Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Hectometer: William Trubridge's 101m dive

The HECTOMETER freedive from william trubridge on Vimeo.

Sponsored by Suunto, Orca and 100 individual sponsors (one for each meter), William made an epic 101m dive last week in the Bahamas...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bremont and the Jaguar C-X75

The first Jaguar I ever recall sitting in was a beautiful red XJS: a V12 HE. I was very young, but distinctly remember being incredibly excited at the sight of this shiny, new and extremely sleek beast. I think it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen, and certainly had one of the throatiest roars I'd ever heard, with a lovely purr as it cruised up the A22.

I remember being excited every time I saw that car - and I still get the odd twinge, even now. On Friday afternoon, while visiting the Berkeley Boutique as a guest of Bremont and ATG Vintage Watches, I suddenly found myself rediscovering my inner nine year old (as the squeals on the accompanying video will testify). The Jaguar C-X75 concept really is the most wonderful thing I've seen an many a year: the curves of its silver flanks; the twin gas turbines visible through the rear window; the red Martin-Baker styled door handles positioned on the seat; the wonderfully techno-retro display; and, of course, the Bremont watch mounted proudly in the console. The clock is still a concept - as is the Jaguar - but is based upon the tried and tested (beyond endurance) MB watches developed with Martin Baker, and the recent pocket watch developed as a bespoke project for the "handmade" edition of Wallpaper* in August. 

A beautifully-milled back, echoing the shape of the blades in the gas turbines, allows the clock to be mounted both on the dash and as a desk clock. Should the design be taken into production, Bremont hopes to produce a device to translate the energy from the braking / acceleration of the car into the rotary movement required to power the Soprod-modified automatic movement. Bremont are also looking at the possibility of installing a watch winder for periods of inactivity. 

The car itself is studded with wonderful driver-centric design touches - some of which recall Jaguars of yesteryear (e.g. the E-Type digital dash or the flowing lines of the acheingly beautiful XJ-220), while others are pure Tron. For example, the speakers in each of the doors are concepts designed by Bowers & Wilkins. Each is backlit in a soothing blue, and contains a series on one watt "nano speakers" rather than the traditional woofer / tweeter configuration. The door release is situated between the legs of the driver, and draws on the red warning triangles used by Martin Baker in their ejector seats. The start / stop levers are above the driver's head, and, rather than have an adjustable seat, the entire console (including pedals) moves towards the driver, while strips illuminate around the seats, drawing you into the console. 

The video shows the startup, from a track day at Le Mans. After a quick flying lap around the curves, the Jag checks its aerodynamics and then begins to test the twin gas turbines, before coming to rest with some lovely retro E-Type dials. It's hard not be excited by this concept from Jaguar, and I do hope that it makes it into production. The expected performance is staggering: 0-62 in 3.4 seconds and a top speed of 204mph, thanks to the 4 x 195hp electric motors. Not bad for an electric car!

The C-X75 is available for viewing at The Berkeley Boutique until Friday 24th December and from Tuesday 28th to Friday 31st December 2010. More photos can be found here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Is this the first ladies' dive watch?

At Bonhams today, sometime this afternoon, Lot 324 will come under the hammer. Most of you may have left the building by then, as you'll probably be largely following the sale of the excellent collection of 60's, 70's and very early 80s Heuers from the Haslinger Collection. However, if you do stick around, you might see something rather special.

Lot 324 is described as "Swiss. A fine and very rare platinum and diamond set wristwatch with an early form of sealed case design 1920's." It boasts a jewelled lever movement with cut and compensated balance, silvered dial with Arabic numerals and blued steel hands and a platinum hinged case. The movement slides out from within the filigree platinum case to reveal a very slim rectangular winder (just visible in the photo). Incredibly, the entire watch (including the diamond-covered*, articulated case) is no wider than 10mm. Just think about that for a moment. The movement inside is approximately 8 mm across. Astounding!

Now, the reason that this particular watch is very unusual and of such interest to me (apart from the micro-mechanical movement), is that it features a very early form of waterproofing**. In many respects, it is similar to the Omega Marine case design which was patented as No.146.310 on March 10, 1930***, a few years after the Rolex "Oyster" case and screw-down crown was patented (1927). The movement is kept dry by being cased twice - once in the movement case, and then again in the actual watch case. 

The "Marine" cases were designed to keep marine clocks, and indeed certain wristwatches, dry and were apparently designed for use by the Navy and, some have argued, could be described as the world's first "dive watches". In 1936 and 1937, a series of dives took similarly-cased watches to between 70m and 135m. The famous French naval diver and inventor Yves le Prieur (1885 to 1963), who invented a hand-controlled self-contained underwater breathing apparatus back in 1926, is said to have owned one of these Marine Case watches. That this watch is dated closer to 1926 than 1937 makes it very interesting indeed. Is this a pre-Patent model?

So, what we have here is, technically, one of the first ladies' "dive watches" ever to be made. Or perhaps not. But whatever it is, I hope its next owner wears it in very, very good health.

the #watchnerd

*The diamonds are wonderfully set in platinum, with large 10mm baguettes running horizontally across the articulated case. It's a beautiful piece of jewellery in its own right, which may go some way to explaining the £8,000 - £10,000 estimate...!
**The early history of waterproof watches is fascinating, and while Peret and Perregaux's (later, Hans Wilsdorf's) design for the screw-down crown was the "missing link" between the Rolex Watch Company's Submarine and the Rolex Oyster case, it's probably not one that had a massive bearing on the design of another of my favourite dive watches, the Russian Zlatoust 191yc. The latter appears to have more in common with the Submarine (or perhaps the Omega Marine) than the Oyster, relying (as it does) on a large, robust, steel and glass coffin to surround the movement. Even the crown is similarly shrouded (no matter how may Zlatoust watches I see, I'm remain amazed at how flimsy their stems / winders are). The Marine suffered from the same (or at least similar) failings as the Submarine / Marine - you had to remove the watch from the shroud to set / wind the mechanism. Arguably, Harwood came up with a better design in 1923/4 and could (perhaps) be afforded a similar honour. I'm not sure what contact there was between Harwood and Wilsdorf, but one assumes the latter was aware of the former's '24 patent - although, given the later *disagreement* between them which resulted finally in a full Rolex apology, I doubt Wilsdorf would have readily admitted any knowledge. For me, it's a fine example of design evolution and the effect of geography; the Zlatoust, being geographically, politically and ideologically separate from Switzerland appears to have continued down a evolutionary cul-de-sac. While it might be a dead end, I find it no less interesting.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mid-Dive Table Mediocrity, Part 2

The past ten years have seen a steady increasing number of companies that have released dive watches into the same pool. Many have sunk. Some still swim, buoyed on by the membership of various watch fora. The history of these watches goes back almost a decade to the first of the “microbrew” dive watches – the English-designed, German-built Dreadnought from Precista. Whilst oft-imitated, this watch has rarely been bettered, certainly in terms of value for money. It offered 2000m WR, excellent time-keeping (a regulated ETA 2892), rugged good looks and a little bit of scarcity value (it was a Limited Edition of 200). Mint copies now trade hands for four-to-five times their original value.

Since  then,  literally  dozens  of  such  watches have sprung up, form the similarly-cased Kenzo Nautilus, to the rash of Submariner-a-likes produced in 2009. These latter watches all appear to utilise the same Chinese-milled case,  and  are  WR  to  2000m.  Now,  into  this relatively  deep pool of watch-sellers, plunges a newcomer - Ril watches.

Designed in London and manufactured in China, Ril Concept's new “Scuba” model is powered by a Japanese automatic movement (no word yet on whether this is a Miyota). The watch will be presented in a luxurious case, and all watches are   supplied   with  both  a regimental  G10  NATO  strap  and  a  solid stainless-steel  adjustable  bracelet.  Ril’s creators  (Nathan Halfon and Robert Gilbert) appear to have built a 38mm, unisex, Rolex Submariner-style watch, with a sterile dial. But with a water resistance of only 30m (100ft). Hey ho. One the plus side, the crown is unusually large, and echoes the vintage models from which this design has been borrowed. 

“Its dial is unadorned, showing no brand, for Ril Concept believes that the Ril Watch Scuba should say but one thing: “It belongs to you.” Only a Ril Watch Scuba’s owner will know the brand, its name relegated to the case-back.”
While  I  applaud  the  concept  (and  Ril  is  very much a “concept”, with clothes, homeware and  a club coming in 2011), I can’t help thinking that there’s not much separating the Ril from the $1000 herd. Nor indeed from a handful of  similar  designs in far lower price brackets. The hands look relatively  normal,  the dial pedestrian. The lume appears to offer nothing over the  now-standard SuperLuminova®. In short, I find the launch of Ril a little underwhelming.

This feeling is exacerbated by the rather strange one year warranty offered with  each watch: “During  this  period,  any errors due to manufacturing defects or  the  bad  phenomenon made  by non-artificial factors will be repaired free of charge. This will make you feel more satisfaction with our service.  Special  instruction: case, band and dial are not included in the warranty.” I told you it was odd…

Perhaps I have missed the point; this is a watch "concept" after all. And any newcomer who positions  itself  in  direct  opposition to Patek Philippe (however playfully) must have a plan: "You actually own a Ril Watch. You do not  need to wait for the next generation." But I remain unsure as to what, exactly,  that  plan  is.  Perhaps this watch will be the key to Ril’s next venture? A secret sign to the cognoscenti?  Who knows?

As an aside - I actually do rather like the "de-badged" offering: one of the first watches ever given to me was a small, plain, off-white quartz watch from GRUS - another brand that feels that a logo on the dial detracts from the design aesthetic.

One  final  point. I note that Ril are giving $6 per watch sold to Shelter, the bad housing and homeless charity. This is surely to be praised.

Ril Watches are available on-line now, at £599 or $999.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A Peter Speake-Marin GTG in London

Firstly, a confession: I do not own one of Peter Speake-Marin's watches. I should dearly like to, and certainly aspire to own one, but at present, my Speake-Marin desires are being vicariously lived though Peter's excellent A Passion for Watchmaking and those watches I see posted on Twitter, forums, etc. To be invited  (thanks to the Sydney Tarts) to attend the first ever London PSM GTG was therefore something of an honour.
On Friday evening, I rushed out of work just after five, jumped on the tube down to Oxford Circus and walked the five or so minutes to Albermarle Street. I'd not met Peter before - this was his first GTG in London, after all. And given the price of some of his pieces, I wasn't sure whether the room would be full of collectors, watch nerds or something else completely. Turns out the he'd booked the back room of a small Italian restaurant called Dolada. Nice venue. Quiet. Great staff. There were already about ten people there by the time I arrived, including two names I recognised from the ACHI PuristS forum - Greg D and Mo - James Gurney (editor of QPMagazine and organiser of the incredibly successful SalonQP 2010 in London the previous month), a couple of people I recognised from Somlo, including George and his wife, who I'd last met at the Olympia Fine Arts Fair. But no Peter.

Greg explained the Peter was approximately four hours behind due to bad weather into Gatwick; I must admit I was incredibly disappointed. I chatted with Mo and Greg for a while, ogled a lovely gold snake calendar Piccadilly (which turned out to be Peter's own watch), and an incredible 1in20 perpetual calendar, while drinking some excellent Prosecco. Greg made a call and confirmed that Peter had taken off and would be jumping in a cab when he arrived at snowy Gatwick. 
I had another appointment, so said my goodbyes, popped off the Apple store to get a replacement phone. By the time I got back over an hour and a half later, there were only four people left. They'd moved to a table in the centre of the restaurant but there was still no sign of Peter. Greg very kindly asked me to join their table, so I ordered a glass of wine and spent lovely hour chatting about pens, chef's knifes, food, top end audio and Japanese studio ceramics!

And then Peter arrived. He was instantly recognisable and wearing the trademark scarf. He looked absolutely frazzled. He'd had a nightmare with Swiss Customs, had been delayed nine hours in total and was pretty much dead on his feet. He grabbed a beer, sat down next to me and whipped off his Thalassa! 
The Speake-Marin Marin-2 Thalassa

A brief interlude: the Marin-2 Thalassa is the latest watch to be designed and built by Peter. It contains the in-house SM2m manual wind movement, a beautifully blued hand set, framed by a blue outer dial with cut-out roman numerals and the most incredible running seconds, based on Peter's trademark vintage topping tool design. 
The SM2m movement  
It really is an absolutely lovely piece. The white gold case is weighty, solid but also perfect on the wrist. The German silver bridges, so visible through the cut-out dial, have a warmth to them which is rarely seen in other metals. The movement, visible through the caseback, is a series of off-centre circles, with multiple layers, a highly three-dimensional appearance, and the lovely double swan-neck regulator and trademark large jewel framing the central mechanism. 
Thank you Peter, for braving the snow, ice and Swiss customs, and thank you for bringing with you the Thalassa. I have a new aspirational piece, that's for sure.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Inside SalonQP 2: Jaeger-LeCoultre's jewels...

Jaeger-LeCoultre were showing strongly at SalonQP 2010, with the new Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2 GMT (Tribute to Geophysic). But alongside that impressive piece, was a gentleman, a desk, and a great deal of very, very small jewels. I was offered a loupe and a guided tour of one of JLC's more mainstream automatic movement - a 938 or similar movement by the looks of the dial on display. All 273 parts! Loupe in hand (well, in eye) I squinted at jewels, cogs, screws, and of course, the more exciting parts of the watch, such as the various bridges, escapement parts and the rotor. But it was the jewels to which I kept returning.
There's a photo* in Peter Speake-Marin's A Passion for Watchmaking that he also posted as a teaser on Twitter: it's of a pile of jewels. Sparkling, pink and utterly beautiful. I'd not seen so many in one place before, and it started something of a minor fascination with these strange, synthetic rubies. The jewels for any watch largely have two purposes: to reduce friction and act as a reservoir for lubricants. To see so many on the JLC stand was just as remarkable. 
A finished movement was also on display - without the rotor and it was lovely to spend a few minutes talking about the finer side of horology - actually making a watch. I learnt, for example, that it only takes a couple of hours to take one of these (standard movement) JLCs apart, clean it and put it all together. My host seemed to suggest that there's really only one way all 273 parts can fit together - although I'm not sure it'd be so easy for anyone else.  Altogether a fascinating time spent talking about a fascinating brand.

*page 166 if you have a copy - and if you don't, shame on you

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bell & Ross points the way...

Bell & Ross began selling watches back in 1992, although in those days, their watches were made by Sinn. Since then, they have designed watches for astronauts, pilots, divers and even bomb disposal experts. 

Although announced at Basel this year, SalonQP was the first time that the BR 01-02 Compass had been shown in the UK. It is based on a simple concept: the "hand" (or rather the time measurement point) stays still while the dials revolve. The outer dial displays the hours, while the inner dial displays the minutes (it was just before nine when I took the shot below). Speaking to Carlos Rossilo, we briefly discussed the technical challenges of the watch, which included finding a suitably robust, yet lightweight material for the dials. 

I must admit to being immediately taken by this piece. Although it is a simple design, and a relatively simple movement - the ubiquitous ETA 2892 - the overall effect is rather captivating. A new take on time, that rather skews one's view of the world: rather than hands turning, this watch almost gives you the impression that the world is revolving around you.

Limited to 500 pieces, sporting a 46mm PVD'd case and looking rather cool, it'll be available soon. More photos, including the rather nice BR 01-92 Radar, the BR 03-92 Military Ceramic and the Vintage BR 123 / 126 Heritage range, are available here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bremont's B-1 Marine Clock

SalonQP saw the pre-Basel 2011 launch of Bremont Watch Company's new B-1. The B-1 is Bremont's first in-house produced piece, a marine clock which draws on the memory of John Harrison's marine chronometers from the eighteenth century, while applying the aeronautical cues for which Bremont has become so admired. 

The clock was designed by Bremont's Technical Director, Peter Roberts, who taught both Peter Speake-Marin and Stephen Forsay at Hackney School of Watchmaking. It's a 40-day clock, weather-proofed and approximately a foot across. With date, a second timezone, home port time, a 90-day time-of-trip dial (ideal for tax exiles, according to Giles English) and a power reserve indicator, the clock is not short of complications. The B-1 uses a classic English movement (excuse the pun), with a lever escapement and twin fusee. It's manual winding (of course), operated via a winding arm from behind.

That it was designed and built in house, and in England is nothing short of incredible: Bremont manufacture. 

And did I mention that that it's not bad-looking either? I particularly like the way that Bremont have kept some of their design "DNA" from previous wristwatches. For example, the strong vertical lines on the dial echo the Supermarine 500; the GMT hand has the same arrow head as the Martin-Baker MB1 and MB2 and the rehaut is reminiscent of the internal bezel on the ALT1-P and ALT1-Z watches. 

Bremont will build approximately one a month, and each one is customisable. Retailing at approximately $60k / £40k, it's not for everyone, but shows that British companies aren't afraid to innovate.  More photos, including the launch at Salon QP, can be found here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Inside the incredible world of Dr Daniels and Mr Smith

Dr George Daniels MBE CBE FSA may be the world's greatest living watchmaker. Certainly he revived the art of handmade watchmaking in the 20th century and has produced some of the most incredible pieces that I have ever seen. With Roger W Smith, he has also created a range of watches which go well beyond the scope and scale of most of us, to become something that is truly special. That Dr Daniels has only completed 37 watches is also astounding. Each one, handmade, hand crafted, hand milled, turned, decorated, built. All of it under one roof, and with one maker. While the prices may be eye-watering, the watches themselves are pieces of horological art. Masterpieces. 

Roger W. Smith's watches are equally as moving. With their in-house designed and manufactured escapements and balances, highly polished surfaces and intricately engraved faces, these pieces are a wonder.

I apologise for the photos. I think I may have got a little carried away. Somehow, in the presence of these, one forgets about focusing, lighting and other mundane thoughts!
Roger W. Smith
Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith
Daniels London, the first space traveller's watch
Daniels London Co-Axial Anniversary Edition prototype 
Daniels London, a gold co-axial minute tourbillon with chronograph

Inside SalonQP Part 1: Engraving, Vacheron Constantin-style

In the main hall of SalonQP this year, huddled under a desk lamp, and hunched over a very small object was a lady. From afar, she looked liked she could have been doing a spot of brain surgery or perhaps laboratory work, as she peered through the twin eyepieces of a high-powered light microscope. In fact, she is one of the many, highly skilled workers who hand engrave the movements and other watch parts for Vacheron Constantin
The piece on which she was working, was the intricately-engraved rotor of a Patrimony, probably the Patrimony Traditionelle open-worked perpetual calendar, by the look of the incredible detail she was applying. 

She begins with a series of sketches / watercolours which set out the general theme of the engraving. In the case of the open-worked perpetual calendar, the theme is the Eiffel Tower, and in particular, the iron work that supports this Parisian icon (see sketch on the right). The engraving on the rotor, and indeed other movement parts, and through to the skeletonised supports and case, is based on the grillwork. 

Interestingly, the only non-structural elements of the Tower are the four decorative grillwork arches, added in the architect's (Stephen Sauvestre) sketches, which served to reassure visitors that the structure was safe, and to frame views of other nearby architecture.

But, to get back to the VC. The sketches form the basis of the engraving, which is carried out through the use of specialist tools, and highly trained artists. The tools will be familiar to many, as they resemble wood-working tools, but are much finer. Each piece to be engraved is placed in a protective wax which allows the piece to be held firmly in place while the engraver works his or her magic. And magic it most certainly is. Each tiny, measured flick of the wrist forms another perfectly executed element of the design. 

Each little tool (or graver) has a characteristic shape - round, lozenge or knife, for example. Each tool is also fitted with a shaped wooden end, which fits into the palm of the engraver. As you can see in the picture on the right, there's a beauty in the tools themselves. You can also see one of the original photos of the Eiffel Tower, from which the design is taken. 

I must admit to being very taken by this process. Watching the almost hypnotic action was both pleasing and comforting; it reminded me that we are still able to make beautiful things with our hands, and do not always need to rely on machines. Of course, all of this comes at no small price. But hopefully you'll agree, that the end results are startling!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Seiko's Grand Seiko revolution

After London's SalonQP 2010 VIP event last Thursday (11th November), I caught up with a very dear friend for a post-match debrief. It took a while - there were many things to discuss (and the Guinness at the Mason's Arms deserved a decent go). But one thing we did talk about was the launch of Grand Seiko in the UK.

Now, as many of you know, I'm a watch snob. Well. I'm not really, but if there's anything in this horological world in which we're living that's guaranteed to bring out the watch snob in you, it's a discussion of Seiko.

Quick disclosure: I own a Seiko Sumo. It's my "go to" dive watch. Has a remarkable 6R15 movement in it, some lovely finishing, and, at £400+ (via Seiya Japan), a relatively expensive Seiko. Or so I thought.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Giuliano Mazzuoli at SalonQP

Giuliano Mazzuoli is a designer with a penchant for watches.

Having released the Manometro range in 2004 to not inconsiderable acclaim, he's spent the past few years trying to develop a second range of watches.  Now, finally, and after four year's effort   Mazzuoli has released the Contagiri, a watch with three worldwide patents and a rather distinctive look. I caught up with him in London at the recent SalonQP event, and while my Italian is about as poor as my formal dancing, I was able to have a brief chat to the man himself.

The Contagiri is unusual for a number of reasons, not least because it lacks a crown. Or rather, it lacks a traditional crown, having a gear-change mechanism operated from a hidden lever on the left side of the watch. Pulling on the lever reminds one of the 'flappy paddle' gears of modern cars; pulling on the lever moves the mechanism into "first gear" allowing the user to wind the watch. Pulling on the lever again operates "second gear" in order to set the time.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Deep, deeper, deepest...

Just been asked a question on Twitter: 

Why did Bell & Ross, Sinn, Beuchat, etc all try and make a seriously WR watch in the mid-90s?

So I thought I'd try and write down some thoughts. 

In the history of deep watches, Rolex were the first, with their Deep Sea Special on 30 September 1953; the Bathyscaphe Trieste, piloted by Auguste and Jacques Piccard, took the watch down deeper than any other mechanical item had ever been... "Your watch perfectly resisted to 3150 meters" Picard told Rolex.

Then, in 1958, the Trieste was acquired by the U.S. Navy who re-equipped it to reach deep ocean trenches (i.e. ludicrous depths). 

Two years later, in 1960, Jacques Piccard and Navy Lieutenant Donald Walsh descended in the Trieste to the deepest known point on Earth - the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. The two men made the deepest dive in history: 10,915 meters (35,810 ft), again with a "Deep Sea Special" fixed to the outside of the bathyscaph. The watch hold up to a pressure of 1,150 atm or 1,150 kgs per cm2. The following day Piccard sent another telegram to Rolex in Geneva saying "Am happy to confirm that even at 11,000 meters your watch is as precise as on the surface. Best regards, Jacques Piccard".

[above quote taken from the excellent article by BJSOnline and is ©BJSOnline.com, 2006]

Why it took another 40 years for someone else to have a go, is slightly more baffling...

Rolex had created a behemoth. A true sea monster. The domed crystal was only slightly smaller than St Paul's Cathedral, and the weight of the watch actually broke Picard's wrist (okay, I may have made some of this up). But, with the advent of quartz technology, advances in materials, and in particular, the ability to potentially flood an entire mechanism to create an "incompressible" watch, the race was on to build the next 11,000m watch...

I'm aware of three companies who appear to have all taken up a similar challenge during the 90s: Bell & Ross / Sinn and Beuchat. The latter are the only one of the three with diving credentials, having been making dive equipment for years (and also supplying their quartz "Abyss" watches to the French MN). 

However, in the race to be the deepest, it was Bell & Ross, ably assisted by Sinn, who got there first, with their Hydro Challenger in 1997. It was, until recently, in the Guinness Book of Records. It is filled with Hydroil, a silicone oil, that not only makes the watch extremely legible, but also muffles the quartz movement, producing a silent-running watch. I had not appreciated the that quartz watches were so noisy, but B&R obviously did...

Beuchat appeared to lose out slightly, although, in my opinion, they created the more interesting watches - and possibly the more interesting tech. I only have a 4,000m resistant Genesis HPS model - and am on the lookout for the 6,000m-rated Abyssal. Exactly what approach they took is under some debate, as there are very few of the original Beuchat watches around - and the company itself has fallen on hard times...

Why did they do it? Perhaps just because they could. But whatever the reason, I'm glad they did. And I hope people keep trying to go deeper, be better. 

But that's probably just me...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

How to make your millions... in food or watches

William Chase (founder of Tyrrell's crisps and the award-winning Chase Vodka) has been talking to MSN recently about making one's millions in food (see the full article here). Reading the article got me thinking that there really doesn't appear to be much difference in the approach to marketing and selling food (crisps), drink (Vodka, gin and liqueurs) or watches in the luxury market.

William sets out his five top tips for making money from food, but these could just as easily be used by new (or existing) watch companies. So I thought I’d try and take his five points, and see if they worked…

1) You need a unique selling point / good strapline. With the luxury (and indeed microbrew) watch market becoming increasingly crowded, the need for a valid USP becomes ever more important. Back in the seventies, it may have only taken the words "Swiss Made" on a dial to make it sell, but the market today is a little more challenging. How many times have you looked at a watch companies strapline and thought, wha? 

Honorary mention should go to (in no particular order) Patek Phillippe: "You never actually own a Patek..." (presumably because it'll be quicker to pay off your mortgage), and TAG Heuer’s new The Knights of Time adverts, which somehow manages to evoke the memory of the main characters in one of my favourite movies - Time Bandits (but it’s probably just me).

2) Have a brand that's genuine - no fakes. The internet is awash with dozens of reasonable-priced, if not downright cheap, watches that have all the functions of a luxury watch, but without the eye-watering prices. Many of these cheaper brands are "re-using" other company's designs, and producing homages / clones / or other watches *inspired* by the designs of yesteryear. As a luxury retailer, it’s easy to dismiss these as mere copycats, and to deride them in public (see Watchuseek.com’s sponsored forums, for example). 

However, one needs to ensure that the brand really is genuine before you begin to throw stones (Doxa, and affiliate company Doxa in Asia, take note)

3) No twee marketing stories - you're talking to intelligent customers so need to be sincere. The definition of "twee" is key here (as is intelligence - most members of watch-related forums appear to be referring to themselves as Idiots, so please take care out there). The sincerity of the message is important, but even these can be misunderstood by customers. Bremont is a relatively new brand, having only launched in 2007. Their strapline – Tested beyond endurance – has a certain ring to it, as does the story of the two co-founders, who gave up their jobs in the City following the death of their father in an aerobatic accident, to build their own watch company. I must admit to a) owning more than one of these watches, and b) believing that this is a sincere story; probably because it chimes with many of my own experiences. However, with a more cynical hat on, I could easily be persuaded that this is pure “marketing”. The same can be said for other successful brands – but it does illustrate the careful line that needs to be trodden – even if the marketing stories are true, and backed up with some impressive facts.

4) Stay true to your roots. This is a tricky one. Sinn watches began almost 50 years ago, as a builder of instrument / timepieces for aircraft and pilots. The designs were taken from a rich aeronautical heritage, and were simple, almost austere in their design. Since the sale in the nineties, Sinn has gone from strength to strength, increasing manufacturing and building an extensive range. Sinn now sells a series of ladies' watches, and even devotes a range to famous financial centres. Have they stayed true to their roots? I would argue yes – regardless of the “novelties” that Sinn are producing, there is a common thread that seems to run through the entire range. Their watches remain well-made, robust, well-finished and affordable. They do not appear to have strayed far from their roots. 

Marvin might be another interesting example. Relaunched in the past few years, Marvin is a name that goes back to the mid-nineteenth century. While their recent watches have focussed largely on quartz models, the soon-to-be launched Malton 160 range appears to draw more from the rich history of the brand. They have incorporated elements of previous designs and ownership into their watches (e.g. the “M&E D” company seal on the lower left side of every watch case standing for Marc & Emmanuel Didisheim, who founded Marvin in 1850).

5) Provenance (e.g. quality / sourcing of components). The final point is a perennial question on the many watch-related fora which have sprung up on the internet over the past decade. Movements, and even movement components, are being discussed with a fervour that suggests that there a either a lot more closet watchmakers out there, or the interweb is full of people who seem to regurgitate the same information time and time again. You only have to look at the fuss made about “Swiss Made” vs German or Asian watches to see that this is a highly emotive subject. Manufactures should be honest about the provenance of their cases, movements and finishing, in order to avoid any confusion.

Please be aware that this post is peppered with references to comments / discussions in obscure, and not-so-obscure, online watch-related forums. The views expressed here are my own, but I take no responsibility for the views expressed on such forums.

      Thursday, October 07, 2010

      Beuchat Genesis 4000 HPS

      Right. This one's a little different.

      Most of what I know about this watch has been gleaned from French dive watch forums (see list below).

      There was a project in the mid-90s to develop oil-filled watches in order to resist incredible pressures (below 300ATM). Beuchat approached a company called Innovation Capital who devised a watch which incorporated an oil-bathed movement (ISA quartz) and toughened glass. Beuchat therefore embarked on their models, which incorporated a Hydraulic Pressure System or HPS.

      However, they were, apparently, pipped to the post by the Bell & Ross Hydromax with its whopping 11,000m WR. This set Beuchat back a bit, but they were able to use Bell & Ross' experiences (and indeed Sinn's) to modify their models (the 6,000m-rated Abyssal and the 4,000m-rated Genesis). Apparently they were able to modify the flexible membrane at the back of the watch to successfully remove any gas bubbles. This apparently works by allowing water to compress the flexible membrane through the small holes in the case. I'm not (yet) convinced by this explanation and need to do some more research...

      The watch is not subtle - yellow and black scream "warning" or "danger". An odd combo, and one that's not used in too many designs. However, it's smaller (38-39mm) and a lot slimmer than many modern divers. The bezel is solid enough, with a decent "click" to it. There is no lume on the bezel.

      The use of oil means that refraction is significantly reduced, allowing the watch to be read at all angles above and below the water.

      The battery needs changing, so I'm going to have to find a Beuchat AD somewhere - presumably on the continent - or send it back to the guys in Marseilles...

      As I said, it's an interesting piece - relatively rare (probably around 200 made) with an interesting history. Beuchat's new owners plan to release a new version of this watch in due course.

      Info from:

      • Forum - MDP
      • Chronomania
      • FAM

      Wednesday, October 06, 2010

      Mid-dive-table mediocrity or how to spend $1000 on a watch (Part 1)

      Spurred on by recent claims from new entrants that there is little to offer the consumer in the $1000 dive watch market, I thought I’d try and provide a brief synopsis of what's really out there. 

      As I see it, consumers have three basic choices in this market: 

      1) tried and test, "prosumer" watches, such as Seiko and Citizen

      2) low production number watches from (largely) new entrants

      3) vintage / pre-owned dive watches (following a suitable service).

      In the prosumer* market, two watches stand out at this level**: the Seiko SBDC003 “Sumo” [approx. $598, available Seiyajapan] and the Citizen Aqualand Professional Jp1030-02l [£349, available here]. The former provides the diver with a large, highly legible dial, sapphlex crystal, 200m WR and the sweetly ticking beat of Seiko’s 6R15 mechanical movement. As a true “diver’s” watch, you can rest assured that it’s guaranteed to meet the relevant ISOs, and the Prospex moniker (shared by the top of the range Marine Master) gives additional comfort. The bezel is large, rugged and easy to operate with cold fingers / gloves.

      The latter, whilst similar in size, is an ani-digital, with sub- and supra-readouts providing water temperature, depth, elapsed time and even an audible ascent warning. While the Citizen is battery-powered, its large hands are reassuringly old school, and the pronounced bulge on the left hand side of the case is retained from the original late-80’s models. The manual may be the size of Belgium, but the Aqualand is easy to strap on, and, being water-activated, you can plug-and-dive.

      The watches come on a variety of rubber strapsand stainless steel bracelets, with plenty of after-market options. At the price-point (a shade under $600) I was almost tempted to overlook both of these, as it really doesn't seem fair to compare them to $1,000 watches. However, the Sumo is so well-made, and so nicely finished, that it beats many other watches in this bracket and could easily sell for $100-$150 more if it were made by a different manufacturer. The Citizen is a veritable dive tool, but seems to me to be an interesting starting point.

      Both of these watches mark the owner out as someone with at least a passing interest in the water, and wouldn’t be out of place on the outside of a drysuit off Shetland, nor adorning the tanned wrist of a diver enjoying the tranquil blue waters of the Red Sea. The orange-faced Sumo requires a little more effort to wear - if only because the dial can be startling in bright sunlight!

      Having dived with the Sumo on numerous occasions, I can certainly vouch for its legibility - even at depth (here seen at about 60 feet), the dial is extremely easy to read - with less diffraction than with many watches. 

      Honourable mentions should go, in no particular order, to:

       - The Suunto Elementum Aqua (RRP approx. $800-900) which is a good looking dive computer-style watch with all the elements of a good dive timer, but without the functions of a proper computer (no Nitrox? No Freedive mode?). It's stylish, and has innovative use of the pusher at 2pm (you twiddle it as well as push it).

       - The yet-to-be-released, but rather nicely styled Squale Professional 101ATM. Retro looks, from a decent Italian company, with great links to the past. ETA 2824-2-powered with WR to 1000m. Should be available in October from www.squale.ch

      [To be continued]

      *I use the term "prosumer" lightly. Obviously, professional sat divers use Casios and the occasional COMEX. Dive guides and instructors tend to favour Stingers, it seems. Prosumer just refers to people who want a decent dive watch with a hint of the "professional". I'm not sure it's the correct term, but I prefer it to "tool watch" or, far, far worse, "tactical". Shudder.

      **defined as watches over $500, under $1000. I have purposely not considered any true dive instruments / computers in this piece, although there are plenty of good-looking models in this price range.

      Tuesday, October 05, 2010

      William Gibson and Cory Doctorow at Intelligence Squared

      William Gibson in conversation with Cory Doctorow

      I must admit to a couple of small confessions: I've been reading William Gibson's books for 22 years, and I've never before seen him live; I'll come to the second confession later. This Intelligence Squared event was therefore probably a little more exciting for me than it might have been for the dozens of other attendees last night at Cadogan Hall in London, many of whom appeared to have seen him many, many times before.

      Gibson makes it clear from the beginning that he finds ideas "through the narratives" of his stories, allowing them to "re-complicate, circle around and come back" rather than starting with the book's theme. He says that people often ask him whether this particular novel, Zero History, and the three-part oeuvre of which it is the final instalment, is a snapshot of the first ten years of the 21st century. He dismisses this - showing particular dislike for the word "snapshot", preferring to see it as a decade-long pinhole camera exposure - a palimpsest - with superimposing narratives.

      He doesn't appear comfortable at all, on stage, at a lectern. He's tall. Thin. Stooped. Dressed in a wind- (and presumable water-) proof jacket, chinos in a shade of olive green that probably has a particular name, striped socks and plimsoles. I think he'd like his shoes to be described as plimsoles, rather than sneakers. I noticed his socks as I was sat in the front row, almost at his feet.

      "We can no longer grow the full beef of bohemia - it's all veal now"

      Cory Doctorow dresses as he does on Twitter. What do I mean by this? Well, he wears the same, purple red, multi-button-holed, padded jacket that he does in his Twitter profile pic. He looks strikingly at odds with Gibson, although it's clear they share some history. Cory - once described as the Gibson of his generation - interviewed him back in 1999. At that point, they both agreed that change was coming - exponentially - and in unidentifiable ways. Sitting across from each other a decade on, one wonders what the next ten years will bring, although both confess to still having no clue as to what will happen next.

      Given the central premise of Zero History, there is the obligatory discussion about clothing. Gibson informs us that there is a particular way of dressing in Afghanistan that screams "operator". Striped Polo shirt, Ralph Lauren slacks. Presumably a gun. Where does he find out about this stuff?

      I must admit to smiling more than I had in a long time, nodding vigorously and probably looking like a loon, as I listened to Cory question Gibson on prophecy, bohemia, China, steampunk and cheese. Actually, there was no mention of cheese, but it was that kind of evening.

      Steampunk was punctuated by the production of a leather "gimp" mask, by Bob Basset, and a question from Cory as to why it's taken over 20 years since the publication The Difference Engine for steampunk to hit the mainstream. My view is that steampunk has taken a large detour through Japan first, having been gleefully reinterpreted by Hayao Miyazaki, before being pressed through the sunny streets of Harajuku and somehow arriving in the bizarre leather-work of a Russian named Bob. But what do I know?

      It was a fascinating evening, culminating in a book signing. The entire evening is available to listen / download here.

      Oh. I said I had another secret. I do. I asked @GreatDismal to dedicate my copy of Zero History. Hey ho.