When one thinks of watches, the first image that comes to mind is probably a timepiece with three hands, as well as twelve indices in standard forms (either in arabic or roman numerals, or perhaps stick indices). The point is, there is a rather prescribed imagery of what a timepiece should be.
However, does this necessarily have to be the case? We do not think so. In the horological scene, we reckon there are many other ways in which time-telling is interpreted, either through design, complications, or a combination of both. This is also what makes the industry such a vibrant one – if every timepiece follows the same straightjacket rules, then perhaps most of us would not even have been so interested in watches after all.
In this week’s article, we are looking to celebrate timepieces that do not conform to the norms. This is not an exhaustive list, and it probably only covers the tip of the iceberg. However, we do hope to shed more light on this category of timepieces, and perhaps use this as a platform to encourage budding designers (and perhaps watchmakers, whenever the opportunity arises) to explore beyond the usual realms of things, and continue to create timepieces that will impress collectors on all levels.
Ulysse Nardin Freak
We begin the article with one of our favourite contemporary timepieces: Ulysse Nardin Freak.
The Freak is a brilliant watch, and despite it being two decades old, the original iteration still feels as refreshing as ever. Here, we have a massive timepiece with literally no crown, no dial, and a massive gear train that doubles as the “hands” of the watch. Beyond the cosmetics, it had also pioneered the use of silicon in its escapement – something that most of us take for granted these days.
While it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the Freak is still a revolutionary piece that has forced many individuals to rethink the concept of watches. Till this day, the collection still embraces its innovative and evocative roots, but for us, the original Freaks are still some of the most desirable watches on our list – purely for the fact that it has an incredible provenance, and that it is a project which involved some of the greatest minds within the industry.
Ressence Type 3
Ressence may be a young brand, but in a short span of time, it had already made waves with its intriguing design language and concept of time-telling. The Type 3, notably, is the timepiece that had placed the young upstart onto the map and in the league of respected watch manufacturers.
The Type 3 is a timepiece with two modules – the lower one which houses the movement, and the other which houses 32.5ml of oil which suspends the various discs and dials. Borrowing from the concept of a regulator watch, the face of the timepiece – which has no less than 6 displays – is constantly changing. What is also mind-blowing is the fact that the movement and the discs are connected via a set of magnets, which is pretty much unheard of considering how magnetic fields typically interfere with the regulation of time.
There is no doubt that the 43mm Type 3 is a stunning watch, and it is perhaps the textbook definition of how a contemporary timepiece should look like. All of these come at a cost, and in the case of the Type 3, its recommended retail price is US$42,200 (approximately S$58,710).
A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk
In 2009, A. Lange & Söhne introduced a timepiece that perhaps no one had expected from the Glashütte-based manufacturer. Christened the Zeitwerk, the 41.9mm is the antithesis of one’s preconceived notion of a typical Lange timepiece.
From the first glance, one can definitely tell that the Zeitwerk is a special watch. Here, we have a digital timepiece that is operated mechanically, with the inspiration driven by the five-minute clock in the Dresden Semper Opera House. Of course, Lange executed it the way it only knows, with a constant force mechanism that not only keeps time well, but also ensures that the digital display works as instantaneously as it should be.
Arguably, the Zeitwerk combines the contemporary aspect of time-telling (digital display) with traditional watchmaking finissage. While the concept of digital display is not exactly new, it is still an idea that has not been regularly explored, and combining with the design elements of the Zeitwerk, we opine the timepiece certainly more than qualifies to be on this list with the other big-hitters. The current standard Zeiwerk, in either pink or white gold, is priced at S$118,800.
Harry Winston Opus 3 by Vianney Halter
Continuing with the theme of watches with a digital display, we have the sublime Opus 3 from Harry Winston.
The Opus collection from Harry Winston is an incredible project by Max Büsser, whose idea is to bring together some of the brightest minds within the independent watchmaking scene to produce timepieces that are literally out of this world. The Opus 3 is the third piece from the collaboration, which saw the legendary Vianney Halter bringing a highly complicated digital timepiece – in mechanical form – to life.
Featuring 6 apertures, the watch is capable of displaying both the time and date with seven overlapping discs. There is also an additional function in which there is a countdown counter that does a countdown for the last four seconds before the end of each minute. Such is the complexity of the timepiece that it took a whole decade before the first watch was delivered, but we guess, all good things come to those who wait.
De Bethune DB28 Steel Wheels
Speaking of contemporary watches, it is difficult not to mention the phenomenal works that De Bethune had produced in the same breath.
Take the DB28 Steel Wheels for instance. This timepiece showcases the capabilities of the maison, with its avant-garde take on watchmaking and exceptional finishing techniques. The main highlight here is perhaps the quasi-skeleton dial that revealed impeccable craftsmanship of the stunning Calibre DB2115V4. This includes the Côtes De Bethune on the triangle bridge, black polishing on the concave dial plate, as well as blued moonphase sphere. Additionally, the highly-polished grade-5 titanium case, together with the signature articulated lugs, are also a sight to behold.
This entire timepiece is on a whole new level altogether, and there is no doubt as to why De Bethune had attained cult status by many collectors. The last known retail price of this piece is CHF83,000 (approximately S$120,460), and frankly, for what it is worth, the De Bethune is a great option especially if one is looking to spend that sort of money on a proper and excellent timepiece.
We round up the article with the iconic MB&F HM3.
It goes without saying that for such a topic, the omission of MB&F watches from this list is akin to committing a sin. The only question that we have is: “Which MB&F timepiece, amongst the many outstanding pieces, should we include for today’s article?”
We have selected the HM3 for one key reason – it is the piece that got the author acquainted with the brand and the rabbit hole of independent watchmaking. There is no timepiece within the scene that had created such an impact as the HM3 in our opinion, and it is an icon in its own right. When we first set our eyes on the HM3, the image of the two domes, as well as the large “winding-axe” rotor, remained etched in our minds. We dare say that while there are many other MB&F watches that are more evocative and complicated, the HM3 remains as one of the cornerstones of the brand – and one that allowed the independent watch manufacturer to attain its status as a leader in the scene today.
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the list today is perhaps the tip of the iceberg. There are surely many contemporary watches (contrary to popular beliefs) that deserve a spot on the list, and they do deserve a mention as well. Perhaps there will be a second part to this article after all.
We hope that you have enjoyed this week’s article, and more importantly, have a newfound appreciation for such watches. It is not easy to create contemporary timepieces – there are still rules that watchmakers and designers have to abide by. It is good to be creative, but once it gets too carried away, the entire concept becomes tacky. This is the last thing that everyone wants. But hey, if it is well executed, the results are certainly amazing.