Monday, March 12, 2012

Basel Through a Telescope, Part 2

Yet again, the #watchnerd has failed to make it to the halls of BaselWorld. And is therefore forced to observe from a distance. Last year, I was in Finland. This year, North London, and unsurprisingly, it was Rolex that first grabbed the headlines.

Having teased its customers with a new name – Sky-Dweller – Rolex released a picture showing what looked to be an internal rotating bezel of some kind. Many speculated that this could be a new “Pepsi” dialled variant of the GMT II. Possibly even a new chronograph. In the end, it was revealed to be a piece of horological trickery that combines an annual calendar with a second timezone set within the dial within the dial. Those of us who had been berating Rolex for merely tweaking / upsizing their old designs were suddenly faced with something a lot more interesting.

The Rolex Sky-Dweller (c) Rolex 2012
And what is particularly interesting is how they’ve combined the mechanism for setting month / date, time and the second timezone into a single device: the bezel-operated Ring Command. It’s a clever idea – similar to the “gear” device used by Guiliano Mazzuoli in his Contagiri – that changes the mode by rotating the bezel. Rolex has also included the quickset hour feature that sets their GMT watches above most others as well as a month indicator, situated just above each of the hour markers. The deceptively simple "Saros" system used by the Calibre 9001 reminds me of Ludwig Oechslin's MIH watch (a *good* thing - interestingly, they are both based on chronograph movements) and Rolex have obviously thought about how they present the watch on their website, including a rather good video

The Sky-Dweller’s main drawback, however, is its looks: with a Datejust-style case and a strange YachtMaster II hybrid dial, the watch is not what one might describe as classically beautiful. In white gold, the watch looks, quite frankly, absurd: the clash of Arabic and Roman numerals coupled with the incongruous indicator triangle being a case in point. The fonts clash and the magnifying Cyclops over the date just looks horribly out of place. To be fair, the Everose gold version is better, with a more coherent dial design, and a more flattering sunburst pattern.

To be honest, I’m not sure what Rolex was thinking. It’s not entirely clear whether this is a watch designed for world travellers, pilots, trans-Atlantic yachties or perhaps just collectors; I can see this fast becoming one of those strange pieces that future generations may discover and to which they may (seemingly randomly) attach value. It’s a shame, as the Ring Command is a relatively original touch, but for me, the Sky-Dweller is, unfortunately, certainly earth bound.

the #watchnerd

Basel Through a Telescope, Part 1

Some of you may recall that I managed to miss last year's BaselWorld (I was off trying to capture the Northern Lights in the Lappish Arctic Circle). Never a man to learn from his mistakes, I almost completely failed to reach Switzerland this year as well. I say "almost completely" as I'll arrive there on Thursday. Exactly a week late. 

Mondaine Vintage** 
So it will come as no surprise that I've had to rely on press photos, Twitter, various internet fora and other sources to track down some highlights to share with you. My thoughts on the new Rolex Sky Dweller are stuck on a laptop with no internet connection, so I'll have to start somewhere else. There are some excellent round-ups over on Hodinkee, the Sydney Tarts***, the Prodigal Guide***, etc, so I'll try and keep out of their hair and look at some of the things that have interested me over the past few days. 

The "Vintage" model from Mondaine is a case in point. While the dial will be familiar to most, this is their first watch in recent memory to contain a manual movement - an ETA 2801-2 - that venerable progenitor of the later range of automatic calibres. With its display back, 41mm case and sub-GBP 500 price tag, Mondaine may be about to introduce a new generation to manually wound watches. The 2801-2 is almost 30 years old now, and is a seventeen jewel movement beating at 28,800 vph. It might not set the world alight, but it might just open up this strange, anachronistic hobby of ours to a few more people. 

(c) Breguet
And so from one manually-wound calibre, to another: the anthracite-coloured, 43 jewel fusee tourbillon from Breguet. Yes, this is a re-issue of the Tradition 7047PT in rose gold, a watch that combined cutting edge technology (silicon balance and escapement) with classical design. But it's also (in my eyes) a piece of horological art. A watch that draws on the past by referencing Breguet's earliest tourbillon movements (fusee and chain transmission), while at the same time appearing almost entirely modern.  By the way, if you want extra #watchnerd points, I believe you can visit the British Museum and arrange to see a few of the actual souscription watches made by Abraham-Louis Breguet on which this movement is somewhat based (click for a photo of one of the souscription watches in the British Museum).  

Next up: some divers, the Antikythera Watch and the #watchnerd finally gets to write about the Sky Dweller

**Photo borrowed from Jorge Merino on, as I can't seem to find the official Press Release from Mondaine.
***In the spirit of full disclosure, I have written (and may continue to write) for both these 'blogs

Friday, March 09, 2012

Deepsea Challenger**

20th March 2012 Update: The new Rolex watch that's accompanying the Deepsea Challenger has been announced. Watch the video here. At a guess, I'd say it's 58mm wide and 23mm tall. At least. So I'm assuming it's going on the *outside* of the Challenger (probably on the manipulator arm), as there's barely room to swing a cat inside James Cameron's pilot's chamber. Hey ho. Just when you think you might see something new, all you get is something bigger. 

It's hard to comprehend exactly what James Cameron has planned: a journey so extraordinary that it makes space travel look like child's play. His aim is simple: to go where only two men have ever been before, the hadal zone (named for good reason after the Greek god, Hades, god of the Underworld), and to spend as long as he can, exploring the depths of the ocean.

Illustration courtesy Acheron Project Pty Ltd
“I’ve always dreamed of diving to the deepest place in the oceans. For me it went from a boyhood fantasy to a real quest, like climbing Everest, as I learned more about deep-ocean exploration and became an explorer myself in real life. This quest was not driven by the need to set records, but by the same force that drives all science and exploration … curiosity. So little is known about these deep places that I knew I would see things no human has ever seen. There is currently no submersible on Earth capable of diving to the ‘full ocean depth’ of 36,000 feet. The only way to make my dream a reality was to build a new vehicle unlike any in current existence. Our success during seven prior expeditions building and operating our own deep-ocean vehicles, cameras, and lighting systems gave me confidence that such a vehicle could be built, and not just with the vast resources of government programs, but also with a small entrepreneurial team. It took more than seven years to design and build the vehicle, and it is still a work in progress. Every dive teaches us more, and we are continuing to improve the sub and its systems daily, as we move through our sea trials.” 

Of course, the men who proceed him - Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard, the first men to dive the Mariana trench in their bathyscaphe, Trieste, - started in 1960. While the Trieste was not equipped to take pictures or get samples, Cameron and his Deepsea Challenger submersible will be armed with multiple cameras and a mechanical arm. It's fascinating to compare this to the other planned descent - Virgin Oceanic - as the two approaches are quite different. 

The project is being sponsored by National Geographic and Rolex. No word (as yet) about what watch Cameron will be wearing - nor whether Rolex will be strapping one of their Deepsea models to the sub. 

**Sorry. Couldn't bring myself to write this in capitals.