Keeping an eye on the time: New releases and bygone classics
By Richard Holt
‘Smart’ watches have been causing a lot of excited chatter for years. But all of this breathless when/how/what/why has been largely ignored by people who prefer their watches to have a mechanical heart.
It is not that watch people are not interested in progress – far from it. For all the love of tradition, watchmakers are always finding ways to make their machines run more efficiently and ingeniously, but they know that microchips don’t really spin people’s wheels. The watch industry survived a battery-powered assault in the ’70s and ’80s, and is now proudly clockwork.
But Montblanc has come up with a brilliant idea: a way of getting a watch to become smart without losing the appeal of its cogs and springs. It has taken a handsome, mechanical watch in rugged carbon-coated stainless steel and fitted it with an “e-Strap”.
This has a small metal-encased device that is connected to your smartphone via Bluetooth. It vibrates to alert you to incoming calls and messages, which you can then read on the small screen. It also acts as a fitness monitor that tracks your progress through a phone app – you can even set it to give you subtle vibrating reminders when you are spending too much time sitting still. It can be used to stop and start music playing on your phone, and also to operate the phone camera remotely for long-distance selfies. There is even a Find-Me function, which allows you to track down your misplaced phone at a distance of up to 30 metres.
This e-Strap is the first of its kind and a big surprise, particularly given that Montblanc has come up with the technology in-house rather than farming it out to someone more silicon-minded. Perhaps that shouldn’t be a shock, given the company’s reputation for fancy footwork – not long ago it was well-known for posh pens but not timepieces, whereas now it is justifiably taken very seriously as a watchmaker.
There will be some people for whom watch and smartphone should be kept separate, but Montblanc has found a way of making them work together. And by putting a little bit of tech on your wrist, you spend less time glancing at your phone to see if it has anything new to tell you.
Montblanc TimeWalker Urban Speed Chronograph e-Strap in stainless steel with black DLC coating, £3660
Jack Heuer is one of the true legends of the watchmaking business. He took over the family firm in 1962 and the following year launched a chronograph that enjoyed huge success for two decades. He took the name from the Carrera Panamericana, the fabled road race across Mexico that had bitten the dust because of its high casualty rate. Its demise only strengthened the epic race’s legend.
The Carrera was a proper, no-nonsense tool watch, designed to be as accurate as possible under the most testing of conditions. The model’s enduring appeal was underlined when it was relaunched in 1996, and it continues to be made in various iterations. Nevertheless, original Carreras – like this one sold by Bonhams – are still relatively affordable compared with the contemporary Rolex Daytona, which shared the same Valjoux movement. www.bonhams.com, www.tagheuer.co.uk
Stainless steel Heuer Carrera chronograph circa 1965, sold for £6250 at Bonhams in London
Parmigiani Fleurier is treated with the sort of respect normally reserved for the grand old brands, even though it only started making watches in 1996. This owes a lot to the fact that the founder, Michel Parmigiani, was a man who brought a lot of history with him. Twenty years earlier he had founded a watch and clock restoration business in Fleurier, Switzerland, quickly gaining a formidable reputation and being asked to take care of the most important collections of antique timepieces in the country.
Following encouragement and financial support from a deep-pocketed client, Parmigiani began making his own products, informed by his knowledge of the past and enabled by his incomparable skills as a watchmaker. The company continues to restore antique pieces, and also makes watch movements and components for other high-end brands. The painstakingly hand-built watches are made in small numbers to exacting standards. New for this year is a skeleton version of the Tonda 1950 dress watch with a beautifully pared-down automatic movement. It is available in white or rose gold with a Hermès alligator leather strap.www.parmigiani.ch
Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda 1950 Squelette in white gold, £30,000. Also available in rose gold