The giant German retailer Wempe has a collection of watches under their Chronometerwerke line. Here we examine one of their earlier offerings, the Wempe Chronometerwerke Tonneau. A tonneau shaped watch with a form movement made for them exclusively by Nomos.
Interesting play with channel harmony when a retailer decides to up his game, and offer watches with his own name on the dial to compete against the maisons he carries. Such is the confidence of major German retailer Wempe, that their own line of watches – known as Chronometerwerke are offered alongside the likes of Patek Philippe, A. Lange & Söhne, Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin and a huge array of name brands.
Gerhard DH Wempe was a watchmaker who started the firm in the town of Elsfleth an der Weser in 1878 to sell watches. According to the Wempe website, the start up capital was 80 German Marks, and the stall was located in his aunt’s house. The business initially focused on used watches, but before long, he began his expansion and set up a branch in Oldenberg. In order to expand his product range in the top price category, he traveled to Switzerland with his 12-year-old son Herbert. There he made many contacts with the local watch workshops — contacts that would be very useful for his company later on. For now, the fine timepieces from Switzerland lent further glamour to his two shops. He set up in Hamburg in 1907, and soon grew to have 4 stores in the city.
The next phase of expansion was in 1938 when the younger Wempe bought Hamburger Chronometerwerke GmbH from shipbuilders based in Hamburg and Bremen. This company, which had been founded in 1905, produced highly precise marine chronometers under the management of the renowned chronometer maker Ferdinand Denker.
Through this purchase, Wempe laid the foundations, and just a short time after that, a collaboration began in Glashütte between Herbert Wempe and Otto Lange, the grandson of the founder of the Ferdinand Adolph Lange watch company in Saxony. Together, the two men established the cooperative enterprise Sternwarte Glashütte as an institute for research and advanced training for young watchmakers, as well as the precise regulation of clocks and watches.
The company struggled a bit after the war, in a ruined Hamburg, and began expansion again in 1963, starting in Hamburg, then Germany, and by 1980 was poised for international expansion. The first retail outlet was established in New York in 1980, and then in Paris, Vienna, London and Madrid.
Wempe Chronometerwerke Tonneau
The watch we review here is the Wempe Chronometerwerke Tonneau. The watch is no longer seen on the Wempe catalog, but we are unsure if it is still available in Wempe stores. The review piece is the property of a Deployant Friend, Eddie Sng who reviewed this very piece on his blog here.
The case, dial and hands
As mentioned, the case is tonneau shaped. The French word tonneau means barrel, and the sides of the case are curved like the wine barrels used in France. We must say that the case shape is rather attractive, and a good relief for the eye used to round cased, and tired of the angular rectangular/square cases of others.
The Nomos tonneau shape. bulges in all 3 dimensions, with sensuous curves in each direction. The sapphire glass is toric shaped, meaning that it too is curved, and the radius of curvature of sapphire glass from “12” to “6” is different from that of “3” to “9”. This is similar to the one used by Franck Muller in his Cintree Curvex case, and makes an interestingly attractive aesthetic. And a very complex shape to execute.
The dial is available in either Arabic numerals, as in the review watch, or in Roman. A railway track marks the minutes on the outer edge. The numerals, track and the badging information are transfer printed, and executed in black ink. The small seconds hand is also Dauphine shaped and circumnavigates the small seconds sub-dial which is sunken within the main dial, and carries its own set of printed numerals and railway track.
The hands are elegant Dauphine shaped, and though some have criticized that the hour hand seems a bit short, we feel that it is a necessity as it is almost perfect length at 9 and 3, and by the nature of the elongated shape of the case and dial, appears slightly short at 12 and 5. The minute hand escapes this criticism, as it is elegantly long.
The movement used is the Nomos Theta. The movement is form shaped, and is a bit smaller than the case. It measures 32,6 x 22,6 with a height of only 3.6mm, and is handwound. The movement features the standard Glashütte features of the three quarter plate, gold chatons held by blued screws, hand engraved balance cock, swan neck fine adjustment, screw balance and a hacking small seconds hand. The movement exist in a tourbillon version in a limited edition of 25 pieces, currently seen on the Wempe Chronometerwerke catalog.
The movement is exclusive, and developed, designed and manufactured exclusively on the basis of a cooperation agreement with Nomos. We do not know of another watch which uses it other than the Nomos Lux Hemelin with the caliber DW2002, which we believe is an adaptation of the Theta. Please do let us know if you know of another watch using the Nomos Theta.
The finishing on the movement is excellent. The ribbing is well done, perfectly ruled and evenly spaced. The gold chatons in their blued screws look magnificent against the full three quarter plate bridges. If we have one criticism on the movement, is that the huge bridge which is the three quarter plate is cut without any inward or outward angles, enabling the anglage to be executed by machine. We are not sure if the anglage is actually executed by machine, as it is nicely done with a good sheen across the even edges.
The hand engraved balance cock adds some character to the movement, almost as much as the gold chatons.
The competitive landscape
The landscape for any non-round watch is usually rather sparsely populated. And add to that a elongated tonneau shape, with a form shaped handwound movement, the field narrows considerably.
As mentioned, the Franck Muller Cintree Curvex offers an entire collection of watches with a similar case shape and design. The link is to our review of the Crazy Hours as FM does offer time only versions. But none offer a form shaped movement. and none with an 8 day power reserve. The earlier, vintage examples either offer the standard round movement or a square/rectangular movement. and the new editions are all fitted with round movements. Arguably, the FM dials are more beautifully made, with many being themselves toric shaped, and most offering intricate guilloché (though some of the higher end FMs do feature rose engine turned dials, many of the lower end ones offer a dial stamped with the guilloché )patterns.
Parmigiani Ionica, now replaced by the Kalpa Hepdomadaire is one of the few inhabitants on this landscape. The watch features an 8 day handwound movement with exceptional quality in design and finish. The Ionica carries a coin edge double layer bezel which gives it a rather dated loo, and is now discontinued. And the Kalpa has an updated design with sleeker lines. Both have flat crystals instead of toric shaped ones. And arguably the PF110 movement is more beautifully laid out, with its bridges featuring many sharp inward angles, which can only be executed by hand. The Kalpa Hepdomadaire XL is available in stainless steel only as the Anniversary edition, and retails for CHF 70,000 as a limited edition of 10 pieces. The Anniversary is presented with a gold movement with hand engraving. The standard Hepdomaire is only in gold and retails for US$ 32,500 inclusive of Swiss VAT.
Nomos Lux Hermelin uses a very similar base movement – the caliber DW2002, which we understand is the updated version of the Theta used in the Wempe. The Wempe movement is also made by Nomos in Glashütte, though the DW2002 used in the Lux Hermelin has a different finish. However, the Nomos is only available in a gold case, and retails for S$ 23,970. The watch is equally as elegant, and is designed with a very minimalist dial layout in two tone. The Nomos is somewhat smaller and measures only 34.0 mm x 38.5 mm with a height of 9.0 mm.
Cartier Cintree might be a possible candidate, but the case is not tonneau shaped, though the case and sapphire is curved.
For a watch with this special characteristics, the Wempe Chronometerwerke Tonneau Handaufzug is a great value buy. In gold, it retails for only € 7,450, and in stainless steel a very reasonable € 3,950, both inclusive of German VAT. This is extremely attractive. A SS watch, in a tonneau shaped case, form movement, 3 day power reserve, for about what one would pay for a Tudor Black Bay. The only caution we have is that we are not sure if the watch is still available in Wempe Boutiques as it is no longer in their catalog.
Wempe Chronometerwerke Tonneau Handaufzug Specifications
Reference Number WG04
Movement caliber NOMOS Theta (CW1)
Case: Steel or 18k gold (review sample is SS)
Dimensions 45,6 x 37 mm
Height 10,2 mm
Glass: toric shaped sapphire glass
Crown: SS or Gold
Water resistance: 5 bar
Dial solid silver, with options of Roman or Arabic numerals with blued steel or gold hands Strap: Louisiana crocodile, 20mm