied, but very few of these have survived since the war. When the GC&CS; became the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and was preparing to release records to the National Archives, a mere handful of what had once been two million cards were discovered. Five of these cards have been incorporated into the Codebreakers to display each watch’s number.
“Mechanically we have made some considerable movement developments and incorporated materials that have never been built into a watch before,” says Nick English; Co-founder Bremont. “By moving the chronograph dials, building a Flyback Chronograph function and GMT second time-zone we have accomplished a wonderful mechanical timepiece. Both Giles and I were inspired by the "Bombe machine" and the rotor balance is based on the Bombe’s drums. Each watch will have its limited edition number embedded into the case barrel with original punch cards. Hut 6 is part of the current restoration programme and fragments of its floorboards, on which codebreaking giants, such as Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman walked, have been incorporated into the watch crown.”
The Codebreaker comes in either stainless steel or rose gold and has a 39 Jewels, three-legged Glucydur balance with Nivarox 1 mainspring with incabloc shock protection and 46-hour power reserve. It has sapphire crystals front and back and is water resistant to 10 atmospheres (100 m). Keeping with the period, it has a classic-style leather strap.
Unfortunately, history doesn't come cheap. The Codebreaker sells for US$18,700 with a percentage going to help pay for the ongoing restoration of Bletchley Park, which is now a museum site.
The video below outlines the features of the Bremont Codebreaker.