Timing is everything
Split-second accuracy is fundamental to both motor sport and the finely honed world of watchmaking, so it’s hardly surprising that the two are highly complementary. For many years now, watch companies have selected racing drivers as brand ambassadors. Famously, Jackie Stewart had his shirts’ left cuff tailored to make sure his Rolex was suitably visible at appropriate moments. Fanatical attention to detail is a common factor on both sides of the arrangement.
At the heart of every competition car, you’ll find crankshafts, valves and pistons machined with astonishing precision, to tolerances so small that they are barely comprehensible. This effect is naturally amplified in the world of horology: every traditional watch case contains pinions, bridges, wheels, rollers and other engineering miracles, each a tiny work of art in its own right.
This month, in the latest of our occasional Precision supplements, we look at some of the latest releases from a selection of the world’s leading watchmakers. Some might be familiar to you, others perhaps less so, but all are united by a desire for perfection.
The only thing that separates them from their motor sport counterparts? A matter of scale…
Time to pay a visit
High technology amid Swiss tranquillity
Baselworld is a dedicated watch show in the relatively quiet city of Basel, located on the Swiss border close to both France and Germany.
The show dates back to 1917, when it was launched as the Schweizer Mustermesse Basel. It has expanded over time – and massively so in the past few years. In 1983 the show changed its name to BASEL before becoming Baselworld in 2003.
There are now more than 2000 exhibitors from all over the world, and about 90,000 visitors come to inspect a wide array of watches and jewellery.
Highlights from the show included Rolex reintroducing the favoured ‘Pepsi Bezel’ (or GMT-Master II), in the slightly different form of a white gold case, and the Milgauss with blue dial and green glass.
Precision engineering and a partnership with Porsche
To celebrate partner Porsche’s return to Le Mans as a challenger for outright victories, Chopard has unveiled a special Porsche 919 Limited Edition based on its Superfast Chrono bodywork. It launched the newcomer during this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, where some of the Chopard collection was on display… as was an actual 919, located close to Porsche’s hospitality area.
The watch dial takes various styling cues from the Porsche 919 Hybrid, which made its FIA World Endurance Championship debut earlier this season and competed at Le Mans in June. Within its attractive 45mm steel case, this Chopard 03.05-M-powered chronograph is stamped at 9 o’clock with the 919 logo, whose red flourishes are echoed in the dial’s hands.
On the back of the case, a Porsche Motorsport Official Timing Partner logo is etched on the sapphire crystal glass. Limited to a numbered series of 919 examples, it went on sale this autumn.
Chopard’s watchmaking roots can be traced back to 1860, when ambitious young craftsman Louis-Ulysse Chopard set up his business in the small Swiss village of Sonvilier.
In 1921 his son Paul Louis opened a secondary enterprise in La Chaux-de-Fonds, where he then relocated the whole business.
In 1937 the company moved to Geneva, Switzerland’s watchmaking capital, giving the firm a more visible profile.
In 1943 control passed to Paul André Chopard, the founder’s grandson. His sons, however, were not interested in managing the business and they sought a buyer who would keep the brand going and maintain its rich history. Enter Karl Scheufele, descendant of a watchmaking dynasty from Pforzheim, Germany. Karl and his wife Karin remain active today and have expanded the company over the past 40 years.
Their children are currently the co-presidents of Chopard. Caroline Scheufele is responsible for the collections designed for ladies, while Karl-Friedrich manages the men’s range.
The show must go on
Richmond Group displays latest models in Geneva
For the past 24 years, The Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, or SIHH, takes place in Geneva, the home of Swiss watchmaking. The show exhibits the new releases of 16 brands, all part of the Richmond group. With more than 30,000 square metres available, it’s certainly a large show, allowing the invited guests, retailers and journalists to view forthcoming watches from the various brands.
IWC Aquatimer Automatic
In a wearable 42mm steel case, the silver dial is a cocktail of purity and simplicity. The theme this year was ‘underwater’, and this version on a black rubber strap with pin buckle is a perfect complement to an active lifestyle. IWC continues to make fantastic watches with diving, motor sport and aviation heritage. £4250
This limited-edition Master Compressor, with its black ceramic case and steel crown, possesses a classy yet sporty feel. It has the twin benefits of 65-hour power reserve and chronograph functions. It’s lovely to see these models from JLC, which is probably better known for its Reverso Grande Complication range. £7300
The new Royal Oak Offshore comes in a 42mm case with a navy and cream dial (a style fans have come to know as ‘the Safari’). These new, smaller cases have been reworked with beautiful detailing such as ceramic pushers, which replace the older, rubber-clad ones. £19,000
The PAM563’s 44mm case houses the new P9000 eight-day movement. These Italian watches have military diving heritage and are strictly no-nonsense models, blending a chunky feel with sophisticated elegance. Although the original 1940s and ’50s watches had black dials, the white alternative is clean, crisp and simple. £5300
The Chronograph Hommage has a 42mm pink gold case, RD680 movement and a 52-hour power reserve. Although Roger Dubuis is known for flamboyance and eccentricity in most of its timepieces, the Hommage collection will appeal to wearers who appreciate individuality. It has stunning rose gold numerals and a sunray guilloché dial. £32,400
Inspired by the world of classic cars
Go-ahead Dutch firm aims to fuse style with value
Frédérique Constant, a relatively young brand founded in 1988, is owned by Aletta Bax and her husband Peter Stas. The Dutch couple launched their first collection with six different models in 1992. Having gained experience of the luxury watchmaking industry in Asia, they felt they were ready to take the big step of starting their own brand.
To expand its profile, Frédérique Constant has built an association with the world of historic rallying. The latest Vintage Rally range celebrates the Austin-Healey and the collection comprises six models.
The Vintage Rally Automatic, incorporating a 40mm steel case and sapphire crystal, was a favourite of ours when we visited the company’s impressive manufacturing base in Geneva. Frédérique Constant claims to have “made luxury affordable”, even though it produces internal movement mechanisms in-house for most of its range. These Healey watches come in a wooden box with a scale model of an Austin-Healey, all for £1250.
This is a stand-out brand that has come a long way since 1988, becoming a manufacturer in the truest sense while keeping prices in check compared to its rivals in the luxury market. Even its most complex and expensive range equates to the average cost of high-end brands’ entry-level collections.
Did you know…?
The company takes its identity from the names of two people, Frédérique Schreiner (1881-1969) and Constant Stas (1880-1967). Peter Stas is a fourth-generation descendant of Constant.
Alpina is a brand steeped in history. It was founded in 1883 by the Swiss Gottlieb Hauser, who created the ‘Swiss Watchmakers Corporation’ that later became known as the ‘Alpinists’. The brand is managed by Aletta Bax and Peter Stas, owners of Frédérique Constant. Alpina is known for functional watches with various themes, including sailing.
We liked the Seastrong Collection, particularly the Yacht Timer Regatta Countdown models with their 44mm steel cases, comfortable rubber straps, 30m water resistance and that flash of orange on the dial.
Where age and beauty combine
The vintage watch market remains vibrant
Buying vintage is always a good investment, especially brands such as Rolex, Omega or Panerai. These brands command some of the highest values, particularly as the watches become older.
A recent visit to Bonhams turned up some fantastic examples of vintage watches destined for its watch auction on December 10.
Some of the rarer Rolex Sea Dweller or Submariners sell for more than £20,000 if they have the appropriate provenance – so always keep those boxes, swing tags and original paperwork to be sure of the best resale price!
* Among the watches seen at Bonhams was a Rolex Submariner dating back to 1966, a fine and rare stainless steel automatic bracelet watch together with original Navy, Army and Air Force Institute receipt. This Submariner was first sold in July 1966. Estimate £5000-7000
* Equally lovely was a 1964 Rolex GMT Master, sometimes referred to as the ‘Pepsi’ due to the red and blue bezel, a rare stainless steel automatic calendar bracelet watch with dual time-zone indication, gloss dial and gilt text, with its original chronometer certificate and service papers. Estimate £5000-7000
* To suit those with deeper pockets who might be looking for something more refined, there was a beautiful 18ct gold chronograph wristwatch made by Patek Philippe. An inscription dating it to 1947 adds a personalised, vintage touch. Estimate £25,000-35,000
Notable Watch Auctions
Fellows & Sons Ltd: November 6, 2014
Watches of Knightsbridge: November 22, 2014
Dreweatts & Bloomsbury: November 26, 2014
Bonhams: December 10, 2014
True to type
Bremont has rekindled its jaguar alliance, making six watches to honour the new Lightweight E-Types currently being built
In 1963 Jaguar allocated 18 chassis numbers for its new high-performance Lightweight E-type, but only built 12 cars. Now Jaguar has committed to completing the run with six more desirable, stripped-out racers.
Having previously worked with Jaguar to create a dashboard stopwatch for the CX-75 concept car, Bremont is delighted to continue this partnership with a new project. Purchasers of these last six Lightweights (which have now all been sold for about £1 million) will be offered this special Bremont Lightweight E-Type Chronometer, which reflects the style of the original speedometer in its dial. The Jaguar logo will adorn the back of the rotor. The case is white gold, and has the usual characteristics of a Bremont watch with the barrel incorporating aluminium saved from the construction of the cars’ body panels. This is then colour-matched to the owner’s car.
Other notable detail touches are the crown, which has the exact match of Dunlop tyre tread for that period, and straps made by Connolly, famous for supplying the leather in many classic vehicles.
Relative newcomer with a real feel for history
Back in June, Richard Mille WAS headline sponsor of the biennial Le Mans Classic, which celebrates the heritage of motor sport’s greatest endurance race.
As well as having some of its beautiful Amalgam models on display, the Richard Mille hospitality unit also exhibited several of the firm’s complicated watches, one of which was its newly released RM030 LMC ‘Le Mans Classic’.
In classic tonneau form, the ice-white ATZ ceramic case has green, red and orange highlights peeking through the skeletonised movement – a beauty both on and off the wrist. With its silicone rubber strap, the watch is extremely light and comfortable. It is limited to only 100 pieces, so you’ll need to be quick if you want one.
It is easy to see why Richard Mille continues to be official timekeeper of the Le Mans Classic, which next takes place early in the summer of 2016.
Richard Mille in brief…
Richard Mille is a fairly young Swiss watchmaker, established in 1999 (in collaboration with Audemars Piguet, which manufactures certain parts of the watches) “as a break from the past and a new direction in horology”. The first watch sold was a RM001 back in 2001. RM prides itself on the materials it uses, often developing different composites for both watch parts and cases, such as carbon nanofibre, aluminium lithium, anticorodal and phenix. Aeronautics and racing feature heavily as influences. Richard himself races historic and vintage cars, so being the official timekeeper of the Le Mans Classic is most appropriate. RM’s motor racing ambassadors include Felipe Massa, Jean Todt, Sébastien Loeb and Romain Grosjean, but the firm also figures highly in other competitive sports such as tennis, athletics and golf, where Rafael Nadal, Yohan Blake and Bubba Watson wear RM watches with pride.
* In September Richard Mille opened a London boutique on affluent Mount Street, which already features Scott’s Restaurant as well as stores for William & Son and Parmigiani Fleurier. The RM shop is a contemporary mix of dark wood and glass, with cabinets and handles that match the famous tonneau shape of RM’s watch cases. To celebrate the opening of another European boutique, the ‘Yellow Flash’ has been released, a limited edition of 30 costing about £64,000.
* Other core ranges in the RM collection include Grand Complications models, such as the Calibre RM031 High Performance, with its complex mechanics housed in brushed platinum utilising an Audemars Piguet direct-impulse escapement. The 50mm round case makes it both unusually heavy for an RM and extremely expensive. List price is more than £700,000, but you will be in an exclusive club of only 10 members.
TAG ambassador di Grassi wins Formula E opener
TAG has been a timekeeper in motor sport since the 1960s, famously adorning the wrist of a certain Steve McQueen in the Le Mans film of 1971, and appearing on racewear and race track hoardings all around the world.
Fast-forwarding to 2014, TAG Heuer is now time partner to the environmentally friendly Formula E, which foresees a switch from internal combustion to electricity, starting with the zero-emissions Spark Renault SRT_01E racers that create little sound when they pass.
This fresh initiative’s first race took place in September 2014 at Beijing’s ‘Bird’s Nest’ stadium. After Nicolas Prost, son of Alain, collided with former Williams F1 driver Nick Heidfeld, taking both cars out of the race, it was Lucas di Grassi who took victory. He stepped onto the podium proudly wearing his TAG Carrera 1887, being an ambassador for the brand. The UK will host round 10 of the Formula E series in London on June 27, 2015, with Battersea Park the likely venue.
The finer points
‘Exclusive’ is an overused term, but applies in this case
The use of a name from the past is a way not only of paying tribute to a former master, but also connecting to the future. Julien Coudray was watchmaker to King Francis 1st back in the 1500s and his name is carried on by French watchmaker Fabien Lamarche, a quiet, modest man with immense passion and incredible skill. His idea is to continue the great work of more than 500 years ago.
After spending a day with the company, learning about the brand and visiting its individual workshops, it is plain to see that this small, close team (of about 30) produces special watches – in very small numbers, about 50 a year – at its base in Le Locle, Switzerland.
The firm of Julien Coudray 1518 has many strengths, such as engraving and decoration, but is possibly best known for its enamel work on watch dials (and miniatures). Witnessing both enamelling and engraving, it is clear why they produce so few watches and also why they cost what they do. The firm produces the movement in the same material as the case – white, yellow or rose gold, platinum or titanium – as it creates a natural progression from the inside to the body of the watch.
These high-end watches might not suit everyone, with their lofty prices and specific look, but the production methods help explain the firm’s unique place in the industry.
Combining traditional style with a fresh look, the platinum Classica boasts an elegant white enamel dial with Roman numerals on domed cartouches and contrasting blue hands.
What’s in a name?
Stylish timepieces from the Swiss firm with British roots
* The Supersprint (below left) has a practical 42mm steel case with red detailing and is smaller brother to the Skeleton RS. It is powered by the G1702 automatic chronograph, which has a 40-hour power reserve. The watch has a ceramic bezel and clear sapphire case back. It is water resistant to 100 metres and thus suitable for beach use.
* The Silverstone RS Endurance (right) came out as two limited editions, a 12-hour version in orange and 24-hour alternative in red. Both feature 250 pieces, 46mm cases and a cocktail of diamond-like carbon (DLC) and ceramics. They combine clear and smoked sapphire crystal front and rear, while the black ceramic bezel has a red tachymetre scale. It is powered by a G1751 automatic chronograph, with 48-hour power reserve.
* Graham showcased its 2014 offerings at the Baselworld fair and these included the Chronofighter Superlight Carbon, with 47mm case and black carbon fast-action trigger and bezel. The black carbon dial features a superluminal coating, with chrono hands highlighted in red. It is driven by a G1747 automatic chronograph with 48-hour power reserve. As well as looking cool at the racetrack, this is no slouch at the beach and is water resistant to 100 metres. It is mated to a bright red rubber strap, with full carbon Graham buckle.
Chasing that final tenth…
Watch design has become even more competitive
It seems that Mercedes-Benz/PETRONAS Formula 1 drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are not only competitive drivers on track, but artistic and creative on the watch-designing front, too. Both have recently come up with their own special-edition Ingenieur models for Swiss watch brand and team sponsor IWC.
While Nico’s 45mm Ingenieur has a silver dial, with yellow hands and a leather-inlaid rubber strap, Lewis has gone for a black carbon-fibre waffle dial and the first titanium bracelet to adorn this series of Ingenieurs. Both have their individual ‘stamp’ logo on the case back, which also carries a small piece of Mercedes F1 carbon fibre sealed beneath a sapphire glass. Only 250 examples of each limited edition will be sold.
A tale of fierce independence
His firm was established in 1973 by Emile Pequignet, A watchmaker from the age of 16. He grew up in the small French town of Morteau in the Jura mountains, not far from the Swiss border. To this day the brand, one of only a few that are completely independent of the Richmond, LVMH or Swatch groups, remains entirely French, keeping all manufacture in its country of origin.
Until recently Pequignet was known for its strong connections with a female clientèle, but company CEO Laurent Katz wishes to breathe new life into this name. If you are not familiar with the brand, its logo is a Fleur de Lys symbol.
When Pequignet decided to start producing everything in-house, it almost brought the company to its knees. Things were very difficult indeed in 2012 and bankruptcy was a real threat. Two private investors subsequently bought the company, however, and allowed a new era to begin.
Pequignet now produces a mixture of quartz and mechanical watches. During the 1980s and ’90s the brand represented the equestrian world, as Emile, a great horse lover, thought this a perfect match. It is best known for the successful Moorea Collection, named after Emile’s race horse, and its Manufacture line, which includes some of the most expensive pieces.
Back in Britain
Standards you’ll recognise at a price you might quite like
Tudor celebrated its comeback to the UK at London’s Sanderson hotel, with a special VIP party for a small and intimate guest list of press, friends and celebrities. It was the perfect opportunity to announce the firm’s UK return. Tudor had not officially been represented in the UK since 2003 (its most recent European launches were staged in Basel) and this latest move could prove fruitful in the longer term. Tudor was launched at the same time as its sister Rolex and many models have direct comparisons, including the famous Submariner that appeared in the late 1950s.
We believe Tudor will have an impact on some of its rivals, especially given its heritage and pricing strategy, which will be attractive to young purchasers entering the watch world. Established UK brands such as Omega, Breitling and TAG, who are popular on the high street and who between them dominate the diving and aviation sectors, could potentially lose out to Tudor. Only time will tell how big the impact will be, but we know that Tudor, with its resources and strategies, will certainly be a tough competitor.
Tudor’s pre-owned market is sure to pick up, too. The price of some older Submariner and Ranger watches will rise due to the release of these newer versions. We found a 30-year-old Submariner for less than £3000 on watchfinder.co.uk, while watchclub.com, among other great pre-owned watch sites, features Tudor from time to time.
United Sportscar Championship
Aside from great diving- and pilot-inspired watches, Tudor is the main sponsor of the IMSA United SportsCar Championship, based in America and Canada. It is the result of a merger between the American Le Mans and Rolex Sports Car Series.
It was announced in 2013 that Tudor would be the official sponsor for five years. You can follow the Tudor United SportsCar Championship on its YouTube channel, via its official website or else on Instagram @unitedsportscar.
The Fastrider Black Shield watch is a Ducati collaboration, echoing the Italian motorbike company’s Diavel Carbon bike construction. Forged from a ceramic block, it has the signature Italian Red as the accent colour across the indices and markers on the chronograph dial, and the colour also features in the leather strap’s stitching. Natural similarities with the Daytona are also apparent.
* The Black Bay, which first appeared at Baselworld 2012, is a 41mm diving watch, reminiscent of the Submariner. It comes in two distinctly different options – a red anti-clockwise rotating bezel, deep dark chocolate dial with pink gold markers or the more recently released version with blue bezel, grey dial and silvery markers. Attention to detail, such as the brushed top, polished case sides and Tudor Rose crown engraving, make this sub-£2300 watch both desirable and affordable. A Rolex Submariner would cost twice as much.
Bolt from the blue
A link between the world’s fastest athlete and Ferrari
Hublot is synonymous with sport, thanks to high-profile partnerships and a number of globally famous ambassadors. Apart from its involvement with FIFA and soccer’s World Cup, Hublot has long-standing motor racing associations and served as Formula 1’s Official Timekeeper from 2010-2012, when Rolex took over. The firm is also one of Ferrari’s sponsors.
In August 2014, leading London department store Harrods staged an exhibition in its watch and jewellery department. On show were models from their World Cup and Pop Art ranges, along with its new LaFerrari watch… and a Ferrari F1 show car.
Elsewhere, Usain Bolt – the world’s fastest athlete and a Hublot Ambassador – made a guest appearance at Hublot’s London Boutique earlier this year, chatting to the press while wearing his favourite of four colours in the Big Bang All Black Unico collection, available in red, green, blue (Bolt’s choice) and orange. The watches come in a 45mm black ceramic case, featuring H-shaped screws within the bezel.
Hublot has always been fond of developing and blending new materials. These watches are partly of titanium construction, to save weight and improve durability.
A decorative fusion of sport and sculpture
Armin Strom was known initially for customising watch movements – but more so for sculpting them. Armin opened his own shop in 1967, restoring and selling timepieces but also making his own. The first was a gold pocket watch. From an early age he spent an incredible amount of time paying attention to detail – and this laid the foundations for his biggest skill, ‘skeletonising’.
This involves removing parts of the movement that don’t serve any real purpose, then engraving and decorating those that remain. In 1984 his first pieces were shown outside his shop during the Basel watch fair, an event that is today known as Baselworld.
Armin’s reputation as a master craftsman has allowed him to work for some of the top brands, sculpting movements for them.
Now in his 70s and retired, Armin enjoys his other passions outside watchmaking and leaves the running of Armin Strom AG to a small, dedicated team of artisans in a modest, former Rolex workshop in Biel.
The firm’s first in-house movement was the Calibre ARM09 and it has since introduced the Tourbillon ATC11.
Strom has also achieved a Guinness Book of World Records entry for developing the smallest watch ever to be sculpted by hand, a delicate piece for a lady.
The company has its own sailing team, which has been competing this year in the Great Cup 32 series across Europe, and is also official timing partner of Marussia F1.
Swiss firm with a passion for French traditions
Parmigiani has collaborated not only with Bugatti, but also with French company Lalique, which made the crystal incorporated in its pendulette clocks. The cabinets are made from rhodium-plated solid silver. Watchmaker and restorer Michel Parmigiani heads the company, which is privately owned by the Sandoz Foundation. Its mission? “To rise to a freedom of creation, enabling the incorporation of styles inspired by treasures from the past, as well as the wildest dreams of the future.”
* The Bugatti Aerolithe is available with either Crème de Menthe or Navy Blue dials, set in 41mm white gold and titanium Tonda cases, with beautiful polished satin finishes and water resistance to 30 metres. They cost £20,000 and are made at the independent manufacturer’s factory in Fleecier, Switzerland.
* Parmigiani Fleurier has worked with Bugatti for some time and has already collaborated on several high-end watches. The Bugatti Super Sport was made in very small numbers, for instance, and came with a £250,000 price tag – not quite in the Bugatti Veyron’s league, but significant in this domain.