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