Sunday, December 30, 2012

Salon QP 2012: Part 3 - Sarpaneva Watches

One of the most enjoyable aspects of SalonQP 2012 was being able to spend time with some of the people behind the watches that we 'blog, Tweet or write about, such as Finnish watchmaker, Stepan Sarpaneva. I'd been hoping to meet Stepan for a number of years, as  he has quietly been making some of my favourite watches, such as the Korona K0 (opposite). The K0 is a 300m dive watch with  one of my favourite "complications", an internal bezel. Like the Aquastar Geneve Seatime watches from the 60s and 70s, Stepan has integrated the internal bezel into the watch in such a way that it can be controlled from the single crown at four o'clock. The crown (below) is beautifully crafted, mirroring the scalloped stainless steel case.

The bezel (or diver's timer ring, as Stepan calls is), is manually adjustable from the first crown position, which may give an indication as to how he does it: the date ring on the modified Soprod A10 Calibre has been replaced by a timer ring. It's a very neat solution and one that exemplifies Stepan's (slightly oddball, to use a phrase coined by Sarpaneva as part of a 10th anniversary publication) approach to watchmaking. The Korona K0 is inspired by a Finnish legend about a smith, whose  daughters were taken by a Näkki, a shapeshifting water spirit who usually appears in human form, and resides in murky pools, wells, docks, piers and under bridges that cross rivers. Stepan's work is littered with such references to water, Finnish folklore and the moon, with which he appears to have a particular relationship. "The moon bothers me," he says, "Even when I cannot see it, I can feel it. During the Full Moon and the New Moon, I'm especially sensitive. I seep badly... Am I cursed?"

I don't know whether Stepan is, indeed, cursed, but there's no doubt that his relationship with the moon influences his work. The Korona Moonshine (opposite) is perhaps the most extreme of his pieces - the entire dial has been given over to face of the moon, while hands are relegated to a rotating, lumed, skeletonised hour wheel. The lumed part indicates the lunar month, while the hour wheel tells the time. My friend and fellow #watchnerd, Horologium, is also a huge fan, and has recently purchased a moon pendant from Stepan. I think it's this combination of technical, very exact watchmaking and the whimsical that I find so intriguing, and, indeed wonderful, about Sarpaneva's watches. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

SalonQP 2012 Part 2 - Prime time

The Meridian Watches MP-09
Due to a slight delay at the entrance to the the Saatchi Gallery (the security guards waited for the clock to strike six before letting any of us in to SalonQP), I missed the official launch of Meridian Watches. This was rather a shame, as I'd been hoping to witness the unveiling of the Meridian Prime, an almost entirely English-built watch, heralding from Norwich. Meridian's founder is Simon Michlmayr, a second generation watchmaker and Fellow of the British Horological Institute, who has been running his own watch and clock repair company since 1986. I spoke briefly to Simon at SalonQP, and he was kind enough to allow me to take a look at his watches, movements and accessories and to tell me a bit more about Meridian, and their future plans.

A special non-luminous dial for SalonQP 2012
The idea behind Meridian Watches was to find a way of manufacturing high quality, hand-produced watches, that the owner could wear day-in, day-out, using all-English parts (except - currently - for the movement) at a reasonable cost. Simon brought in a business partner - Richard Baldwin (a keen watch collector and CEO of Arcadia Watches) and started sourcing appropriate partners from across the UK with whom to work. Their search has yielded a collective that includes a hand-made leather strap-maker (Steve O, who will be well-known to Panerai owners), an optics company that supplies military contracts, an additional webbing strap-maker who also produces their cotton/canvas watch-roll (Carl Evans of GasGasBones fame) and even a leather passport holder (from Bond Street brand, Smythson). On top of this, Meridian hand-make strap-changing tools which are included with each watch, and have also hand-produced their buckles. These latter items are a fantastic example of the Meridian ethos - each of the eleven elements of the buckle is hand-machined, and then assembled in Norwich. There is no doubt that a cheaper buckle could have been sourced, but Simon has focused his attention on making every part of these watches feel like they have been crafted for the owner. This also extends to the hands, which are hand cut, colleted, polished, treated and coated in SuperLuminova (TM). It's a very artisanal approach, and one that I find increasingly attractive.

The Meridian Black treatment on the MP-09
For their first watches, Meridian have taken a Unitas hand-wound movement as a base - modifying and decorating it in-house, and encased it in an extremely robust 46mm case that's water-resistant to 300m (and tested to 40 Bar). The decoration is good - with a Mercator-projection style engraving and frosted bridges, but is entombed behind a similarly engraved solid caseback. These initial pieces - the Prime series -  have been built around a common, military-inspired design, with various dial options. All are three-handers, with running seconds at six or nine and are available in a number of case options. The model I spent most time studying at SalonQP (the MP-09) had been finished in a proprietary treatment called Meridian Black, an unusual multi-layer coating that provides the watch with a rather unique look. It's an intriguing finish - a battered, lived-in style that makes the watch feel very personal. I can imagine that this patina will only improve with age, producing a truly original piece**.

Meridian are currently working on a slightly smaller model, and two other calibres - a 100 hour power reserve platform that will be available in both manual and dual micro-rotor automatic versions. The Prime watches range in cost between £4,495 and £4,995.

These watches are not cheap, and I have seen a great deal of comment focused on this aspect, rather than on the watches themselves. As someone who increasingly buys hand-made / hand-produced items, often from UK-producers, whether these items are watches (or watch-related accessories, such as straps), jeans and other clothing, ceramics, food or even small-batch gins or vodkas, I am aware that there is a considerable cost to producing such items, but I usually find that the pleasure I get from, e.g. wearing a strap made from hand-tanned leather and sand-cast brass buckle tend to outweigh the price I pay for a machine-made item. I believe that Meridian are seeking to elicit a similar response with these watches, and I wish them the best of luck.

More photos of the Meridian Prime (and other watches from SalonQP 2012) can be found here.

the #watchnerd

**Our friends over at Fratello Watches have an excellent exclusive look behind the scenes at Meridian's base in Norwich, as well as a photo of a prototype watch built four years ago which shows the effect of age on the finish.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

SalonQP 2012 Part 1 - U-Boat

SalonQP 2012, the London watch show that has gone from strength to strength over the past four years, finished last weekend. Organisers say that more visitors than ever took advantage of the opportunity to see over 30 brands and 20 independents in the wonderful surroundings of the Saatchi Gallery. 

I'll be posting some more in depth articles  over the coming days and weeks, but realised that I hadn't even covered some of the highlights and other interesting things I'd seen. A quick caveat - these pieces / brands interested me. They may not all be haute horologie, but that doesn't stop them from being interesting. And as a #watchnerd, I'm finding that things are increasingly interesting. So interesting, in fact, that I completely failed to visit quite a large number of brands at QP - even though I spent three entire sessions in the gallery. To those brands, I apologise. It's not you, it's me. I got distracted. Sorry.

U-Boat's 2013 U-1001
As some of you may recall, I have a bit of a thing about depth. I enjoy SCUBA diving and freediving almost as much as I like writing about watches that can go deep. Now, there are various ways of making a very, very water-resistent watch: you can make it big; you can fill it with oil; or you can add a really, really thick crystal, like U-Boat did with this year's U-1001. I can't find the watch on their website, so assume it's a 2013 model. Italo Fontana has slapped a c.9mm think, hockey puck-esque slab of sapphire onto this new piece, which lends the U-1001 a slightly bizarre look. It's certainly a statement piece, with the slightly opaque, almost frosty edges of the the crystal contrasting strongly with the all back, DLC'd case. It's fun. It's slightly bonkers. And it's got a claimed water-resistance of over 1000m. What more could you ask for?

The U-51 Bronze / PVD Limited Edition
Slightly less bonkers is this U-51 limited edition, a rather good take on the bronze watch, which incorporates both polished bronze and PVD-coated sections with a warm, tobacco brown dial. The colours work extremely well together, with the multi-layered dial being a very successful case in point. Patrick Moufarrige - the UK AD - speaks about this change in direction from U-Boat - a move from large, in your face tool watches, to a softer, more organic look, that will age on the wrist. I liked the contrast between the treated and untreated sections, and there's a depth to the dial that I'd not noticed before in U-Boat watches. It's not a small piece - on my wrist it was at first vaguely comical, but then, I realised that it actually sat no higher than many of my other (much smaller watches) and fitted just as comfortably under the cuff. The eye is drawn to the multiple elements of the case design, and is offset nicely by a hand-distressed thick leather strap. Patrick said that they had played around with a black dialled version, but somehow I can't see that working as well as the brown. It's a much *softer* watch than I expected from U-Boat, and one that I rather like.

Further parts coming shortly.

the #watchnerd

Disclaimer: I was a guest of QP Magazine and received free entry to the event.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Not just another leather "NATO"

There has been a marked increase in the popularity of "NATO"-style straps over the past year (whether true NATOs, half NATOs, Rhinos or any other variety). Where once these were only available from such veritable purveyors as Timefactors or Phoenix (who actually does produce NATO straps for our armed forces), these bands are now popping up in Urban Outfitters and J Crew. High end versions have been appearing all over the place, with prices of up to $200 for Shell Cordovan, or $145 for a one-piece leather NATO, and there have even been videos posted on Hodinkee describing how to wear them. But in all the excitement, many people may have missed a new offering from Tender, best known for making some of the best jeans on the planet, and one of my favourite brands (I even have a denim apron from them). I must declare an interest here - I have met William Kroll a number of times, and would consider him an acquaintance, but do not believe that this has influenced my thoughts unduly.
The Hands-On from Tender Co.
William recently opened an online store - the Trestle Shop - to sell Tender products that are not available though his normal stockists. Amongst these is a watch, and a leather NATO-style strap. The watch (called 'Hands-On') has been cased-up in England and contains a hand-wound Swiss movement. It is set on a custom-made English oak bark tanned leather NATO-style one-piece strap with a solid English cast brass buckle. The Hands-On function is taken from early Twentieth Century drivers' watches - the dial is rotated by 45° to make the watch easily readable without taking your hands off the wheel of a car. The 'Explorer' dial has numerals at 3,6, and 9 o'clock, with Tender's Plautus brand at 12 o'clock. The minute register is represented by Tender's signature train track, with heavier sleepers marking the hours. Pencil hours and minutes hands are blued and filled with luminous material, and there is a sweep centre seconds hand. The dial is protected by an extra-high domed acrylic crystal, with the movement visible through an exhibition case back, and a power reserve of up to 48 hours. The case is milled from solid stainless steel, with a push-down steel crown at 1.30. The Hands-On costs £495.
Tender Co. NATO on Squale50 Atmos
The leather strap is also available on its own - and I picked one up the other day. At £45, it's about twice the price of many of its rather cheap-looking and frankly flimsy peers, but not an extortionate amount to pay for a hand-made strap. It's 19-20mm wide, so I fitted it on to the watch I was wearing - an NOS Squale 50 Atmos. Now I know that leather on dive watches is a non-traditional look, to say the least, but it works for me. Actually, leather on dive watches is increasingly on-trend - just take a look at Ben Clymer's wrist, if you don't believe me. The leather itself is oak bark-tanned, and is a soft brown, with a chunky brass buckle and ring. These have been sand-cast, and have an irregular, hand-made feel to them. The Tender logo and information is foil-stamped on the inside of the strap, along with the proudly displayed phrase "Made in England".

Tender Co. oak bark-tanned strap
It's a very personal strap and reminds me of some of the leather and fittings that have accompanied some of the (many) vintage Smiths watches I have bought over the years. The buckle, in particular, grabs the attention: it's a relatively large piece of brass that has been hand-made using the sand-cast method, and is large enough to allow the leather to fold back under the brass, in the "NATO" style The leather is unstained, and so will vary from strap to strap, and will darken over time. I'm going to wear this on heavy rotation, as I'm very interested in how it will age. I may also resurrect one of my Smiths, as I think it'll be the perfect match for a DeLuxe or even an Imperial. William sent me photos of the strap that he's been wearing on his watch for almost a year, and his has darkened a few shades (and been stained by indigo, which gives it a rather nice look). The straps are available from the Trestle Shop and are priced at £45.

the #watchnerd

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Peter Roberts - 40 Years of Watchmaking

Peter at SalonQP 2012 earlier this month
Peter Roberts had originally lined up a job at Philips in Holland and would probably have never even considered a career in watchmaking if he had not seen an advert for the "first watch worn on the moon", the Omega Speedmaster in late 1969. Practicing initially on military watches that he bought on Tottenham Court Road (he would repair them and sell them on to fund the next purchase) Peter became the first English student to be accepted at the WOSTEP school of watchmaking in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.  

It was here that Peter had an idea to create a watch that he had only previously seen ijn the pages of a book - a watch with five hands. Adding jewels to the movement, a mineral glass back to display his finissage of the base Valjoux 726 and cannibalising the screw-down pushers from a Rolex chronograph and the bezel from a GMT, the nineteen year-old produced a certified chronometer as his graduation watch, that had five hands indicating hours, minutes, seconds, the date and a second timezone. It's a complication that has been rarely seen since.                                                                               
Peter's WOSTEP watch 
It has taken Peter (with the help of his wife Marie-Louise) almost forty years to find a source of movements that will allow them to produce a new version of this watch. The Peter Roberts Concentrique watch - Grand Complication 5 (after the five hands) will be built in extremely limited numbers from a source of NOS Valjoux 88 movements. Each of these will be completely reworked by Peter into a unique calibre - the Concentrique - and enclosed within 40 stainless steel and four rose cold cases. Of course, the numbers represent the number of years - and decades - since the original watch was made. The watch was announced on November 9th 2012, at the SalonQP 2012 event at the Saatchi Gallery.

The Complication 5
(C) Peter Roberts Watches 2012

The announcement was, for me at least, the highlight of SalonQP. I have been admiring Peter's WOSTEP watch since I first saw it a few years ago, although there were many others in the room, including fabled watch journalist Ken Kessler, who have been waiting a lot longer. Peter had been regaling us with stories and anecdotes from his forty years of watchmaking, such as trying to fit a bracelet to James Coburn's newly-bought IWC (while working for Garrard), or working in the ultra-secret, weird and rare world of Atelier Deux  - apparently the workshop where Rolex take all the watches on which they don't want to work / won't admit that they will work. The watch itself is wonderfully unique - not only for its set of five centrally-mounted hands, but also the moonphase, which adds yet another complication to the piece. Peter Roberts Watches can be contacted here, and a Press Pack can be downloaded from their site; the watch is likely to be in the region of £15,000 plus VAT.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Monoposto, mi piace!

The Monoposto at the Goodwood FoS 2012
Monoposto is a word that describes open-wheel, single-seater racing cars, and stretches from modern Formula 1 all the way back to the heyday of the pre-war Silver Arrows, the Bugatti Type 37 or the Alfetta 159. Indeed, it is the latter that has been the source of inspiration for Bradley Price, Founder of Officine Autodromo, which has recently released the Autodromo Monoposto. The Monoposto is the first automatic watch from Autodromo, with whom I was very impressed when I met them a few months ago. This watch is powered by the Citizen Watch-produced Miyota 821A, a 21 Jewel, 21,600 bph self-winding movement that has been used by a large number of suppliers since 2009. The 821A winds counter-clockwise and can be hand-wound, and seems an ideal choice for Autodromo's first mechanical watch, being a robust three-hander with date.

The Autodromo Monoposto
As we've come to expect from Autodromo, the design of the watch is retro-modern, borrowing from 50s single-seater racers, as well as early wristwatches, while looking bang up-to-date. The dial itself is large (the watch is 43mm across) and extends right to the edge of the case, culminating in a railroad-style minute track and triangle markers, that breaks nicely at 12. The dial is very similar to those seen the Alfa Romeo 158/159 "Alfetta", a little car with an incredible history of Grand Prix wins (and most famously driven by Fangio).   Autodromo have positioned the date at 6, where it seems to blend in slightly with the dial, perhaps getting a little lost. On the other hand, it's a change from the slew of big dates that are currently all the rage. The old school wire lugs on the Monoposto remind me of another #watchnerd favourite, the Type 1001 from our friends at Ressence.

Of course, the most striking feature is not the incredibly elegant, black-tipped hour hand, nor the overlong minute hand, nor even the Alfa-coloured seconds hand, but the superimposed "redline" that has been applied to the underside of the subtly domed crystal. It's playful without being superfluous.

Autodromo's stationary
When I saw this in September, I was immediately struck by the tachometer-like simplicity and legibility of the watch, but also the superb attention to detail that Price brings to each of his models - an attention to detail that flows through every aspect of the brand, whether it's the gorgeous full grain leather straps, the wonderfully tactile roller buckle, or even the hand-printed cards and envelopes used in their packaging. Even their business cards are beautiful (see opposite). As you may have gathered, I'm rather taken with this indvidually numbered 500 piece limited edition, which is only available to pre-order through Page and Cooper in the UK at £585 (or $875 in the US).

the #watchnerd

Friday, October 26, 2012

Primed and ready - Meridian Watches

At six p.m. on the 8th November at SalonQP 2012, a new British watchmaking company will show its first pieces. Meridian Watches has been creating a buzz since it joined Twitter  and Facebook a little over six months ago, posting teaser photos and snippets of information about this new range of hand-made British watches. Until now, all that has been known is that this small, Norfolk-based company appears to be making watches by hand from all-British parts, except the base Valjoux / Unitas movement. A preliminary sketch released earlier this month (below) seems to show a two-handed, military-inspired design with subsidiary seconds and skeletonised hands, and I knew form Facebook and Twitter that the company has been working with fellow #watchnerd Robert-Jan Broer at Fratello Watches as their media partner. But I knew little else about the watches, until yesterday, when Richard from Meridian 'phoned me. In a story that illustrates everything I love about Twitter, Richard got in touch following an exchange of Tweets in July, when I asked about the watches. So I guess this is a bit of an exclusive (to use one of my dear friend Hodinkee's favourite words).

I must admit that I had thought that these watches would be similar to a number of others being currently produced in Britain, taking Swiss movements and casing them in Germany, Switzerland or England, but having spent time talking to Richard, I'm not so sure. Meridian's approach from the start has been to create a range of truly hand-crafted watches, focusing on watchmaking. Each case and caseback is individually milled from English-made blanks - and they're good for at least 300m too. The dials are all made in-house. Even the hands have been made, polished and painted in their small workshop in Norwich (they were busy working on these while I spoke to them again this morning). Yes, the base movements are Swiss and modified before casing, but at least two of the three calibres that will form the basis of the range, sport some serious complications, designed and built by Meridian's team of five watchmakers. Calibre 1 is a fairly standard, 40 hour, Unitas-style manual wind, with seconds at six or nine. But the Calibre 2 and 3 movements have a 100 hour power reserve, and are available in both manual and double rotor automatic versions. The cases will be available in a number of finishes, including a very interesting sounding "Meridian Black" treatment, and the double domed crystals are not only sourced from the UK, but double coated by a company that supplies the military. Even the buckles (which contain at least five separate parts) are entirely made in the UK. In a move that was first seen on the Bremont MBI and II watches, Meridian have also contracted Carl from Gasgasbones to produce a canvas strap that will be supplied as part of the package. All this adds up to a fully fledged range of watches (and indeed pocket watches) that will be available to see at SalonQP and actually purchase a few weeks later. There's also a watch being created especially for SalonQP, but we'll have to wait a bit longer to hear about it.

Although I have not yet even laid eyes, let alone my hands, on a finished piece, I am incredibly excited about these watches. You'll recall that I have been a supporter of many UK brands in the past, and I see no reason why Meridian should not succeed: the opportunities to buy a truly hand-crafted watch in the UK are (currently) rather limited, especially in the sub-£10k market. While Roger Smith, for example, offers incredibly beautiful, bespoke pieces from the Isle of Man, and Peter Speake-Marin produces a blend of modern-slash-traditional watches from his workshop in Rolle, Meridian appear to trying to bring a little bit of that wonderfully English quality to the UK market. 

The countdown has begun. I know where I'll be as that counter hits zero...

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Demystifying Marcus

As you walk down Bond Street, past the rather spooky life-casted windows of Louis Vuitton, and the tourists sitting with Winston Churchill, there's a bright, glass-filled window on the right-hand side. The door is overlooked by a red awning and framed by a flag bearing the name of the owner in a distinctive, stylised font. The store is Marcus; its owner Marcus Margulies; and it sells dreams.

The Union Pocket Watch by AP

Accompanied by fellow watchnerd GregD, I spent some time yesterday with Liam Chadzynski, exploring part of Marcus' immense catalogue of watches, clocks and pocket watches, including a display of Audemars Piguet pieces that form part of (probably) the most complete collection of complicated and rare AP's anywhere in the world. It's a quite staggering exhibition, and worthy of a visit by any serious #watchnerd. But to be able to see some of the unique pieces that Marcus has commissioned, along with some truly marvellous watches from some of the watch world's finest manufactures, was a rare treat. Out came watches from Greubel Forsey, MB&F, URWERK, as well as Alain Silberstein, Hublot and MCT. It was like an haute horologie tasting dinner. First up was a brush with history: the Union Uhr is described as one of the most complicated pocket watches and arguably the most important piece ever created by Audemars Piguet. Marcus purchased it at auction in 1993, apparently paying over seven times the estimate. The original case is massive - it weighs 0.4kg and is over 80mm across. So Marcus has a second (and, indeed, third) case made, that better suited the movement. 

It is unlikely that a pocket watch like this will ever be made again - Marcus believes that "the craftsmen do not exist today and the cost would run into millions." It's rare to see such an item; even rarer to hold it. To hear its exquisite repeater was unprecedented

The URWERK UR-1001
From the 19th Century to the 21st (or should that be 22nd?). URWERK created the UR-1001 last year - a pocket watch that combines ten complications including a flying hour satellite indicator and retrograde minutes. On the back, there's a 100 and 1,000 year indicator - truly a watch for the next millennium. Then came the MB&F watches: a rose gold HM3 Frog Moonmachine; the HM4 Thunderbolt "Double Trouble"; and a HM2 Sapphire Vision. Please click through to see more photos and videos of these watches.

Unique Greubel Forsey GMT for Marcus Watches
To see one Greubel Forsey might be considered lucky. To see an entire table full? Words began to fail me about now, as I busied myself trying to take photos to cover up the fact that I was practically speechless. First there was the full Invention Piece set - a collection of the three pieces in a special presentation case. It's difficult to describe these watches - part watch, part pure horological experiment. Phrases such as "quad tourb" and "24 second tourbillon" whizzed past my head as my companions discussed the relative merits of the various degrees of inclined tourbillons and the asynchronicity of the four independent tourbs. And then the reveal: a diamond-like carbon- (DLC) coated platnum-cased novelty - the Greubel Forsey GMT. Of course, it was absolutely stunning: UTC perceived as a rotating, titanium globe; one's existence reduced to the size of a marble. In a way, it's a little humbling - but by then, perhaps, I was reading too much in to these devices.

And then a unique example, the Balanciers (previously 'blogged by Hodinkee during their short visit to London last week). It's the first (only?) GF *not* to contain a tourbillon, and uses the average of two, separate escapements to show the blended time. This last piece is truly unique, and a wonderful example of the pieces that only Marcus can supply. This isn't just a watch is a "unique" case, or unusual finish. This is one-of-a-kind, never-to-be-repeated. An outstanding way to end a visit.

Thank you to Liam, Alex and all at Marcus for letting me take a peek inside their world. Please do arrange to visit the Audemars Piguet Exhibition - it's full of fantastic jump hours, unusual chronographs and even the world's smallest minute repeater. 

More photos and videos can be found here.

the #watchnerd

Friday, September 14, 2012

An engaging design...

As you may have gathered from a) my Flickr stream and b) many of my watch choices, I’m a bit of a #gaugenerd. Whether it’s the twin fuel gauge of a DeHavilland Mosquito, an oil-filled bourdon tube depth gauge for SCUBA, or the simplicity of a Jaeger Amperemeter, it’s pretty safe to say that I’ll naturally gravitate towards it – usually with a camera in hand. In fact, I've even been involved in a Limited Edition Bremont BC-S2 that ATG VIntage Watches has on the go; the ATG LE aims to capture the black dial, high viz green / white numerals and battered black finish of some of those old Smiths aeronautical gauges found in the cockpit of the Supermarine Spitfire. But I digress.

The Officine Autodromo Vallelunga
Officine Autodromo is a new watch company that aims to blend a love of the romantic heyday of pre-F1 motor racing with crisp, modern design. Launched last year, the range takes inspiration from a time when Gran Turismo was synonymous with grand tourers from Bentley, Alfa or Ferrari, rather than a PlayStation game.

The Officine Auodromo Brescia
There are currently two models, the Brescia: a stripped back, black dialled, black-PVD'd piece that’s devoid of numerals, powered by a Swiss-made Ronda 4003.B Quartz; and the Vallelunga: a more obviously speedometer-inspired three-handed model. In addition, there’s a chronograph version of the Vallelunga (incorporating a Swiss-made Ronda 5020.B Quartz). All three pieces appear to use the same 42mm case, and are water resistant to 3atm. I like the bold styling and large dial / crystal, that maximises the visible area. Motoring cues are everywhere: from the perforated leather straps that evoke the soft leather of driving gloves, to the red-lined dials and indices. The Brescia (above) and Vallelunga retail at $465 (or £289 via the UK Authorised Dealer - Page & Cooper ), while the Vallelunga Chrono is $550 (£339). More models are planned – I saw a prototype last night on the wrist of the owner and designer of Officine Autodromo which looked very impressive indeed.

I think Officine Autodromo may have gained another member of the #autodromisti.

the #watchnerd

Monday, July 30, 2012

HMS Victory hosts Bremont Watch Launch

The caseback of the Bremont Victory watch

HMS Victory is the only surviving warship that fought in the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic wars. In the latter she served as Lord Nelson's flagship at the decisive Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and she continues to be flagship of the Second Sea Lord. That she should play host to the launch of a watch that not only shares her name, but also original parts of her superstructure, was something more than a little special. So when I received an invite to this event from Giles and Nick English at Bremont, I jumped at the chance. Travelling down from London with numerous proper watch journalists (including representatives from #watchnerd favourites QP Magazine and 00/24 Watchworld), I must admit to feeling more than a little inadequate. But back to the watches...

The copper mid-barrel 

The Victory Watch stems from Bremont's close association with the Navy, through working previously with the Fly Navy Heritage Trust and the Royal Navy Historic Flight. However, from the sounds of it, Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, GCB, DL, Chairman of the Trustees of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, wasn't going to let just anyone waltz off with original parts of the oldest naval ship still in commission. Luckily for Bremont, they passed muster, and were granted unprecedented access to parts of the wooden superstructure and even a copper nail. These parts have been used in both the trademark Bremont mid-barrel (see right) and the caseback of the Victory watch (above). 

The Bremont Victory/LE/RG
The watch itself marks something of a departure for the guys from Henley-on-Thames: not only does it use the most complicated mechanical movement within any Bremont watch to date, but it is also their first foray into the world of precious metals. For the Victory is available in both a Limited Edition of 200 stainless steel pieces, as well as 40 in 18 carat rose gold (at left). As you can see from the photos, the watch shares many of the features that have become associated with Bremont watches: the TripTick three-piece construction, showing off the beautiful curved lugs; an easy-to-read, textured dial that seems both modern and reminiscent of marine chronometers; a railway-style track above the minutes; and even a red triangle on the rehaut at twelve o'clock. It's a very Bremont watch, combining the best of the new with a great deal of the old.

The highly-decorated caseback (C) Bremont
The caseback contains some of the most wonderful details that I've seen in a long while. Bremont were able to borrow Nelson's seal - the seal he wore on the Victory - and produce a cast from it. From there, they found one of the last places in the UK that is still engraving glass, and commissioned them to etch the seal, in reverse, onto the sapphire display back.  The rotor is also highly-decorated. The photo to the right is from Bremont, and I'm just sorry that I haven't been able to get a closer view of it. 

The movement is very interesting: it's a chronograph with double retrograde running seconds and date, known as the Bremont BE-83AR. A little bit of #watchnerd-fu shows few other movements that fit this description: the cal. 831 used by Chronoswiss in their well-received Balance Chronograph (based on the La Joux-Perret 8310) being the only other one I could find. It's a fascinating movement to watch, and I'm sorry I haven't managed to get a video of it. The running seconds run up the left-hand side of the dial, flicking back to zero when they hit the 30 second mark. The retrograde scale on the right of the dial shows the date. As mentioned previously, there are relatively few people using this movement at present, so it remains a bit of an oddity. La Joux-Perret (formerly known as Jaquet), and part of the wider Prothor Group) have recently been purchased by Citizen. The hands are rather good too, with a very fine chronograph seconds hand and a set of well-balanced hours and minutes. I don't believe that there is any lume on the dial at all. All in all, it's a remarkable watch: bold, beautiful, brilliant. And all that, while wearing a piece of history on your wrist. I'm not sure it gets much better than that.

The Bremont Victory will be available in the Autumn, at a little under £12,000 for the stainless steel model, and a shade under £20,000 for the rose gold version, although I think you'd better get your pre-orders in quickly. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ben Saunders - Scott2012

Last night I attended a talk by Ben Saunders, Bremont Ambassador and polar explorer, at the new Bremont Boutique. It was the first of a series of regular (monthly-ish) talks by Bremont Ambassadors, explorers, adventurers, designers, etc as part of Bremont's Explorers Club (not sure that's the name, but I'll use it until corrected). The event was well-attended by Ben's other sponsors - Land Rover, Drum Cussac, etc - and the champagne was supplied by Mumm. Good friends were also present, in the shape of Nick and Giles English, as well as Tim from Fly Navy Heritage Trust (sporting a rather nice P-51). Tim mentioned that they have just received a Supermarine Seafire - but that's another story. If you haven't heard of the Trust, please do follow this link to learn more.

In October Ben Saunders leads a three-man team setting out to make the first return journey to the South Pole on foot. At 1,800 miles and four months, Scott 2012 will be the longest unsupported polar journey in history and the first completion of Captain Scott's ill-fated Terra Nova expedition -
Scott2012. Ben is planning an attempt to reach the South Pole, following Scott's epic 1,800 mile route - a route on which Scott and his team famously perished in 1912. The route remains the longest trans-polar trek ever attempted, and crosses the Ross Ice Shelf, before heading up the Beardmore Glacier (c10,000ft above sea level). At the start of the expedition, Ben and his two teammates will be dragging sleds weighing 200kg, and will set up depots / drops on the way out to ensure a relatively smooth ski home, and arrival back in Blighty in February 2013. Ben, Al and Martin will be carrying all their own food (freeze-dried, of course), fuel and, by the looks of the video from the recent Greenland training exercise, a lot of Nikon camera batteries! The team will have limited access to the Internet via satellite and therefore hope to 'blog, Tweet and generally keep in touch during their mammoth trek.

Ben was wearing his tried and tested Bremont Supermarine 500 - a watch that's been used on many of Ben's recent polar attempts and training expeditions, where the watch (and Ben) have been subject to -48C temperatures. Ben announced that he would be wearing a Bremont during Scott2012 - but that he couldn't reveal which one. A super-secret new model, perhaps? The new 45mm Supermarine? A weather-sealed and rubber-mounted chrono? Answers on a postcard please - or perhaps a Tweet? As part of the Adventurers' Club, Ben also signed the new "soapbox", the occasional speaking platform in the corner of the Boutique.

The #watchnerd wishes Ben, Al and Martin all the best for their trip.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Getting the jump on Bell & Ross

Bell & Ross showed their two Heure Sautante (Jumping Hour) WW1 watches at Kronometry 1999 on London's Bond Street last week. Two new models (first shown at BaselWorld 2012) were on display: a rose gold piece (at left), with jump hour displayed within a small circular window at twelve, regulateur minutes and power reserve at six; and a platinum version with a two-tone dial and slightly different power reserve window (below right). The movement was designed for Bell & Ross by AHCI member Vincent Calabrese, who set up NHC and is now, I believe, working with Blancpain.The jump hour complication is still relatively unusual in modern watches, and it's nice to see a brand like B&R trying something a little bit different At first glance, these watches seem slightly out of character for Bell & Ross, a design-led brand that was originally supplied by Helmut Sinn, created the trend for large, square aviation watches, and has recently launched a range of aircraft instrument-inspired pieces (see more photos here).

However, some of you may remember that a similar watch was debuted at Basel almost a decade ago, using a the same movement, but in the BR 123 case and a limited edition of 99. At the time of their launch in 2003, I believe these watches were the first jumping hour movements to include a power reserve. These new watches are part of Bell & Ross' "new" Vintage WW1 range, a family of pieces that now includes a Monopoussoir. The rose gold version of the Heure Sautante is available at £17,000 and is limited to 50 pieces; the platinum version is limited to a mere 25 pieces and is available at £26,000.

Many thanks to Michel at Bell & Ross, and all at Kronometry1999 for their kindness and hospitality.

the #watchnerd

Friday, July 06, 2012

Bremont's new boutique

Nick English's BSA

The #watchnerd popped in to see the newly opened Bremont Boutique in Mayfair, central London last night. The grand opening had occurred the day before, and from all accounts, appears to have been well-attended. I just missed seeing Giles and Nick but did get to meet David and Irena, who are running the store. Nick English has kindly loaned them his bike for a bit - so the first thing to greet visitors is a WWII-era BSA, which looks rather good against the dark wood of the walls. I also noted that Giles had donated his EP120 to the window display. I guess this is the price of success for Bremont: none of the sold out EP120 or P-51 watches are available. A blue-dialled version of the new World Timer was also in the window, and the store is stocked with the majority of the other non-LE models. I understand from David that there will be a great deal more watches in store (including some prototypes) in due course.

The 37mm SOLO with gold bezel

One unusual watch that is on display is the gold-bezel version of the recently announced 37mm SOLO watch. To be honest, I'd read quite a bit about the white-dialled 43mm and 37mm SOLO watches, and was beginning to wonder whether these were slightly (dare I say it) over-hyped. Everyone else seems to have got their hands on them and I was probably the last to see these watches. I must admit to feeling just a little bit sceptical, but as soon as I saw them, I realised that Bremont had done it once again. The watch is superb.  I didn't expect that the bezel and applied gold indices would work so well on what is effectively a simple three-handed aviation-inspired piece. We've always associated Bremont with a simple elegance, but also a certain gritty toughness. This piece is beautifully proportioned, with a lovely balance between the more feminine qualitites of the gold and the sturdiness of the stainless steel sections. The gold hands appear to be highly legible, but also give a bit more interest to the white dial.

I hadn't realised that the watch would not have the treated mid-section but the version I saw had a stainless steel barrel that looks (and feels) quite different to the ALT1 or even BC-S2 watches. The gold crown also contrasts well with the steel. Irena was also wearing a stainless version with applied gold indices. This looked stunning on its (prototype) leather strap - a soft, lighter brown version of the strap on the gold SOLO. It would look fantastic in 22mm, and I hope Bremont move it into production. The 20mm straps feel far softer and more forgiving that the "vintage" leather straps released with the P-51 watch.

Bremont's Boutique
At the back of the boutique is a bar and a seating area. The former is well-stocked, and it was especially pleasing to see one of my favourite (English) gins on the backbar - SipsmithIt looks as though Bremont have raided their Henley offices for furniture and fittings: the well-loved armchairs are there along with a rather comfy sofa. It'd be nice to be able to pop in and take a load off one's feet, and perhaps enjoy the books on the shelves (mostly aviation-related). Bremont have a massive display of accessories too - straps, cufflinks, even leather folders. A great place to take your watch(es) and try out new ideas for bracelets, leather and canvas. There are Bremont details everywhere: aircraft gauges, books, propellors, photos and the most amazing display of dials (but you may need to ask to see that, as it's unfortunately hidden from view!). The whole store is *very* Bremont.

More photos here - including some rather groovy kit from Elvis & Kresse - a UK company recycling fire hoses and coffee bags to turn into messenger bags and laptop cases.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Sébastien Murat Q&A

As 'blogged previously, Sébastien Murat is planning a seies of dives below 703 feet, using an extremely unusual "empty lung" technique. His venture (the French Job) is being sponsored by Maurice Lacroix, and he'll be wearing a Pontos S chrono diver during the dive (as well as other equipment discussed below). Through the English Blogger on French Job, Denéa Buckingham, I was given the opportunity to ask him a few questions. Apologies for my lack of interviewing prowess:

Séb, what you are attempting might be considered to be pretty extreme by some people: why do you want to take a sled to 703feet on a single breath of air?

I don't entertain such abstract and circular ideas. The answer is in the question.

With each metre of depth, the technical, as much as physical / mental, challenges of NLD seem to increase: what special technology is assisting you in this dive?

The special technology involves a means to lower metabolic rate below what are otherwise considered basal rates; a lowered metabolic rate = reduced inert gas absorption, enhanced inert gas dissolution, increased hypoxia tolerance, amongst other things.

I see that you are wearing an ML Pontos S watch: have you always been interested in watches? Do you remember the first watch you had?

No. No.

You have spent many years exploring the MDR (mammalian diving reflex or response): how does your diving technique differ from the more classical forms?

My approach is modelled on a universal strategy employed by animal divers.

You appear to have a very strong group of people working with you on the French Job: how important is teamwork - especially given the inherently solo nature of Freediving?

You have to have good group dynamics and it has to be completely egaliterian, otherwise its not really a team. Above all you need to penetrate to the soul of your team mates and speak frankly and candidly without fear of ridicule or negative criticism.

What dive computer will you be wearing? What functionality would your ultimate Freediving watch / computer have?

UWATEC. I suggested to Uwatec many years ago they make something for freediving. I offered some suggestions and they came up with the Galileo Apnea [now made by ScubaPro and marketed as the Galileo Sol, with Apnea Upgrade].

The mental / spiritual side of apnea is often emphasised: how do you think your Freediving has helped in your life above the water?

I'm able to strip people and things of their excesses and penetrate to their essential nature.

What do you think about on a deep dive? Do you have time to look around / enjoy the experience?

It's enjoyable on the way up as i've nothing to do but hang around. On the way down its absolute focus on equalization: over-pressuraization, mouth-fill, and switch to water equalization.

Freediving needn't be about depth / records: what advice would you give to someone who is considering Freediving as a hobby?

Don't fixate on time and depth...easier said than done of course.

What would you consider to be the most important piece of equipment for a Freediver?

To not forget his brain on the shore.

Please could you explain the basic approach to the actual record-breaking dive? How long, how deep, what safety protocols, etc?

No warm-up, don't think too much, release the 120kg, focus on equalization, +3', release the weights, relax and look around on the way up, release the float near the surface, surface, don't forget to breathe, go and have breakfast

There are other attempts taking place at the same time - indeed one has ended with the Freediver needing recompression treatment. Does this concern you?

No. The comparison is apples and oranges.

Many thanks to Séb, Denéa and all at the French Job. Best of luck!