Melbourne: a place I’ve called home for almost 9 years – that’s a third of my lifetime spent in this beautiful city. Here, the best coffees can be found in alleyway hole-in-the-wall cafes while eateries set in warehouse-styled spaces serve the most eclectic food in the country. All year long, world-level sporting events, art exhibitions and concerts are held in this great city.
Just in the past year, we’ve had the Australian Open, Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, Andy Warhol, Ai Wei Wei Exhibition and the Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour (if you so please), to name a few events. It is therefore not difficult to see why Melbourne is christened ‘The Cultural Capital of Australia’ (Note: Sydneysiders may disagree). However, while Melbourne punches above its weight class as a hub for gastronomy, the arts, and sports, it is a relative featherweight as a market for luxury timepieces. Melbourne has, admittedly, a fair way to go before it is able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Dubai, Tokyo, New York and Hong Kong in that respect.
With that in mind, what I am about to write may sound a little counter-intuitive: there is actually a massive watch community here in Melbourne. In fact, the watch enthusiasts and collectors here are probably some of the most passionate in the world. Watch enthusiast get-togethers (GTGs) are treated as must-go pilgrimages, brand events are like adult Disneyland, and in between, casual meet-ups are frequently organised as a quick fix before the next big event. Best of all, the watch community in Melbourne is very tight-knit – everyone knows everyone, whether in person or by word of mouth. If you dropped someone’s brand new $100,000 Breguet in a GTG, you can be sure that everybody hears about it.
My involvement in the watch community only really began in May this year. Before that, I kept mostly to myself, which is a shame because I have missed out. Nevertheless, in the 6 months that have since passed, I have probably met and befriended more amazing people and had more fun than in the past 6 years! It is a truly beautiful thing when people come together in a unified passion.
To pay a small tribute to this amazing community of watch lovers, I have made an incomplete list of 5 watches that belong to collectors in Melbourne that have left a strong impression in me.
Roger Dubuis Excalibur 42 Automatic Skeleton
This stunning Roger Dubuis belongs to Bernard Fung. Six months ago, it was Bernard who invited me to my first ever watch enthusiast GTG. To say I am thankful would be an understatement as that was ground zero for what soon became an explosive horological adventure for me. And arguably as explosive was Bernard’s Excalibur 42 Automatic Skeleton in pink gold, which I held for the first time at the GTG in question.
The first thing that struck my mind when confronted with the watch was its design. The Excalibur 42 Automatic Skeleton is bold. Housed within the popular and edgy Excalibur case is the in-house calibre RD820SQ. When one imagines a skeletonised watch from a top horology house, timepieces such as the Patek Philippe 5180/1G and the Vacheron Constantin Métiers d’Art Mécaniques Ajourées normally come to mind, with bridges and barrels very delicately hollowed out, chamfered and engraved. The same meticulousness and skill goes into the skeletonisation of Roger Dubuis’ RD820SQ, but the final, Geneva Seal-stamped product does not resemble what is typically offered by its neighbours Patek and Vacheron. The bridge design of the RD820SQ utilises plenty of thick, straight lines as opposed to the multitude of curves in its traditional counterparts. Instead of engraving (the more baroque way of decoration), Roger Dubuis endows the bridges with a cleaner perlage finishing, including the bridges that form the iconic Roger Dubuis star motif.
There is no doubt that the watch is a break from tradition (dare I say a refreshing one at that). After all, the brand is known as the “pioneer of contemporary skeletons”. My final thoughts on the Roger Dubuis Excalibur 42 Automatic Skeleton? Aggression tempered with watchmaking brilliance.
Vintage Universal Genève Compax
Question: What is the polar opposite of an automatic, modern, 42 mm Roger Dubuis Excalibur? If you answered: “a manual, 70-year-old, 33.8 mm Universal Genève Compax”, you’d be right! This ageless septuagenarian belongs to Michael Imbrogno, a local man with a penchant for vintage timepieces and photography.
Now, I personally love my modern watches. I am just not into playing Russian roulette with the reliability of vintage watches. Worn out, irreplaceable movement parts, dodgy pushers, jiggly crowns, crud-crusted dials, franken-movements – they are not quite my cup of tea. Vintage watch collectors often claim that a vintage watch has more character, but I think creating your own history, leaving your own marks and ‘earning the patina’ on your own modern watch is more meaningful. I felt that my conviction for modern watches was bulletproof, that was, until I first encountered Michael’s Universal Genève in a watch GTG a few months ago.
Where do I begin? The 14k solid gold case, teardrop lugs, feuille hours and minutes hands, blued steel chronograph and sub-seconds hands, the applied dot markers contrasting the lone Arabic numeral ‘12’ and not forgetting the soulful, mildly patina-ed dial – they all add up to make a timepiece that is proudly Swiss and one that has aged gracefully. What stood out for me most were the striking contrast of the blued hands and the gold elements of the watch, and the sumptuous teardrop lugs that reminded me of a cult icon, the Vacheron Constantin Corne de Vache. In spite of its age, the chronograph pushers were buttery smooth and a pleasure to actuate, not unlike the pushers of an A. Lange & Sohne Datograph. Turn the watch over to the other side and you are met with a solid case back with the engraving “To Bernard On His Birthday 12-25-49 From Lorraine” – how amazing is that? A piece of history from post-war Christmas 1949, a birthday gift from a woman to a man almost 70 years ago.
I must admit, handling the watch left so many positive emotions in me that I believe one day, perhaps years or decades down the road, even I will be into vintage watches. If there’s one thing I will say for vintage watches is that they really are strangely endearing.
Panerai Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days Automatic Bronzo
The PAM00382, affectionately known as the Bronzo, is arguably the most collectible modern Panerai to date. It is, in my opinion, the ultimate Panerai to own. This particular piece belongs to Ernie Tang. Ernie is a personal trainer with a deep appreciation for horology. His collection consists mainly of sports/tool watches as he says they are more suited to his career and personality.
On the wrist, the Bronzo is hefty but surprisingly comfortable to wear. The main highlight of the watch though is of course its case, or more specifically what it is made of. Bronze watches have always been well-received by tool watch enthusiasts be it a Panerai, a Tudor or a Bell & Ross. With its close links to the sea, the use of bronze as a material is befitting of Panerai i.e. a manufacturer with a distinguished naval past. During a casual meet-up, Ernie spoke of how his Bronzo would develop a different patina depending on where he was and what he was doing; the patina acquired from New York City would be different to one acquired from trekking in the Australian outback or diving in Hawaii. As such, the case of the Bronzo evolves all the time and is organic, almost alive. Another feature that sets the watch apart is the dark green dial, which is unique to the Bronzo and has never been used before in any other Panerai.
The Bronzo exudes a dominating wrist presence and an unmistakable air of masculinity. Nevermind the Radiomir 1940 Minute Repeater Carillon Tourbillon GMT, the Bronzo is the people’s champion, and this champion calls the wrist of a Melbourne watch collector home.
Nomos Zürich Weltzeit nachtblau
The Nomos Zürich Weltzeit nachtblau is a watch I find interesting not because it has ornate decorations or mind-bending complications – quite the opposite in fact. What struck me initially was just how incredibly clean, legible and simple the dial was. Needless to say, I was stoked when Martin Goh, the owner of this piece and a highly-knowledgeable watch enthusiast, handed me his watch for a closer look.
Contradictory to what it implies in its name, the Zürich Weltzeit nachtblau is actually a GMT watch (not a worldtimer, as it does not simultaneously display the time in at least 24 time zones) with the home-time – marked by the red house symbol – displayed on a digital disc in 24-hour format at 3 o’clock. The pusher at 2 o’clock, used to shuffle through the time zones, is crisp and a real pleasure to actuate. The white printing and the hints of red really pop out on the blue dial which really aids in legibility. The dial itself consists of multiple layers, with the main dial, sunken seconds sub-dial (with concentric guilloche pattern for added texture), city ring and home-time disc all on different planes. As such, while the dial may appear minimalistic in design at first glance, it is in fact quite sophisticated and visually interesting. Flip the watch over and you will be treated to the sight of Nomos’ in-house Calibre ξ (Xi) which is delightfully finished for its price. Many types of finishing are evident on the movement including Glashütte ribbing on the bridges and double-snailing on the ratchet wheel, both of which are finishing techniques typically found in German fine watches.
In a nutshell, the business-casual aesthetics of the watch, combined with the practicality of a GMT function and the finesse of a well-finished movement makes the Zürich Weltzeit nachtblau a highly versatile travel watch that pleases the horologically-inclined. Oh and the best part of all? The watch is very competitively priced, so you get to keep your kidneys in your body where they belong – and that, in my book, is a good thing.
A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 (Pre-2015)
The Lange 1 has been around for more than 20 years and continues to find homes on an ever-growing number of wrists across the globe. You’ve probably heard this spiel many times: “the Lange 1 is interesting in its unique design and in the fact that it was a complete E.T. in the classical watchmaking scene when it first launched in 1994”. Yes, the design and history of this icon continues to fascinate me even today, but that was not what compelled me to list the Lange 1 here. What did compel me though was an encounter with a pre-2015 Lange 1 that belonged to local watch collector Glenn Chiang, as I will soon explain. I previously interviewed Glenn (link to the interview here) on his collection and his passion for watches and he’s probably the only young adult I know that appreciates yellow gold Langes as much as I do. When Glenn finally received his Lange 1 back from service in Glashütte, I was excited to finally meet the legend. It is a little embarrassing for me to admit this, but his Lange 1 was the first I’ve seen in the metal that isn’t the newly revised 2015 model.
At a glance, the new and old Lange 1s look identical. The first difference I noticed while examining Glenn’s old Lange 1 was the absence of anti-reflective (AR) coating on the sapphire crystals (present in the 2015 models) (Note: not all of the pre-2015 Lange 1s had uncoated crystals as Lange did experiment with the coating on certain batches). I also noticed that the company marquee at 12 o’clock was a bit different in the old versus the new model and (upon fact-checking) I was right – the old Lange 1 uses a slightly bolder font. Inspecting the case back, I was greeted by the impeccably-finished calibre L901.1. Immediately, I noticed the presence of two sub-bridges in the old model which aren’t present in the new (full three-quarter plate in the new calibre L121.1).
It was fun trying to find what was different in the old Lange 1, like a horological game of ‘spot-the-difference’ and a test of my memory of the new Lange 1. Of course, there are other differences in appearance (e.g. bezel thickness) and mechanics (e.g. movement orientation, balance wheel) between the old and the new but that is a whole other story for another time. Overall, I felt that Glenn’s Lange 1, with the glare on the crystal, the yellow gold of the case and the creeping date discs, exudes a more historical vibe that almost takes me back to the 90s when A. Lange & Söhne were still trying to plant their flag on the pinnacle of the mountain that is fine watchmaking. The new Lange 1 with its AR coating and refreshed movement (featuring instantaneous jump date and zero-reset upon power depletion) almost feels as if it’s lost some soul. I say ‘almost’ because that is, in actuality, not the case at all – for both the old and the new Lange 1 perfectly embody the ethos of their maker, that is to build the finest watches in the world and to Never Stand Still.