Saturday, 30 April 2011

The power of colour

Colour has been somewhat cheapened in recent years because many brands have overused the colour palette by creating multiple variants of the same watch in multiple colours, sometimes with multiple shades of the same colour. But colour is actually powerful. Take for instance this Cartier Ballon Bleu chronograph in steel.

The original Ballon Bleu chronograph launched some years back is in the classic Cartier style, a silvered, guilloche dial with blued steel sword hands. Recently Cartier presented a new version of the watch, identical in all respects to the earlier variant, except it has a slate grey dial with white numerals and white gold hands.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Vacheron Constantin to hold major exhibition in Singapore

Together with the National Museum of Singapore (NMS), Vacheron Constantin will be organising the "first major public exhibition" of its historical pieces, from 24 June to 14 August 2011. Titled "Treasures of Vacheron Constantin - A legacy of watchmaking since 1755", the exhibition will see 180 items will be on display, including timepieces, historical documents and watchmaking tools. In addition, artisans from the Vacheron Constantin manufacture in Geneva - Engraver, gem-setter, guillocheur, enameller and watchmaker - will be present to demonstrate their crafts.

For those who have yet to visit the NMS, or have only memories of the old NMS, this is an excellent opportunity to do so. Even though the permanent collection of the NMS is nothing spectacular, museum is now an airy, cheerful space with a nice restaurant or two inside. In contrast, the museum of old, in which I spent quite a bit of time, was a dim and oppressive place.


Monday, 25 April 2011

Hands-On With The Audemars Piguet Jules Audemars Chronometer AP Escapement "ChronAP" (With Original Photos & Price)

Unveiled at SIHH 2009, the Audemars Piguet Jules Audemars Chronometer with Audemars Piguet Escapement, nicknamed ChronAP, utilises the in-house Audemars Piguet escapement, an ultra-high beat escapement running at 43,200 beats per hour or 6 Hz. Not only is it high beat, but the escapement is also lubrication free.

Conventional escapements run at 3 or 4 Hz and all other things being equal, a faster beat escapements does provide better timekeeping than its slower beat counterpart for a variety of reasons.

This watch is interesting not only for the escapement but for the movement layout, which is open and architectural; reminiscent of the Breguet La Tradition. Many of the movement components clearly take their cues from vintage pocket watches, for instance the elegantly curved bridges or the sprung ratchet wheel like those found on a grande sonnerie.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The ship's chronometer in the history of the world

The chronometer from the HMS Beagle
Last year the venerable BBC ran the radio programme "A History of the World in 100 Objects", created in collaboration with the equally venerable British Museum. It is a terrific 100 part series that chronicles the history of the world by examining 100 different objects - one item per 15 minute episode - from the British Museum's collection. Each episode details how an object, even one that is immensely ordinary, shaped history and countries. The series is fascinating and vast in its scope, but presented in an accessible manner.  

Episode 91 was dedicated to a marine chronometer, specifically a clock (there were 22 of them onboard) from the HMS Beagle - the ship made famous by Charles Darwin - made by Thomas Earnshaw, circa 1800.

As explained in the wonderful 15 minute broadcast, the marine chronometer, originally invented by John Harrison for the British Admiralty, is possibly the most important mechanical timekeeper of the modern age, inextricably tied linked to the heroism of the high seas and the relentless progress of technology. It changed the way we live and think. In fact, as the narrator, British Museum director Neil MacGregor, grandly but correctly puts it, the marine chronometer ultimately "[changed] our idea of ourselves and our understanding of humanity's proper place in history." 

You can listen to the programme or read the transcript.


A layman's view of watchmaking in The New York Times

Nick Hayek of Swatch Group
Photo from The New York Times
The New York Times just ran an article on The Swatch Group that is upbeat and appropriately reverential, detailing how strongly the watch industry is growing and how Nick Hayek aims to "reach 10 billion francs of sales just by internal growth". But there is also plenty of nonsense inside.

Jean-Frederic Dufour of Zenith is quoted as saying "100 years ago... each brand really differentiated itself from others by the quality of its movements", in the context of Swatch stopping delivering of ebauches to the rest of the industry. That opposite is true - the industry is more "in-house" today than it was 100 years ago. A century ago the industry operated on the etablisseur model where specialists like LeCoultre and Valjoux made almost all the parts and ebauches so even top brands like Patek used Valjoux ebauches. 

And then there is Mr Hayek proclaiming the importance of being truly Swiss made. Of course all entry-end Swiss made watches are 100% Swiss made. The Federation of Swiss Watch Industry details the laws governing the "Swiss made" mark and you can see how fool proof they are.


Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Ikepod Hourglass by Marc Newson

Marc Newson
Several years ago industrial design Marc Newson, of Lockheed Lounge fame, created a brand of watches named Ikepod with Olivier Ike. It didn't do to well and went under but was later revived under the patronge of art collector Adam Lindemann. The new Ikedpod continued to create watches, including one in collaboration with Jeff Koons, but the coolest timekeeper is the Ikepod hourglass. It is arguably the most in keeping with Newson's philosophy of industrial design as he lays out in a chat I had with him.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

From the vault

I was at the bank recently and had my camera with me. Even though these two watches are very different, they are arguably iconic in their respective genres. They sit amongst some others in the vault, I rarely wear them but will never sell them. The first is a Breitling Navitimer Ref. 806 from 1964 or so, the second a 1985 Rolex Submariner ref. 5513. 

The Breitling still possesses its original dial in excellent condition and it has the less common AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) logo dial. I've had this about 10 years and recently had it restored by Breitling guru Mark Heist. Inside sits a Venus 178 column wheel movement. This is a classic chronograph from an era of classic chronographs.  

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Hands-on with the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gyrotourbillon I in rose gold (with live photos)

In 2004 Jaeger-LeCoultre launched the complication that arguably has defined JLC has a haute horlogerie house, the Gyrotourbillon, so named for its spherical tourbillon. At the time of its launch it was a revelation; remember that the watch industry in 2004 was much less diverse than in 2011. Along with the Franck Muller Tourbillon Revolution, the Gyro was a pioneering multi-axis tourbillon.

JLC Gyrotourbillon 1 in rose gold
Originally unveiled in platinum, the JLC Gyrotourbillon 1 is now in its final run of 30 pieces cased in rose gold. According to Jerome Lambert, CEO of JLC, the final production of the Gyrotourbillon 1 will be under 140 units including the original in platinum, the units part of the Hybris Mechanica set and the final run of 30 in rose gold.

The Gyrotourbillon 1 contains the cal. 177 which features a bi-axial tourbillon, a retrograde perpetual calendar and an equation of time. A pair of mainsprings inside a barrel with a sapphire top - allowing a good view of the large mainspring - gives the watch an eight day power reserve.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Rolf Schnyder, owner of Ulysse-Nardin, passes away at 75

Yesterday I received the sad news that Rolf Schnyder of Ulysse-Nardin passed away in Switzerland. He was a true original and one of the pioneers of the modern watchmaking industry. His funeral will be held in his adopted home of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Though I last saw Mr Schnyer late last year, I was fortunate to have had a long interview with him in 2008. Some of his responses in his interview are telling of how long he had been in the industry, how much he knew and who he knew, and most of all how he got his start in the industry in Asia.

"I remember at one point Thomke was furious because he made a development of a new small quartz movement. Then he found out in Basel that FHF, which belonged to the same group, funded it and they already didn’t have enough money at that time to produce.

That’s why I started making the complicated quartz movement for ETA in Kuala Lumpur. They had no money to invest. They said if you can invest we can send you machines but they had no money to invest. So we made the movements, we made all the Flatlines at that time in KL. Now they make it in Bangkok. But then in Basel he found out that one of same group secretly made the same thing as him, they used up spare cash and then he really hammered them. He got it through that they always [had to] be coordinated and avoid duplication."

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Up Close With The Vianney Halter Antiqua Perpetual Calendar

Vianney Halter's watches have the uncanny ability to bring to mind objects other than watches. Not fantastic, sci-fi visions like MB&F and Urwerk evoke, but more mundane things like candy bars or cameras. The proper term for his aesthetic code - steampunk.

Striking as they are, it is the details that count in Vianney Halter watches. Take for instance the Vianney Halter Trio. It is, in my inexpert view, a fairly ugly watch considered as a whole. It is ungainly and sits like a bar of chocolate on the wrist, which was Vianney's intention, to be fair. But examine the vast and dazzling details and you cannot help but appreciate, respect and perhaps even like the watch.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

A review of nine Seiko dive watches

Over the years I have accumulated a couple Seiko watches, ranging from the upper end to the entry level stuff. A few of them are dive watches, mainly the orange dial divers but also a few others I found interesting. Here I briefly review the SKX011J, SKX781K and SKX779K Monster, SKZ281K, SBDA005 Samurai, SKZ205K Seiko 5 40th Anniversary, SBDC005 Sumo, H601-5480 Arnie and SBDX011 Emperor Tuna.

All the nine watch collectively cost less than a Rolex Submariner. They are tremendous value for money.

There are a couple I don’t own but hope to eventually, including the Marinemaster, the original 600 m as well as the Citizen 1000 m. And also the SKX423 titanium diver because it has an orange dial - if anyone has this for sale drop me a line. 

Saturday, 9 April 2011

A visit to the Hublot manufacture in Nyon - the home of the Big Bang

I visited the Hublot manufacture in Nyon in February at the invitation of Hublot's irrepressible CEO Jean-Claude Biver. He invited me to the Nyon factory, about 40 minutes from Geneva, via Facebook, after having seen some of my work. That he got in touch through Facebook speaks volumes about how involved he is with the brand. Two things struck me during my visit. The first is how much Hublot has invested to make the Big Bang in countless colours and materials. Second is the nascent but growing high horology department at Hublot led by Mathias Buttet.

In the past I have often made light of Hublot watches for the countless variations in many colours as well as model names like Big Bang and King Power. During the factory visit it struck me - the bulk of Hublot's production is indeed colourful watches for colourful people but Hublot has invested a great deal of resources into making colours and exotic materials. Hublot actually has specialised equipment manned by specialists to make the Big Bang in red, blue, green, pink and purple. 

Friday, 8 April 2011

A terrific article on world time watches

The VC Patrimony Traditionnelle World Time
A good friend of mine and fellow watch collector, Alex Ghotbi, who is the Community Manager at Vacheron Constantin, recently published a tremendous article on the history of world time watches. VC has a surprisingly long history with the Louis Cottier world time - it made the second every Cottier world time pocket watch - though it is so strongly associated with Patek Philippe, who came in third, thanks to shrewd marketing and strong auction results (or are they one and the same?). Alex even tells the unfortunate story of how Sir Sandford Flemming came to devise the time zones of the world in 1879.

I highly recommend Alex's article on official VC forum The Hour Lounge.

Also, a few weeks ago I wrote a short piece on the Patrimony Traditionnelle World Time which VC launched at SIHH 2011. 


An interesting detail of the Citizen Eco-Drive Ring

Something I did not know before - the baton indices of the limited edition Citizen Eco-Drive Ring launched at Baselworld 2011 are actually Arabic numerals on their side. This detail is visible below if you look closely.

The name of the watch stems from the ring-shaped solar cell that circles the dial of the watch. This is also the reason for the open lugs and case side where the solar cell can receive sunlight.

Another interesting release from Citizen at Baselworld 2011, the Eco-Drive Satellite Wave.


Thursday, 7 April 2011

Introducing Oscillomax For The First Time In The Patek Philippe Ref. 5550P Advanced Research

Patek Philippe 5550P
Perpetual Calendar Cal. 240 Q Si
Recently Patek announced the latest in the Advanced Research series, the ref. 5550P perpetual calendar fitted with the cal. 240 Q Si movement. This new calibre features a silicium escape wheel, anchor, hairspring and the latest innovation, a silicon balance wheel, labelled GyromaxSi after Patek's adjustable mass balance. Together all the silicium escapement parts are termed surprise, surprise, Oscillomax.

The Advanced Research series began in 2005 with the ref. 5250P, followed by the ref. 5350P in 2006 and ref. 5450P in 2008. All were annual calendars based on the cal. 324, but with each of these watches Patek Philippe gradually introduced silicon components - Silinvar escape wheel, Spiromax hairspring and Pulsomax lever - into the escapement. Currently the Spiromax is standard on the CH28 movement of the 5980 and 5960 and in time to come the silicon hairspring will become standard on all Patek watches.

Exploring The Patina Of The Panerai Submersible Bronzo PAM382

At SIHH earlier this year Panerai unveiled the Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days Automatic Bronzo PAM 382, which quickly became one of the most talked about Panerai watches launched at the show. The PAM00382 Bronzo the first ever Panerai with a bronze case.

The PAM382 Bronzo at SIHH

Though bronze is a primitive alloy, it has certain useful qualities. Marine bronze like the type used in the Panerai Bronzo - nowadays used for things like ship propellers - offers superior resistance to corrosion and salt water, compared to steel.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave and Appleseed XIII

One of the most advanced and interesting watches shown at Baselworld 2011 was the Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave which was presented with its own anime trailer created together with the creators of Appleseed XIII.

This watch receives signals from the closest of 24 navigation satellites orbiting the earth, synchronising day, date and time. These satellites in turn receive their time signals from atomic clocks that broadcast the time via radio signals, which means the Eco-Drive Satellite Wave will be ultra-precise.

This makes the Eco-Drive Satellite Wave more useful than regular radio-controlled watches, since the Satellite will conceivably work any where on the earth. 
Because each of the 24 satellites makes one orbit round the earth once every 12 hours, the watch will always be able to receive a signal from the closest satellite, as long as it's in an open area.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

In 2006 Richard Mille unveiled what was at the time the world's lightest mechanical wristwatch, the RM009 Felipe Massa which weighs a mere 28 g sans strap (this was superceded by the 20 g RM027 Rafael Nadal last year). The weight of RM009 was achieved with the use of novel materials: AluSic (aluminium silicon carbide) for the case and Al-Li (aluminium lithium alloy) for the movement plate and bridges.

RM009 Felipe Massa

This results in a watch that causes severe cognitive dissonance. Make no mistake, the RM009 looks heavy.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

The Urwerk UR-110

First seen in January 2011 during SIHH, the Urwerk UR-110 Torpedo is the successor to the now famous 103. The hours are on rotating cubes while the minutes are indicated by a pointer.

The familial resemblance to the 103 is obvious - three arms holding three satellites with the hour cubes on the 110. On the 103 it was discs with the hours instead of cubes.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

EDITORIAL: The Patek 5270 And The Watch Industry's Evolution

I recently attended a gathering of Patek Philippe collectors, or members of the Patek cult to be precise. The Baselworld 2011 offerings from the Geneva house were naturally discussed, including the ref. 5270G, which got me thinking.

The 5270 has an illustrious history, beginning with the ref. 1518 which was the first serially produced wristwatch to contain the perpetual calendar and chronograph complications. 281 of these were made from 1941 to 1954.