Timing is everything
Since motor sport’s invention during the 1890s, pinpoint timekeeping has been as much a part of its essence as braking points, tyre life or internal combustion. And things have become increasingly accurate over the years, with margins long distinguished in hundredths and thousandths rather than full seconds.
In this latest edition of our biannual Precision series we look at recent trends and developments in watchmaking, from exquisite one-offs to car-inspired timepieces via the manner in which some watch companies are becoming increasingly self-sufficient with regard to design and sourcing of parts.
Some parallels there, perhaps, with Formula 1, but then this is an industry that will ever and always have much in parallel with our own.
Precision is written and edited
by Richard Holt
All the world's a stage
A firm with its finger on rallying's pulse
Sports watch brand Certina became timekeeper for the World Rally Championship in 2013, and since early 2015 has also been the official partner of Citroën’s Total Abu Dhabi team. But the brand’s involvement with the WRC goes back a lot further – from 2002 to 2005, Certina sponsored Petter Solberg and late rally legend Colin McRae.
The company dates back to the late 19th century, when a small workshop was established by the Kurth brothers in the Swiss town of Grenchen at the foot of the Jura mountains. It began by making parts for other watchmakers before moving on to make complete timepieces.
In the early 20th century, Certina was among the first brands to produce wristwatches and it won a reputation for high quality. In the late 1950s the company developed its Double Security (DS) system, so called because the movement was placed inside a highly reinforced case and was suspended to provide further protection from shocks.
In 1960 these DS watches, which were also water and pressure resistant, were taken on an expedition to the Himalayas in order to prove how durable they were. After they survived this expedition, Certina began an involvement with tough pursuits that has been the company’s focus ever since, as befits its motto: Reliability, Precision and Innovation. As well as rallying, over the years Certina has been involved with yacht racing, hockey, boxing, motocross, motorcycle racing and Formula 1.
Serious purpose, optional sparkle
A brand loved by pilots, policemen ... and 50 Cent
Rappers – especially those not shy about bringing the bling – are known for theire love of watches. In the track What Up Gangsta, when 50 Cent has finished threatening to “have yo’ momma picking out your casket”, he boasts about how well gangsta life is treating him by saying: “I’m on the next level, Breitling baguette bezel.”
Whilst you can indeed get Breitlings with baguette-cut diamonds adorning the bezel, to think of the brand as being all about the sparkle would be very wide of the mark. They are known principally as “tool watches”, watches that are made to do a serious job rather than to let your homies know how much money you are making.
The brand was started way back in 1884, when Léon Breitling opened his first workshop in the Swiss Jura and quickly became known as a maker of high-quality, precise pocket chronographs. As watches moved from pocket to wrist, so Breitling grew and passed from father to son, and then grandson. Breitling became the watch of choice for many military and police forces around the world.
The arrival of military and commercial aviation meant the need for precise wristwatches was greater than ever, and Breitling won a contract to supply watches to the Royal Air Force. This link with aviation continues today, and Breitlings are worn by both professional and amateur pilots – there is even a Breitling Jet Team, pictured, which carries out daring displays of aerobatics around the world.
So there may be nothing shy and retiring about Breitling. But the watches themselves are very serious pieces of kit, even if you do decide to add diamonds.
This is the modern world
Contemporary pieces inspired by iconic British cars of the 1960s
Anyone with even half an eye on the watch industry will see that one thing is definitely not in short supply: brands. There are so many of them that sometimes it can feel impossible to keep up. So when you hear about yet another one joining the ranks, you need to fight the urge to raise an eyebrow and wonder whether there is any space left in the crowded market.
If you want to buy a lower-priced quartz watch, you are spoilt for choice. Equally if you have a few thousand to spend, there are many blue-chip brands competing for your attention. The one area that does feel a little underserved, however, is reasonably priced, well-designed watches with proper mechanical movements.
And this is where the new London-based brand Farer comes in. Actually it is not completely new, as it brought out its first quartz watches in 2015. But if you are the kind of watch fancier for whom only mechanical will do, Farer is new, because it has just unveiled its first range of automatic watches.
The watches are designed in London, but built in Switzerland using ETA movements, which appear in watches costing several times as much as those offered by Farer. Fittingly the design influences cited by the company include Swiss watch brands such as Omega and Universal Genève, but also British cars from the 1960s like the Jaguar E-type and Aston Martin DBS. Those both happen to be cars owned by Paul Sweetenham, one of the founders of Farer along with Jono Holt and Ben Lewin.
Sweetenham talks about how during the design process the team was jumping in and out of his cars, examining all the fine details of the lights, dashboards and colouring to get inspiration for the watches. As well as acknowledging a debt to cars of the past, Sweetenham hopes that the British motor industry can serve as an inspiration for watchmaking in this country. “Many great British industries are back on their feet,” he said. “Not least the motor industry. With strong British design working with Swiss movements and manufacturing, Farer would love this to be a step towards the British watch business emulating the car industry in years to come.”
Farer takes its name from the latter part of the words like “seafarer” and “wayfarer”, and the aim was to create watches with a sense of adventure, and the automatics are named Beagle, Hopewell and Endurance after historical British ships.
“We wanted to make watches that are one of the few important possessions you want to take with you when you travel, said Sweetenham. “That’s why we invite people to take up our offer of free engraving, because a watch is a possession that you want to keep, not something temporary like a mobile phone.”
Keep on running
A time lord who likes to make the most of his classic collection
You would be forgiven for thinking that Karl-Friedrich Scheufele was in the car business, rather than the watch business. The co-president of the Swiss watch and jewellery brand Chopard is a regular participant in the Mille Miglia along with friend and Le Mans legend Jacky Ickx, and he has an enviable, and extremely tasteful car collection.
For all his love of cars, he has clearly never lost a second’s focus on the day job. Under his stewardship, the family-run business has developed its own manufacture, which makes movements for the haute horlogerie L.U.C collection, a tribute to Louis Ulysse Chopard who founded the brand in 1860.
So of Scheufele’s twin passions, cars and watches, which came first?
“It came in alternative waves,” he said. “Cars were earlier than watches, as I plastered my bedroom wall with posters of all different kinds. But later the watches took over. My grandfather had a watch collection which I subsequently took over and expanded.”
Not that his love for cars ever waned, and his collection includes such wonders as a Ferrari 750 Monza, an Aston Martin Ulster and a 1929 Bentley 4½ litre. A big Porsche lover, he also has a 911 2.7 RS, a 356 Carrera 2 GS and a 356 Speedster – fittingly seeing as Chopard has been the official timing partner for Porsche Motorsport since the German team made its full-scale Le Mans comeback in 2014.
Asked what he would do if he had to pick just one car from his collection, he answers without hesitation. “The Porsche Speedster, the 356. It was the first classic car I bought – I’ve had it for 30 years. I have always had a strong attraction to Porsche and I have driven them ever since.”
Despite all the rare machinery in his garage, he tries to make sure he uses all the cars as often as he can. “The worst thing you can do with cars is not drive them,” he says. “Cars need a lot more maintenance than watches. Not that you should disregard the need to maintain mechanical watches – it is still a machine with moving metal components that need to be looked after and serviced.”
Does sharing a car with a legend encourage Scheufele to push the boundaries? “I enjoy driving fast but I have a natural instinct of risk reduction. At the Mille Miglia I like to drive – I am not slow but don’t take unnecessary risks. It is a silent agreement I have with Jacky.”
Return of the king
Firm pays tribute to its significant aviation heritage
After an absence of two years from the Rolex line-up, the Air-King has returned bigger and better. The watch has been brought back to pay tribute to Rolex’s role in the pioneering days of aviation. And what a role that was. UK aviator Charles Douglas Barnard set a number of records, including a 5000-mile flight from Karachi to Croydon in 1928. After one trip he said of his Rolex Oyster: “The peculiar qualities of this watch render it eminently suitable for flying and I propose to use it on all my long-distance trips in future”.
In 1933 Rolexes were worn by Flight-Lieutenant David McIntyre and Sir Douglas Douglas-Hamilton as they undertook a treacherous mission – funded by the philanthropist and former suffragette Lady Houston – to take to an open-topped biplane and make the first flight over Mount Everest.
Then the following year, Owen Cathcart-Jones and Ken Waller made a return voyage from London to Melbourne in record time with a twin-engine De Havilland Comet, using a Rolex Oyster as their on-board chronometer.
Towards the end of WW2 Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf launched a series of aviation-themed watches to honour to the pilots of the RAF. These included the Air-Lion, Air-Giant, Air-Tiger and – the only watch that endured – the Air-King.
The new Air-King is, at 40mm, substantially bigger than the last one. It is also better-shielded from the elements, with a Faraday cage within the screwdown caseback that gives it the same resistance to magnetic fields as the redoubtable Rolex Milgauss. It is also more accurate and all of this, along with the new watch’s prominent minute markers for navigational readings, presents the new Air-King as a pilot’s tool watch, and a fitting tribute to Rolex’s place in aviation history.
One place, twin passions
Glamorous gathering backed by a great innovator
For a third year, hordes of beautiful cars and beautiful people made their way to the Château de Chantilly, the beautiful historical castle half an hour’s drive north of Paris, for the Chantilly Arts & Elegance Richard Mille.
Richard Mille set up his eponymous watch brand in 2001, and had a seismic impact on the industry as he proceeded not just to bend the rules, but fling the rulebook out of the window, making audacious watches the like of which had never been seen.
For such a maverick, being involved with a refined concours d’élégance on the lawns of French château may seem like an unlikely fit. But Mille is a car fanatic without equal, having amassed an impressive personal collection of Formula 1 cars, and his company sponsors the McLaren-Honda F1 team and has a design partnership with Aston Martin. And he has always paid great tribute to the world of motor sport for influencing his approach to making the cutting edge “motors” in his watches.
So Chantilly is the ideal place for his twin passions to meet, as his latest creations are displayed among the endless lines of beautiful cars from every era. Over the course of festivities on a Sunday in early September, a jury consisting of 40 experts, including FIA president Jean Todt, was called upon to judge three competitions: the Concours d’Élégance for concept cars, the Concours d’État, and the Grand Prix des Clubs to recognise the owners’ clubs that are doing the most to keep the history of cars going. The Richard Mille “Best in Show” prize was awarded to an Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B from 1938 with Touring bodywork.
New to the watch world
A selection of recent launches, in the world of fine watches
Bell & Ross
Bell & Ross takes its inspiration from the aeroplane industry, with its characteristic round dial on square case designed to be like cockpit instruments. This watch, however, looks a bit farther. Designed to accompany astronauts into space, the Hyperstellar has been built to survive extreme temperatures, corrosion, impacts, acceleration, pressure and vibrations. The automatic-winding chronograph has ergonomic push buttons suitable for use with gloves and the dial details ensure optimal time reading. It is extra lightweight yet strong, thanks to the combination of titanium and aluminium.
Arnold & Son
Arnold & Son, founded in 1764, is a great name from Britain’s horological past. John Arnold and his son supplied marine chronometers to the Royal Navy and established several watchmaking patents. One Arnold & Son chronometer is considered such an important piece of history that it is displayed in the National Maritime Museum in London. The Arnold & Son name was revived in the early 21st century and the new watches pay tribute to the original company, include design elements from John Arnold’s chronometers and pocket watches. The TB88 in available in either steel or rose gold. It has a hand-wound mechanical movement with twin barrels, providing 100 hours of power reserve.
This watch is newly released, but in true Patek Philippe style, it is not messing with a winning formula. The 5170 – how true fans of the brand love a reference number – is Patek’s classic manually wound chronograph, with bi-compax dial showing a 30-minute counter at 9 o’clock, running seconds at 3 o’clock and chronograph centre seconds. New for this year, the watch is available in rose gold on a chocolate-brown alligator strap.
Extra-Fort Grande Taille
New for this year, Eberhard has brought out a larger version of the Extra-Fort, one of the mainstays of the Swiss firm’s range. Fitted with an automatic chronograph sourced from the Swatch Group-owned movement maker ETA, the watch comes with a stainless-steel case and a polished, engraved caseback that is locked in place with six screws.
C8 Power Reserve
Christopher Ward has built a reputation for high-quality watches at affordable prices. The C8 Power Reserve Chronometer continues this trend and offers a lot of watch for the money. The aviation-themed watch has a twin-barrel, in-house, chronometer-certified movement. The indicator at 9 o’clock allows you to see how much is left of the impressive 100 hours of power reserve.
The Overseas collection was launched 20 years ago as Vacheron Constantin’s answer to the growing public demand for luxury sports watches. This year the range has been refreshed with a handsome selection of watches that all come with anti-magnetic protection, Poinçoin de Genève certification and water resistance to 150 metres. Each watch comes with an easily interchangeable rubber and alligator strap in addition to the metal bracelet. The watch also has a sapphire caseback so you can admire the handsome automatic movement within.
Maurice Lacroix has built a reputation for making high-quality watches, a mixture of mechanical and quartz, that tend to be much more affordable then most of its Swiss rivals. The Aikon comes on either a leather strap or a stainless-steel bracelet. The movement is quartz and the Aikon has a 42mm stainless-steel case and sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating. The dial is black with rhodium indices and the watch is water-resistant to 100 metres.
This watch pays tribute to the model created in 1958 for the International Geophysical Year. The Geophysic 1958, while having the appearance of a classic watch, has military and scientific origins, just like the original. Engineered to be accurate beyond chronometer standard, the Geophysic has an automatic-winding movement and is anti-magnetic, shockproof and water-resistant to 100 metres.
The Henley-based Bremont was launched in 2002 by the aircraft-mad brothers Nick and Giles English. They began by making pilots’ watches, and have also made gorgeous E-type inspired watches with Jaguar’s Ian Callum as a design partner. The Boeing 100, a return to their first love, has a case made from Boeing’s aviation-grade Ti 6-4 titanium, a metal that is significantly stronger than titanium, and has carbon fibre composite from the first Boeing Dreamliner flying test bed incorporated into the crown.
The Original Carrera, named after the deadly Mexican road race the Carrera Panamericana, was developed under the leadership of Jack Heuer and launched in 1963. New for this year is a return of the Carrera Panda, a twin-subdial chronograph with white subdials on a black dial, or black subdials on a brushed silver dial. It has a 41mm polished steel case and is water-resistant to 100 metres, It is powered by TAG Heuer Calibre 17, an automatic chronograph that gives the watch a central seconds hand and a 30-minute counter at 9 o’clock, as well as date and running seconds. It comes on either a perforated leather racing strap with a red lining, or else a steel bracelet.
Ultima Limited Edition
This limited edition from the independent Swiss watchmaker Louis Erard is produced is conjunction with the 240mph Ultima Evolution supercar. The watch has an automatic-winding chronograph movement and a black carbon-fibre dial with twin frosted gold subdials. It has a 42.5mm stainless-steel case and perforated leather racing strap.
Black Bay Bronze
Tudor may have been launched in the 1940s as a cheaper alternative to sister brand Rolex, but in the last few years it has gained many fans who don’t see it as playing second fiddle to anyone, even the mighty Rolex. The Tudor revolution began in earnest in 2012, with the launch of the gorgeous Black Bay Heritage range. The latest version, in bronze, is arguably the best of the bunch.
El Primero Range Rover Special Edition
In the 1960s Zenith was one of number of brands competing to produce the world’s first automatic chronograph. The argument over who won that very close race has never been settled, but Zenith’s watch movement, the El Primero, is the most enduring. It continues to be produced today with more than 600 movement variations coming along the way. Newly unveiled is the Range Rover special edition, part of new partnership between Zenith and Land Rover. Both the
El Primero and the Range Rover were unveiled in 1969.
Vintage trends: golden oldies
Originals can be good value, if you know where to look
For too many years, the international auction market has been dominated by two brands: Patek Philippe and Rolex. Fine and rare examples from these great marques set new records every year to the extent that a good collectable example is beyond the reach of a more modest collector.
The good news is that the choice for vintage collectors is finally beginning to widen with alternative brands being offered at more reasonable prices. The bad news is that the current passion for vintage means that they won’t remain affordable for long.
Tool watches, especially sports chronographs, are particularly hot right now and while the Rolex Daytona is still the undeniable “king of the road”, prices for vintage Heuer, especially early Autavias, are starting to rocket. Watches that might have sold for £3000 10 years ago are now making £30,000, confirming Heuer as the next big thing. The authenticity of these brands makes them more desirable – no marketing spin here, these were actual models worn by racing drivers in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. From an aesthetic angle, these chronographs are in line with contemporary watches, whereas time-only pieces from the period tend to be too small.
There is a cascade effect down to the lower-value brands. Some, such as Omega’s Speedmaster or Universal Genève’s Tri-Compax, are already well known to collectors, the same is true for Tudor and Breitling, but others such as Enicar, Gallet or Excelsior Park are not. Clean, original examples of these are a great buy, even if they have started to go up in price. They share the styling, heritage and often the movement of the more expensive brands, and yet cost a fraction of the price.
As the Swiss watch brands’ re-issue mania shows no sign of abating, why not grab yourself an authentic original? If you are quick off the mark it might prove to be a canny investment, should the chronograph boom continue.
By Adrian Hailwood, Director of Watches at Fellows Auctioneers (www.fellows.co.uk)