Wednesday, March 30, 2011

An inordinate fondness for molluscs...

Perhaps it's their multi-limbed nature, or perhaps it's just because watch brands seem keen to borrow ideas from each other, but there really does appear to be an inordinate fondness for Cephalopod molluscs...

Kenzo Nautilus
Nautili: In the beginning, there was the Dreadnought, a German-built, English-designed dive watch from Time Factors. However, there was a crypto-cephalo version produced in Germany under the name of the Kenzo Nautilus, a 500m automatic, powered by the ETA 2824-2 (shown here in the PVD version). The model was not without issue, as the Nautilus moniker had been used by Patek Philippe since 1976; even the Kenzo name was subject to some legal challenge. I'm not even sure whether this model is still available, as it's not listed as being for sale on the Kazimon 'site (the photo comes from the Magrette website). Of course, both of these watches were named  after the eponymous cephalopod: a remarkable, seldom-seen marine creature whose common name was derived from the Greek ναυτίλος, meaning 'sailor'. Ironic then that it has been applied to a dive / sport watch.  Regarding the Patek Philippe Nautilus, I don't believe I saw a new men's model this year, although there were a couple of ladies' versions at Baselworld 2011.

Octopuses: The story of octopus watches is long and rich, reflecting perhaps the fascination that we seem to have with this beautiful and intelligent creature. It covers masterpieces such as the skeletonised Kudoke KudOktopus, the overly designed Corum Classical Octopus, and the frankly frightening Andrew Vorontsov Octopus, as well as a host of tool / dive watches, such as the sub-a-like Kemmner Octopus 2,000m, the 300m WR Halios Bluering and the cheap as calamari Android Octopus, with 200m WR and dual crowns. Of these watches, the recently announced KudOktopus is possibly the most intriguing. 

The Kudoke KudOktopus
Stefan Kudoke is a young master-watchmaker, who cut his teeth at Glashutte, before working in the service departments of various well-known brands. He has since returned to his roots, deigning and building exquisitely individual pieces that explore the art of skeletonisation to the limits of what is possible. The KudOktopus is (perhaps) the pinnacle of this art: a watch that manages to convey the flexible armature of the octopus into the rigid plates of the movement to startling effect. Modelled in rose gold and rhodium and interwoven into the Unitas 6498 manual-winding movement, the skeletonised dial and back plate is visible through sapphire crystal front and back. Blued steel hands are visible, but there is no date, no running seconds or additional complication. Simply time. And the octopus, its gold head sitting proudly above the hands.

The Linde Werdelin Oktopus Tattoo
As illustrated above, there seems to be a dichotomy in the watch world between octopus watches for diving and octopus watches for admiring. Perhaps the only brand to successfully bridge the gap is Linde Werdelin, with their Oktopus Tattoo model. Based on the successful Oktopus model, the Tattoo marries horology and body art, by etching an original octopus design by award-winning Danish tattoo artist Henning Jørgense onto the case. I have seen this piece a number of times now, and each time it seems to get better. According to Linde Werdelin, "the complexity of the tattoo patterns meant it was practically impossible to realise the case design for the Tattoo watch in sketches. We had no choice but to start using 3D modelling from a very early stage for the mock-ups to see how the 2-dimensional tattoo patterns on paper would flow well on the various facets of a 3-dimensional Oktopus watch case. We painstakingly went through numerous SLA (3D-layering) prototypes and engraved countless aluminium blocks just to develop the case design." The result is a watch that combines the charm of a skeletonised or decorated dial with the tool aspects of a dive watch. A rather neat trick, I hope you'll agree. The Tattoo was limited to 82 pieces and water resistant to a rather exact 1,111m. 

I'm sure I've missed off a few - please feel free to suggest more octopus / squid or nautilus-related watches in the Comments section. 

A note: this isn't an exhaustive list of mollusc-related watches. Rather, it tries to highlight the breadth of watches available to those of a tentacular nature. For example, I haven't mentioned the Orsa Monstrum, which has a giant squid on the caseback, as it's not named after a cephalopod... 

the #watchnerd

Monday, March 28, 2011

Baselworld 2011 through a telescope, Pt 2: Mortitz Grossmann

Moritz Grossmann's Benu model @ Baselworld 2011
The Bennu bird is an ancient Egyptian version of the phoenix, and was said to be the soul of the Sun-God Ra. It burnt furiously in a fire, and each time was recreated as another Bennu bird; because the Bennu represented creation and renewal, it was often connected with the Egyptian calendar, and, according to some, the Temple of the Bennu was therefore well known for its time-keeping devices. All of this does not quite explain why a historically significant German brand has been resurrected as Moritz Grossmann, nor exactly why their first, rather elegant, watch should be called the Benu, but it does lend a rather nice touch to the launch.

The dial on the Moritz Grossmann Benu
According to Grossman, "Benu, as it is spelled in German, is the name of the first watch from the new Grossmann Uhren manufacture where the spirit of Moritz Grossmann is kept alive. In the Saxon town of Glashütte, this ingenious watchmaker (1826 to 1885) crafted numerous pocket watches, various chronometers, and a few precision pendulum clocks that today are coveted collectors’ items seen at international auctions. Now, 125 years after the death of this eminent German master of superior watchmaking, watches that bear his name are once again available."

The almost violet hands
Perhaps taking some inspiration from pocket watches, as well other German manufactures such as H Moser et Cie, the Benu really is a thing of beauty: the watch is elegant, classic, understated, modern. The steel hands are carefully shaped and have been treated to produce a bluing that is actually violet-brown, depending on the light (see photograph opposite). I'm not quite sure how to describe these - poires / feuilles / scoties? Whatever the exact shape, the hands seem to perfectly offset the solid silver dial and arabic numerals, all ringed by the soft glow of the three-part, rose-gold case which measures 41mm x 11mm and is WR to 30 metres. The MSRP is 16,800 Euros and the Benu will be limited to 100 pieces. There are myriad details here that intrigue and delight: the subtle, conical crown; the deeply indented sub-dial at six, showing the running seconds; the finely printed minute (or rather sub-second) track; and the thick, anti-reflective sapphire glass with its slight camber and chamfer to allow for precision reading.

The Grossmann micrometer screw
And all of this before we even get to the manufacture movement, containing 188 parts,  that sits behind it. Quoting Grossman again: "The construction of the calibre 100.0 movement that the Benu reveals within the transparent back not only addresses all of its functional aspects, but is also a feast for the eyes of any watch connoisseur. The 2/3 plate made of German silver – a hallmark of Glashütte pocket chronometers – replaces a number of bridges for enhanced stability. The Grossmann plate has two typical features: the straight-cut edges and the generous circular segment cutout that showcases the classic screw balance in its entirety." The movement is highly decorated, with polished elements, graining and even snailing. The movement beats at a refined 18,000 semi-oscillations per hour, which is equivalent to the traditional frequency of 2.5 hertz. Interestingly, the Benu features an adjusting mechanism / regulator that I have not seen before. According to Grossman, this allows the watch to be regulated precisely without disturbing the equilibrium of the oscillation system. This "Grossmann micrometer screw" therefore enables accurate, tension-free adjustments in both directions. 

If I sound like I am waxing lyrical about this watch - it's because I am. I love it. 

the #watchnerd

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Baselworld 2011 through a telescope, Pt 1

Baselworld 2011 is probably the industry's largest annual shindig, home to hundreds of brands, all showcasing their brand new models. It happens each March, at about the same time, in Basel, which is why I'm sat here in Finland (or Lapland, to be exact) instead of in a hotel room on the outskirts of Basel. This gives me the opportunity to sit back, and let Baselworld wash over me, like a warming wave of horological goodness. Or not. I guess that depends on what comes up. In this, the first part of a series, I'll be looking at two of the biggest announcements from day one - the TAG Heuer Concept Mikrotimer 1000 and the new Rolex Explorer II

The TAG Heuer Mikrotimer Flying 1000
Now, the first of these is an incredible piece. Just a concept at the moment, TAG Heuer has built on the wonderful Carrera Mikrograph of last year, which boasted an incredible 1/100th mechanical chronograph, and leapt straight up that logarithmic scale to produce the truly phenomenal Mikrotimer Flying 1000, capable of measuring 1/1,000th of a second. It does this by beating a furious 3.6m times an hour - or approximately 125 times faster than a Valjoux 7750. Rather than trying to explain how this marvel operates, I'll instead link straight to the Calibre 11 website, uber-watchnerd and Heuer-expert par excellence, to explain things. Suffice it to say, this is an incredible piece. Truly amazing, and demonstrates TAG Heuer's determination to push the boundaries of what is possible in a mechanical timepiece. This is what Baselworld is all about - a new, totally stunning, original take on time. 

A classic orange-hand Explorer, by 小丹尼 
And so to Rolex, who have shown at least five new models at Basel. I've chosen the New Explorer II (Rolex's capitals). Returning to the orange arrow-shaped GMT hand of the 1971 version, this is the Rolex for which aficionados and fans have been clamouring: iconic, daring, but understated, the original '71 Explorer is a true classic. The photo on the left is by  小丹尼 (Denny_Jr) and is used with permission. It shows the stand-out orange GMT hand on a black dial, subtle Rolex branding and that rather odd font they used for the date. Oh, and of course, a cyclops. For me, this is one of the few Rolexes that I would actually like to own; it seems to sum up all that is good about classic Rolexes. 

The New Explorer II
The new model  takes the the "current" Explorer II, exposes it to the now de riguer  jumbo-fication with which Rolex seems so enamoured, and beefs it up to 42mm. In doing so, the boys and girls at Rolex appear to have increased the flair on the lugs, widening them significantly, and lending them the same, heavy shouldered look that was so evident in the supersized Explorer from last year. It now looks squatter than ever, as if it's carrying too much weight and has spilled out over the top of its impeccably-tailored hiking trousers. For me, the orange hand looks similarly mismatched; a sore thumb against a polar white background. The black-dialled version (which is strangely missing in the official Rolex press pack) looks slightly better. But only just... The New model does, of course, have a new movement, the calibre 3187, which includes probably one of, if not the, best quick-setting GMT mechanisms on the planet, so it's not all bad (I also like the time-setting pushers on the Ulysse Nardin, but that's another story). 

For me, at least (and I am definitely in the minority on this based on Twitter comments received so far), this is lazy design. There is nothing ground-breaking about this (or any other of the models Rolex has released). They are updates to the existing range, but no more than that. I'm sure there will be a great number of very, very happy customers for this watch, but for me, this was yet another year in which Rolex failed to impress, yet alone surprise. 

Of course, I'm probably wrong. I usually am...

The #watchnerd