Monday, December 19, 2011


I first read about Ressence Watches last year, in an article highlighting new brands at Baselworld 2010. It described an intriguing piece from an industrial designer, Benoît Mintiens, who had come at contemporary watchmaking from a new and potentially revolutionary angle. Rather than design a watch with a conventional dial and handset, Benoît instead looked at time in a completely different way, espousing the norm in order to create a revolving series of modules, each displaying an element of time. Like a planet orbiting a horological sun, the large white minute hand is in fact a plate, that turns beneath the sapphire crystal, while the subsidiary plates / dials also rotate , remaining in an upright position regardless of the position of the minute plate, all powered by a highly modified Swiss movement. It's an hypnotic effect, as this animation shows**. 

However, the piece was clearly a prototype, and, while intriguing, there were elements of the design which looked slightly out of place: the case, while beautifully polished, appeared to be just a little too large on the wrist, and the indicators and plates only appeared to move in the rendered video. I was therefore extremely excited to see that Ressence was exhibiting at SalonQP 2011, which would finally give me a chance to get my hands on the watch. I emailed Benoît ahead of time, and asked whether he could spend a few minutes talking to me about the concept and the changes to the 2011 model: luckily, he said yes. The lugs are probably the most visibly noticeable difference, and have been angled downwards away from the case, so that the watch sits more naturally on the wrist. At the same time, the lugs have been widened slightly to 22mm.

Secondly, the screws that held the sapphire caseback in place were impinging on the water-resistance, and have been replaced by "banana-shaped" inserts which are actually glued, rather than screwed, to the 3D sapphire case. This has increased water-resistance while adding another element to the design. To see the suspended movement rotate is, in itself, a thing of beauty. In fact, from whatever angle one admires the Ressence Series One watches, more interesting details emerge: for example, the seemingly "fixed" wire lugs are, in fact, removable using the star-shaped "hex" screws. This allows the leather straps to be changed with relative ease using the bespoke tool supplied with the watch. 

Or perhaps you noticed the relatively unusual crown? While the crown sits equidistance from the crystal and caseback, the movement itself does not. The thickness of the platform plates means that the ETA movement actually sits lower in the case than one might imagine. By pulling out the U-shaped crown-within-a-crown, the stem is aligned, and one can wind the watch and advance the plates. And while we're on the movement, I've seen plenty of people complaining about the use of an ETA 2824 movement to power the redesigned module. While the prototype used ceramic bearings to allow the plates to move around the dial, the new version uses geared plates. These plates require a great deal of torque to power them. Benoît therefore chose a true workhouse movement to drive the module, and focused on making the watch work. I applaud this choice. Yes, this is an expensive timepiece - retailing at a shade under Euro10k - but it is a unique design, available in limited numbers, that offers a truly different view of time. If the cost of powering this module is using the barrel and mainspring of an ETA movement, then that appears to me to be a decent trade-off. There are very few mechanical watches currently offering this degree of technical brilliance at this price point: it feels more like a piece that MB&F or even HW might have mooted - not a one-man band in Belgium. 

And this is where I must declare an interest: like many others who visited SalonQP, I appear to have fallen almost completely for this watch. This is probably in no small measure due to its charming creator, but also to the concept of Ressence - a new way to tell time. And isn't that what advances in horology should be about? Pushing the boundaries and challenging preconceptions? Who knows. All I know, is that it made me smile at QP, and still makes me smile to think of it.

the #watchnerd

**Download a free Ressence App from iTunes here, and practice telling the time

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The unexpected (but very welcome) return of Aquadive

As some of you may remember, my favourite watch is one that was made for a few short years from 1973: the Aquadive Time-Depth, an electronic** watch with an oil-filled Bourdon Tube depth gauge, that was the first of its kind. It also came in a rather fetching orange dial - and everyone loves an orange diver's watch (see opposite). The Time-Depth Model 50 was an incredible piece of engineering. Don't believe me? Ask Scott Carpenter, the famous astronaut and aquanaut who put his name to a series of ads for the watch. Actually, ask our good friends over at Hodinkee - they know their onions, and even they think it's cool. You can therefore imagine the excitement I felt when I saw that Aquadive are back. Back, and making watches again. 

There was a little fanfare on Watchuseek - one of the oldest watch forums on the 'net - as Aquadive appeared, complete with their own sub-forum. Three watches were announced - a new old stock (NOS) watch made with parts from the sixties; and two cases that share certain similarities with the Time-Depth model: the Bathyscaphe 100 and the Bathyscaphe 300. The latter watch is WR to 300 ATM / 3000m / 10,000ft and seems to share a very similar case to the original Model 50, but with a passive Helium Release Valve (HRV) between the lugs where the entry to the Bourdon Tube used to be. It's a huge watch, just like the Model 50: 47mm wide and 20mm high (see left). Rather than keep the crown on the left, the designers have flipped the watch, but it's still instantly recognisable as an Aquadive. The 300 is not cheap - a shade under $3,000, but (until the end of the year) it's available at a heavily discounted price of a little under $2,000. It's also available to pre-order in a "DLC" version***. The 300 features an ETA 2824-2 movement that is, apparently, suspended. We've seen a lot of people "suspending" their movements recently, and it will be interesting to see what the new owners of Aquadive have done to the ETA and, indeed, whether they plan to release a Time-Depth Model! 

Which brings me to my final comment. The owners of the brand have a strong following. Even before they announced the brand, there were a great many people for whom Aquadive watches represented the pinnacle of real dive watches. It therefore seems a little strange that they appear to have been a little heavy-handed in communicating with their nascent clients. I won't link to the WUS thread, as I'm sure it'll be deleted / amended shortly. Suffice it to say, we all know that old brands get bought and relaunched all the time. There's a thirst for knowledge among prospective buyers that can sometimes verge on the fanatical, but many of us are just pleased to have these fantastic old brands back.

the #watchnerd

Photos courtesy of

**The watch featured an electronic, 13 jewel Dynatron movement if I remember correctly.
***I say "DLC" as it's not entirely clear what the coating is. The website refers variously to "TiAcN" and "TiAn" - which is neither the titanium nitride (TiCN), nor titanium aluminium nitride (TiAlN) that I've seen previously (e.g. on the superb URWERK 103.08). Perhaps it's a new coating containing Actinium? I've no idea what TiAn is at all... Answers on a postcard please.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Highlights from SalonQP 2011: In Brief (2/4)

Continuing the theme, three more brief highlights from SalonQP 2011.

The HWM Tensus [Image (c) HWM]
Four:  There's still more that can be done to the humble hand-windHeritage Watch Manufactory were showing two models at SalonQP - the Tensus and the Magnus - both of which contain highly modified manual wind movements that have but one aim - true perfection in the art of regulation. In this period of austerity, it's refreshing to see a brand moving away from the tourbillon and instead focusing on other parts of the watch mechanism, such as the larger-than-normal, mass-regulated VIVAX balance. I won't even pretend to understand exactly what HWM have done in order to register five patents on the Tensus alone, but it covers everything from the twin mainspring barrel to the fine adjustment mechanism. Oh, and did I mention the constant force drive and highly innovative (if bizarrely-named) Sequax escapement? Couple these technological advances with cases and dials designed by the near-legendary Eric Giroud (Harry Winston's Opus 9, MCT's Sequential One and the HM1 from MB&F) and you have something truly special. At c.EUR25k to 60k for the Tensus and Magnus respectively, these watches are certainly not cheap, but they are marvels of timekeeping.

Five: Air force squadrons get the best watches - and the best rides. Bremont were at it again, showing their squadron-only C-17 Globemaster watch with a rather fetching blue dial. Designed in conjunction with a few of the guys who actually drive this huge Boeing bus, the C-17 is based on Bremont's ALT1-P chrono-GMT model, with a few nice touches: 
Bremont C-17 Globemaster
  • each of the twenty-four time zones represents a US Air Force base - well, almost all. I noticed RAF Brize Norton slipped in at 00/24
  • the date window echoes the Head Up Display in the cockpit
  • Bremont have tweaked their Roto-Clik internal bezel mechanism for 24 time zones, and
  • the number seventeen is red. Okay, that last one might not be the most interesting thing on the watch, but I rather liked it.
The watch will be available in blue, grey and black versions and can be ordered from Bremont. If you have the right credentials. 

De Bethune DB25T
Six: sometimes the best complications are the simplest. De Bethune's DB25T hides a rotating silicon / titanium tourbillon behind its star-studded, blued titanium dial. The complication? Dead beat seconds - jumping seconds that mimic, of all things, a quartz watch. Sounds simple, but it's notoriously difficult to do. In effect, it's actually recreating a sound that is far older than quartz: the clocks of the 17th / 18th century often contained Huygen pendulums - with a natural rhythm of a second. The dead seconds (or seconde morte) complication stems from an effort to recreate such a rhythm and was probably most famously resurrected by F P Journe. What I like most about the De Bethune is perhaps a little perverse - the beautiful, rotating 30-second tourbillon is only visible from behind - unlike most modern tourbillon watches that proudly wear their hearts on their sleeves (so to speak), the DB25T ticks away merrily. You might never even know. 
Seven to twelve coming soon.

the #watchnerd

Monday, November 14, 2011

Highlights from SalonQP 2011: In Brief (1/4)

A quick canter round the dial, highlighting a few of the watches, experiences and conversations I most enjoyed at SalonQP 2011.

Bell & Ross WW1-92 Military
One: The Vintage WW1-92 Military. A cheeky little number from French brand Bell & Ross, based on early pilots watches. The WW1-92 Military is 45mm, automatic and reminiscent of the Baumuster B watch designs - but with a longer hour hand. In another break from tradition, the "up" arrow at twelve has been replaced by a triangle marker. The watch comes on a nicely aged, soft leather vintage-style strap and is available in two dial combinations - the one pictured at right - and a faded, more honeyed lume. The WW1-92 is £1,950 and available from all Bell & Ross retailers.

Stefano Macaluso, General Manager Girard-Perregaux
Two: Spending five minutes with Stefano Macaluso, the General Manager of Girard-Perregaux. Mr Macaluso was introduced to me by Liam Chadzynski (of Kronometry 1999) and took some time out of his schedule to talk to me about the Girard-Perregaux Vintage 45 Jackpot Tourbillon (click here to see a photo of the rather incredible movement and here for my photo of the watch itself). It was fascinating to talk to him, and to hear of the remarkable complexity and technical challenges in recreating a working "one-armed bandit" in a watch - let alone one with a manual wind tourbillon attached to it. A second barrel was added to power the slot machine, but the hardest part was ensuring that each of the dials stopped, in turn, and in exactly the right place. Astounding. As was the rest of their display, which included a Triple Bridge and some of the most exquisite cloisonné dials this side of Jaquet Droz.
MB&F's Horological Machine No. 4

Three: Finally getting my grubby little mitts on an MB&F. It should come as no surprise that a highlight of SalonQP was meeting Max Büsser and hearing him talking about the new Legacy Machine No. 1 (click for photo). This is Max's answer to an unposed question: what kind of watch would MB&F make if they were around 150 years ago? With its floating, exposed and oversized balance wheel, elegant case and huge domed sapphire crystal, the LM1 is closer to steampunk than haute horology. It also fitted me a great deal better than the Horological Machine No.4 (seen opposite and this time without the fabled flying panda). I'd been hoping to see this model since it was announced but when I finally strapped it to my puny, noodly wrists, I discovered that it was just a *little* bit too large. Hey ho. On the plus side, at least I won't be spending the house sale proceeds on an HM4 just yet...

More to come.

the #watchnerd

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Highlights from SalonQP 2011: Schofield Watches

The Eddystone Lighthouse, (C) Howzey

A quick warning: I'm pretty sure that you will read / hear quite a bit about Schofield in the coming weeks. The East Sussex-based company seemed to capture the hearts and minds of many visitors to SalonQP 2011, who appeared to relish in another modern, vibrant English brand. I'll therefore probably spend more time talking about the elements of the watch, the nascent brand and its creators, rather than the technical specs, which can be found here on the Schofield 'site

Schofield Watch is a new, small watchmaking company producing limited numbers of watches in Germany using Swiss Soprod movements. The watch has taken approximately 3,000 hours to build from first designs to the finished product, and is the first in a number of planned watches. There were two models shown at SalonQP:  the Signalman GMT PR - a highly polished three hander with subsidiary GMT dial (300 pieces); and a second DLC version (100 pieces). The design of the watch takes elements from lighthouses, such as Smeaton's Tower - now on Plymouth Hoe (see photo opposite), Fresnel lens design (large aperture and short focal length) and the "beam of light" logo on the dial that doubles as a power reserve indicator. While I'm talking about Smeaton - a quick aside: did you know that John Smeaton provided  a coefficient for the lift equation used by the Wright Brothers?** 

Maple presentation box and GMT pusher tool
In profile, the Signalman GMT PR *does* recall a lighthouse: the heavily chamfered case starts at 44mm at the base and rises to 42mm at the top, in a heavily stepped manner. In profile, there's a certain lighthouse-esque feel to it too - the 2.5mm sapphire crystal is seated underneath the lip of the highly polished bezel, forming a slight 'Fresnel' effect (Fresnel lenses are split into a series of annular Fresnel zones). To look too deeply into the Signalman / lighthouse motif might risk missing the point of the watch: a fairly simple, almost austere dial in a large, uncluttered case, with strong anti-magnetic properties and a solid 500m water resistance. The straps are also worth a mention - 24mm tapering to 22mm: the green canvas has a particular strong look to it and seems to go well with the "military" look of the watch. The oversized 10mm crown continues this theme.

The Lighthouse motif on the back of the Signalman
Speaking to Giles Ellis, the designer behind the watch, the design of the watch box (maple), and the brass GMT adjustment tool, are just as important as the finished piece. Indeed, a great deal of thought appears to have gone into almost every detail of this package: the GMT dial is, for example, rather unusually adjusted through a small screw in the lower right lug. I'm not sure exactly what this (rather old school system) adds to the ease of use but it does demonstrate a desire to challenge certain norms. Matt, who was brought on board to help with the marketing, told me that the original tool was hand-fashioned by Giles from a single piece of metal. It's certainly the nicest, most satisfying GMT-pusher-type tool I've ever seen, but it does seem a little extraneous. Another slight negative is the date window - it's a small, rather deep hole at three o'clock, that I found quite difficult to read at a glance. But that's probably just me.

The Schofield Signalman GMT PR
The highly polished case is also rather intriguing. Schofield has built a case that incorporates a highly anti-magnetic cage around the movement (similar, it seems, to the soft iron core sandwich used in many Bremont watches). The apparently matte black dial is, in fact, the top portion of this cage, cast in brass and painted with a copper oxide coating. All this is finished in a case of such high polish that I found it almost impossible to photograph (see token effort above). The mirrored polish is echoed in the use of applied markers on the dial, including a "zero" marker at twelve. Intervening markers are large and filled with C1 Luminova - a particularly bright, startling white lume. The whole design is nothing if not coherent: all elements point to a very simple, easy to read and very forceful watch. It has significant presence on the wrist and will certainly garner its fair share of comments (as evidenced by the almost constant stream of visitors that seemed to be drawn to their stand at SalonQP). 

All in all, as you may have gathered, I rather like the Schofield Signalman. However, it *is* expensive - even at the pre-order prices (and including the rather natty milled aluminium cigar holder and Romeo y Julieta that's included as a freebie). But it's always good to see another British watch manufacturer on the scene, especially one with such a strong design - even if the pieces themselves are produced (understandably) in Germany. 

I would really like to get my hands on one to test - if only to try and take some better photos!

**EDIT: apparently, the Smeaton pressure co-efficient was a little off, and has since been amended, largely because of the later use of dynamic pressure.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Highlights from SalonQP 2011: Speake-Marin Spirit Pioneer

Peter Speake-Marin's Spirit Pioneer was launched on Thursday night at SalonQP at the Saatchi Gallery in London.
“Spirit is inspired by a timepiece I bought 15 years ago when I was restoring antique pieces in Piccadilly, London. It was an authentic military watch from the first half of the 20th century that I restored in my own time and wore regularly as my personal timekeeper. I always wanted to create my own piece based on this personal favourite and have toyed around with ideas to realise this ambition ever since I founded Speake-Marin.”

A limited edition of just 68 pieces, it is powered by the FW2012 movement that combines the robustness of the base ETA first seen in the original Piccadilly watches with Peter's own in-house tweaks (such as a larger balance wheel, re-milled bridge, etc.) and custom topping tool-inspired rotor, in a slightly more affordable package. The case is instantly recognisable and includes Peter's trademark design cues, such as the straight lugs, prominent screws and highly polished finish. 

In a marked departure from previous models*, Peter has created a bold, black military-inspired dial with heavily-lumed hands, exaggerated roman numerals and markers. These markers are three-dimensional, standing proud above the dial, against the strong white minute track. It really is rather striking. It reminds me of very early military wristwatches, such as the cathedral-handed Kendal and Dent "trench watches". The leather strap is also extremely nice - comfortable, supple, but with a very satisfying thickness. In another departure, Peter has added a logo of sorts - rather than the simple "Speake-Marin, Switzerland" that has appeared on previous dials, the Spirit Pioneer now has a "topping tool" at six o'clock. It certainly makes the dial a little more cluttered than the more austere Piccadilly / Marin-1 / 2 watches, but it's none the worst for it. 

The caseback will be recognisable to any PSM fan: the topping-tool features again, with a Piccadilly-style inscription, as well as a new motto / personal statement - "Fight, Love & Persevere". Three words that seem to sum up the passion that continues to be evident in Peter's watches.

I asked whether this line should be seen as a diffusion range - perhaps unfairly (diffusion is more commonly applied to haute couture that's sold on the high street). Peter said that the Pioneer was a response to the global economic situation, but is already planning more in the Spirit range, as well as other Speake-Marin watches. Peter was also displaying a diamond-encrusted watch, as well as a QP perpetual calendar. The Spirit Pioneer seems to be a very cost-effective way to own a PSM, if only there were any left! They already appear to be flying out the door - at least half of the 68 have already been sold. 

From a personal point of view, I think this is a brave, highly personal but eminently sensible response to the pressures which the industry has been facing, and will surely continue to face in the near-term. The watches are not cheap (9,900 CHF / £7,000) but do provide a way in to an extremely exclusive family - a family I should dearly like to join. I can't wait to see what 2012 brings for Speake-Marin.

Technical details for the Calibre FW2012:
  • Automatic winding mechanical movement
  • Large balance for precision timekeeping as well as a solid overall construction
  • Frequency: 28’800 v/h, 25 jewels, 42 hours power reserve
  • In-house custom-designed rotor wheel, inspired by the watchmaker’s topping tool, Speake-Marin’s signature motif
  • Bridges, gear train, setting lever spring, mainplate and rotor wheel replaced and/or re-designed, oversized, cicled, spotted, straight grained and polished by hand
  • Customized, redesigned, reconstructed and hand-finished, according to Speake-Marin style and quality standards established by the ‘Foundation Watch’
*I can't recall a black-dialled PSM at all. I checked my copy of A Passion for Watchmaking, but to no avail!

The Spirit Pioneer is (probably) available from all Speake-Marin Retailers, although if the response at SalonQP was anything to go by, they may well all be sold by the time this 'blog is published. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

SalonQP 2011 - VIP Night

Where to start? First of, with a series of thank yous to James Gurney (Editor QP Magazine) for the kind invitation to join him on the opening night of SalonQP 2011, and to all those at SalonQP for making tonight such an astounding success. 

There are a series of exclusives at SalonQP, but alas, I had little time to see them all tonight. So I'll be going back on Saturday to complete the visit. What I did see tonight was (in no particular order), a Rolling Stone, Peter Speake-Marin's new range, the Legacy Machine from MB&F, Bremont's new (squadron-only) Globemaster watch, the Jackpot Tourbillon from GP (and time spent talking to GM Stefano Macaluso), Ressence's latest innovation, a new watch brand called Schofield, and a great, great many friends and fellow #watchnerd.

Here are just a few of the (very many) photos I took tonight. I shall be posting more detailed information in due course, but hopefully this serves as a taster...

Ronnie Wood's hand-painted clock for Bremont
Ronnie Wood, Bremont's Giles English and James Gurney
The highly innovative Ressence One Series
Peter Speake-Marin's new Spirit range
Astoundingly cool HM4 from MB&F
The simply incredible MB&F Legacy Machine No1
The (annoyingly squadron-only) Bremont C-17 Globemaster
The Schofield Signalman - a new brand. More coming later...

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Salon QP 2011

Well. SalonQP 2011 is only a few days away, and if it's anything like last year, it's going to be a fantastic event. I'm not quite sure what I've done to deserve an invite to the VIP Opening night on Thursday - as you know, I'm just your friendly, neighbourhood #watchnerd - but I'm very grateful to James and all at QP. Last year was a fantastic event - and I managed to get some reasonable photos while meeting some incredible people.

Highlights this year  include a number of world and UK firsts, from names that (I'm sure) are bound to impress:
  • Roger Smith will showcase the First Anniversary Watch designed with George Daniels after showing its prototype last year at SalonQP 2010. This is bound to be a slightly poignant affair, following the recent passing of Dr Daniels.  
  • Maîtres du Temps will unveil their Chapter One Round watch designed by Peter Speake-Marin and Christophe Claret. If this is anything like the collaborations involving these two in the past, I think it's likely to be a show-stopper. I don't think there's ever been a watch with a tourbillon and mono-pusher column wheel... 
  • Vacheron Constantin’s Metiers d’Art will be appearing for the first time in London.
  • MB&F’s long-awaited Legacy Machine No. 1 will be shown for the first time at SalonQP 2011.
  • Bremont will show the new edition of their B-1 Marine Clock painted by Ronnie Wood.
  • Peter Speake-Marin will be launching his latest watch.
  • Ressence, one of this year’s most talked-about independents, will be bringing his revolutionary Platform watch. I'm really looking forward to this one - the concept is unique and I hope to get up close and personal with this exciting piece.
  • Schofield Watch Company and John Isaac Genève will both be launching their brands in the Independents Gallery of SalonQP
SalonQP is being sponsored by Jaguar and the Telegraph, and have been updating their microsite with some interesting interviews and articles.

It will be held on Thursday 10th November 2011 - Saturday 12th, at the Saatchi Gallery in central London. Tickets are available now and on the door.


Sunday, November 06, 2011

The #watchnerd in the Telegraph

I was interviewed by James Gurney, editor of QP Magazine a few weeks ago for a piece he was writing for the Telegraph Magazine. Amazingly, there was actually a proper watch supplement in the paper too. One that, for whatever reason, appears not to be online. Which is a shame, as it was rather good, containing as it did, some pieces by Robin Swithinbank, Tim Barber and Ken Kessler.

The photographer, Neil Gavin, tried his best, but he really couldn't do anything for the #watchnerd... on the plus side, the Telegraph managed to get about 50% of the facts right (I don't have a Time-Depth 50, and the Breitling Porco Rosso Cosmonaute is certainly not a triumph of form and function. Well, not really. I mean, it is, but with the added brilliance of a flying pig). Apart from that, it was interesting to see that Jura Watches were mentioned as the stockist for Bremont Watches. Of course, they are also available from many other stockists. Oh, and from my good friend, Alistair at ATG Vintage Watches.

Anyway, I'm indebted to James for giving me such publicity, and for Neil for trying his best to make me look halfway human. 

EDIT: I hope to have some better photos of the actual watches shortly - it was the first time that I'd had that many out in one place at one time, so probably worth marking the occasion!

FURTHER EDIT: Thanks for all the kind words.

the #watchnerd

Sunday, October 30, 2011

An interview with Tom Ashton, whose watchmaking 'blog is currently following the development of Tom's second watch - the Ashton A2 - using a re-worked Unitas movement.

#theWatchnerd: Tom. Thanks for talking to me and providing some insight into your extraordinary plan to build an Australian wristwatch. If I may start at the beginning: why watchmaking?

TA: Purely accidental, though it seems to have worked out well. I have always had a bit of the tinkerer in me; ever since I can remember, I've relished pulling things to bits and even occasionally fixing or having them work again. Not always, but more often than not! I had been working as a clerk with a two hour commute, when my wife spotted the advertisement for a watchmaking apprenticeship, and the rest, as they say, is history. I was lucky enough to do my apprenticeship with someone who valued the repair of mechanical watches over quartz.

#theWatchnerd: What are the best parts and worst parts of the job?

TA: The best part is returning something to life that has been broken or damaged - often seemingly beyond repair - and returning something that a person cares about in as new a condition as possible. In short, it's making a set of inanimate parts "tick" into being. 

The worst is when we receive an abused timepiece, bring it back to life, only to see it returned again, broken. Another less than pleasant element is the state that some people let their watches reach. Any watchmaker should be able to tell you about the "watch cheese" they have seen in bracelets or otherwise attached to watches in the nooks and crannies: not a pretty sight - or smell.

#theWatchnerd: Who do you admire most in the history of horology and with whom would you most like to work?

Historically, I would love to have worked with Harrison, though he does come across a bit grumpy. In a contemporary setting, I think everyone wanted to work with George Daniels, though I think realistically I would love to work with Roger Smith. My original watch design included a co-axial escapement, and hopefully I will get to a point where I have the necessary skills or work experience that I could be useful to him. Although by the time I do I hope to have my own pieces in production, so perhaps a collaboration would be more of an option, like an English/Australia version of Maitre de Temps. I do admire all of the independents for going out on their own, especially people like Peter Speake-Marin, Vianney Halter and others that have really stamped their own style on the watchmaking world in an unmistakable way. 

#theWatchnerd: Which brings us nicely to your watch. Can you talk us through the A2?

The Ashton Watch A1 (right) and A2
The A2 is the result of over seven years of design, though the original design was for a barrel/tonneau shaped case, this proved unfeasible at the time I started working on a physical watch and making a complete watch from scratch wheels and all was going to be very expensive to do. The A1 was the first incarnation of this watch, but apart from being just a little large (based on a Unitas 6497) the case design had a few issues also, so instead of trying to improve the design I decided to start from the beginning with a smaller movement and case. (The A in A1 & A2 is from Ashton, I had originally thought of using T for Tom, but the font I had used to engrave the dial on the A1 looked too much like an existing companies previous logo).

#theWatchnerd: What's the most interesting horological advance / trend of recent years?

I tend to think that there is not a lot of really new things that will have a long-lasting effect in the horological world, though I would love to see the combination of George Daniels' co-axial escapement, and Steven Phillips' EWS [Eternal Winding System]. Most of the things that the major manufacturers are coming out with seem to me to be refinements of old ideas, new materials for doing old jobs, or re-makes of their past glories. Not saying I don't like what they come out with each year, and the work involved in the production of these is certainly impressive. I see it as a bit of a disappointment that the market expects new and better things every year, it reduces the development time available to the manufacturers, the Harry Winston Opus series are a great example of this where it can be some time between the initial release of the concept, but some years before they actually have time to work out how to make it work.

#theWatchnerd: The A2 has a very distinctive bridge - can you explain a bit about it?

Render of the A1 movement
The original design for my watch was that all I wanted people to see was the barrel and balance of the movement, to add mystery to the mechanism, definitely with some inspiration from Girard Perregaux's Three Bridges Tourbillon. The bridge design is shaped to maximise the view of the barrel and balance, while allowing support for the centre wheel and rest of the wheels in the watch, though not the most effective use of the space, it has a great visual impact, and by complimenting the curves of the main bridge with similarly shaped barrel and balance bridges, it does become very distinctive. It does create some interesting problems though and when I started to use the Unitas movements for parts rather than trying to machine all of the wheels etc to start with, I also had to include the centre wheel in the visuals, as remaking the pinion is not feasible at the moment.. while this isn't as clean as the original design, it still has some of the mystery about the workings. 

#theWatchnerd: Are you a collector? What is your favourite piece?

Omega Dynamic Chrono
TA: I'm a collector when my budget allows, though recently any money I'd like to spend on watches gets spent on tools or parts for prototypes of my watches, so my watch collection mainly consists of watches I've been able to buy cheap and restore, or that I haven't been able to pass up.  I have two favourites, both Omegas (apart from my A2 of course). One is a c.2000 Omega Dynamic chronograph, it is just a clean looking, yet still very effective and highly undervalued watch. My other favourite is an Omega steel manual wind watch, containing their stunning 30mm movement, regarded by some (including me) as possibly the best mass produced manual wind movement ever made.. again, a very clean looking watch, with no frills (also no water resistance) though this doesn't get half the wrist time it deserves, my brother had worn it for almost 3 years solid with no ill effects, including doing handyman work.

#theWatchnerd:  What's your next purchase?

TA: Watch-wise I'm currently looking at a vintage Tudor Submariner, to restore and probably wear. I have my eye on another watch as well, but that may not happen. Otherwise I am looking to upgrade some of my workshop to make producing multiples of the A2 parts a little less convoluted.

#theWatchnerd:  What's next for the A2?

Bronze case
TA: I have a 2nd model A2 that I am working on, with a bronze case and sterling silver back that I'll be putting a hand-skeletonised Unitas movement in. Ideally in the near future I'd like to pre-sell some of the A2's, though my initial run will have automatic Soprod A10 movements (as used by Stepan Sarpaneva), this initial run will hopefully pay for the equipment that I need to purchase to finish the "proper" A2, with the re-worked Unitas movement. I plan to do a series of 10 with the 30mm Unitas 6310 I have, and once I run out of those, will see what happens. 

#theWatchnerd: Would you ever buy a digital watch?

Casing up an A2
Definitely! I own three digital watches, though I have bought only one of them. A Breitling B-1 which is the most accurate watch I own, an IO binary watch (more for the gimmick than anything else) I also own a Ripcurl tide watch. I think that digital watches definitely have their place, and have no issue recommending digital watches if the circumstances warrant it, I still think Casio G-shocks are one of the best watches out there for durability and reliability, 

#theWatchnerd: How important is the movement to a watch?

I think the movement really is the watch: the case can be worn out and be replaced; the dial can be damaged and re-finished; but the movement (unless something really bad happens) can stay the same. I have been guilty of opening a watch, taking pictures of the movement and completely forgetting to make a record of the dial side of the watch. It should be noted however that without a decent designed case and dial the movement will never be distributed enough for people to ever see.

#theWatchnerd:  And finally, watchnerd or WIS? 

TA: Watchnerd, in my mind WIS's tend to get more obsessive than I do, while I appreciate differences in models/years of manufacture for some watches, some just go a little bit nuts ;-)

Tom's 'blog can be found here, and you can follow him on Twitter here

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Breitling Extreme 800 - Herbert Nitsch, No Limits Freediving

Breitling have been sponsoring Herbert Nitsch, the world's deepest man on a single breath, for a while, and even created a watch for him - the Chronomat 44mm Flying Fish. Herbert, of course, is famous for reaching the extraordinary depth of 214m, using a weighted sled and a coke bottle. What? A coke bottle? Yes. If you watch Herbert's incredible video (linked below), you'll see him stop at c.22m to exhale the air from his lungs into a plastic bottle. He used this "external lung" to allow him to equalise on his trip down to 214m (702ft). You'll also see him releasing the bottle, allowing precious air to escape. Amazing that he didn't feel the need to use it all... 

Herbert has recently announced on his 'blog that he is attempting to break this record next June - by going to 800ft, and from there, he plans to attempt 900 and 1,000ft dives in due course. The first part of this is called Extreme 800, and is exclusively sponsored by Breitling. In order to break the record, he intends to use a specially-designed "Rocket-sled" (see render opposite and video below). This is currently (20th-30th October 2011) being tested in Santorini, Greece. No word yet on what external equalisation device he intends to use - but I doubt it'll be another coke bottle!

I hope to have some photos of Herbert, his sled and his watch shortly!

Herbert's WR No Limits Dive to 214m can be seen here.

And a new video of the "Rocket-sled" here:

Real World Tests: Bremont Supermarine SM500

I recently signed up for a week's diving in the Red Sea, and decided that it would be a useful opportunity to road test a watch. In this instance, I chose the Bremont Supermarine SM500, as I'd previously conducted a similar test on a Seiko SBDC005 "Sumo". I also thought it would be a good opportunity to compare the results in key areas. I'd previously taken the SM500 freediving in Egypt with Sara Campbell, but never bubble-blowing. This was also my opportunity to take it a little bit deeper than my freediving personal best (approx. 55ft). So, I packed full dive kit (ex-tanks), dusted off the Nitrox C-cards, changed the batteries on my Aladdin Pro Ultra, re-checked all the o-rings on the underwater housing and dragged our luggage down to London Gatwick's salubrious South Terminal. 

The diving we'd chosen was a week aboard a boat in the Southern Red Sea, visiting some of the less accessible reefs and hoping to see Oceanic Whitetip sharks. Of course, when diving the Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone, there's also the chance to see other pelagic sharks, such as Scalloped Hammerheads, Grey Reefs, Silvertips, etc. All in all, a pretty exciting opportunity, and one I was very much looking forward to. Liveaboard boats are interesting places. The lower deck is usually reserved as a diving platform and is the only wet area on the boat. Large numbers of aluminium / steel tanks are dotted around, usually in rows to allow for easy donning / doffing. Wetsuits hang from beams. Cameras and housings litter the tables. For watches, it's a place lurking with dangers - whether it's being smacked by a wayward tank, knocked against a railing, scratched, dinged, or otherwise abused by a host of metal objects, D-rings, strobes, torches and regs. Of course, the diving is predominantly on reefs, often with strong currents which may differ at the surface from the watwers below. Negative entries are common, and Zodiac diving is de rigeur. Of course, these small boats are also littered with hazards for the unwary watch. All in all, a perfect lace to test the toughness of the Supermarine.

The Supermarine (SM500) is named for the "British racing seaplane developed by R.J. Mitchell for theSupermarine company to take part in the Schneider Trophy competition of 1931. The S.6B marked the culmination of Mitchell's quest to "perfect the design of the racing seaplane" and was the last in the line of racing seaplanes developed by Supermarine." While not a true "diver's watch" (the Bremont is not tested to ISO 6245), the SM500 appears to meet, and exceed all the requirements that one would expect for an underwater timing device:
  • Patented Bremont Trip-Tick case design, with toughened upper and coated mid-barrel
  • WR to 500m and tested to deformation at +1400m equivalent
  • Sapphire, uni-directional bezel
  • SuperLuminova liberally applied to the dial, hands and bezel but the seconds hand remains unlumed
  • Anti-magnetic and anti-shock protection (uses the same movement and mounting as the Bremont MB2)
All in all, a not unimpressive piece of kit, and it certainly looks the part above water. But how did it do under the water?