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 ©, 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...