Saturday, 31 December 2011

IWC remakes its Pilot's Watches for SIHH 2012

IWC Top Gun  Miramar
Pilot's Chronograph
As an SIHH 2012 preview, IWC has just unveiled the new Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Top Gun Miramar, named after the former location of the US Navy Fighter Weapons School (aka TOPGUN).

The 46 mm case is dark grey ceramic - in the photos it seems to have a glossy finish - with a dial that has faux patina and a green nylon strap. Inside is the IWC cal. 89365 flyback movement, similar to that in the Portuguese Yacht Club. 

Alongside the chronograph, the Top Gun Miramar range will also have a 48 mm Big Pilot with a similar design. (To clear up some confusion the Miramar chronograph is 46 mm and the Mirarmar Big Pilot is 48 mm.) 

Based on the stock photo, I am not a fan of the new Top Gun Miramar. It looks derivative, and this vintage military look is starting to get old (no pun intended).

Friday, 30 December 2011

Up close with the Urwerk UR-110 ZrN

First seen in steel earlier this year, the latest version of the Urwerk UR-110 Torpedo is the UR-110 ZrN. This is a steel UR-110 PVD coated with zirconium nitride, a hard ceramic coating that has a pale gold colour.

The contrast of the pale gold top late with the black coated titanium base somehow makes the watch seem slimmer than the steel UR-110.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Why Montblanc turned into a watchmaker

Montblanc Villeret Pulsographe
The headline on Bloomberg reads "Montblanc Watches Set to Outsell Pens". That is news because Montblanc is not historically a watchmaker, it first made watches in 1997 or 1998. 

The Bloomberg article then goes on to explain why and how Montblanc expanded beyond pens which account for just below half of revenue, to watches and everything else. Its watch range now includes the haute horlogerie Villeret 1858 range, thanks to Richemont's acquisition of Minerva. 

The reason for this diversification is that pen sales are growing way slower than watch sales, primarily because pens are rarely used while watches are on show all the time. 

Watches now make up about 20% of Montblanc's approximately EUR700 million in revenue.


Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Hands-On With The Seiko Credor Spring Drive Eichi - Japan's Answer To Philippe Dufour (With Live Photos And Price)

At end 2011 all 25 pieces of the Seiko Credor Node Spring Drive Eichi (ref. GBLR999) will have been delivered. First unveiled in 2008, the Eichi – meaning ‘wisdom’ – is Seiko’s answer to the Philippe Dufour Simplicity, a simple, time-only wristwatch with a movement decorated to an unparalleled level.

The idea for the Eichi was first put forward by Osamu Takahashi, manager of Seiko Epson’s Micro Artist Studio. Where Grand Seiko is a high-quality everyday watch, the products of the Micro Artist Studio, like the Credor Sonnerie of 2006 and the repeater of 2011, are extraordinary haute horlogerie, the very best quality products that Seiko can produce, at any price. Naturally that means the watches are extraordinary.

Monday, 26 December 2011

How Tissot manages four million watches a year

Europa Star just published an interesting article covering Tissot's new logistics centre in Le Locle. Tissot is likely the biggest brand by output in Switzerland, with a production of over three million watches last year and more than four million in 2011. The new high tech warehouse can accommodate five to six million watches per year.

Machines and production on an enormous scale is one of the little discussed secrets of the Swiss watch industry so this article is an unusual peek at the reality at most of the big brands.

The great tale of an IWC Mark XI

Photo by kkmark on MWR

Someone over at MWR, the forum where military watch fanatics congregate, recently posted the remarkable story of how he managed to track down the original owner of a 1952 IWC Mark XI (which happens to be in beautiful condition). As it happens the pilot who was originally issued the Mark XI was based in Singapore for a time. For milwatch fans, or anyone who appreciates history, this is a must read.


Friday, 23 December 2011

Hands-On With The Lange Datograph in platinum - the best chronograph today?

Lange just replaced the legendary Datograph with the Datograph Up and Down to be unveiled at SIHH 2012. So here are some photos of the original Datograph, especially of the magnificent calibre L951.1 inside.

Obviously designed to be beautiful to behold, the Datograph movement is so vivid and richly coloured, with wonderful details scattered throughout, it is like a miniature city. (On that topic, the Double Split isn't too shabby either.)

Christie's watch sales top US$100 million for the first time

Patek Philippe
white gold cushion-shaped
monopusher chronograph, c.1928
It remains to be seen if this is the peak, but the global watch market did well in 2011. Christie's watch auction sales totalled US$116.3 million in 2010, up 28% from 2010. This is the first time any auction house has exceed US$100 million (all figures include buyer's premium).

The ten most valuable lots were dominated by Patek Philippe naturally. Many of the usual suspects are on the lists, like the refs. 3448, 3449, 1518, 2499 and so on. Also on the list at US$1.27 million is a unique, platinum case tourbillon pocket watch made for uber-collector Henry Graves Jr. Notably Christie's sold this very same tourbillon pocket watch for a mere US$706,908 in 2008.

So it's not surprising the most expensive wristwatch was a cushion-shaped, white gold Patek monopusher chronograph that hammered for US$3.64 million (shown at right).

Of course auction results are only just that - the sale price. The identities of the bidders is rarely revealed publicly. But with all the watch companies filling up their museums with ostensible treasures, one wonders.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The return of the pocket watch...

I predict pocket watches are in the early stages of making a comeback. Not because they are practical or useful, but because they are display objects, impressive items that can sit grandly on a desk. Independents have already caught on, Richard Mille and Urwerk come to mind, but at SIHH 2012 Cartier will unveil the Grand Complication Skeleton pocket watch, complete with a rock crystal and obsidian stand. Cartier is one of the first established brands to make a major pocket watch recently, but it's won't be the last.

More on the Cartier pocket watch on the forum I moderate.


Hands-on with the MB&F HM4 Razzle Dazzle and Double Trouble

Maximilian Büsser recently unveiled the pair of Horological Machine No. 4, Razzle Dazzle and Double Trouble. This pair of new HM4 Thunderbolts comes just weeks after the surprisingly Legacy Machine 1, confirming Max's skill in scheduling new releases. 

The MB&F HM4 Double Trouble

Both the Double Trouble and Razzle Dazzle are variants of the HM4. The case remains titanium but has individually applied titanium across the fuselage.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The new and old Hamilton Pan Europ

The Hamilton Pan Europ chronograph was unveiled at Baselworld 2011 and has proven to be a hit. It's attractive looking and accessibly priced so that's not surprising. I like mine very much. Here's a side by side picture of the original 1971 Pan Europ Chronomatic with the left hand crown and a stock image the 2011 limited edition.


Introducing The Lange Datograph Up And Down, The Reboot Of An Icon

At SIHH 2012 Lange will unveil the Datograph Up and Down ("Auf/Ab" in German, ref. 405.035) in platinum, containing the improved L951.6 movement. When the Lange Datograph was unveiled in 1999 it caused quite a stir. In the absence of any comparables, the L951.1 movement of 1999 was stunning and brilliantly finished. But the Datograph remained unchanged, until now.

The new Datograph is an incremental change, rather than anything drastic. Fundamentally the calibre remains the same. The most evident changes are:

1. The case diameter is now 41 mm while the original was 39 mm.

2. Power reserve is 60 hours compared to 36 hours, thanks to a larger mainspring.

3. All the Roman numerals on the dials have been replaced with baton indices.

4. The new L951.6 calibre uses the in-house Lange balance wheel and hairspring first used for the Double Split.

Monday, 19 December 2011

A meditation on Japan and Grand Seiko

I bought my first Grand Seiko, the SBGM003 GMT, in 2006. My most recent Grand Seiko is the 130th Anniversary limited edition SGBW033 in steel.

I first visited Japan only in early 2009, but since then I have visited several times a year. I was also there in March this year when the dreadful earthquake struck.

Though I claim no special insight into Japan, I think Grand Seiko watches can be understood by looking into Japanese culture.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

The spectacular Cartier Time Art exhibition in Singapore

Three days ago Cartier Time Art opened in Singapore. An amazing collection of 159 watches and clocks are on display at the lotus-shaped Art Science Museum in Marina Bay Sands until Feb 12, 2012.

Conceived by award-winning designer Tokujin Yoshioka, Cartier Time Art spans the company's history as a watchmaker and includes the earliest known Cartier timepiece, a chatelaine watch dating from 1874.

A comparison of the new and old Rolex Explorer II

I've compared both the white and black versions of the new Rolex Explorer II ref. 216570, so here's a look at the new and old - the white dial Explorer II ref. 16570 and the current, 42 mm black dial Explorer II.

Between the two I prefer the old version by a small margin. The new Explorer II has the current generation spring-loaded clasp bracelet which is a superb piece of engineering. That stands in stark contrast to the rinky dink stamped metal bracelet of the old Explorer. But bracelet aside, in most other respects I prefer the old version.

Video clip of the new Cartier in-house minute repeater

Here's a video clip of the Rotonde de Cartier Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon watch, Cartier's first in-house minute repeater that was premiered on this blog yesterday. The sound is as recorded by my camera, no digital improvements were made. As you can see from the video of the prototype, the sound is superb.


Friday, 16 December 2011

Introducing the Cartier Grand Complication Skeleton pocket watch

For each of the past few years Cartier has unveiled a grand complication wristwatch using a Renaud et Papi movement featuring tourbillon, perpetual calendar and monopusher chronograph. For 2012 the same calibre will be housed inside a beautifully executed pocket watch, the Cartier Grand Complication Skeleton pocket watch. Along with the new Rotonde minute repeater, these are the most complicated offerings in store for SIHH 2012.

Cartier Grand Complication Skeleton pocket watch
The skeletonised Roman numerals are solid white gold and hand finished with carefully bevelled edges, like the bridge of a movement. This design was inspired by Cartier pocket watches from the thirties.

Introducing the Cartier Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon, Equipped with a New, In-House Movement

The flagship watch for the Fine Watchmaking collection at SIHH 2012 is the magnificent Rotonde de Cartier Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon watch. The tone, volume (68 dB) and clarity are superb, as is the finishing (the movement has the Geneva Seal). In fact this is the best finished Cartier watch produced today, in my humble opinion. 

The movement is equipped with an air governor which is silent, as well as gongs with a square profile for maximum contact with the hammers. And the choice of a button rather than a slide for the repeater is to minimise the mass of the case, thus improving the volume.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Daniels Millennium hammers for GBP91,250 at Sotheby's

Daniels Millennium
Photo credit Sotheby's
The Millennium wristwatch by the late George Daniels just sold for GBP91,250, inclusive of buyer's premium, at the Sotheby's London sale.

This is a strong result and higher than past prices which tended to be at the GBP60,000 to 70,000 range. In an somewhat uninteresting auction this was the highlight.


Wednesday, 14 December 2011

A. Lange & Söhne Reference Book by Reinhard Meis is Revised and Expanded

History is a key component of most luxury brands and what better way to express that than a massive, glossy book? This is one of the elementary tactics in building a luxury brand. It bestows legitimacy and learning upon the brand. Montblanc just released its book, Writing Time, earlier this year.

Lange's coffee table book, A. Lange & Sohne: The Watchmakers of Dresden, by Reinhard Meis, was published in 1997. That was only a couple of years after the brand's rebirth so the book is ripe for an update; Lange has come a long way since then.

After eight years of work, Meis has just unveiled A. Lange & Söhne – Great Timepieces from Saxony, a two volume edition comprising 916 pages and over 2700 pictures.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Cartier Model A Mystery clock

Cartier's Mystery clocks are lavish objects that marry art, mechanics and history. Created by clockmaker Maurice Couet for Louis Cartier, they are the quintessential Cartier clock. Despite their fame, the Mystery clocks are exceedingly rare, only a few dozen were made over the span of a century. I was fortunate to be able to examine a Model A Mystery clock, owned by Sir Bhupinder Singh, the Maharaja of Patiala no less. My photos of the clock are on the Cartier forum I moderate.

An impressive range of Mystery clocks will be on show at the Cartier Time Art exhibition that opens at Marina Bay Sands Art Science Museum in Singapore next week on December 14.


Up Close With The New Rolex Explorer II Ref. 216570

The only new steel sports Rolex launched at Baselworld 2011 was the Explorer II ref. 216570, which by definition makes it one of the most desirable watches of the year. 

Between the black and white dial versions of the new Explorer 2, I very much prefer the black, though I own the discontinued white dial Explorer II 16570.

Hands-on with the Speake-Marin Spirit Pioneer

Peter Speake-Marin unveiled the Spirit Pioneer a few weeks ago at SalonQP. Housed in a 38 mm steel Piccadilly case, the Spirit Pioneer is Peter's entry level timepiece with a retail price of CHF9800, making it a compelling proposition.

Though the design elements are not unusual in themselves, the sum of the parts is a highly distinctive watch.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Up Close With the H. Moser & Cie. Perpetual 1 Golden Edition (with Original Photos & Price)

Schaffhausen based H. Moser & Cie. is best known for its Perpetual 1, a cleverly condensed perpetual calendar originally devised by Andreas Strehler for Moser. The Perpetual 1 Golden Edition is a special version of the brand's signature timepiece.

Moser Perpetual Golden Edition
H. Moser's flagship timepiece is undoubtedly the Perpetual 1, an ingenious perpetual calendar which simplifies the calendar display, yet does not miss anything. This year sees the launch of the H. Moser Perpetual 1 Golden Edition, mechanically identical to the regular model, except that several key components, inside and out, are in solid gold.