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Throwback Sundays: Six Watches with a Face, from Our Archives

Time to face the world.
by Robin Lim on November 17, 2019

The recent fascination with Konstantin Chaykin’s Joker is an interesting one. Launched in 2017, the Joker was a timepiece that was lauded for its interesting take on dials and time indicators.

While it was quite a hit when it was first launched, its popularity skyrocketed in the past few months. This was, in our opinion, attributed to the release of a new model. But on a more unrelated level, it could have also been driven by the blockbuster based on the eponymous DC Comic character – which is notably set to generate more than US$1 billion in box office ticket sales.

This begets the question: What is with the fascination of faces on watches? What are some of the examples that are available, and how have they fared over the years? And what makes the Joker a notch above the rest, in terms of popularity? For this week’s article, we will be looking at some of these watches that incorporates a face, and we shall see if these pieces can answer some of the questions that we have set out above.

Konstantin Chaykin Joker

Konstantin Chaykin Joker front view

We begin with the article with the protagonist: Konstantin Chaykin Joker.

Launched in Baselworld 2017, the 42mm Joker caught the attention of the horological world immediately. Lauded for its whimsical take on horology, the Joker was also praised for incorporating the various indicators on both the eyes (hour and minutes disc) and the mouth (moonphase display). The highlight of the piece is how the expression of the “Joker” changes, as the various disc rotates on its own axis. The googly eyes certainly gives it a rather light-hearted touch as well.

The watch is fitted with the Calibre K07-0. This is a hybrid movement built on the classical ETA2824-2, and modified to allow the “Joker” to have its signature looks. The original variants – cased in stainless steel – is priced at €6,990 (approximately S$10,510), but all 99 examples have been sold out. It is also available in other case variants, and we highly recommend this timepiece to collectors who wants a breath of fresh air in their watch collection.

Bell & Ross BR 01 Laughing Skull

Bell&Ross BR 01 Laughing Skull oblique crown

When it comes to watches from Bell & Ross, its signature aviation-inspired timepieces will surely be one of the first things that would come to mind. But the brand is much more than that, as seen from the BR 01 Laughing Skull.

The BR 01 Laughing Skull is a fascinating piece at first sight, but this is not the first timepiece that Bell & Ross had incorporated the skull motif. The honour was actually given to the BR 01 Skull, launched in 2009. Several iterations came along subsequently, before the brand launched its latest interpretation of the Skull collection.

The latest version is cased in its iconic 46mm square case, decorated with the “Clous de Paris” pattern. The watch is also available with encrusted diamonds, but we shall save that for another occasion. In addition, the skull is an automaton – its jaws move up and down as the watch is being wound. Notably, it uses an in-house movement – the BR-CAL.206 – which is shaped like a skull as well.

This is a controversial piece, but it is nonetheless a conversational timepiece. It is priced at S$14,900, and for collectors who are looking for something a tad different, the BR 01 Laughing Skull might just be something special that you might want to do a double take on.

Sarpaneva Korona K0 Northern Lights

Following the Joker and Laughing Skull, we have something more subtle but seemingly more mysterious. Cue the Sarpaneva Korona K0 Northern Lights.

When it comes to Sarpaneva’s watches, it is always enigmatic. We expect no less from the Korona K0 Northern Lights as well. Its aesthetics, especially the iconic moonphase indicator which features a rather delphian figure, an inscrutable face yet an accurate phase evoking our sense of curiousity and wonder. In addition, the dial, reminiscent of spider webs, is visually and thematically appropriate as well. However, the best bit is the lume – the entire watch glows as we approach the dark, all thanks to the layer of SuperLuminova placed beneath the main dial. The lume, inspired by the Aurora Borealis, turns from mystical to downright stunning in the absence of light.

The Korona K0 Northern Lights is priced at €14,500 (approximately S$21,800), and we reckon that this is one of the few watches capable of invoking a charm offensive able to steal the limelight away from any similarly priced timepieces that tries to stand out and be different.

Corum Heritage “Hobo Coin”

Corum Heritage Hobo Coin Watches

The story of the “Hobo Coins” is a fascinating one. Dating back to the Great Depression, the five cent nickel coins were so worthless that talented vagrants decided to turn them into artworks in an attempt to profit from it.

In today’s context, the original “Hobo Coins” are certainly worth a lot more due to its rarity. Besides the fact that it is rare, the coins are a treasure trove of culture and historical value. This was how Corum decided to collaborate with Aleksey Saburov, to work on this series of watches.

Each of the 43mm watch features a unique dial, in which all are engraved by the artist himself. The designs explore the theme of life and death, with an aim to celebrate life and all the aspects of it. As the focus lies on the artwork, the watch only features a simple two-hand time display in order not to draw the attention away from the coin.

Priced at CHF 21,000 (approximately S$28,870), the Corum Heritage “Hobo Coin” is a stunning timepiece that features micro-engravings that are executed painstakingly. This is certainly a remarkable effort in keeping a dying tradition alive.

HYT Skull Maori

The idea of having a fusion of both tradition and modern touches has also yielded interesting results. The HYT Skull Maori is one such example that has manifested from this combination.

While HYT’s primary fascination is the much vaunted world’s first liquid time indication, its appeal extends to the pistons and bellows construction inspired by industrial mechanics as well. For this particular edition, HYT’s traditional Iron Man-esque skull takes on a life of its own with engraved Maori tattoos carved into skull. In fact, we harbour an almost macabre fascination with the way the tube outlines the skull, and the use of red liquid, akin to living blood, accentuates the sinister nature of it all. In addition, HYT brilliantly incorporated a power reserve within the right eye, which turns dark as the barrel winds down. As for the left eye, it serves as running seconds indicator.

The watch, as shown, is cased in 5N Gold. Overall, we enjoy how the 50mm watch is being presented. The imposing skull, decorated with Maori motif engraving and outlined by a circular vein of red liquid, is a sight to behold. The strap, featuring Maori-inspired engravings, adds to the cool factor of the timepiece. It is, however, limited to 15 pieces, the HYT’s Skull Maori  is not for the faint of heart (or wallet) and is priced at S$165,000 apiece.

MB&F Balthazar

We round up the article with something slightly different from the rest of the watches that we have highlighted earlier. Here, we have one of the precision robot clock produced by MB&F and L’Epée called the Balthazar.

At the first glance, one can already tell that the Balthazar is not any run-off-the-mill clock. This 8kg timepiece has a few functions, which includes jumping hours and minute display, moonphase indicator, retrograde seconds and a 35 day power reserve. Standing at 40cm tall, the sculpture is rather imposing, and providing a great presence wherever it is placed.

Powering the Balthazar is a movement that comprises no less than 405 components. The “torso” of the sculpture provides us with a glimpse of the well-finished movement, which no less includes the Côte de Genevé, anglage, mirror polishing, sandblasting, circular and vertical satin finishing – in line with the standards of haute horlogerie watches. Another interesting element from the movement is the balance, in which it can be viewed from the glass dome which double up as the “skull” of Balthazar. It is nothing short of spectacular.

The Balthazar is available in 4 different variants (with black, silver, blue or green armour plates), and they are priced at CHF 52,000 (approximately S$71,500) each. It is limited to a production run of 50 pieces for each variant, and we reckon that this is an intriguing object that will look awesome on any shelves or table top.

Concluding Thoughts

By now, we can see that skulls seem to be a recurring theme for watch designs. It is rather polarising, as some people tend to see it as a “taboo” subject or object. But for the others, it is a statement – and one that represents style and individual personality.

On the flip side, we also have the slightly more intriguing pieces that plays around with faces and facial expression. The Joker and Balthazar, for instance, utilises the “eyes” to create emotions and expressions, which we think is quite a novel approach. Then we have the Sarpaneva, in which the “moonface” always eludes us with its mysterious demeanour. These elements certainly makes timepieces more interesting, and perhaps even gives the watches a personality of its own.

So, what are your thoughts on such timepieces? Are they interesting, or a little too creepy for your liking? Let us know in the comments section below!

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