Every year before Christmas, Santa sits in his favourite chair next to the hearth, sipping from a mug of hot cocoa. He is in the North Pole after all and the weather is cold. It is at this time that Santa reads all the letters he’s received from children all over the world with his elven chief toymaker. “Little Bartholomew has been a nice boy and he would like a skateboard”, said Santa before bellowing an approving ‘ho-ho-ho’. As the toymaker scribbles onto his clipboard, Santa opens the next letter and chokes on his cocoa. “Are you alright, Santa? What’s the matter?” asked the toymaker, to which Santa replied with furrowed brows: “It’s another WIS Christmas wishlist!”.
Yes, even with all the love in his heart, Santa simply couldn’t risk blowing his annual budget on haute horlogerie! Besides, have you tried building a fine timepiece from scratch? Santa’s elves simply weren’t trained for Geneva waves and hand-polishing. Nevertheless, this doesn’t stop us watch enthusiasts from dreaming an unending list of watches we want. This gets worse during the gift-giving season as you begin to (blatantly) ‘let your loved ones know’ how much you like that new Rolex Daytona.
I’ve always enjoyed building lists of watches that I want from time to time and apply different restrictions as I do so. It helps me learn more about my taste and grow as a watch enthusiast. For Christmas 2016, I’ve thought long and hard on what I would love in my collection from the pool of this year’s novelties. Here’s what I came up with:
Vacheron Constantin Overseas (Blue Dial)
Prior to 2016, the only haute horlogerie sports watches that crossed my mind were the Patek Philippe Nautilus and the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. The Vacheron Constantin Overseas had never caught my interest, that is, until this year. The particular watch that has been tugging on my heartstrings is the reference 4500V/110A-B128, the time-only Overseas with the blue dial. (Editor’s note: Full hands-on review coming soon!)
A few aspects of the new Overseas won me over, the most important of which was the movement. Vacheron Constantin finally welcomes a truly modern movement into their sports watch family. The calibre 5100, fully developed and manufactured in-house by Vacheron Constantin, comes with the Geneva Hallmark, ensuring that the movement is built and finished to the highest of standards.
I was also excited for the new quick-release system for the stainless steel bracelet and straps (leather and rubber), which are all included with the watch. This brilliant system allows for easy swapping of bracelet or strap without the intervention of a tool or a trip to the jeweller’s. With this, one can easily go for a morning swim in Bali with the rubber strap, switch to the leather strap for a business lunch and then dress down to the stainless steel bracelet for a night out in the pub. This is the perfect timepiece for those who just want the mythical ‘one watch’, as it is as good as three.
The icing on the cake is the hauntingly rich and beautiful blue lacquered dial. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more intense blue on the dial of another watch. Couple that with a new dial design that is classier and less ‘in-your-face’ compared to the previous model and you have an exceedingly elegant sports watch.
Overall, the new in-house movement, the aesthetics and design of the dial, the inclusion of a stainless steel bracelet and two straps plus the ease of swapping between them makes the Vacheron Constantin Overseas a delightful timepiece for the connoisseur who cherishes fine craftsmanship, practicality, and versatility. With these new updates in 2016, I genuinely believe the Overseas has finally distinguished itself sufficiently from its competitors and reasserted its position as one of the finest sports watches in the market.
Editor’s note: Priced at € 21.700 (aproximately S$ 33,000)
Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter in Stainless Steel
There is plenty to love about the stainless steel Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter. The design of the watch is inspired from Minerva pilot chronographs from the 1930s. With the large luminescent Arabic numerals, cathedral hands, dual sub-registers, tachymeter scale, onion crown and co-axially mounted monopusher for the chronograph, the 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter does a fantastic job paying homage to its Minerva heritage. The blue colour of the dial may be a modern twist, but one that elevates the aesthetics of the watch, in my opinion.
As appealing as the front is, any watch geek worth his salt would know that the true business end of this watch is the back. The calibre MB M16.29 is breathtaking, and even that does not fully describe the beauty of this movement. The layout of the 252-part column wheel, lateral clutch chronograph movement is delightfully traditional and architectural. Of course, one cannot help but admire the signature ‘Devil’s Tail’ that sweeps part way across the movement. The finishing of the movement is aptly traditional and is so good that it would make the top horology houses blush – we’re talking about black polished screw heads and gold chatons, Geneva waves across the bridges, gorgeous perlage on the base plate, and painstakingly polished bevels on the edges of all the bridges and levers. To round off the vintage theme, the movement beats at a stately 18,000 semi-oscillations per hour or 2.5 Hz.
The Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter truly is as good as it gets. My only (minor) gripe would be that it is a tad too big with a 44 mm case diameter, which is a strange thing for me to say given that I generally prefer contemporary sizes over vintage ones. Now, here’s where it gets juicy: the watch is very, very competitively priced at S$37,800. There literally isn’t another chronograph watch at a lower price with this level of construction and finishing. And there is little doubt that the stainless steel 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter will eventually become a collector’s item, especially considering its limited production of 100 pieces. I suspect this timepiece sits near the top of many wishlists, including mine, and nobody should really be surprised at this.
Editor’s Note: The Montblanc 1858 Chronograph Tachymeter won the prize for the Best Chronograph at the 2016 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève!
Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire (Salmon Dial)
I must confess, the Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire slipped past my radar for the better part of the year until a captivating video of the watch’s constant force mechanism in action surfaced in Instagram 3 months ago. I have fallen in love with the timepiece ever since. As the name would suggest, the 1941 Remontoire is a (time-only) watch equipped with an 8-second remontoire that supplies constant torque to the balance. This results in a more consistent rate and amplitude and thus optimised time-keeping.
Let’s jump straight to the aesthetics of the dial. Right off the bat you could tell that its design language is quite contemporary but grounded in tradition. The delectable salmon dial, for which I have a soft spot for, is solid silver with a frosted surface. But perhaps what is most interesting about the dial is what’s inside the aperture at 9 o’clock: the governor. The governor, well, governs the speed at which the gears turn when the remontoire is rewound so as to minimise potentially-damaging shocks to the gear train. Every 8 seconds, it provides a visual spectacle on the dial as it spins rapidly for several revolutions. I personally feel that this was a very thoughtful design element implemented by the Grönefeld brothers as it lets observers know that there is something magical going on inside the watch. For once, something that spins on the dial but isn’t the ubiquitous and exhibitionist tourbillon!
As a fan of complicated movement layouts, the caseback of the 1941 Remontoire makes my knees go weak. The calibre G-05 is not your everyday traditional watch movement in terms of materials used, bridge layout and choice of finishing. The bridges of the calibre G-05 are stainless steel, which is much more difficult to manipulate as it is a harder material than the usual choice of brass or maillechort. They are also positioned around the perimeter and mostly extend inwards. What really impressed me though was the choice of finishing and decoration that really served to highlight the beauty of the movement unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a watch. Not a hint of the traditional Geneva waves can be found on the bridges; instead they are frosted at the centre and brushed on their raised lips, as if to outline the individual bridges. The rather sober matte finishing on the surface of the bridges is spectacularly contrasted not just by its polished bevels, but also by the pops of red and gold from the synthetic rubies and gold chatons fitted into them. The finishing on the other parts of the movement is equally praiseworthy: tight and even perlage on the base plate, polished screw heads, and snailing on the ratchet wheel, among others.
The remontoire, at present, remains uncommon and un-abused, unlike the tourbillon. But much like a (real) tourbillon it is not a complication, it is complex and it is expensive to make. This puts remontoire watches like the 1941 Remontoire in a special position, to be coveted by collectors who have grown tired of the virulence of tourbillons but crave timepieces with interesting mechanics. For an in-depth explanation on the remontoire and its workings, I recommend reading the full review of the 1941 Remontoire by our chief editor here.
Editor’s Note: The Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire is priced at € 50.850 before taxes and won the prize for the Best Mens Watch at the 2016 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève!
A. Lange & Söhne Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase “Lumen”
Every once in a while A. Lange & Söhne surprises the watch community by giving the ‘lumen’ treatment to one of their beloved timepieces. I say “surprise” because Lange watches are generally rooted in tradition and classicism, and once a watch goes ‘lumen’ (three so far), it evolves into something sporty and almost futuristic – traits you don’t normally associate with Lange watches. I believe that the Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase was the perfect watch to be given the ‘lumen’ treatment. With the know-how gained from developing the Grand Lange 1 “Lumen” (released in 2013), the obvious next step to take was to light up that large moon phase display on the Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase. And that they did.
The moon phase disc of the Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase “Lumen” is actually made of lume-backed glass instead of solid gold as in the standard version of the watch. The disc is first treated with a patented coating process that blackens the surface before 1,164 stars and the moon are etched out with a laser. This moon phase display is not just all beauty as it is also accurate to 122.6 years after which only a one-day correction is required. The rest of the front of the watch was constructed in a similar way to the Grand Lange 1 “Lumen”: smoked sapphire crystal dial that reveals (most of) the top side of the movement, blackened silver sub-dials, and lume-coated date disc and cross. The sapphire crystal dial is anything but pedestrian as it is treated with a special coating that blocks most visible light but allows the UV light spectrum to pass through. This gives the watch its dark, mysterious, smoky good looks while allowing UV light to charge up even the parts of the lumed date disc and cross behind the dial. This ensures that they are ready to blaze upon appearing in the date window.
The Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase “Lumen” isn’t merely a ‘special edition’ watch with a change in dial colour or case material. It is the summation of years of research, development, and state of the art innovation. This is one watch that can only be appreciated in the metal, and preferably in the dark, as photos really do not do it justice.
Then, there’s the uncomfortable subject of ‘value retention’; the previous “Lumen” watches have so far been fantastic at retaining their value and maybe some more. I anticipate that this one will be no different. The watch is priced quite steeply at €69,600 (a €13,400 premium over the platinum Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase), but if you are a collector with the means and are looking for a highly collectible, modern interpretation of a classic Lange 1 timepiece, then this may be the watch for you.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie
Last but not least we arrive at Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie, the most extravagant watch on the list, not just in terms of pricing but also complications. Yes, the Supersonnerie comes with a tourbillon and a lateral clutch chronograph but let’s be honest, they are extraneous and only serve to distract from the real reason why this timepiece is on this list: the minute repeater. Any watch geek who’s been around for a while knows and can appreciate how difficult it is to make a good minute repeater watch. I have heard many a poor minute repeater from lesser albeit established brands where the sounds produced were too muffled and lacking in musicality. It is almost as though these brands were only aiming to have a ‘minute repeater’ in their collection but couldn’t be bothered making a good one – but I digress. Most good minute repeaters in the market either excel in volume or musicality, but rarely both.
Enter the Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie, debuting at SIHH 2016 to the amazement of those present. What really caught my attention was the level of innovation and amount of effort that went into developing the minute repeater function of the Supersonnerie. Inside the watch is a soundboard (to which the gongs are fixed) located immediately beneath the case back that serves to enrich the harmonics, and amplify the chimes of the repeater. The sound from the chiming easily escapes the watch thanks to multiple vents on the solid case back. The watch is also water-resistant up to 20 m in spite of the vents on the case back as the soundboard is hermetically sealed to the inner case. Water resistance is a trait that I feel is constantly undervalued in a minute repeater. Naturally, water resistance is a double-edged sword in the construction of a sonnerie watch; it protects your timepiece from ruin if you are caught out in a rainstorm but it also seals the watch and significantly hinders the transmission of sound. Audemars Piguet therefore deserves a round of applause for finding their own way around this age-old problem.
Another impressive innovation that Audemars Piguet put into the Supersonnerie is the ‘silent governor’. The governor in a minute repeater regulates the tempo of the chimes. In traditional minute repeaters, the governor makes a distinct buzzing noise as it spins. In the Supersonnerie, the governor has been re-designed such that it absorbs most of the buzzing associated with its functioning. This minimises any perturbations to the sound quality of the repeater caused by the governor. While many traditionalists like the nostalgic buzzing of the governor, I prefer to have the chimes sounding as pure as possible; so to me, a good governor is a silent governor.
To conclude, the Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie is a tour de force in sonnerie watchmaking. Indeed, all the research and development put into the minute repeater function of the watch were not for nought as the sound is – in the concise words of our chief editor – “loud, clear, clean. With a beautiful decay, and an excellent tone”. I highly recommend reading his full review of the watch here as there are other innovations in this immensely sophisticated watch that were not covered in this write-up. The Supersonnerie is not a timepiece accessible to mere mortals like me, but perhaps a certain man in red could auction off one of his magical reindeers to get me one… I’m counting on you Santa!
Editor’s Note: The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie is priced at S$ 780,000 and won the prize for the Best Mechanical Exception at the 2016 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève!