Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Vianney Halter Trio

One of the phrases that comes to mind when you examine the Vianney Halter Trio, or any other watch from Vianney - God is in the details.


Polishing a watch case

"Polishing a watch is like rolling back unrolled toilet paper. It may look the same, but it'll never be the same again."

I wrote that in response to a discussion on using the Cape Cod polishing cloth. I generally prefer not to polish my watches unless absolutely necessary.


Monday, 28 March 2011

Photo essay: The Lange Double Split

The Lange Double Split is one of the underappreciated watches from Lange. It's not a pioneer like the Datograph was, neither is it a grande complication like the Tourbograph is (though traditionally the rattrapante was, more on that later). But the Double Split is a magnificent watch for many reasons,

It is not a pretty watch, the dial design is a tad unbalanced, but the L001.1 calibre of the Double Split is a multi layered movement that is a sight to behold. In fact, the Double Split movement ranks up there with the tiny Patek Philippe CHR27-525 PS movement of the refs. 5959 and 5950 as one of the best rattrapante movements today in terms of construction and finishing, in my humble opinion.

Perception, fallacy and truth

I recently wrote a post on the Cartier forum I moderate, discussing Cartier as a brand and how it is perceived. Specifically I mentioned the Rotonde de Cartier Astroregulateur, launched at SIHH 2011. 

An excerpt: I was having a discussion with a fellow collector, a gentleman who is discerning and educated, about the Cartier Astroregulateur... My friend had commented the watch was expensive; retail is EUR250,000 or thereabouts. I explained that the Astroregulateur is as complicated as a tourbillon... And conceptually it was innovative and creative, a novel approach to a known problem.... His response was, "But it's not a tourbillon!"

The post created quite a significant discussion on value and complications, including a long thread on the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Tourbillon. Click here for the rest of the post and to share your thoughts.


Sunday, 27 March 2011

Hands-on with the Chopard LUC Engine One tourbillon

Launched last year for the brand's 150th anniversary, the Chopard LUC Engine One tourbillon is obviously inspired by automobile racing. The automotive theme extends to the details: the engine block-like movement is mounted on the case by three arms with silent block shock absorbers.

The LUC calibre 1TRM is manually wound fitted with a flying tourbilon that features Chopard's distinctive three-armed tourbillon cage. And like all Chopard tourbillons the balance wheel is the proprietary Variner (VARiable INErtia) balance.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

An absolute stunner

I was going through my files for some research and came across my photos of the De Bethune Dream Watch 3 tourbillon. It is without question one of the most stunning watches I have ever encountered. The combination of design, colours and materials is amazing.

Because of its silicon hairspring, escape wheel and tourbillon carriage, the Dream Watch 3 has the world's lightest tourbillon regulator which weighs only 0.18 g. It is also the world's only high-beat tourbillon, running at 36,000 bph.

Friday, 25 March 2011

A closer look at the notable Rolex Baselworld 2011 novelties

As mentioned in an earlier post here, the new Explorer II ref. 216570 was no surprise. Some of its features are notable. The press release explains:

"Its case, enlarged to 42 mm, houses the new calibre 3187... [which] includes... the PARAFLEX shock absorbers and the non-magnetic PARACHROM hairspring...

The bracelet is equipped with a new OYSTERLOCK clasp with safety catch and the EASYLINK comfort extension link.

On the dial, the 24-hour hand has returned to the arrow shape and the orange colour of the original 1971 model. The hour and minute hands are broader and more legible, and, on the black-dial version, their black base blends with the black dial to create a “phantom effect”. The luminescent sections of the hands seem to float over the dial –another nod to the historic model."

Totally unexpected but causing quite a stir is the new Daytona in rose gold with ceramic bezel ref. 116515LN. The dial is brown and so is the alligator strap. Not my cup of tea but very striking. This watch has Rolex fans dreaming of a steel Daytona with ceramic bezel, or perhaps, maybe, a Daytona entirely in Cerachrom, the brand name for Rolex ceramic.

And the Yachtmaster is now available in two-tone Everose Rolesor (Everose is the proprietary Rolex rose gold alloy while Rolesor refers to steel and gold). Again not my cup of tea.


The coolest Opus in a long time

Denis Giguet
Harry Winston just unveiled the Opus Eleven (why not 11 or XI?), which looks to be the coolest instalment in this series since the Opus V. Created together with Denis Giguet of MCT, who incidentally is an alumnus of Rolex and Harry Winston, the Opus 11 is easy to understand.

The hours are displayed in the centre of the case, while the running minutes are on the discs inside the bubble at two o'clock while the bubble at four o'clock exposes the balance wheel. 

The action takes place at the top of the hour, when the hour digit in the centre breaks apart into its four constituent discs, and the next hour is assembled in the centre by another four discs.

The Harry Winston Opus Eleven

There are 24 discs in total that revolve around the case - four satellites holding six discs each.

Since the Opus 6 I found the Opi (or Opuses or Opera?) rather lacklustre. The Opus Eleven turns it around completely. Bravo!

On another note, the new Opus Eleven reminds me of the Vianney Halter Goldpfeil Satellarium with its "hidden Mickey".

Vianney Halter Satellarium
Photo credit Christie's

Update: This video illustrates how the Opus Eleven functions.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Sci-fi Citizen watches at Baselworld 2011

Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave

Citizen presented some cool, sci-fi (complete with sci-fi anime trailer) at Baselworld 2011, including the Citizen Eco-Drive Satellite Wave which comes with its own Appleseed XIII anime trailer. Unforunately Citizen is even worse at marketing and PR than Seiko, so all the material is in Japanese so information is limited.

The first is the Citizen Eco Drive Satellite. I gather this is a concept watch but it is designed to receive time signals from a series of 24 satellites orbiting the earth.

Unlike traditional radio-controlled watches while rely on radio waves for time signal thereby limiting their geographical range, the satellite controlled watch should be able to work at any point on earth.

Update: More about the Eco-Drive Satellite Wave can be found on this blog entry here.

Citizen also created a video trailer for this watch in collaboration with the makers of anime movie Appleseed XIII.

Another new model is the Eco-Drive Ring, a solar-powered chronograph with an impressive looking case. The open sides of the case and lugs are for the solar panels which is a clever way to removing them from the dial as was the case in earlier Eco-Drive models. The case work on the upper end Citizen watches I've seen is always extremely high quality and elaborate and this is no exception.

Update: A bit more info on the Eco-Drive Ring.

Citizen Eco-Drive Ring
The last notable model is a solar-powered Campanola with moon phase and calendar (pictured right). With the Campanola range not only are the cases of high quality but so are the dials and hands. In fact some of the dials and hands are of amazing quality with razor sharp edges and incredible guilloche.

Citizen Campanola Baselworld 2011

Japanese readers can peruse the Citizen site here.


Seiko at Baselworld 2011 - including the Seiko Credor minute repeater

Seiko Credor Minute Repeater
Seiko unveiled several interesting watches at Baselworld 2011, including the 130th anniversary Grand Seiko limited edition SBGW033 in steel which hopefully will be on my wrist later this year. I had heard rumours about several of them prior to Baselworld and am glad they have come to fruition.

The flagship watch for the year is undoubtedly the Seiko Credor Spring Drive Minute Repeater (Ref. GBLS998). This is the first Seiko minute repeater, and the second high complication Seiko watch, after the Credor Sonnerie.

It is a decimal repeater, meaing it strikes the hours in hours, ten minute segments and one minute segments.

Myochin wind bell

Two features ensure the sound of the repeater is as pure as possible.

First is the Spring Drive movement which runs silently, unlike a lever escapement. And Seiko uses a silent governor for the repeater, eliminating the whirring noise that accompanies many repeating watches. Also, the gong in the repeater is forged from Myochin steel; the Myochin family has been making steel for about 1000 years.

Movement of the Seiko Credor repeater

The repeater is made at the Micro Artist Studio at Seiko Epson in Shiojiri. I have visited the studio and it's essentially 13 men crammed into a small room underneath the stairs (literally) who spend an entire year making 10 or so watches with incredible, no expense spared finish. I am sure the new minute repeater is no exception.

Three Credor repeaters will be made a year with a retail price of JPY34,650,000.

Grand Seiko SBGW033 in steel
note the blue steel seconds hand
My other favourite from the year's collection are the Grand Seiko watches for the 130th anniversary of Seiko.

They are conservative watches inspired by the original Grand Seiko of 1960, available in steel, platinum and yellow gold (refs. SBGW033, SBGW039 and SBGW040 respectively). And at 35.8 mm wide they keep the dimensions of the 1960 GS as well. The steel model retails for a reasonably EUR5000 while the gold is EUR15,400 and the platinum EUR23,500.

Grand Seiko SBGW039 and SBGW040
in gold and platinum respectively,
note the white gold seconds hand
on the Pt model
Cal. 9S64

They contain the new 9S64 movement with three day power reserve. Aside from the longer power reserve, this calibre differs from its predecessor in several other features.

The mainspring and balance spring of the movement are made from alloys developed by Seiko, while the skeletonised lever and escape wheel are made using an etching technique similar to that used to make silicon wafers.

Seiko Brightz Ananta SAEK015
The last model that caught my attention is the limited edition Brightz Ananta Automatic Chronograph Diver's watch (Ref. SAEK015). It has a handpainted black urushi dial.

Sadly the design of the watch is derivative and uninspiring. I would have preferred a Grand Seiko with a laccquer dial.

The rest of the 2011 collection can be seen here on Seiko's website.


Update: Live photos of the Baselworld 2011 collection.

Seiko's clip of the new minute repeater, note the lingering, clear chimes

And the promotional clip for the anniversary Grand Seiko watches

How fast can you go in a straight line?

TAG Heuer has a long history of sports timing but the Mikrotimer is something else. Capable of measuring up to 1/1000th of a second - during which a plane at Mach 1 will fly only 33 cm - the Mikrometer has two escapements, one for regular timekeeping and the other for the 1/1000th second chronograph.

The newly released TAG Heuer Mikrotimer reminds me of the Bugatti Veyron. It's an ambitious and impressive project that does something better, faster, quicker than anything before.

Baselworld 2011: Introducing the Hermes Arceau Le Temps suspendu, a Watch that Stops Time

Something unexpected from Hermès at Baselworld this year. Created in collaboration with Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, the Arceau Le Temps suspendu is an interesting concept similar to the Maurice Lacroix Memoire 1 of several years back which promised much but never materialised.  

Wiederrecht runs Agenhor, the complications specialist, especially with retrogrades, responsible for some of the most creative retrogrades of recent years, most famous Van Cleef & Arpels Poetic Complications and the MB&F HM2.

Jean-Marc Wiederrecht (left) with
La Montres Hermes CEO Luc Perramond

As its name suggests the Arceau Le Temps suspendu suspends time: the nine o'clock button brings both the hour and minute hands to noon and hides the retrograde date hand. 

The movement, however, continues running, measuring the elapsed time. Press the button again and the hands fly back to their rightful position, taking into account the period that has passed. This essentially is a triple retrograde watch, albeit cleverly and creatively executed.

This reminds me of the Franck Muller Secret Hours, but in reverse. The hands of the FM are always at 12 but they jump to the correct time display when a pusher is depressed; release the button and they fly back to noon.

This Hermès is novel concept, though no doubt expensive as everything from Hermès is, and reflective of the effort Hermès is putting into watchmaking. Kudos to Hermès for working with Agenhor too. 

The design however lacks finesse in my opinion, it's a equestrian inspired yet lacking character; it looks deflated and soft. Most of what Hermès makes is tasteful but somehow I find their watches generally bland.


Yet another vintage inspired watch

Photo from
This time from TAG Heuer. The new Monza chronograph features blued cathedral hands and a faux enamel dial with mock aged Luminova.

Somehow the case looks a bit too modern for such a heavily vintage dial. It is also reminiscent of the Longines Spirit. 

The movement is the TAG Heuer Cal. 36 which is actually a Zenith El Primero.

More on the new Monza at TAG Heuer specialist site Calibre11.


Less is more from Stowa - the Flieger Chrono

Stowa is popular on the internet mainly for its affordable watches styled liked vintage military designs. They have just unveiled their Flieger Chronograph, one of the most uncluttered chronographs I have ever come across.

The chronograph has been condensed into a central seconds hand and a minute counter - that's it. I like the clean and functional design tremendously.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Finally the new Rolex Explorer II is here

A screenshot of the mystery 2010 video
Last year a Rolex promotional video was making its rounds on the internet. It showed the 2010 collection with one addition, what appeared to be a new Explorer II with the enlarged case of the new Submariner and an orange hand a la freccione or Steve McQueen ref. 1655.

The story goes that the watch was originally slated for 2010 release but pulled at the last minute, and the video was released by accident.

So it was not hard to guess one of the watches Rolex just unveiled at Baselworld 2011.

The new Rolex Explorer II is 42 mm, larger than the Submariner and GMT-Master II but smaller than the Deep Sea. It contains the new 3187 calibre.

- SJX 

The new Tudor Heritage Advisor

In the fifties the Tudor line-up had an alarm watch known as the 'Advisor', the only complication available in a Tudor but not a Rolex. This year at Baselworld 2011 the alarm makes a comeback as part of the Heritage collection which takes inspiration from vintage Tudor (last year's highly successful Monte Carlo was the first Heritage model).

The new Advisor has a 42 mm titanium and steel case.

The movement is automatic with an in-house Tudor alarm module; the base calibre is most probably an ETA. The functions are explained in the Tudor press release:

"The disc at 3 o’clock indicates the status of the alarm power reserve. The alarm function is activated via a specially shaped pusher at 8 o’clock, and its ON/OFF indicator is displayed in a dial aperture at 9 o’clock. The date is indicated by a hand on the counter at 6 o’clock. The winding crown at 2 o’clock is engraved with the name ADVISOR and is used to set the alarm. The crown at 4 o’clock is delicately decorated with the TUDOR rose from the original dial and is used to access the winding, time settingand date-changing functions."

Introducing the new Patek Philippe ref. 5270 perpetual calendar chronograph

Baselworld 2011 has just opened and one of the most anticipated watches is the replacement for the ref. 5270G from Patek Philippe, the latest in a long history of chronograph with perpetual calendar wristwatches.

Fifth in a long line of such complications the Geneva house (it is preceeded by the refs. 1518, 2499, 3970, 5970), but it is the first entirely in-house model of this complication - that is in itself a sign of how the industry has changed. 

Price is inverse to weight

In the world of Richard Mille, price is inverse to weight. When launched the RM009 Felipe Massa and subsequent RM027 Rafael Nadal tourbillons were the lighest mechanical watches in the world. And now to satisfy those who want a weightless watch but are on a budget, Richard Mille gives us the RM035 Rafael Nadal.

Like the RM027 it was developed for Rafael Nadal. And like the RM027 it has a heavily skeletonised movement weighing only 4.3 g. The RMUL1 movement is manually wound and almost certainly from Vaucher. Interestingly, it is Chronofiable® certified which means it has a passed a thorough series of durability and reliability tests. It is the first RM to receive this certification; Chronofiable® is also part of the testing process of the Qualite Fleurier certification used by Chopard amongst others. 

The case is a magnesium-aluminium alloy with a black ceramic oxide coating. A brilliantly cool looking watch. And it retails for the equivalent of an almost ridiculous USD95,000.

But for those who are parsimonious, Casio offers a pair of G-Shocks with carbon fibre bands that weigh 47 g and cost about USD300.

I really wanted to pick up one of these when I was in Tokyo but the lettering on the band put me off. Casio needs to learn from Richard Mille: less is more.


Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Introducing The McGonigle Tuscar, A Time-Only Wristwatch

The Irish McGonigle brothers, John and Stephen, have finally unveiled the Tuscar, a time-only watch and their second timepiece after the tourbillon. This watch was a long time coming - the tourbillon was unveiled in 2007 - and has been keenly anticipated by fans of indepedent watchmaking.

The Tuscar is 42.5 mm wide with an open, sapphire dial. It contains the McG01 movement with double barrels for a 90 hour power reserve and a large 12.8 mm balance wheel for chronometric performance. It also has a gold escape wheel which is apparently lubrication-free.

"We wanted a time-only watch with a high focus on excellent timekeeping; a substantial power reserve; solid reliability; and with superb finishing and decoration." explains John McGonigle. "The design had to have a clean coherent style and we wanted the principle mechanical elements visible on the dial side. To achieve all of that we had to develop our own movement from the ground up."

At first glance the watch reminds me of a Greubel Forsey but the details are unique and reminiscent of the Celtic styling of the McGonigle tourbillon. And like the tourbillon, the finishing depicted in the photos also looks superb.

This will be available in a limited edition of 20 pieces in rose gold, following the sold-out "One in Ten" launch series.

Click here to see a 2007 interview I did with the brothers.


Sunday, 20 March 2011

Introducing The Hamilton Pan Europ Chronograph Limited Edition

Vintage remakes are now flavour of the day. One of the hits of 2010 was the Tudor Heritage or Monte Carlo. The highlight of Hamilton's Baselworld 2011 offerings will be the Pan Europ chronograph, a reedition of a 1970s Hamilton chronograph.

Using the Heuer-Leonidas/Breitling cal. 11 with its distinctive left-hand crown, the original Pan Europ was Hamilton's first automatic chronograph. It is also notable for being one of the first Hamilton watches made in Switzerland.

It is a faithful looking remake of the original, with the biggest difference being the size (now 45 mm) and the crown placement at three o'clock instead of the original nine o'clock. Also, the date window is now square, while the original was round.

The original contained the calibre 11, one of the world's first automatic chronograph movements. Today's version contains a variant of the Valjoux 7750, the world's most successful automatic chronograph movement. But it is not a stock Valjoux, it features a 60 hour power reserve, in contrast to the conventional 40, exclusive to Hamilton. This is part of the Swatch Group's drive to keep improved movement versions exclusive to Swatch brands, just like the Valjoux with column wheel that is exclusive to Longines.

Particularly notable is the external fit and finish of this watch, which is superior to the average Hamilton of recent years. The dial is a bit more detailed and neatly executed - the concave chapter ring and chronograph subdials are a nice touch.

And the case is better finished than before, with slightly sharped edges, instead of the soft, rounded lines of most other models.

The Pan Europ is also fitted with a rally-style strap which is perfect for this type of watch. It is reassuring that Hamilton got most of the details of this design right; several of its other models have one or two details that throw the entire design off track.

I find most of Hamilton's designs unattractive, many are either overly derivative of other brands or just off-kilter. In contrast the Pan Europ looks very good. The metallic blue dial is a brilliant shade and the retro design is perfectly executed.

This will be a limited edition of 1971 pieces with a retail price of about USD1900. Hamilton's Swatch Group sister company Longines has long made successful vintage remakes, especially of its sports or pilots' watches. It is good to see Hamilton going down the same path. Admittedly this doesn't require much creativity or skill, but when the end result is accesibly priced and attractive, there is little to criticise.

Update Sep 2011: Actual photos of the production Pan Europ.

Update Oct 2011: The Pan Europ I ordered has arrived and I am very pleased with it.