Features

Watches: timed to perfection

28 Apr 2017 by BusinessTraveller
Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathom MIL-SPEC

Chris Hall rounds up the latesty luxury watches, from retro dive timepieces to high-complication masterpieces.

 

STAR WATCH

Rolex Sea-Dweller

In the world of Rolex, there are no small details. Allow me to explain. In what is increasingly looking like canniness ahead of caution, modern-day Rolex works largely on a policy of incremental upgrades to its core models – the Submariner, Daytona, Explorer, and so on. When wholly new watches are introduced, the die-hard fans are notoriously cool in their welcome. And anything done to heartland models – in fairness, all of them iconic designs – is therefore Big News.

Which brings us to this year’s new Sea-Dweller. Introduced 50 years ago as a hardier upgrade to the Submariner to better serve the needs of professional divers, the original Sea-Dweller was the first watch to feature a helium release valve. This was particularly useful in a pre-digital age for saturation divers, for example, who work underwater and in pressurised conditions for extended periods, but it is arguably less useful nowadays. However, the model existed for four decades, changing incrementally in that Rolex way, before vanishing from the range for a time in 2009, to be re-introduced as the Sea-Dweller 4000 in 2014.

Now it’s just called the Sea-Dweller again (but is still water-resistant to 4,000 feet), and there have been changes. Most controversial is the addition of a “cyclops”, Rolex’s name for the magnifying nodule above the date window for improved legibility. The watch has also got bigger, from 40mm to 43mm, and the words “Sea-Dweller” on the dial are now red (previously white). Inside beats a calibre 3235 mechanism – new to the Dweller – bringing better timekeeping accuracy and reliability.

One could debate the necessity and merit of all the aesthetic changes – and rest assured, many will – but for Rolex, it’s business as usual: on and on, constantly improving.

 

KEEPING THINGS ON TRACK

The chronograph remains the single most popular complication on a watch. Here are four for all tastes

Patek Philippe 5960/1A

To borrow a phrase from a friend – admirers of Patek Philippe would happily sell their grannies in order to own one of these watches. It combines two practical functions – a chronograph, in the nested sub-dials at six o’clock, and an annual calendar (needing adjustment just once a year, at the end of February), and it does so without seeming
overly cluttered.

This year sees it gain a devilish black dial and bright red seconds hands that lend it a hitherto absent sportiness. The movement was Patek’s first automatic chronograph calibre made in-house, and the approach it takes to recording elapsed time is still not mimicked with any success elsewhere. The outer ring at six o’clock counts the minutes, and the two inner rings, with the red hand, count elapsed seconds between them (each ring accounting for 30 seconds). Should you be lucky enough to live with one, it rapidly becomes second nature.

  • £37,040
  • patek.com

Frédérique Constant Manufacture Flyback Chronograph

If a luxury watch can ever represent value for money, this is it. Flyback chronographs (allowing for instant restarting of the mechanism) typically cost multiples of the Frédérique Constant’s price, and rarely look as good.

  • £3,750
  • frederiqueconstant.com

Montblanc 1858 bronze

Montblanc’s heritage-inspired chronograph now comes in oh-so-trendy bronze, with a washed-out dial in suitably retro tones to match. Flip it over to see one of the world’s best-looking movements, too.

  • £23,600
  • montblanc.com

Omega Speedmaster Racing

It’s not a purist’s Speedmaster – that would be the Moonwatch – but the new Speedmaster Racing is a colourful, sporty alternative with all the latest mechanical movement technology inside it.

  • £6,240
  • omegawatches.com

 

PURE AND SIMPLE

When you need to look your best, less is always more. These elegant dress watches are the epitome of suave sophistication

Cartier Drive Extra-Flat

Regular readers may recall that Cartier launched the Drive last year, in a number of forms – but now we see that it was merely peppering the target before landing the bullseye that is the Drive Extra-Flat. Stripped of the overly baroque engraved dials and unencumbered by complicated extras in favour of a simple satin finish and only hour and minute hands, this is a slice of pure elegance.

With the “cushion” case shape, it’s distinctive enough to stand out, but the Roman numerals and simple minute track reassure you that this is still classic Cartier. Inside is a manually wound movement, one reason why the watch can be so thin (only 6.6mm). It’s not too wide either, at 39mm – a significant step down from last year’s 42mm Drive. For this year at least, the Extra-Flat is available only in rose or limited-edition white gold (only 200 creations), but we wouldn’t bet against a steel version making an appearance in 2018.

  • Rose gold £12,500, white gold £13,400
  • cartier.co.uk

Chopard LUC XPS Twist Fairmined

The LUC range is Chopard’s premier line and home to some true beauties. The XPS Twist (named for its quirky dial layout) now comes in Chopard’s ethically sourced Fairmined gold.

  • £14,500
  • chopard.com

Breguet 7787

Nobody does high-end sophistication quite like Breguet. The enamel dial with blued-steel needle-thin hands balances a power reserve indicator and classical moonphase, all in a 39mm gold case.

  • £22,700
  • breguet.com

Zenith Elite Classic

The new Elite Classic is even simpler and smarter than before – the kind of unimpeachable choice that could see you get through life with just one watch…

  • £8,200
  • zenith-watches.com

 

DIVING INTO THE PAST

Watch brands have been submerged in their archives for a while now, but when the results are this smart, we won’t complain

Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathom MIL-SPEC

Such is its ubiquity, it is easy to assume that the Rolex Submariner was the original diver’s watch. But, no, in fact rival Blancpain got there a year earlier, in 1953, with its Fifty Fathoms. Like the Submariner, it remains in production and enjoys a passionate cult following. Unlike the Sub, however, it has spawned a number of distinctive variants over the years, and it is one of these that Blancpain is harking back to with the new Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC.

When first launched in 1957, it introduced a small orange and white circular patch at six o’clock that would turn red if water penetrated the watch’s case. The modern-day version – measuring 40mm and rated to 300 metres of water pressure – is faithful to the original, although Blancpain assures us there is zero chance of moisture creeping in. Just in case, though, eh?

  • £10,310
  • blancpain.com

Rado Hyperchrome Captain Cook

Typically given more to designer-chic ceramic creations, this year Rado has dipped into the archives and recreated a 1960s piece, the Captain Cook, with spot-on sizing (37mm) and 100-metre water resistance.

  • £1,430
  • rado.com

Oris Divers 65

The Divers 65 took Oris from clueless to cool in two short years with a winning combination of retro looks, bold colours and agreeable prices. Now it’s available in a slightly more sophisticated silver-dialled iteration.

  • £1,450
  • oris.ch

Panerai Luminor Submersible 1950 Rosso

Hugely responsible for the popularity of oversized watches in the 1990s and 2000s (via one S Stallone), Panerai is now making smaller versions (42mm)for mere mortals. The Submersible is the latest to get the scaled-down treatment.

  • £21,500
  • panerai.com

 

FIGURES OF FANTASY

Four high-complication timepieces that show life at watchmaking’s upper echelons has never been busier

Lange and Sohne Tourbograph Perpetual “Pour Le Merite”

A Lange and Sohne reserves the soubriquet “pour le merite” for its most horologically pure, incredibly intricate creations – it has spent the past 25 years developing a hotbed of German perfectionism to rival Swiss watchmakers.

The Tourbograph Perpetual combines a perpetual calendar, a split-seconds chronograph and a tourbillon – or, in other words, three of the most challenging functions to master. The watch’s hand-wound movement consists of 684 components (and that’s not even counting a 636-piece chain system that actually drives the whole thing). When you consider that you could examine any one of those under powerful magnification and not find a single unpolished surface or an edge of less-than-perfect sharpness (all achieved by hand, naturally), you start to understand why it costs half a million euros. Only 50 will be made, all cased in platinum.

  • 480,000
  • alange-soehne.com

Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication 3600

The most impressive thing about this one-off creation is not its intense level of inner complexity or bewildering array of functions (everything from the length of day and sign of the zodiac to a tidal forecast) but that it achieves so much and still looks (relatively) normal.

  • £POA
  • vacheron-constantin.com

Girard-Perregaux Planetarium Tri-Axial

There is something of the 19th century about Girard-Perregaux’s latest masterpiece, which features a hand-painted titanium globe moving alongside a tourbillon that, as its name suggests, constantly rotates in three axes at once. Pictures don’t do it justice.

  • £211,000
  • girard-perregaux.com

Greubel Forsey Grand Sonnerie

When a watch has been 11 years in the making, you expect it to impress. Messers Greubel and Forsey have delivered with their first chiming watch – at the press of a button, it will ring out the hours and quarters in passing, and the exact time on request. And, yes, it can be silenced overnight.

  • £1.1 million
  • greubelforsey.com
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