In the world of horology, like any other, there are the obvious heros. And then, somewhere, lurking behind these giants are some who consistently get under rated. From our archives, we pluck six watches which we think deserve to be rated higher than what we perceive them to be. These are from A. Lange & Söhne, Breguet, Bulgari, Chopard, Moser and Habring².
Rationale for selecting under rated watches
As usual, this is a fun list, intended more to provoke thinking and discussion than any formal presentation of under rated watches. We consider the following criteria for our selection. To qualify, the watch must:
- Not be the first one which comes to mind within a specific price range, complication or other feature.
- But yet is rather spectacular in one particular aspect.
- Not astronomically priced. How do we define astronomical? As metrics defer, we have kept the watches selected to be below S$25,000. An arbitrary budget to be sure, but perhaps one which we imagine to be within the limit of an entry level high end timepiece.
With this in mind, let’s begin and stir up the discussion. All the watches we selected meet all three criteria, bar one, which only meet the first two. So, in alphabetical order of the brand name, here are the watches. Full reviews are on the urls linked to the watch sub-titles.
It might seem strange for a Lange to feature any list of under rated watches. Especially when their models like the Lange 1, the Datograph, the Zeitwerk and other complicated watches are often at the tip of a serious collector’s tongue in almost any discussion of haute horlogerie. True, the brand name and these models carry a very high mind and heart share, we think in particular the Saxonia Thin in a 37mm gold case is under rated.
Priced at S$21,300 for a gold cased watch, we think it represents exceptional value. The Saxonia Thin is a well designed, elegantly executed with a magnificently finished movement.
The Saxonia Thin is a spectacular entry to the world of high horology, but often not the first in one’s mind. And certainly not the most popular even within the other watches from the maison. Often, being deferred to the likes of its own more expensive brethren. Or competitor brands like Patek Philippe with their Calatrava Ref. 5119r. At approximately this price level, it even competes with watches in other genres. Like sports watches: as examples, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, Patek Philippe Aquanaut Ref. 5968a, and the Nautilus Ref. 5711/1a.
At the mention of Breguet, one often immediately think of tourbillon. While it is a fact that Abraham Louis Breguet was certainly responsible for the tourbillon, he was also responsible for almost all of what we know these days as modern watchmaking. If he were alive today, we speculate that he would certainly understand almost all modern watches, and would only marvel at the new materials available to us today. Particularly those which were not yet invented in his time.
But we digress. Breguet makes perfectly beautiful, and truly classical timepieces worthy of our attention and budget. But these entry level Breguets often are not a candidate. They are always well designed, with flawless aesthetics and an excellent execution and finishing. But yet, often over looked. Consider here the Classique Ref. 5157, which is a true classic in the best sense of the word.
Sleek, elegant case. Beautiful detailing. Perhaps the most gorgeous guilloché dial on the planet. And a equally beautiful, well finished movement. And at a price of US$22,000 retail, is great value for the money.
We move next to the seriously beautiful Bulgari Octo Finissimo Automatic. It is a marvel in design. Ultra thin case, measuring no more than 5.15mm, and the model we selected is in a bright white steel case which is as robust as any sporty watch. The dial is simple, yet highly effective and aesthetically brilliant. The shape of the octagonal case lends itself a unique air and class. The watch is flawless in operation, even when thrown about and treated as a sports watch.
The movement on the watch is truly the cherry topping. The automatic movement measures just 2.23 mm in thickness but stores up 60 hours of power reserve. The thinness dictates the need for several innovations in movement design, which is executed properly. As a result, a rather spectacular watch which make to too few lists.
Priced at S$18,350 in the stunning white SS as shown. And for a slight premium in grey titanium or a matt finished gold (at a rather pricey S$61,600)
Chopard’s LUC series have been technical tour de force since its inception in 1997. But the success of their jewellery line and the overwhelming populaity of the Happy Diamonds ladies wristwatch, the name of Chopard is not often at the tip of the tongue when discussing high end watches.
All LUC powered watches are made with great attention to detail, and we are truly impressed with the entire LUC range. Apparently all are equally under rated, but for our discussion, we selected the Qualité Fleurier model as the supreme example of the genre. The QF classification is probably the strictest of all chronometer certification processes. One which is requires the movements to be encased in their intended watch cases, and subjected to very stringent testing. The testing also calls for a destructive test, which adds to the high cost of the certification.
LUC watches are intelligently designed, with good legibility which respect classical norms. As a result, the aesthetics are very sober and beautiful. In the Qualité Fleurier we selected, the movement is the rather spectacular L.U.C 96.09-L self-winding movement, which features a 22 carat gold oscillating weight. The watch has got a power reserve of 65 hours. And finished up to very high haute horlogerie levels of the best in the business.
Priced at € 14,880 in rose gold, it is a remarkable value and is a pity it so often over looked.
Then comes a tiny brand, tucked away in Austria. The principal of the brand is one Richard Habring, who partnered with his wife Maria to form Habring². The very small manufacture leverages on Richard’s technical prowess in simplification. Richard is a gifted watchmaker, who has the unique ability to simplify the complicated. Among his brain children are the likes of the IWC split seconds system, the IWC perpetual calendar, the tourbillon in the IWC Il Destriero Scafusa. These techniques he developed for those movements are still in use today in latter IWC watches.
In his new manufacture in Austria, he has turned up several interesting and rather spectacular products, often at interestingly modest prices. Among them the Doppel3 Split Seconds Chronograph we have selected for this list. But his Habring2 Jumping Seconds and the Five Minute Repeater are equally excellent value propositions, offering and punching way above their price class.
In the Doppel3, he offers a well designed split seconds chronograph for a mere S$10,500 with GST or € 6,750. The design aesthetics are very pleasing and harmonious, taking into consideration the classical principles, and the operations are well thought out and robust.. Final finishing is no slouch, but of course in line with the moderate pricing, is not truly haute horlogerie.
We have on-hand for extended wearing and testing, another remarkable mode,: the Habring² Foudroyante-Felix, a special timepiece featuring the lightning seconds (foudroyante) with a jumping seconds (seconds morte) and a date facility. Coming soon!
The next watch in this list is the most expensive as well. Priced at S$83,790, it is no small chunk of change. But for a perpetual calendar, it holds its own, among its more popular competitors.
Often first to the block when discussing perpetual calendars are the traditional vendors like Patek Philippe Ref. 5320g, Audemars Piguet, A. Lange & Söhne, Vacheron Constantin, and the like. And far too infrequently does Moser get a mention. But yet, it is the most advanced mechanical perpetual calendar yet produced, edging out more expensive offerings from MB&F, Greubel Forsey and the like.
The Moser dial is a superbly clean design, superbly legible. Uncluttered. The movement is spectacularly laid out and beautifully finished to the highest levels. But what is the best is that the reduction of the perpetual calendar to its essence. No moonphase. Only a huge date, and a very clever month indicator. Non essential information like the leap year indicator which is needed only for setting up, is relegated to the movement side. As is the power reserve indicator as this is a handwound watch.
All these, plus the brilliance of course is the way the Flash Calendar works, jumping forwards and backwards without intervening dates when they don’t exist in the calendar. The Moser Perpetual Calendar makes it one heck of a watch.
As a conclusion, we cheat a bit, and squeeze in one more. It is no secret that we have been mightily impressed with the Citizen Chronomaster AQ4080. Yes, its quartz, but that has its advantages. See this article for our arguments.
Truly magnificent. Hand assembled by a single master watchmaker. An artisanal dial made by a generations old traditional family specializing in Japanese paper. And a most advanced solar powered movement capable of +/-5s a year accuracy. The way it presents the perpetual calendar data is clear and legible. A very well thought out design and execution.
Further, the Chronomaster is housed in a ultra tough bright titanium case which is finished with traditional Japanese zaratsu techniques. All these for ¥ 330,000 (about US$3,500), though currently only available in Japan, where it comes with a 10 year full warranty. And most collectors think cheap $50 watches at the mention of Citizen.
Anyway, here is our list, most of the watches fall below the hypothetical high end entry price ceiling of S$25,000 except for one. We excuse the Moser for breaking this price ceiling as it is in white gold and carries a mechanical perpetual calendar. What would you include in your list of under rated watches?