Most people with a passing interest in aviation know the general contours of the Spruce Goose story: Built by the eccentric Hollywood filmmaker and respected engineer Howard Hughes, the colossal aircraft boasted a wingspan of 320 feet, longer than the Statue of Liberty, yet its maiden voyage was also its final one. The behemoth, officially named the Hughes H-4 Hercules, flew for the first and last time on Nov. 2, 1947, and was airborne for just under a minute.
Not everyone, however, knows the details that distinguished the H-4 Hercules from practically every other aircraft made before or since. For starters, the flying boat was constructed from birchwood, a condition of the government contract Hughes had won to build it, which specified that he was not allowed to use materials deemed scarce during the war effort, such as aluminium.
Now, the founders of British-owned Bremont—brothers Nick and Giles English, who founded the company in 2002 as a maker of pilot’s watches, inspired by their love of flying historic aircraft—have incorporated the very same birchwood used on the Spruce Goose into a limited edition chronometer, the Bremont H-4 Hercules, released this week.
The automatic winding rotor on the watch’s movement features original birchwood veneer, sourced from the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Ore., where the Hercules has rested since 1993, and cut to size by the bespoke furniture makers at Silverlining.
“We are so excited to be paying tribute to a true pioneer in aeronautical design, and the genius of Howard Hughes,” says Nick English. “The Hughes H-4 is arguably one of the most important aircraft ever to have flown, in terms of its innovations in construction and control systems—a literally huge contribution to aviation development and history.”
“The sheer magnitude of the project took enormous perseverance, time, money and ingenuity,” he says. “It’s quite a feat of engineering and a remarkable story surrounding it. We have painstakingly developed the new Bremont H-4 Hercules, a limited edition which celebrates the sublime design ethos of such an incredible aircraft as well as uniquely integrating some of the original birchwood from Hughes’ infamous Hercules.”
Limited to 450 pieces, the Bremont H-4 Hercules is available in stainless steel (300 pieces, $12,495 each), 18k red gold (75 pieces, $22,495 each) and platinum (75 pieces, ($23,995 each). The proprietary automatic BWC/01 calibre, built in partnership with movement maker La Joux Perret, features GMT functionality, hours, minutes, a smaller non-hacking seconds hand at 9 o’clock and date at 6 o’clock.
The tie-in with the Spruce Goose continues in the packaging, which is crafted from English-made bridle leather sewn with original aileron fabric from the aircraft’s control surfaces.
It’s not the first time the watchmaker has incorporated bits of timber into its watches; in 2012, the company debuted the Bremont Victory, which incorporated pieces of oak from the HMS Victory behind the hand-etched sapphire on the caseback. The ship was steered by Lord Nelson in one of the Britain’s greatest naval victories in 1805 against the French and Spanish during that Battle of Trafalgar.
While the Spruce Goose, which took flight just once from Cabrillo Beach, California, proved to be only a minor victory in the skies, these new timepieces have a look that suggests long-term lift-off.