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Throwback Sundays: Six Recommendations for a Luxurious Tool Watch for Any Occasion, from Our Archives

In this week's Throwback Sundays article, we look at six versatile daily beaters that can be classified as a luxurious tool watch
by Jonathan Ho on August 21, 2016
Reviews

“Remember the days when the sex was fun and the diving dangerous?”

Jacques Yves Cousteau was a diver without peer, singlehandedly spawning an industry and awareness of the newest (relative to the 50s and 60s) frontier of exploration simultaneously raising the bar for daring- do antics. Sans social media, scuba and the world below the face of the ocean was alien as was the gear that accompanied it. The steel behemoths (again, relative to the 50s and 60s) were unrefined to civilians who had become accustomed to the elegance of Jaeger LeCoultre, Favre Leuba and Jean Lasalle (since acquired by Piaget) nevertheless the dive watch soon became a badge of honour, identifying the man whose wrist it graced as a man of adventure and mystery.

As a horological milestone, dive watches occupy a place of legend amongst legendary tool watches as Blancpain and Rolex raced to extreme depths as Cousteau once did; then diving became more commonplace and soon, collectors were looking for brave new worlds to conquer beyond the seas, what better place to go than the arctic ice shelf? Whether on the arms of General Petraeus in congress or a Captain of the USS Nautilus under the polar ice-caps, hyper masculine tool watches are no longer defined by their functional design, instead, they’re exemplified by the men who wear them. Today sex is dangerous (still fun though) and adventure is as sexy as the timepieces built specifically for them.

 

Omega Seamaster 300 “Spectre” Limited Edition (Yes, we found one for auction)

 

The Omega Seamaster 300 SPECTRE Limited Edition.

The Omega Seamaster 300 SPECTRE Limited Edition.

 

Steeped in tradition, Omega and indeed the Seamaster 300 has a deep history with underwater activities and the military needs of the British SAS. The hotly anticipated SPECTRE, the iconic timepiece based on the 1957’s Seamaster 300 CK2913 returns with the keen blending of innovation and high horology. Aesthetically, the same watch case and broad arrow hands make a welcome return but subtle changes improve upon the classic design – the Omega logo is enlarged and takes position of the “12”; numeral along with other understated typographical changes but the most striking aspect belongs to the rare “lollipop” central seconds hand adding that extra touch of vintage goodness. That said, the architecture of the dial is the feature most likely to merit further exploration.

At first blush, it appears to be your typical high-lume sandwich dial, instead Omega has opted for etching out the hour and minute indexes and then filling the recessed spaces with artificially aged SuperLumiNova. Completing the triumvirate of new visuals, the limited edition Seamaster 300 enjoys an atypical (for a diving watch) bi-directional rotating bezel made from polished ceramic. While a diving bezel is usually uni-directional due to dive timing needs, the requirements of the LiquidMetal® 12 hour scale is necessary to keep espionage operatives knowledgeable of a secondary time zone.

The final but arguably most important detail for international men of mystery however, lies in the revolutionary new movement – the Master Co-Axial Calibre 8400 resistant to magnetic fields of up to 15,000 Gauss. Eschewing the soft iron case architecture utilised by other brands, Manufacture Omega’s solution involves special alloys at the essential components like the escapement assortment comprised of silicon (Si14) balance spring which allows them to employ a nigh theatrical sapphire caseback, displaying the arabesque Geneva waves on bridges and rotor to maximum effect. The limited edition 7,007 piece run with 60 hours power reserve originally retailed for SGD 9800 but sold out quickly. The other day, we just found one that was sold on eBay for US$8,200 (approximately S$11,045), so it looks like it appreciated quite a bit in slightly over a year. If it’s not a premium that you are willing to pay, the series production Seamaster 300 (also, the vintage editions are almost the price of the re-issue, so that’s really saying something to how much of a cult status it has attained) might just have to suffice.

 

Tudor Black Bay Black

 

The Black Bay Black, on the wrist. A timepiece that brings back the nostalgia of the 70s.

The Black Bay Black, on the wrist. A timepiece that brings back the nostalgia of both the 50s and the 60s.

 

Undoubtedly the most anticipated heritage re-issue since the Black Bay Red 79220R, this Heritage Black Bay Black delivers the most nostalgic return to the glory days of Tudor dive watches when they still had specific components “signed” Rolex. Even as the Wilsdorf Foundation continues to try pushing the anglophile inspired maison as an independent entity, the relationship with the classic Submariners from which Tudor took its DNA is undeniable, especially when it comes to a historical re-issue like the Black Bay.

Conceptually, the red and blue editions of the Black Bay were already competent homages to the old- school 1956 divers but the black bezel Black Bay with red triangle set beneath the pearl drives the point home, announcing the Black Bay’s epic return and the herald of another bygone but much beloved (and sought after) timepiece, the 6538 Big Crown. I don’t know if Rolex is ever going to re-issue a Big Crown and while CEO Jean-Frederic Dufour proved capable in recovering forgotten classic designs in Zenith’s archives, rarely does Rolex look backwards (case in point: Vintage Rolex watches sent for servicing have been known to return with all new modern components), so this latest Black Bay might just be the closest we get to an original re-issue sans 904L steel.

That said, the case follows a slightly modified, enlarged 316L to match the large crown with contrast PVD crown tube cover and the Tudor-modified (decoration and adjustment) 2824 self-winding calibre within. Dial finishing truly carries the classical aesthetic thanks to the contrast of matt with gilt- typography and pink-gold indexes replete with the Tudor “flower” rather than the modern brand “shield”. The 41mm timepiece resistant to 200m is available on leather, steel or woven perlon strap. It retails between S$4248 (for the leather strap variant) to S$4680 (for the steel bracelet version).

 

Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe

 

The Blancpain Fifty Fathom Bathyscape, with the new plasma grey ceramic insert.

The Blancpain Fifty Fathom Bathyscape, with the new plasma grey ceramic insert.

 

Amongst the most evocative names in dive watches like Submariner and Seamaster lies the legendary Fifty Fathoms. Widely considered to be the pioneer of the modern dive watch, Blancpain, their association with famed divers like Jacques-Yves Cousteau has made the Fifty Fathoms a grail for many collectors.

Like the Seamaster 300, the Fifty Fathoms was also produced at the request of “Combat Swimmers” of the French Navy and conceptualised by the valorous war veteran Captain Robert Maloubier; finally launching in 1953 and providing the foundational blueprint for all dive watches today.

Even if modern diver’s watches are widely accepted as luxury good in contemporary terms, the new Bathyscaphe exemplifies that ideal by capturing the spirit of the original model as well as integrating the latest technical innovations like a highly reliable low mass (thus less prone to shocks) non-magnetic silicon balance spring, unavailable to naval commandoes at the time.

Authentic to the traditional Bathyscaphe first launched, the recent edition incorporates the scratch-resistant unidirectional plasma grey bezel with blue ceramic insert and Liquidmetal® hour-markers, making it a truly robust (300m water resistance) yet luxurious timepiece. The satin-brushed grey ceramic case, in addition, gives this watch an industrial and uber-cool feel to it. The watch with 120 hour power reserve retails at S$17,700.

 

Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic True Second

 

The JLC Geophysic True Seconds in rose gold and steel.

The JLC Geophysic True Seconds in rose gold and steel.

 

While the International Geophysical Year began in 1882 (named International Polar Year) as a laudable international effort to explore the polar ice-caps, the escalating tensions of the Cold War eventually led to a “weaponisation” of the scientific endeavour. The world’s first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus would navigate under the Arctic ice, signalling to the Russians that the north pole was no geographical barrier to the northern borders of the USSR. In that darkness, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Geophysic was a dream given form combining the reliability required by the Captain of an active nuclear and the elegant simplicity of a dress watch.

An explorer’s watch first and foremost, the Geophysic was among the pioneers for amagnetic timekeeping. The original bearing a soft iron dial and inner case with the added benefit of a Glucydur balance for magnetic field resistance up to 600 gauss, the watch was robust the likes the world had never seen. While the Geophysic 1958 was re-issued as a limited edition in 2014, the latest model is permanent to the collection.

The 39.6mm timepiece features alternating satin-finished sides and polished lugs but beneath the aesthetics of white gold applied five minute markers and the grained dial is an innovative high precision complication, the Calibre 770 with Gyrolab balance wheel and true seconds.

True seconds is Jaeger-LeCoultre’s interpretation of dead beat seconds where the second hand ticks each second rather than sweeps as customary for most mechanical movements allowing for precision timekeeping. Where Quartz movements spend more energy keeping constant sweeping motion for the seconds hand, a mechanical calibre usually spends more energy ticking 60 times per minute and thus, the Grande Maison takes the idea of dead beat seconds and implements it in a manner befitting a veteran watchmaker, positioning a full second hairspring near the central axis thus allowing for the unique “tick” and reducing potential for amplitude loss with each jumping second. The Gyrolab balance also eschews the traditional wheel shape of the balance and embraces a “rounded” type wheel.

The resulting decreased mass leads to more efficient use of energy and as a concept design, the new balance sees commercial production exclusively in the Geophysic range which also includes the Universal Time. The iconic, Le Sentier produced assortment is visible through sapphire caseback adding to its allure. Retails for S$13,300 for the stainless steel model.

 

Breguet Marine Chronographe “200 Ans De Marine” 5823

 

Another side of Breguet: the sportier, more dynamic Marine Chronographe “200 Ans De Marine” 5823

Another side of Breguet: the sportier, more dynamic Marine Chronographe “200 Ans De Marine” 5823

 

Unbeknownst to all but the most avid collectors, Breguet actually produced a dive watch in 1965. The No. 1646 was a small, 60 piece run which only surfaced in recent memory when a collector, having picked up a rarity found nothing online and then decided to have Breguet authenticate it.

50 years on, no true descendent remains but the Breguet Marine all but assumes that mantle of ocean activity in spirit. It is not until 2000, when we had the Breguet Marine 5817 Big Date. While that is not a dive watch per se, it is a reminder of that brand milestone when an entity actually requested Breguet for a small private run of dive watches. The collection grew gradually, and in Baselworld 2015, Breguet launched the Marine Chronographe “200 Ans De Marine” 5823 to commemorate the bicentenary of Abraham-Louis Breguet’s appointment as chronometer-maker to the Navy.

As far as tool watches go, the Marine Chronographe is as gracefully appointed as it gets – featuring a chronograph with Breguet signature dial aesthetics – black gold dial, hand-engraved rose-engine details and multi-step case construction. It is fitted with Breguet’s Calibre 583Q/1, which includes a chronograph and a date function. In addition, the self-winding watch features a 18-carat gold engine-turned rotor with a two-toned black/rhodium finishing, as well as a decent power reserve of 48 hours. Finally, the watch is cased in platinum, and it is limited to just 200 pieces.

 

Rolex GMT-Master II

 

The Rolex GMT-Master II. This one is known as the "Coke", thanks to the color of its bezel.

The Rolex GMT-Master II. This one is known as the “Coke”, thanks to the colour of its bezel.

 

We round up the article with possibly one of the most iconic tool watches from an equally legendary watchmaker. Presenting to you, the Rolex GMT-Master II.

Originally designed in collaboration with Pam Am for their crews, the GMT-Master gained traction in its popularity thanks to its functionality and aesthetics. The watch, which features an iconic bi-colour bezel insert (either in black/red or blue/red, although there are other variants which include a full black/brown bezel insert as well), allows user to tell the time of various time zones simultaneously. It is extremely useful, especially for flight crew or frequent travellers.

There are many generations of the GMT-Master (or GMT-Master II), in which we feel that the vintage ones exude a certain level of charm. Perhaps it is the design, or the patina that had developed over time for those pieces that are fitted with tritium dial. However, if you fancy the improved movement, we reckon the latest generation of GMT-Master II is equally compelling as well. We will, in fact, say that it is probably one of the best timepieces in the GMT watches category. It is a Rolex after all.

Concluding Thoughts

 

For this week’s Throwback Sunday’s article, we took a look at six luxurious tool watches that we reckon are versatile enough to be worn on any occasion – be it for Black Ops, or a Black Tie event. We have include some the lesser known tool watches, such as the Breguet Marine or the Blancpain Fifty Fathom Bathyscape. They are extremely well-made, although their higher pricing means that they are often overshadowed by the more affordable counterparts.

So, what do you think of the six watches that we have selected? Are they versatile enough? Or will another timepiece do a better job that these pieces? Do let us know in the comments section below!

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