There are certain timepieces that cross the categories in which collectors typically frame their discussions of prized watches. The dressy chronograph, a karat gold aviator’s watch or a diamond-flecked smartwatch can be considered timepieces with, depending on your viewpoint, either a mixed message or a unique worldview. Many of these so-called genre-bending timepieces find their own audience content to follow a stylistic path unaffected by trends and tradition–or they fall by the wayside.
Two recently released timepieces provide strong, positive examples that demonstrate a watch designer need not adhere to traditional case/movement genres when starting a new model or collection.
One arrived last fall from Ressence in the form of its Type 5, a beautifully designed dive-ready watch that need never be taken below the ocean’s surface, even though it’s arguably the most visible 100-meter dive watch available anywhere.
With all its sub-dials on a single plane, just like all Ressence watches, and with an oil-filled case that eliminates reflections and makes the dial perfectly readable any angle, the Ressence Type 5 boasts technical features not seen anywhere else–except on the Ressence Type 3. Both watches boast ultra-high visibility, which is a byproduct of the innovative oil-filled design created by company founder Benoît Mintiens.
Ressence debuted Type 5 last year and this year added an all-black version called Type 5BB. It’s a 46mm watch, which makes it somewhat large as a traditional dress watch. But as it’s forged with titanium, the Type 5 is just about as light as many classic three-handers. When hugging the wrist, the Type 5 still feels more like a dress watch than a diver, even if Mintiens built a tougher case (with thicker lugs) than he uses for his Type 3. And like that earlier piece, this newer watch still says its owner won’t allow anything ordinary on his or her wrist. As Mintiens explains:
“With the Type 5, I feel we’ve closed a virtuous circle, combining technological refinement, industrial design and fine watchmaking,” he told iW. “This new creation, graphically very strong for improved readability, is the ideal Ressence piece for the gentleman diver, whether he’s in the water or around town.” (Price: $35,800).
Another cross-category watch also has a dive aspect to it: The Panerai Lo Scienziato – Luminor 1950 Tourbillon GMT Titanio (PAM578).
This 2016 SIHH debut is much in line with this Italo-Swiss watchmaker’s latest debut, the complex Radiomir 1940 Minute Repeater Carillon, the company’s first minute repeater.
The Lo Scienziato model shows once again that the nautically oriented company is very good at mixing business with pleasure. For Panerai, this means combining serious sea-going credentials with beautiful finishing and/or highly complex mechanics.
Lo Scienziato is Panerai’s skeletonized collection dedicated to local Italian genius Galileo Galilei, a pioneer in timekeeping theory. We’ve already seen several skeletonized Radiomir special editions from Panerai, including the Radiomir Tourbillon GMT Ceramica Lo Scienziato (PAM348, from 2010) and last year’s Radiomir 1940 Tourbillon GMT Oro Rosso (PAM559), in addition to a 2013 ceramic edition of this year’s Luminor 1950 Tourbillon GMT (PAM528).
All these watches demonstrate how Panerai can make a contemporary skeletonized movement appear at home inside a 100-meter dive-influenced watch rather than solely within a thinner, dressier watch. Other examples exist within this admittedly small niche, including several earlier iterations from Richard Mille and Roger Dubuis, and new examples from Armin Strom. But no one does tough nautical skeletons at this haute horology level quite like Panerai.
The Luminor’s titanium crown protector fits perfectly alongside the angular, skeletonized titanium P.2005/T movement. No moisture will ever cloud our view as the three spring barrels unwind. The viewer is also treated to a very particular tourbillon cage rotation as here the cage is on an axis perpendicular, not parallel, to that of the balance, and it makes a complete rotation every thirty seconds instead of once a minute. Limited to 150 examples, the watch offers numerous features, including hours, minutes, small seconds, GMT with am/pm indication and a power reserve of six days with indication of the power remaining on the back. Price: $143,000.
Certain watches defy easy classification. Sometimes the world transforms around a certain model and displaces it from its original role. In other cases, a watch may be recast several times by its manufacture in pursuit of a suitable role within the catalog. The Rolex Day-Date 36 and Zenith El Primero Doublematic have witnessed both forms of wandering identity.
Launched in 1956, the Oyster Perpetual Day-Date held a clear station within the Rolex pantheon: the apex. Sold exclusively in precious metals, possessed of a fairly fragile first-run movement, and initially available with a modest 50-meter water resistance, the original 36mm Day-Date was a low-impact formal model.
Fast forward to the 1980s, and the Day-Date had assumed a completely different persona. Co-equally with a W126 Mercedes-Benz S-Class and a Motorola pager, the Rolex Day-Date held station as the ultimate power totem of an era enthralled with that concept. Equally beloved of the famous and infamous, the Day-Date assumed gravitas that belied its mid-sized stature. And on the technical front, the Day-Date enjoyed convergence with the Rolex sports watches. Now free-sprung for toughness, water resistant to 100 meters, and hardened with a sapphire crystal, the once delicate Day-Date had become a ready companion for a new generation of active lifestylers: a sports watch.
Today, the original 36mm Day-Date continues its evolution into the realm of unisex fashion. Already the rare dinner watch that can hit the beach with equal aplomb, the Day-Date’s traditional proportions and time-tested style endow it with versatility that appeals to men and women. No less a “presidential” presence in the modern Rolex catalog, the Day-Date remains as relevant as ever in an era when a President need not be a man.
At least once per season, a Major League Baseball club promotes a rookie with a fearsome bat and no idea of where – or how to – to fit him into a position on the field. It happens in the watch industry too, and the Zenith El Primero Doublematic is like Chipper Jones of the Le Locle Manufacture’s roster. Like Chipper in his prime, the Doublematic packs an impressive tool set but has a history of swapping spaces in the field.
The Doublematic is defined by its awesome El Primero caliber 4046. It boasts an alarm with on/off settings, a color-changing alarm power reserve indicator, a grande date with double digits, a world-time display, automatic winding, a chronograph, a 5hz high-beat escapement, and a 52-hour power reserve. But while the movement is a stunner, Zenith has spent the better part of a decade searching for a permanent home for its heavy hitter.
Zenith launched the original version of the 4046 in the Multicity Traveler Alarm during the late 2000s, and like most Zenith products of that era, its style was baroque. The Traveler Alarm offered the size of a sports watch but sported a non-luminescent guilloche dial that linked the Traveler to Zenith’s contemporary formal lines. Moreover, the Traveler Alarm launched just before Zenith’s front office decided to re-write the company’s lineup card.
2010 saw Zenith return to classically-inspired styles, and 2012 witnessed the launch of the Pilot Doublematic within a reborn Zenith “Pilot” family. Still a potential MVP but no longer a show-boater, the El Primero 4046 was recast in a utility role as an aviator’s timepiece with more functions than an Airbus flight deck. But even this wasn’t a perfect fit; the multifunction Doublematic was too distinct from the minimalist mainstays of the Pilot lineup.
For 2016, the ever-potent Doublematic has located a home under the banner of Zenith’s franchise player: El Primero. Officially dubbed “El Primero Doublmatic,” the 45mm stainless steel or rose gold multi-complication appears to have found its niche as the ultimate traveler’s watch. Always a player with all of the tools, the caliber 4046 and its El Primero Doublematic finally look at home on the field.
Hublot Big Bang Tutti Frutti Linen
Created at the hand of Jean-Claude Biver, the Big Bang collection made a huge splash when it debuted at Baselworld 2005. Simultaneously fêted as the Watch of the Year, Best Oversized Watch, and more, the watch’s eminently masculine profile and edgy spirit took the watch world by storm, and since then the collection has embraced numerous iterations—including a few for women. We’ve seen gemstone-studded cases and dials, skull embroidery-embellished dials—as in the Broderie designs—and brightly colored models and pop-art styles that defy nature, all in the name of feminine “fusion.” I understood and loved them all.
But this year’s gender-bending—and genre-bending—Big Bang Tutti Frutti Linen is more “ladies who lunch” than edgy sport watch, thereby stretching the very foundation of the Big Bang Line. The 41mm case and dial is formed of linen fibers hand-woven by artisans, and the100% natural fibers are dyed with natural pigments and treated with a transparent composite, offering an innovative alternative to carbon fiber—strong and light. For the strap, Hublot used linen fabric sewn onto rubber. The collection comes in four ladylike colors: blue, turquoise, purple and orange, each with complementary gemstones. Inside is HUB4300 self-winding mechanical chronograph movement.
Would I wear it? Absolutely, but then I’m a lady who likes to lunch. And perhaps therein lies the central conflict—and signature fusion. It’s the Big Bang all grown up, but still pining for some rock ‘n roll.
Jaquet Droz Charming Bird
The 2015 winner of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in the “Mechanical Exception category,” the Charming Bird is a tribute to the watchmakers, artisans, artists and technicians at Jaquet Droz who made it possible. The watch features a singing bird automata complication that bestows a small, feathered songstress, the focus of the dial, lifelike movement and sound.
Jaquet Droz has a long history in producing automata and founder Pierre Jaquet-Droz began producing these objets d’art in the eighteenth century, realizing a deep passion for creating them. This year’s rendition of the Charming Bird features a mother-of-pearl dial evoking the Swiss countryside, a favorite Jaquet Droz motif.
Two different mechanisms drive the Charming Bird—both patent-protected—thus this watch required years of research and development, all focused on new innovations. The song of the bird is generated by air compression and not by vibration, an innovation made possible by introducing three minute sapphire crystal tubes. Air enters the first tube, then is stored inside the second and finally pushed into the third, thus regulating the melody according to the volume of air and the speed of the piston. On the mechanical side, the regulator harnesses a magnetic effect in order to prevent any contact between the metallic components and to eliminate auditory interference.
While automatons have long been a part of Swiss watchmaking, this genre-bending example proves that advanced technology, expertise and vast experience can indeed push the envelope of creativity to new and never-walked territories.