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.
(C) www.trestleshop.com
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 Neuch√Ętel, 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