Watch In Focus – IWC Pilot’s Watches

It’s easy to forget that heavier than air flight has only been possible for just over a century — not that much less than the advent of the motorised car — and that technology has improved a vast amount since. In the early years of aviation, pilots did not have the convenience of modern navigational technology, and so relied on charts, mathematics and mechanical instruments.

IWC Pilots' Watch Movement

IWC’s first pilots’ watch, the mark IX, was developed in 1936 in order to give pilots a more immediate reference than the pocket watches they were carrying at the time. Its focus was legibility, and the large luminescent markers applied to a black dial made it practical and usable, even in low light conditions, setting the bar for future pilots’ watch designs. The addition of a rotating bezel with a luminous triangle gave pilots a usable reference to track time at a glance.

The Second World War launched the pilots’ watch to the next level, and the vast amount needed by the German Luftwaffe required five brands to make the one common design. The watch was modelled around a pocket watch movement and as such was a whopping 55mm, the largest watch IWC have ever made. It had a central seconds hand and came in two styles that mimicked cockpit dials: one with the hours printed around the dial, and the other with the minutes printed around the dial and the hours printed on a smaller circle within.

IWC Big Pilots IW502618

These watches were designed to be simple, reliable, anti-magnetic, easy to read and tough, and had features like oversized crowns for use while wearing pilots’ gloves. The design evolved subtly into the IWC Mark XI, a smaller but similar watch with a much-copied stub-ended minute hand. The addition of a chronograph complication was included in the 1988 Pilots’ Chronograph, and then the Mark XI was surpassed by the Mark XII in 1994. This steadily evolved into the Mark XVI and Mark XVII, elegant pieces that embody everything that made the original Mark IV special.

IWC Pilot's Watches IW371702

IWC recognised that there were people who liked the style of the pilots’ watch but found it to be too plain, so the Spitfire range was created. The basic design remained the same, but the introduction of applied numerals, and layered and turned silver dials gave the watches more eye-catching appeal and made them a dressier alternative to the black dialed Mark XVI.

As a nod to the original, IWC launched the Pilot 1936 Handwound, a re-edition of the Mark IX. The closest IWC have come to a re-issue of the Second World War pilots’ watch is the Big Pilot, a seven day power-reserve 46.2mm watch — not quite the full 55mm, but big enough to make a statement on the wrist.

With so much history surrounding the pilots’ watch it’s easy to see why IWC continues its tradition, but it’s also good that this tradition has evolved to provide a more modern and exciting range within the Spitfire models. For anyone looking for an out-and-out classic, an IWC pilots’ watch is hard to beat.

KEY FACTS

  • IWC was one of five companies to manufacture pilot’s watches for the German armed forces during World War Two.
  • The case of the Top Gun Double Chronograph pilot’s watch is made from a single piece of zirconium oxide and is almost as hard as diamond.
  • The original pilot’s watches were as large as 55mm and were made using pocket watch movements.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

TIMELESS – THE DEEP BLUE : History of Diving Watches

So dangerous is the quest to explore the depths that more is known about the surface of Mars than of the blue liquid that covers two-thirds of our planet’ surface.

Not that danger has ever stopped mankind from exploring anything; records show that people have been deep-sea diving since ancient Roman times, often for combat, either by holding their breath or using long reeds as snorkels. The Greek philosopher Aristotle even described the first known diving bell as ‘a container not filled with water but air, which consistently assists the submerged man.’

The diving bell continued its development throughout the centuries, always following the same basic principle of trapping air inside an upturned container. By 1619, Sir Edmund Halley had adapted the concept further to include a tube from the diving bell that fed a sealed helmet, allowing the diver wearing it to freely walk the ocean bed without having to return for a fresh breath of air. The air supply in the main bell could even be replenished from barrels that were lowered down from the surface.

A century later and the diving bell had been replaced by longer hoses that directly fed a sealed diving suit, with bellows extracting the old air and pumping in new. By far the biggest leap in diving technology came in 1808 when French Naval mechanic Sieur Touboulic patented a self-contained oxygen tank that allowed the diver to carry his own supply of air with him, and a working design appeared twelve years later. Deeper diving began to expose the problem of decompression sickness, or ‘the bends’, a condition brought on by dissolved gases entering the body and becoming trapped inside during rapid decompression.

Up to this point, the diving suit had been large, heavy and cumbersome, but the early nineteenth century paved the way for more compact diving apparatus. Air could now be compressed into compact cylinders, with carbon dioxide scrubbing chemicals used to allow air to be rebreathed. With World War One recently over and World War Two just around the corner, the military application of diving technology accelerated the progression of development, not only for the diving apparatus itself, but also for the accessories that were necessary to dive safely.

One such accessory was the diving watch, which offered the crucial measure of time. This was important for two reasons: to keep track of air usage and to time decompression stops when resurfacing. Although some watches with the capability of being submerged in shallow water without leaking already existed, it wasn’t until 1932 that Omega released the first properly waterproof diving watch, the Marine. Rated to a depth of 135 metres, the Marine incorporated a sliding outer case that sealed the inner case from water.

Panerai’s commission from the Italian Navy prompted the next investment in watertight watches. Manufacturing technology had become accurate enough to create a tight seal without the need of a secondary case, and so the radium-painted Radiomir came into service with military divers.

In 1942, Émile Gagnan met Jacques-Yves Cousteau to combine his recently invented miniature regulator with a portable gas cylinder. This revolutionary device significantly reduced the size of diving equipment; previously, a sealed helmet with a constant-feed air supply was used – which was of course bulky and awkward – but now only a mouthpiece was needed, the air feed regulated by the diver’s inhalation. Cousteau’s freely-available CG45 ‘Aqualung’ turned diving from a dangerous necessity into an enjoyable hobby almost overnight.

Even deeper diving called for the invention of the next diving watch feature, the rotating bezel. Beating the Rolex Submariner to the post by just a few months, Blancpain’s 1953 Fifty Fathoms incorporated a rotating bezel with minute markers that could be used as a countdown timer for air and decompression. The simple, yet incredibly intuitive idea found its way onto Jacques Cousteau’s wrist for the 1956 film ‘Le Monde du Silence’.

As commercial diving became more lucrative, the depths dived and the time spent underwater increased. Saturation diving so named because the body becomes saturated with inert gases exposed divers to increased pressures for longer periods of time, which in turn required longer periods of slow decompression to prevent decompression sickness. Military research and commercial interest required a watch that could withstand pressures far higher than the current diving watches were capable of, and so the development race began to create the saturation diver’s watch of choice

The problems encountered by watch manufacturers were twofold – the first being the seals of the watch leaking under high pressure, and the second being the structural integrity of the components during decompression. As divers desaturated after a long dive, they found that the gases that had entered the watch under pressure could not find their way out again, and the result popped the crystals off.

Alongside commercial diving company COMEX, Rolex developed a special gas escape valve for the Submariner 5513 that allowed the saturated gases to be released during decompression. At the same time, a new, sturdier design known as the as the ‘Sea-Dweller’ was being tested at the US Navy SEALAB II project, which then also inherited the gas escape valve trialled by COMEX. The finished Rolex Sea-Dweller was launched in 1967 and was capable of reaching depths of up to 610 metres.

Meanwhile, Omega investigated a solution that employed brute force over Rolex precision with the Seamaster Plongeur Professionnel or ‘PloProf’, a vast slab of watch with a six-hundred metre water resistance. Unfortunately the Omega PloProf was released too late, three years after the introduction of the Sea-Dweller, by which point the diving companies insisted on their watches having a gas escape valve.

As the eighties came and went, diving watches became diving computers, and so the humble mechanical watch stepped down from its commercial top spot. That isn’t to say that the diving watch is now defunct – far from it. In fact the diving watch is more popular now than it ever has been before.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch in Focus – Omega Seamaster

The Seamaster name covers a whole host of sporty, dressy, quirky and techy watches from over nearly three quarters of a century. Although many of these watches don’t look anything alike, they are all developments of the same thing — a water resistant watch.

It started in 1932, when Omega patented an innovative design for a diving watch that used a sliding case within a case. The theory was sound but the design was too complicated. It was taken back to the drawing board, and in 1947 — a decade and a half later —the first Omega Seamaster watches were launched. Rolex may have pipped Omega to the post for the first water resistant watch, but the Seamaster beat the Submariner to the shops by a clear six years.

The first Seamaster followed a simplistic design that was consistent with the rest of Omega’s range, and the slim and delicate case proved that water-resistance didn’t require the watch to be heavy and bulky. This dress style continued through to the 1960s, when the Seamaster had a dramatic makeover. The range split into two: one part dressy, and the other sporty.

Rolexs Submariner hadproven that chunky sports watches were indeed popular, and so the Seamaster De
Ville continued the original slim-cased, formal dress look, and the Seamaster 300 (300 referring to the depth rating in metres) took the fight to the Submariner. The 300s black dial had wide markers and the hands were chunky. The case too was of much more solid form than the previous Seamaster, and came with the addition of a rotating timing bezel. A second, cheaper model was released four years later, the Seamaster 120, and a chronograph model completed the range in 1970, the first watch to incorporate an internal rotating bezel.

In a battle with Rolex to create a watch with the highest depth rating, Omega developed the Seamaster Plongeur Professionnel (PloProf) 600. Where the Sea-Dweller used a helium escape valve to control internal pressure, Omega took the brute force approach by building a case strong enough to do without one. This move saw the Rolex win the COMEX contract.

Not to be deterred, Omega dabbled with quartz Seamasters during the seventies quartz revolution, before producing the Seamaster Professional 300 in 1993. In 2005, the Planet Ocean joined it. It took inspiration from the original sixties Seamaster 300, and an updated reissue of the PloProf joined it in 2010, this time water resistant to 1200 metres (and fitted with a helium escape valve).

The Seamaster has had a strange and wandering existence, but is all the more interesting for it; there are many models not mentioned here that never really caught on, that each have their own story and now make interesting and collectible pieces. One thing is certain though: you can’t go wrong with a Seamaster.

KEY FACTS

  • The strange creature often seen on the back of Omega Seamaster cases is a Hippocampus, a mythical Greek creature that is half horse, half fish. Poseidon, the Greek sea-god, used Hippocampi to draw his chariot through the ocean waves
  • Both Comex and Jacques-Yves Cousteau were involved in the development of the ‘Plongeur Professionnel,’ Omega’s entry into the deep sea diving arena
  • The Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean is a modern interpretation of the 1957 Seamaster 300, Omega’s first sports diver

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch In Focus – IWC Portuguese

The Portuguese have always been known for their sea fairing ability and expert knowledge of the ocean. In the late 1930s, two Portuguese businessmen — who frequently sailed around the world — requested a special kind of watch be made for them by IWC. Wrist watches of the time were small and not particularly accurate, so what the two men asked for was a marine chronometer-grade clock they could wear on their wrists.

Using the Calibre 74, a hunter pocket watch movement that satisfied the men’s accuracy requirements, IWC built a watch in 1939 called the Portuguese. The 42mm case required to fit the movement was enormous by the standards of the period, and it had a clear, bold dial with large applied numbers and a sub-dial at six o’clock for the seconds. The cream-coloured face was chosen to contrast against the numbers, giving the watch immediate clarity regardless of the conditions.

It wasn’t until 1967 that any big changes occurred in the Portuguese line up. The watch had become popular for its size and appearance, but its sailing heritage was all but forgotten. To rectify this, IWC released a more sport-orientated version to reinvigorate the original ethos of the model. Called the ‘Yacht Club’, it looked more like a Rolex Datejust than it did a Portuguese, but nonetheless it became very popular — one of the most popular IWC’s ever, in fact.

It was followed by the seventies Yacht Club II, a watch that — this time — had more in common with IWC’s own Ingenieur. The octagonal case and integrated bracelet could not have been any further removed from the original Portuguese, but this didn’t stop its popularity from soaring. Many Yacht Club IIs were sold in both automatic and quartz guises, riding the wave of a new era of luxury watches.

IWC Portuguese watches have not — Yacht Clubs excluded — changed much over the course of time, and the original charm and clarity that made them popular is still very much present. Complications such as chronographs, perpetual calendars and even tourbillons have been added to what is considered IWC’s flagship range, but the case shape and bold applied numerals remain. The hand wound IW5454 is the most faithful to the original with its seconds sub-dial at six o’clock, but the range has most definitely been improved with the addition of the chronograph and the seven day movement, whose twin sub-dials neatly balance out the dial.

To top the current range off, IWC recently released a new version of the Yacht Club, reviving the sportiness of the original once again. This time around, the Yacht Club is much more faithful to the Portuguese than was previously, with more focus on sporty design and rugged usability.

The Portuguese is a very elegant watch, particular so when viewed amongst the swathes of fussier watches that dominate the market. If you like your watches to be clean, clear and simple, there is little to touch an IWC Portuguese.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch in Focus – Panerai Luminor

OfficinePanerai, started by Giovanni Panerai in 1860s Florence, was formed to create precision mechanical instruments specifically for diving. By the 1930s, under Giovanni’s grandson Guido Panerai, the company was producing a range that included compasses and depth gauges, all of which could be worn on the wrist. Panerai’s reputation forquality earned the company a contract with the Italian Navy to build water-resistant, highly legible watches for their military divers.

The Rolex-engined Radiomirs were the first evolution of the famous dive watch and featured the sandwich dial that gave off the distinctive bright glow. Instead of having applied numbers on the dial, which are often quite thin and therefore not as bright, the sandwich dial consisted of two layers.

The first was the black dial, visible through the crystal, with bold numbers and indices punched out of it. The second layer sat behind it and was covered with luminous paint, which gave a far superior glow because of its thickness. Originally being painted with super-radioactive radium (hence the ‘Radiomir’ nomenclature) also contributed to the legibility in low light.

When radium was outlawed, the luminescent substance was replaced with tritium, dubbed by Panerai as ‘Luminor’, and alongside developments in case design and technology, the Luminor watch was born. It featured the same sandwich dial, but a more robust case with thicker lugs, moving on from the soldered lugs and cushion cases that were mainly an evolution from pocket-watches.

Panerai also introduced applied numeral dials as well, but instead of the traditional method of painting the numerals straight onto the face, they were first carved out of the dial and filled in, providing thicker, brighter lume. The most important development, however, was the crown device. It served to protect the crown from knocks, and also to lock it down and seal it from water ingress, and has since become a trademark icon instantly recognisable as Panerai.

As the war ended, so, gradually, did Panerai, and it wasn’t until 1993 that the company started to make watches again. Producing very limited numbers of the Luminor and the new chronograph, the Mare Nostrum, they were collector’s pieces, and stayed away from the mainstream market. 1997 saw the acquisition of Panerai by the Vendôme group, who maintained the slow production rate and limited numbers, but increased the marketing effort tenfold.

The Panerai following built up slowly to its current cult-like status, the original, instantly recognisable design and big, bold cases a fresh breath of air from the standard form. Variations of the base models sold in limited runs kept the brand and its interest alive, including the addition of a seconds hand on the Radiomir and Luminor (making it the Luminor Marina) series.

The introduction of the curved ‘1950s’ retro-looking case for the Panerai Luminor in 2002 is reminiscent of the original 1950s Rolex-powered Marina Militare, and has become more widespread throughout the range.

2007 was turning point for Panerai when it introduced its own high-quality in-house movements with eight-day power reserves, followed by slightly cheaper three-day power reserve movements in 2009. This offered customers high-end, completely in-house pieces as well as the cheaper base models with modified Unitas movements powering them.

Some people say the Panerai attraction is short-lived, but an ever increasing populous of fans stand testament to the longevity of the appeal. They aren’t watches for everyone, particularly the 47mm models, but there is no doubt that they are finely made, desirable timepieces with genuine history behind them.

KEY FACTS

  • It wasn’t until actor Sylvester Stallone bought a Luminor in 1995 and wore it in his movie ‘Daylight’ that Panerai took off as a brand.
  • The most complicated Luminor is the L’Astronomo PAM000365, featuring time, date including month, sunrise/sunset indicator, equation of time, power reserve, star disk and tourbillon. It costs a whopping $220,000.
  • As you can see from the text on the crown guard (top image), Panerai hold the trademark for its shape. They also have a patent for its operation too.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch In Focus – Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore

The Royal Oak Offshore has become something of a core product for Audemars Piguet, and it is difficult to imagine the brand without it — but there was a point at which it didn’t exist at all.

The company, today one of the top watch manufacturers in the world, can trace its heritage back to 1875 with the collaboration of Jules-Louis Audemars and Edward-Auguste Piguet. Manufacturing and regulating movements in small workshop in Le Brassus was the first stepping stone to becoming one of the world’s most prestigious brands, a feat that can be partly accredited to the continuous family involvement with the company since its inception.

As with all businesses that can celebrate long-term success, Audemars Piguet’s start was a slow and steady one. Despite seven years of trade, it wasn’t until 1882 that the company name was even registered as a trademark, and a further seven years before they opened their own branch and sold watches direct to the public.

Part of the continuing increase in popularity and accomplishment was down to commitment to quality control.

This reputation spread to other established brands such as Tiffany and Co, Cartier and Bulgari, who, after Audemars and Piguet had died in the early 20th century, commissioned the company to make movements; even whole watches to be rebranded and sold as their own.

Producing extravagant movements had become somewhat of a forte for Audemars Piguet, and certainly helped to establish the brand’s credibility, but it wasn’t to last.

After the Great Depression in the 1930s brought the world to its knees, the watchmaker struggled through the next few decades, and were on the edge of folding. Enlisting the help of burgeoning watch designer Gerald Genta, Audemars Piguet released a watch that would amaze and bemuse the public in equal measure in 1972, as a final bid for recovery. That watch was the Royal Oak. Named after a 19th Century battleship and wearing strange features such as an octagonal bezel with visible octagonal bolt heads, and an angular case with a flat, integrated bracelet, the Royal Oak very nearly sounded the death knell for them.

Since the stainless-steel sports watch cost considerably more than even Audemars Piguet’s own top of the range gold watch, there was a lot of initial head-scratching, but slowly the idea of super-luxury sports watch took hold. The Royal Oak was instantly recognisable and distinguished the wearer as someone who was wealthy enough to afford the premium. From there, its popularity only grew.

In 1993, Emmanuel Gueit designed the Royal Oak Offshore, a beefier, modernised face-lift of the classic Royal Oak. This sporty model gave the company a chance to flourish with more extravagant colours, shapes and materials, from the carbon cased Alinghi Team, to the other-worldly Survivor. A strong link with motorsport — Formula 1 in particular — was formed, with famous drivers like Rubens Barrichello and Jarno Trulli coming on board.

Love them or hate them, the Offshore is here to stay, and coupled with its more restrained sibling the Royal Oak, suits practically every taste.

The forged carbon case (pictured right) is made by compressing seven micron thick carbon fibre strands at a whopping 300kg per square centimetre of pressure.

KEY FACTS
– The Royal Oak was a tree in which King Charles II of England hid from the Roundheads in during the 1651 Battle of Worcester. It then went on to become the name of eight British Royal Navy warships

-The Royal Oak Offshore movement was originally developed by Jaeger-LeCoultre and has evolved to become in-house movement.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch In Focus – Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor

When Jacques Cousteau first invented the aqualung in 1942, it revolutionised diving. Bulky suits that had to be completely sealed were no longer necessary, continuous air feeds were a thing of the past and the Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) was born.

This revolution meant diving was no longer expensive, giving would-be divers a chance to fulfil their dreams. Diving as a hobby became extremely popular, and so the need for dive proof watches boomed. Although water-resistant watches were available, none could stand up to the increasing water pressure a diver would experience the deeper they went.

All the major manufacturers got on board the dive watch train, spending huge amounts of money developing cases that would cope with a diver’s requirements. As well as water resistance, divers needed timing bezels and good luminosity, and the cases needed to be able to resist the corrosive properties of salt water. For Jaeger-LeCoultre, their first step was not to develop their own case, but to invest in a company run by a little-known man called Ervin Piquerez.

Ervin Piquerez SA (EPSA) was developing a patented case that, rather than resisting the water pressure, used it to compress the case back and crowns, making the seals tighter and water-resistant to a greater depth. EPSA provided cases for many manufacturers, including IWC, Longines, Hamilton, Blancpain and of course, Jaeger-LeCoultre, until they went bankrupt in the mid-70s.

The compressor case was very distinctive—it usually featured two crowns, one of which operated the internal bezel. Because of the compressor technology, screw-down crowns were not necessary, so the winding and operation of the internal bezel were still possible when submerged.

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s 1959 E857 Memovox Deep Sea was the company’s first venture into diving watches and used the EPSA super-compressor case.

The E859 Polaris Memovox Diver followed the Deep Sea in 1963, after limited runs of diving watches with the names, Shark, Dolphin and Barracuda, and incorporated a triple-backed case to stop the alarm being muffled by the diver’s suit. A third crown at the traditional three o’clock was added for the alarm functionality.

Fast-forward to 2002 and, due to improvements in material technology, the compressor case was no longer required to provide credible water resistance. Jaeger-LeCoultre, however, decided to continue the compressor technology with their crowns. Because screw-down crowns are fiddly and the seals perish with time, a different method was engineered to allow both superior sealing and easy use. The trademark compressor crown features a twist-to-lock switch that has become synonymous with Jaeger-LeCoultre.

The Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor range expanded to include sports and diving watches, some with impressive complications. The Diving Pro Geographic not only featured a second time zone indicator and quick selection for twenty-four time zones, but also a mechanical depth gauge. Following the success of the diving collection, a recent collaboration with the US Navy Seals has produced some adjustments to the range to meet the force’s demanding requirements.

Jaeger-LeCoultre diving watches are unique and sturdy pieces of design, and are a perfect match for someone looking for a more left field choice for their collection, particularly if they want a watch suitable for diving.

 KEY FACTS

  • On June the 30th, 2005, Patrick Musimu dived to a depth of 209.6 metres without oxygen wearing his Master Compressor Diving.
  • At the Master Compressor Diving’s maximum rated depth of 1000 metres, it will be experiencing 890kg of pressure from the water above it.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch In Focus – Breitling Emergency

From the very beginnings of the brand, there has always been a strong tie between Breitling and the aviation industry. Renowned for introducing revolutionary new ideas to assist aviators in their duties, Breitling has repeatedly justified its reputation for being the pilot’s choice.

The first innovation that Breitling added as a feature to one of their watches was the addition of the bezel calculator on the Chronomat in the early 1940s, and again on the Navitimer in the 1950s. The Navitimer became the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) recommended watch and is still a big seller today.

Another development exclusively for pilots was the co-pilot bracelet. Fitted as an optional extra to any of the professional range, it included an additional digital display that can show local time, UTC (Coordinated Universal Time), take-off time and landing time. It serves as a backup to the main watch and offers easy management of flight times.

Super-quartz was another revolutionary advancement that Breitling took on board.

The ability to display analogue time and also incorporate a digital display with features such as count-down timers and alternate time zones, as well as retaining an accuracy of around ten seconds per year is a perfect combination for pilots on active duty.

The most recent addition to the impressive collection of pilot’s tools can be found on board the Breitling Emergency.

As the name implies, this watch is specifically designed to provide pilots with a rescue aid in emergency situation, using a 121.5 Mhz transmitter to send a distress signal to the search and rescue services and guide them to the location of the watch. Coupled with the 121.5 Mhz emergency radio transmissions and emergency locator transmitters found on board most aircraft, this watch provides an additional and welcome backup for pilots who find themselves in an emergency situation.

The transmitter beacon is powerful enough to transmit a signal ninety miles for forty-eight hours, and had successfully saved several pilots since its release in 1995. Because of its professional nature, the Emergency is only supplied to civilians if they sign an agreement with Breitling to only deploy the beacon in an emergency. Breitling will, given the use was genuine, replace the transmitter free of charge, but improper use will result in a hefty fine.

Since 2009, the 121.5 MHz signal is no longer received by any satellite system, so Breitling updated the Emergency to include the digital distress frequency of 406.040 MHz. The new Emergency also includes a charger to make sure the beacon remains at full operational capacity.

Breitling’s dedication to the aviation industry is more than just a marketing exercise, it is a genuine partnership, and one any owner of a professional Breitling can feel a part of.

KEY FACTS

  • The 121.5 Mhz signal, as of 2009, is no longer received by any satellite, however it can still be used as a location becon in conjunction with a standard distress signal.
  • In 1995, the fifteen-man crew of the Mata-Rangi raft were saved by the Emergency’s transmitter, which can be detected ninety miles away.
  • If the signal is used in an emergency, Breitling offer to cover the costs of rescue and repair to the watch, however improper use can result in a $10,000 fine.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch in Focus – TAG Heuer Carrera

TAG Heuer has the kind of affinity with motor racing that is only earned via a long and dedicated involvement at the forefront of the sport. During the 40s and 50s, Heuer was supplying timers that could be dashboard mounted in rally cars to time the stages, and it was there that the seed was sown.

Jack Heuer’s innovative and entrepreneurial mind landed a sponsorship deal with Formula 1 driver Jo Siffert, and Heuer became the first non-motorsport related brand painted on the side of the most advanced racing cars in the world. It was Jack’s personal deal with Jo to buy a Porsche from his dealership that launched a conversation about sponsorship, which in turn sparked the beginning of a multi-billion advertising industry.

In 1950, just as the last section of the Pan-American Highway (that originally connected the USA to Argentina) was completed, a great race was held along its entire length. Dubbed ‘Carrera Panamericana’ (carrera being Spanish for race), it was held annually between 1950 and 1955 and had some of the most grueling terrain of any rally stage ever. As such, it was considered to be one of the most dangerous races of any type in the world.

This inspired Jack Heuer to develop a chronograph unlike any that had been before it. He wanted it to have a unique and instantly recognisable look, as well as being very easy to read. Thus, the Carrera was born, released in 1963. One of the most distinctive features of the watch was the repositioning of the tachymeter from the outer edge of the dial to the rehaut, the tapered spacer between the dial and the crystal. This cleared the dial itself up considerably, making it cleaner and easier to read.

Various iterations of Heuer Carrera watches were produced between the launch and the early 1980s, when the quartz revolution crippled many traditional watch brands. Jack left Heuer before the takeover by TAG (Techniques d’Avant Garde), part-owner of McLaren and supplier of Formula 1 engines. TAG embraced the brand and gave it direction through its low years, using its solid financial footings to market the brand successfully enough to bring it back to the forefront, ready for a buyout by LVMH.

The TAG Heuer Carrera continued with many new iterations such as the Grand Carrera, a coming-together of new and the old, immediately recognisable as Heuer but with the forward thinking design of TAG. TAG Heuer also acknowledge its heritage with re-editions of the vintage Carrera, plus the introduction of concept watches that pushed the boundaries both with design and function.

Such watches as the Calibre 36, penned by the designer of the Ferrari Enzo, and the Mikrograph Flying 1000, which can measure 1/1000th of a second, both demonstrate that TAG Heuer is a brand that is looking forward rather than dwelling on the past.

KEY FACTS

  • Carrera is Spanish for speed, and was used for the 1950’s races along the Pan-American Highway after which the watch was named.
  • Jack Heuer, the owner of Heuer during the 60’s and 70’s and great-grandson of founder Edouard Heuer, designed the Carrera himself in 1963.
  • The Carrera Calibre 36, released in 2009, was designed by Ken Okuyama, the genius behind the striking shape of the Ferrari Enzo.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch In Focus – Rolex Submariner

The development of the Submariner — perhaps the most recognisable watch in history — started long before its release in 1953. Twenty-seven years earlier, a young swimmer names Mercedes Gleitz swam the English Channel with the first ever waterproof watch hanging from a cord around her neck. It was the ‘Oyster, a case sealed with a screw-down case back, a tight-fitting sealed crystal and a double-sealed screw-down crown. Rolex dealers advertised the Oyster watches by submerging them in fish tanks in their shop windows, which made them an immediate success.

The Oyster case had been developed from early pocket-to-wristwatch conversions, which had little more protection than a snap-shut hinged door over its movement. Hans Wilsdorf, father of Rolex, recognised this flaw and, taking inspiration from jar lids, created a watch that sat inside a sealed case whose front section had to be completely unscrewed to reveal the crown. This ‘hermetic’ watch was the inspiration for the watch that Mercedes swam with, using the same principles to seal it from the water.

A further development that helped make the Submariner legendary was that of the perpetual movement. The screw-down sealed crown was frustrating to undo to manually wind the movement, and frequent usage wore the rubber gaskets down, so Rolex, using unsuccessful developments from other manufacturers, invented a self-winding system that used an oscillating weight that spun 360 degrees with the wearers wrist movement. The oft-copied rotating bezel, pioneered on the Rolex Turn-O-Graph, was another feature that made it to the Submariner.

 

By 1953, all the components were available to Rolex to make the perfect diving watch. The legendary Jacques Cousteau helped to test the prototypes, and can be seen wearing one in ‘The Silent World, the Academy Award-winning documentary about the Mediterranean Sea.

The Submariner was a revelation. Water resistant to 100 metres, it was clear to read, solidly built and classically styled. The bracelet included a divers extension, too, which allowed the watch to be adjusted for use over a wetsuit without the need for tools. To the untrained eye, the Submariner has all but stayed the same since its inception — as they say: if it aint broke, dont fix it.

Subtle changes were made over the years, such as the inclusion of a date window, the COSC certification of the movement and slight dial changes to keep the Submariner looking fresh, but overall the DNA remained the same. The most significant changes were implemented recently with release of the 116610 in 2010, which features a larger case, ceramic bezel, updated movement, and refined bracelet and clasp. These updates brought the Rolex Submariner into the 21st century. It is a classic watch that represents the innovation of Hans Wilsdorf and is considered pretty much horological perfection.

KEY FACTS

  • The Submariner was the original watch of James Bond, appearing in nine of the films.
  • The Submariner 16610 Lunette Verde (Green Bezel) was released in 2003 to celebrate 50 years of the Submariner.
  • One of the rarest Submariners produced is the 168000, made for no more than nine months during 1987.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch in Focus – Breitling Chronomat

Breitling’s Navitimer is often given credit for being the world’s first calculator watch, and although it is a very successful model with plenty of accreditation, the history goes a little bit further back than that.

During the Second World War, Breitling engineers and watchmakers designed a watch that would revolutionise horology.

Before the age of calculators and computers, scientists, mathematicians, accountants and engineers were all reliant on slide rules and log tables to do their calculations, and Breitling wanted to create an all-in-one tool to make these day-to-day sums easier to achieve.

In 1941, Breitling patented an internal rotating slide rule that could be adjusted via the bezel, and released it for sale a year later in the new Chronomat. As Breitling’s flagship model, it has evolved to stay relevant to the needs of contemporary users; the original even considered the post-war frugality of many countries by marking the three, six and nine minute markers on the chronograph minute sub dial, the increment at which long distance calls were charged.

 

The Chronomat and the Navitimer —Breitling’s aviation offering —sat side by side as calculator watches until the 1980s when the flagship took a surprising turn. Computer technology was beginning to phase out the manual efforts of analogue calculators, and the Chronomat needed to become relevant again. The update came courtesy of Ernest Schneider, the man who resurrected Breitling after it was shut down in the seventies.

The new look Breitling Chronomat was the first to feature Schneiders bezel rider tab design. Designed at the behest of the ‘Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale Frecce Tricolori’(Tricolour Arrows Aerobatic Team), the professional everyman watch became the modern pilots watch, with the Navitimer flying the flag for the companys heritage. The focus was on clear design and easy usability; the riders were added to give grip while wearing pilots gloves and a larger crown was added for the same reason. If anyone were to be uncertain about the Chronmats new designation, Breitling even added an engraved image of a plane to the case back to clear things up.

 

The modern pilot angle was taken ever higher in 1996 with design influence from one of the most impressive planes ever built – the SR-71 Blackbird. The black dial and matt case made the Blackbird much more tool-like and purposeful compared to the standard polished version, much like its namesake.

A decade later, and with modern watches growing in size, the Chronomat Evolution was launched. Bigger, thicker and heavier, the Evolution proved that Breitling wanted to stay on top of the game, and as mechanical watches rose in popularity, so did the need to have an in-house movement.

Late 2009, Breitling announced the arrival of the B01 in-house movement, first appearing in the Chronomat B01. With the new movement, the case, dial and bezel design were also refreshed, keeping the Chronomat one of the best watches Breitling makes.

KEY FACTS

  • The Chronomat AB0110 is the first Breitling to be powered by the in-house B01 movement, which features a clever protective mechanism that allows the date to be changed at any time during the day without damage.
  • The Chronomat was the first Breitling watch to be released with the patented slide rule that Breitling are now famous for.
  • The four ‘tabs’ on the bezel were first introduced in 1982 as a struggling Breitling fought to stay afloat following the quartz revolution of the 1970’s.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch In Focus – Bremont Martin-Baker

Bremont watches may not have the long and winding history of some other, better known watch brands, but it does have a pair of enthusiastic engineers dedicated to making innovative and exciting timepieces that push the boundaries of technology and physics.

The strong ties with the aviation industry (and the interest Bremont generates from Air Force squadrons looking to furnish themselves with watches that can withstand the rigours of flight) led them to develop the Martin-Baker watch. The idea was to make a watch that could withstand the same testing a Martin-Baker ejector seat undergoes to prove itself satisfactory for operational use.

Martin-Baker started developing aircraft safety systems after the death of its co-founder Captain Baker, who died in an air crash in 1942. Now, each modern ejector seat system must be serviceable for the thirty year lifespan of the average jet fighter, during which it will undergo temperatures close to boiling and well below freezing, constant vibration, high accelerative forces in all directions and of course, possible ejection. These systems need to be properly tested to prove their air-worthiness, and Martin-Baker simulates all this at its testing facility in Buckinghamshire, making sure that every design is perfect. They leave nothing to chance.

Bremont’s prototype watch went through a voyage of discovery through the trials, bouncing back and forth from the drawing board to eliminate any issues that were unearthed. The hardest test to persevere was the vibration test – a machine that could simulate thirty years of operational vibration in just four hours. The test is so thorough that it even wears the tread down on the test manikin’s boots.

This meticulous procedure revealed that the movement needed shock protection independent of the case, and so traditional case mounts were dropped in favour of a rubber ring mounting system. This absorbed the vibrations satisfactorily, while also providing a secondary benefit: insulating the movement from extreme temperatures.

Bremont’s dedication to the Martin-Baker watch has earned them great respect from the aviation industry, with squadrons all around the world queuing up to get hold of the MBII edition. The MBI — the same watch with a different dial design — is only available to those who have used a Martin-Baker ejection system in active duty. The popularity of the watch was punctuated when an American U2 spy plane pilot sent photos to Bremont of the MBII on the edge of space.

These snapshots led to the limited edition U2 spy plane version of the MBII, built exclusively for U2 pilots. Thanks to that, plus Bremont’s ability to have its watches independently flight tested to suit client’s individual requirements, many other squadrons have ordered custom MBIIs since.

It would be easy to think that the MBII was a gimmick, but understanding the engineering expertise that went into creating it and its use within the aviation industry, it is clear that it is more than just another watch trying to establish an identity.

 KEY FACTS

  • The MBI is only available to people who have used a Martin-Baker ejection seat and experienced the spine-crushing 30g forces they exert.
  • If the barrel colour isn’t to your liking, you can have it swapped by Bremont for a different colour.Bremont subjected design prototypes to the same gruelling tests undertaken by Martin-Baker ejection seats.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch In Focus – Rolex Daytona

An evolution of simplicity, the Rolex Daytona continues to be the epitome of chronograph design since its birth in the sixties.

Rolex wasn’t one of the first manufacturers to produce a chronograph, but being the sportsman’s choice brand, the market demand made it inevitable. Several incarnations of chronograph were produced from the early to mid-twentieth century, using Valjoux movements rather than developing in-house ones.

At first, only a single-button chronograph was available, but the 1930s saw the introduction of the two-button chronograph. Where before the watch could only start, stop and reset in that order, this new movement allowed a pause in the timing before restarting.

The Rolex 3462 ‘Zerograph’ used such a movement, but was only produced in limited quantities due to lack of interest. The follow up 4500 (which saw the introduction of the Oyster case), 6232 and 3668 models also proved unpopular.

It wasn’t until several iterations more and three decades later that Rolex revived the name ‘Cosmograph’ for the 6239 in the early sixties. This was the first version of the iconic watch we see today, partly because of the move of the tachymeter from the chapter ring to the bezel, but predominantly because of the addition of the word ‘Daytona’on the dial, taken from the three-and-a-half mile long Daytona International Speedway in Florida.

The next classic Oyster touch came in the late sixties, when Rolex developed screw-down pushers for the 6240. Early chronograph pushers were only sealed with a gasket, but the screw-down pushers both sealed the watch from water and prevented the pushers being used and breaking that seal when submerged.

The Daytona was revamped to the current shape in 1988 as the 16520 model, when the rugged but not entirely sophisticated Valjoux movement was swapped for a Zenith El Primero. The Zenith movement was tweaked from 36,000 vibrations per hour to 28,800 for a greater power reserve and longer working life. Later, from 2000, when Zenith could no longer provide the volume of movements that Rolex required, an in-house movement was produced for the 116520 model. It became one of the most sought after watches ever.

The most desirable Daytona, however, has to be the exotic ‘Paul Newman’ dial, available through model numbers 6239, 6240, 6241, 6262, 6263, 6264 and 6265. Believed to be the watch given to actor Paul Newman by his wife Joanne, the real reason for the popularity of the watch is uncertain. Some say that it was because Paul wore it on the poster for the 1969 movie Winning, and others say it was because Paul wore it on the front cover of a popular Italian magazine.

Either way, the contrasting colour dial and sub-dials, the cross hairs and block markers on each sub-dial, and the contrasting inner track all combine to make it the most desirable Daytona of all.

New or old, the Rolex Daytona is a handsome timepiece and one worthy of the enormous following it generates. Its popularity can only continue growing.

KEY FACTS

  • The 6239, launched in 1963, was the first Rolex chronograph to feature the word ‘Daytona’ on the dial.
  • The Daytona is named after the 2.5 mile long Daytona International Speedway in Florida.
  • Eric Clapton’s 1971 ‘Albino’ Daytona sold for $505,000 at auction in 2008.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch In Focus – Cartier Santos

Alberto Santos-Dumont was born in 1873 to a wealthy family in Brazil. When Santos-Dumonts father became paralysed after falling off his horse, the family sold up and moved to Paris in 1891. Here, Santos-Dumont began to explore his love of automobiles and aviation. 

Very quickly, he moved on from taking hot air balloon rides as a passenger to piloting them himself, including models of his own design. The immediate flaw of the balloon, he discovered, was the inability to steer, and he found they would be carried by the wind in whichever direction it was blowing. Santos-Dumont began to design steerable balloons called ‘dirigibles, and between 1898 and 1905 he designed, built and flew eleven different dirigible prototypes. 

Always the showman, he would fly his dirigible through the streets of Paris, barely skimming the rooftops; he was even known to arrive at restaurants in this style, much to the surprise and excitement of the patrons. Such was his skill at piloting his craft that he successfully won the Deutsch de la Meurthe prize, a 100,000 Franc reward for completing a lap from Parc de Saint-Cloud to the Eiffel Tower and back again in thirty minutes.

Watch Movement

Santos-Dumont took his craft around the world, winning admiration and respect — as well as more money — for his endeavours. He even met President
Roosevelt in 1904, who marvelled at his creation. His fame spread like wildfire; the rich began to mimic his style and his name was given to cities, airports and even craters on the moon.Heavier than air flight became a new obsession for Santos-Dumont, and by 1906 he had flown his own fixed wing aircraft ‘14-bis a distance of sixty metres. 

He was beaten by the Wright brothers to the first powered flight by just three years. Determined to make his aircraft better, he used wheels rather than skids to aid self-powered take-off (rather than the catapult launch used by the Wright brothers) and also added moveable surfaces to the wings to stabilise flight, which lead to the development of ailerons. Santos-Dumont was so enthusiastic about his planes that he gave away the blueprints for his last and bestaircraft for free.

What has this got to do with the Cartier? Well, as has already been mentioned, Santos-Dumont was a trend-setter, and a key figure in developing the fashion for wearing wrist watches. Wrist watches were generally favoured by women and pocket watches by men, but Santos-Dumont changed that. During his flight testing, he found it difficult to time his flights using his pocket watch, so he had his friend Louis Cartier make him a large wrist watch. The watch was so admired by Santos-Dumonts fans that in 1904 it became available to the public as the Cartier Santos.

Today, the Cartier Santos watch remains largely unchanged from its original design. The addition of models with subtle variations of the original — such as the Santos 100 XL have also appeared, expanding the range further. The classic appearance and fascinating history continues to make the Cartier Santos a very popular and successful watch.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch in Focus – Cartier Ballon Bleu

Cartier has always been pushing boundaries when it comes to watch style and design. Although other manufacturers have made their name by producing wonderfully exquisite and ornate movements, Cartier prefers to stun its audiences by making timepieces and accessories that have original visual appeal. You know when you are looking at a Cartier.

Rectangular watches are a staple diet for Cartier, the Tank and the Santos being two good examples, but that isnt the limits of Cartiers imagination when it comes to watch design. The Pasha, originally designed as a water-proof watch for the Pasha of Marrakech in 1933, has a grille covering the crystal and a chain securing the screw-down crown protector—details that would otherwise seem out of place, yet have proven very popular.

The Santos drew men away from their pocket watches and got them interested in wrist worn watches, previously considered to be a woman’s accessory. Design and fashion is something Cartier is very qualified to make decisions about, and the Cartier Ballon Bleu, launched in 2006, is evidence of that.

The name comes from the two most prominent details on the watch, the blue synthetic sapphire cabochon mounted in the crown, and the swollen, spherical shape of the case that’s reminiscent of a balloon. The cabochon is a trademark detail of Cartier, but the Ballon Bleu’s case shape is entirely unique. Its three-dimensional form is almost impossible to gauge via images alone, as is the incredible quality that allows the shape to be made.

Impressively, the case curves at a graduating rate that blends seamlessly into the domed crystal, really emphasising that balloon shape while also maintaining a smooth, simple appearance. The balloon knotis formed of a continuing loop around the crown, which also cuts into the crystal and is mirrored on the dial. The dial itself is classic Cartier, silver guilloche, small black hands and Roman numerals. The simplicity makes the watch; there is no doubt that the right balance has been achieved to make it both easy to use and good to look at.

Cartier hasnt stopped there with the Ballon Bleu. The 2011 Extra-Flat watch is large at 46mm but is also, as the name suggests, very thin. It still retains some of the original curve, but has of course been deflated to fit within the new svelte proportions. More excitingly for 2011 was the prototype ID One, a platform for demonstrating future technology in horology. The case, made from niobium-titanium, is hypo-allergenic and highly wear-resistant.

More interesting though is the zerodur hairspring and carbon crystal balance wheel, escape wheel and lever. Zerodur is a glass-like ceramic material with high magnetic and temperature resistance, and carbon crystal is a very hard, also glass-like material that requires no lubrication.

What this means collectively is that the ID One watch does not need regulation or adjustment at any point of its life—it is a completely maintenance-free watch. And this sums up Cartier nicely: the company doesnt do what people expect, but when it does do something, everybody pays attention. 

KEY FACTS

  • Cartier borrowed inspiration from Russian jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé for the guilloching that has become such a prominent feature on Cartier watches.
  • The spherical cabochon that decorates the crown on many Cartier watches is made from synthetic sapphire.
  • The Ballon Bleu extra-flat, debuted at Baselworld in 2011, is just 7.05mm thick

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch In Focus – Jaeger-LeCoultre AMVOX

The AMVOX may be one of the younger members of the Jaeger-LeCoultre family, but its history goes back much further than that. The relationship between luxury car maker Aston Martin and Jaeger-LeCoultre dates right back to the 1920s when Edmond Jaeger, still seventeen years off from joining forces with his friend Jacques-David LeCoultre, was making speedometers for Aston Martin cars.

Fast-forward to 2005, and Jaeger-LeCoultre and Aston Martin join forces once again to release the first of the AMVOX collection, the AMVOX I. The AMVOX Is design had a history of its own, as the compressor case and three crowns mimicked a very famous watch from Jaeger-LeCoultres past—the Polaris. Both watches featured a speciality of Jaeger-LeCoultres, the mechanical alarm.

For the AMVOX II, Jaeger-LeCoultre turned up the innovation a notch. This time, the watch sported not an alarm, but a chronograph instead. This doesn’t sound particularly innovative until the method used to control it is revealed: using the combination of a rocking two-part case and an incredibly technical lever system, Jaeger-LeCoultre managed to make a chronograph that can be started and stopped by pushing the top of the crystal and reset again by pushing the bottom. The lock on the side of the case also allows the user to prohibit accidental engagement of the chronograph.

A small sliver of cutaway at the bottom of the dial reveals the inner workings of the chronograph mechanism, anodised red to stand proud of the base plate. The dial remains similar to that of the AMVOX I, with the addition of red accents to compliment the racing pedigree of Aston Martin, as well as having rotating chronograph sub dials appearing through two small windows so as not to clutter the clean, classy dial.

For AMVOX number three, Jaeger-LeCoultre used another technology often seen in Aston Martin racing cars – ceramic. The GMT tourbillon movement is shrouded in a black ceramic case, with the platinum or pink gold tourbillon bridge on show through the dial. This series was limited to just three hundred pieces.

Very wisely, Jaeger-LeCoultre skipped AMVOX number four, as four is the number of death in many Asian countries. Jumping straight to AMVOX V, Jaeger-LeCoultre pushed the boundaries as far as they ever had before in the AMVOX line for the World Chronograph. This combined the ceramic case of the AMVOX III, the chronograph of the AMVOX II (this time controlled with pushers) and added a world time complication indicated by the chapter ring around the edge of the dial.

The most impressive of the Jaeger-LeCoultre AMVOX range is only available to you if you own an Aston Martin car. Using the start/stop mechanism from the AMVOX II chronograph, the watch incorporates a transponder that lets the user lock and unlock their car with the watch itself. All of the AMVOX collection mirrors the Aston Martin spirit to create new and exciting products that engage their users in passionate and exhilarating ways. I wonder what the next AMVOX will be like?

KEY FACTS

  • The AMVOX II features a chronograph that is controlled by pressing the top and bottom of the crystal, and also has a sliding lock to prevent accidental use .
  • Edmond Jaeger used to make speedometers for Aston Martin (upon which the dial design of the AMVOX is based) in the 1920’s before he teamed up with Jacques-David LeCoultre.
  • The AMVOX II Chronograph Racing celebrated the 2009 win at the legendary Le Mans 24 hour race for Aston Martin Racing, fifty years after their first win at that event.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch In Focus – Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso

The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso is a design that has held its own for the best part of a century, and is a design that is more than simply about aesthetics—it’s practical too. While watching a game of polo in India in the 1930s, a French industrialist called César de Trey—who had made a fortune in denture sales—spotted that many players had to take their watches off to avoid the crystals becoming cracked and shattered. The problem didn’t go unchallenged, because later de Trey approached his good friend and watchmaker Jacques-David LeCoultre who turned his idea into reality by the start of following Polo season.

The solution was simple, elegant and distinctly LeCoultre: a rectangular case was produced that could be reversed, displaying only the solid metal caseback and allowing the watch some resistance from the knocks ever-present in polo. The method used to flip the case over was ideal because it could be operated while still wearing the watch. It also lacked complexity, which would likely havecdeteriorated quickly in the harsh Indian environment.

But the Reverso became more than just a tool for sports players. Its distinct and classy design appealed to the wider public, the polished, curved caseback a blank canvas for engravings. The popularity of the Reverso spread as far as royalty, with the watch finding a home on the wrist of the short-lived king of England, Edward VIII. It even landed a trans-American flight on the wrist of Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the vast continent. That particular example came complete with an enamelled map of the trip on its reverse.

In 1994 the brand took the Reverso idea a stage further with the introduction of the Reverso Duo. The bare caseback was sacrificed for another dial, and a watch with two sides and two personalities was born. In the traditional Jaeger-LeCoultre way, both sets of hands were wound by one crown, yet were both independently adjustable, a complication that made the Duo even more impressive. Other complications found their way into the hallowed rectangular case, including Jaeger-LeCoultres masterpiece the gyro-tourbillon, a twin cage, double-axis tourbillon that required 373 parts to build.

To celebrate the Reversos 80th birthday, Jaeger-LeCoultre revitalised the original design with the Reverso ‘Ultra-Thin Tribute to 1931’, whose dial features just the word ‘Reverso’nas it did in its original incarnation. It is a reminder that the classic piece has remained faithful to its ancestry, and continues to be as charming and enticing as it was when it first went on sale. The Reverso may have the capability to hide its face, but many years of success have shown that it doesn’t have to. 

Key Facts

  • The original idea for the reversing case came from a denture tycoon following an aggressive polo match where he saw watch crystals smashed.
  • ‘Reverso,’ is the literal translation of ‘reverse’ into Portuguese, or ‘back’ into French, hinting at the articulate nature of the Reverso’s case.
  • The case of a Reverso may seem simple, but it comprises of at least fifty parts depending on the model. Removing the movement for a service is no easy task!

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

 

Watch in Focus – Breitling Navitimer

Breitling’s history with the aeronautical industry is based on a relationship built over many years that has led to the creation of watches specifically developed for pilots, by pilots. The trademark of Breitling’s DNA is most definitely the slide rule: developed following discussions with pilots from the AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association), Breitling released a chronograph watch that had a slide rule bezel fitted, allowing pilots to make calculations on air speed, distance travelled and fuel usage on the fly.

This model was called the Chronomat and was released in the early 1940s. Its success led to further discussions with AOPA, and followed with the release of the Breitling Navitimer in 1952, which had the AOPA logo printed on the dial. The AOPA club brochure claimed that the watch was ‘completely designed and engineered to AOPA specifications, and it must have been, because it became very successful.

Breitling’s contract with the Royal Air Force to supply cockpit clocks meant that the foundation for distribution of the Navitimer was already laid. Breitling’s reputation expanded further following contracts with Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed to supply cockpit clocks for their aircraft.

The air wasnt enough for Breitling, and in 1961, following a recommendation from NASA astronaut Scott Carpenter, the Navitimer was adapted to display a twenty-four hour clock on its dial instead of the usual twelve hour. The name ‘Cosmonaute was registered by Breilting, and in 1962, Carpenter wore his Cosmonaute into space aboard Mercury Atlas 7.

1968 saw the release of the big case Navitimers, the ‘Chronomatic, instantly recognisable with their rugged black bezel, octagonal case and square sub-dial hands. 1969 added the first automatic chronograph movement to the Navitimer (it is widely considered that the ‘El Primero was the first automatic chronograph movement; it was in fact the first integrated chronograph movement, but the Calibre 11, built as a joint effort between Breitling, Hamilton-Buren, Heuer-Leonidas and Dubois Depraz, came first, and was actually a modular automatic chronograph), narrowly beating the El-Primero as the first automatic chronograph on the market. The big case Navitimer was re-released as a special edition in 2006 in both twelve hour and twenty-four hour Cosmonaute versions.

The next significant change to the Navimter was the installation of Breitlings in-house B01 movement in 2010. Available in limited numbers—2,000 steel, 200 18 carat rose gold—they paved the way for the release of the standard B01-equipped Navitimers, as well as the introduction of the B01 into other models.

There have also been a handful of special edition Navitimers, offered specifically to individual air-forces and squadrons around the world, which appear very occasionally on the pre-owned market from time to time. These watches are special because they have mostly seen active service, such as the watches offered to RAF Red Arrows pilots to commemorate their time with the squadron.

The Navitimer is arguably the most famous Breitling ever made, and has managed the test of time well. Its classic shape and immediately recognisable looks make this tool watch the genuine article.

KEY FACTS

  • The dial on the limited edition Navitimer Caliber 01 is made from solid silver with the dial pattern etched in, filled with enamel and polished until flush
  • The Navitimer was the first watch to be worn in space by an American astronaut, Scott Carpenter, during the 1962 Aurora 7 mission
  • The circular slide rule can calculate multiplication, division, rate and distance of climb or descent, fuel consumption, speed, unit conversions, pulse rate and distance of thunder storms

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch in Focus – IWC Aquatimer

Between 1942 and 1946, French Naval Lieutenant Jacques-Yves Cousteau and engineer Emile Gagnan developed the Aqualung, a portable underwater breathing device that revolutionised diving. Previous self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) had consisted of clunky and awkward methods of continuously blowing air into a divers face, but the Aqualung used pressure valves release air only on demand. This meant that the equipment could be scaled down to a back-worn tank and mouthpiece, and didn’t require a sealed suit. Skin diving, as it was to be known, had begun.

Into the sixties, an increase in wealth, the ability to travel abroad on holiday and the reducing price of SCUBA equipment meant that it became more accessible and therefore more popular with the public. The National Association of Underwater Instructors was formed in 1960 to regulate and teach the increasing number of students with an interest in the sport. This lead the formation of PADI, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, in 1967.

Dive watches were generally about a decade ahead of the sport, but IWC didn’t release anything into the market until 1967. The first Aquatimer—using a super-compressor case made by EPSA, a company that also manufactured cases for the likes of Jaeger-LeCoultre—was water-resistant to 200 metres. The super-compressor case allowed the watch to have a rotating internal bezel as it did not require screw-down crowns to make it water-tight. It used IWCs ingenious Pellaton winding system with its built-in shock protection.

In 1982 IWC wowed audiences again with the first titanium diver’s watch, this time with ten times the water resistance at 2,000 metres. Designed by Porsche, the single most impressive feature of the watch was its lack of helium escape valve—instead off ollowing in the footsteps of manufacturers that had spent a lot of money developing their versions of the HEV, they produced a case that was just outright strong enough to cope with the strain of decompression.

The GST came next in 1997, available in titanium and steel, and was also rated to a depth of 2,000 metres. The simple design and integrated bracelet was classic IWC design, and the push-to-turn external bezel was a stroke of design genius, making the GST one of the most sought-after Aquatimers. The GST bowed out with the GST Deep One in 1999. It previewed the look for the 2000 range of Aquatimers, which returned to the original internal rotating bezel and featured a depth gauge built into the case.

The next range of IWC Aquatimer had a fresh design, losing the integrated bracelet and internal rotating bezel. Instead they gain a luminescent, sapphire glass bezel for easy low-light reading, as well as a super-legible face. As always, the quality is up with the best, and the patented Pellaton winding system continues to provide power. This was recently replaced by an entirely new design.

IWC has taken a steadfast approach to making its divers, using simplistic engineering rather than fanciful unnecessary technologies, and as such their Aquatimers are among the hardiest—and best—divers available to buy.

KEY FACTS 

  • The 1970’s Aquatimer Ocean 2000 was designed by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, who also created the Porsche 911.
  • The Aquatimer GST Deep One was the first wrist watch to feature a mechanical depth gauge.
  • Jamie Foxx wore an Aquatimer chronograph in the 2006 movie ‘Miami Vice’.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch In Focus – SevenFriday P1-04

In 1975, the car manufacturer British Leyland went bankrupt. There were many contributing factors — bad product, striking workers, confused marketing — but one reason stood out among the others: the cars produced in the Far East were not only better, but cheaper, too. These were cars that could be trusted to start on a cold morning, that rust could be considered an if instead of a when with, and weren’t assembled by a disgruntled worker from badly-fitting panels and cheap fixings. It was the start of the shrinking of the world, the era of a global economy that turned isolated continents into links in a financial chain.

SevenFriday P1/04

That was then, and this is now; today we have the internet, the remnants of a global financial melt-down, and a change in the tide as the Far East grows ever more capable. Remember when Made in China was a byword for cheap rubbish? Not any more.

The growth of China’s industry has been impressive to say the least, and now it’s home to a vast chunk of the world’s industry.

But there has been another change, this time a little closer to home. Swiss watches have been rising in price at a stomach-churning rate, and many people who aspired to own a Rolex or an Omega are left chasing an RRP that’s spiralling out of control. So what does this mean for the watch enthusiast that can’t (or won’t) pay £5,000 for a new Submariner? This is the stomping ground of the new-school watchmakers, and one of them is SevenFriday.

Founding the company in 2012, brand owner and creator Daniel Niederer set about challenging one of the oldest industries in the world by taking his manufacturing to China. More about that in a minute.

What we have here is one of three colourful additions to the P1 family, the P1/04 Blue. There’s an orange and a green version too, all as bold and bright as this one here. The PVD’d steel case is wrapped in a supple layer of blue rubber, and the stacked dial offers a glimpse of the beating heart inside. It’s a big watch, but it wears well, the straps pivoting from just inside the case rather than from extruded lugs as is the norm. The details are well thought-out and pleasing without being fussy, giving the P1/04 a unique persona that doesn’t get annoying in the way an overtly-outgoing friend can.

SevenFriday P1/04 Case

Everything here is made and assembled in China (the design is done in Zurich), right down to the powerhouse that drives the disk-like hands. In the nineties and early noughties that would have rung alarm bells in any sensible watch-buyers head, but not today. The specification is good, fit-and-finish is exemplary; it feels like a watch worth many thousands of pounds, perhaps even — in this world of boutique specials — tens of thousands. The price is actually a startling £850, and for that you get a handsome leather strap with a sumptuous suede upper.

SevenFriday P1/04 Caseback

Don’t let the lack of Swiss Made on the dial is hold you back, long live SevenFriday.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch In Focus – Oris Aquis Depth Gauge

Since the introduction of quartz movements, programmable computers and micro-sensor technology, the mechanical dive watch has become to diving what the horseshoe is to motoring. The day of the tool watch, with its ticking, clicking, pulsing innards, is done, dead, gone. Or is it?

Oris Watches

When the Aqua-Lung – Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s self-contained underwater breathing apparatus – was developed in 1945, divers had no choice but to go mechanical. One wrist was for time, the other for depth, and that was how things were done. Today, a single, cheap watch can do all of that and more, including recording dive logs and calculating decompression times, making its mechanical granddad well and truly redundant.

Oris

That sounds pretty much like the death knell for the mechanical dive watch, but then so did the introduction of quartz movements for mechanical watches in general – but it wasn’t. Quite the opposite, in fact, because now mechanical watches are more popular than ever. Why? Because in a world of technological speed and stress, the simplicity and comfort of out-dated practices comes as something of a reassurance, a comfort. We drive to get somewhere; we walk to relax. We have gas central heating; we fit a roaring wood fire. We have advanced dive computers; we dive with our mechanical watches.

Oris Aquis Depth Gauge

Championing the future of the affordable mechanical dive watch (and affordable they should be; after all, even Rolex released a cheap, non-chronometer version of their Submariner for divers with tighter budgets – the 5513) is Oris, whose dive watches have long offered fantastic value for money. This, the Aquis Depth Gauge, is no exception, offering a solid 500 metres of water resistance and fantastic build for just £2,100. But there’s more to it than that, because the Aquis Depth Gauge has achieved the unachievable: developing an affordable, mechanical Depth Gauge.

There have been watches with mechanical depth gauges before – the IWC Deep One and Two, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Pro Diving Geographic, the Blancpain X-Fathoms, the Panerai Submersible Depth Gauge – but none that adhere to the tradition of affordability.

So how did Oris do it? Well, the mechanics here are purely theoretical, because there isn’t a moving part in sight. Using a channel cut into the double-thick sapphire crystal and a calibrated scale printed on the underside, Oris took advantage of the Boyle-Mariotte law to produce a self-actuating depth gauge. Because gas is compressed proportionally with increasing pressure, the math is quite simple (P=k/V if you’re interested), but it takes a previously unattainable level of precision to cut the channel accurately enough for use.

Oris Diving Watch

And it works. Well. As water enters the channel, the cloudy sapphire becomes much darker, and the divide between gas and liquid from which the depth is read is clearly defined. It would take a deep dive (or a night dive) for it to be too dark to read, and that’s probably the point where you should leave nostalgia behind and just use a proper dive computer anyway.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch In Focus – Patek Philippe 5101P

It doesn’t take a genius to spot why this Patek Philippe is special. The text may be small, it may be squeezed onto the seconds sub-dial, but it’s there, unobstructed for around thirty seconds of every minute: ‘tourbillon’. In a world of triple-axis tourbillons and even more besides, a plain jane tourbillon may not seem that special, but cast your thoughts back to 2003 when crazy complications were much thinner on the ground—that’s when this 5101P showed up as one of the pioneers of the recent tourbillon obsession.

Patek Philippe

This was a time when Urwerk’s most outlandish piece was four-fifths plain steel, and a whole year before the tourbillon-wielding master Greubel Forsey even existed. It was also the year of the tourbillon. Of course, the tourbillon already existed in one way or another since its invention by Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1801, but for whatever reason 2003 saw an explosion of the things. Among them was the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Platinum Number Two; Piaget’s calibre 600P, what was then the world’s thinnest tourbillon at just 4.5mm thick; and of course Patek Philippe’s 5101P.

Patek Philippe 5101P

The 5101P wasn’t Patek Philippe’s first tourbillon, but it was unusual. Almost all tourbillon watches made by Patek Philippe came packed with complications, whereas the 5101P’s tourbillon was—aside from the impressive ten-day power reserve—alone as a complication within the calibre 28-20/222. And even more bizarre by today’s standards is the solid dial with no window through to the tourbillon itself: the watch has to be turned over to view it through the sapphire caseback. You can almost imagine a fifty-fifty split on votes when the design team were deciding whether or not to evenvthe sapphire caseback.

Patek Philippe Watch

Movement aside, the 5101P is an odd-looking thing. The tonneau case is curved (although the dial and the movement are not, making the watch quite thick) and has art deco-esque steps on the sides.

To compensate for the reservedness of the hidden tourbillon, a lone diamond twinkles at six o’clock from within its platinum recess, and the copper dial flashes with texture, sending the imagination to the gleam of a not-quite-new penny. Even the hands and numerals, presented in a deep gloss black, seem like a choice made by the wildcard member of the Patek Philippe design team.

Patek Philippe Watches

Perhaps that’s what the 5101P is: a project from the skunkworks of Patek Philippe, where watchmakers let their hair down and express their inner rebels. With the Swiss being as reserved as they are and Patek Philippe even more so, the quirks of the 5101P could be easily explained as such. And it’s a cool watch. It’s not a pretty watch, but it’s a cool watch. It’s got a feeling of passion about it.

Patek Philippe can come across a little dry and sterile at times, but there’s no worry of that happening here. I wonder if the people involved in making the 5101P ever have pangs of nostalgia mixed with a tightening wistfulness as they—not often, but sometimes—remember the time they made this outlandish benchmark timepiece? They probably do.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch In Focus – Panerai Radiomir 1940

There’s something about the Italians that attracts an almost religious following. Take Ferrari’s Tifosi by way of an example; their dedication to the supercar manufacturer could make even the Pope feel a little unloved. The same phenomenon is seen with Officine Panerai and the Paneristi. They’re nothing short of the highest order of Panerai fanatics, committed to the brand with steadfast allegiance.

Panerai

But we aren’t all Paneristi – or Tifosi for that matter – and that raises a question: does Panerai make watches that everyone wants, or just the ones the Paneristi want? Historically, the Paneristi have lapped up watches that leave the average watch buyer cold, and the common theme tends to be size. Panerai aren’t noted for making small, discreet watches – if anything, their watches seem to be getting bigger.

Panerai Watches

Panerai’s collection can be broken down into four main categories: the Radiomir, the Luminor 1950, the Luminor and the Submersible, each one representing a stage in the development of Guido Panerai’s military watch. And now there’s a fifth: the Radiomir 1940. The Radiomir 1940 introduces another development stage from – unsurprisingly – the 1940s, and fits smack bang between the Radiomir and the Luminor 1950. It has a Radiomir case, Luminor lugs, and a Rolex-style crown (because Rolex were supplying parts at the time).

Panerai Radiomir

Does the Radiomir 1940 answer our question? Well, yes and no. No, because Panerai have released a special edition Paneristi version, and yes because it’s the most elegantly proportioned watch Panerai have ever made. Thanks in part to the hand-wound P.999/1 in-house movement, the Radiomir 1940 PAM00512 is not only relatively small in diameter, but in thickness too.

A general bugbear has been the recent outward growth of Panerai watches making them much too thick to fit under any cuff – let alone that of a shirt – and the 512 finally resolves this. Even though the proportions aren’t faithful to the original 1940s Radiomir, the smaller size feels much more authentically vintage.

Panerai Radiomir 1940

So rather than being a top heavy, unbalanced lump that reminds you of its presence every time you move your wrist, the 512 disappears, only surprising you with its sumptuous good looks when you retract your sleeve to take a look at the time. It’s a strangely refreshing experience, the end of a frustrating period of admiring Panerais in pictures and being ultimately disappointed by the size, and also hopefully the beginning of a new direction for the brand.

Don’t worry though if you are a Paneristi or a fan of the bigger Panerais – the Radiomir 1940 comes in the traditional, bicep-building 47mm as well. Vive la différence.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch in Focus – Zenith Ultra Thin

In light of news that former Zenith CEO Jean-Frédéric Dufour—the man who turned Zenith around following some less prosperous times (and pieces)—has moved to the captain’s chair at Rolex has sprouted a certain nostalgic desire to dig out one of Zenith’s transcendent pieces, the Ultra Thin. The Ultra Thin is, second to the El Primero itself, a bedrock for Zenith, a steady pulse in times both good and bad. Inspired by the clean vintage look popular for most of the twentieth century, it leaves the clutter of modern design behind in favour of saying few words, but choosing them well.Zenith

As any designer will tell you, getting simplicity right is much harder than getting busy right; the emptiness of a clean design leaves less distraction to draw the eye away from awkward layout or unflattering proportions. A millimetre out and the design’s ruined, a millimetre back and balance is reaffirmed. The Ultra Thin has achieved this mystical state of ideal balance, which is why it has remained untouched throughout all the big changes that have gone on at Zenith in years gone by.

To describe the Ultra Thin seems almost sacrilegious, but it’s worth a try: the markers are raised three-sided pyramids with a twin marker at twelve, a vintage-inspired detail that lends itself perfectly to the watch; the hands, slender and understated, are easy to read at a glance without overpowering the dial thanks to a strong contrast between the two; and the dial itself is a deep black that appears to fall to infinity until the moment the light catches its faint golden sunburst.

Individually, these details don’t sound like anything special, and that in itself demonstrates just how well executed the Zenith Ultra Thin is. And that’s before the watch’s party trick is mentioned: it’s thin—ultra thin. Only 8.3mm fills the gap between the highest tip of the crystal and the lowest flat of the case. That’s half the thickness of a TAG Heuer Carrera—half. There’s no cheating with a manual movement, either, because the calibre Elite 681 is fully automatic and has a handy fifty-hour power reserve, too. You even get a clear sapphire caseback through which to admire Zenith’s handiwork.

It’s reassuring that, despite the comings and goings of pieces like the Defy Xtreme, the Ultra Thin has maintained its popularity and, as a result, its presence in Zenith’s lineup. The transition in CEO from Nataf to Dufour saw the rebadging of this great watch as the ‘Captain’ Ultra Thin, but Dufour had the clever sense to leave the dial untouched. Fingers crossed that Aldo Magada, Dufour’s replacement, does the same. After all, as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And it definitely ain’t broke.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch In Focus – Longines Heritage Military 1938

The idea of a military watch tends to render something a false impression in the mind’s eye. When we think of military equipment, we think of armour-plated battle monsters, brim full of weaponry and gadgetry to strike fear into the hearts of the enemy, but the reality is something quite different. Like anything designed to operate where the user is in serious danger of losing their life, the brief is simplicity, quite literally. Hardware should do its job in the least complicated way possible, no more no less, whether its purpose is to be a bristling mega-tank or a straightforward wristwatch. In the arena of war, failing equipment is not an option.

With time being such a critically important aspect of warfare, a military, standard-issue timepiece needs to be as simple as they get, and the same is as true now as it was in 1938 where the origins of this Longines reissue reside. Clean, simple, uncluttered, the Heritage Military 1938 collection honours a snapshot of wartime military issue, and isn’t a million miles away from the current British armed forces CWC wristwatch – albeit with a beating mechanical heart instead of a ticking quartz one.

Longines is a hugely respectable brand, and although it still flies somewhat under that radar, more people are beginning to take notice of it. The release of the hugely popular Legend Diver sparked a revived interest in their heritage pieces, and thanks to the company’s extensive back-catalogue, it’s a formula they’ve been able to replicate with consistent success since. But don’t think that Longines are relying on heritage alone, because these reissue pieces are extremely well made, a technological improvement over the originals. Using modern materials and techniques, the pieces benefit from increased reliability and durability without losing their vintage charm.

And that’s something else they have, a quality you can’t see, or touch, or measure. Longines watches have soul, character, something that makes you want to own them. Often, a buying decision is based on the balance between the head and the heart, but in the case of Longines, both can be had in the same purchase. With the Heritage Military 1938 – and with pretty much all the other Heritage pieces for that matter – there’s a feeling of genuine desirability, and its probably because they don’t leave a single box un-ticked. Rich heritage? Yes. Attractive? Check. Affordable? Very. Reliable? One of the best.

The Heritage 1938 collection also includes a GMT and a very attractive twin-register chronograph, but don’t think of this as a review of a single watch, or even of those three; the Heritage 1938 is a doorway to a world of keenly priced, achingly good-looking watches from a been-there-done-that watchmaker that deserves far more attention. If there’s something Longines has learned from its years supplying watches to the military, it’s how to do something cleanly, simply and really damn well.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch in Focus – Rolex Sea-Dweller 4000

When the Sea-Dweller was discontinued, it would have been considered a safe bet to assume a new version was on its way soon. The Submariner had been updated to the new chunkier style the year before and the GMT-Master II a year before that. The announcement of a Sea-Dweller for the new millennium was what betting types would call a ‘sure thing’.

Rolex

But we were presented instead with the Deepsea, a forty-four millimetre slice of billet steel and thick crystal, a monster by Rolex standards and a huge divider of opinions. That was six years ago, and only now have Rolex given in and presented hungry watch buyers with what they really wanted all along: a new Sea-Dweller.

And it’s exactly what you’d expect. It’s well made, has a ceramic bezel, a chunkier case, comes with a superb bracelet (that’s not quite as good as its bigger brother’s) and, price-wise, sits dead in the middle of the Submariner and the Deepsea. If the near-£7,000 RRP is no problem for you, it’s a watch that won’t bite you with any nasty surprises, and is sure to carry the rock-solid residuals of its stainless-steel brethren.

Rolex Sea-Dweller
As a nod to the first Sea-Dwellers, the 4000’s dial has a satin finish in contrast to the gloss of the Deepsea

There are a few unexpected touches (and by touches I mean the lightest of brushes — this is Rolex after all), such as the satin dial, the gradated minute markers on the bezel and the thicker caseback, all nods to the brand’s diving heritage. There is of course the addition of a helium escape valve (side note: contrary to popular belief, the helium escape valve has nothing to do with a watch’s ability to be submerged in water. The valve simply acts as a release, allowing the build up of helium to expel safely during decompression in a hyperbaric chamber, rather than popping the crystal off) and the removal of the date cyclops, à la the original Sea-Dweller. Water resistance remains untouched at 4,000 feet.

A helium escape valve protects against crystal blowout following
a deep-sea saturation dive

Needless to say, the new Sea-Dweller will perform a lot better for Rolex than the Deepsea did. The Submariner will always be king of the three when it comes to outright sales, but the Sea-Dweller’s name (and more wearable proportions) will draw fans in their thousands. Why Rolex held off making it for so long, we’ll never know — maybe the Deepsea was a toe in the water to evaluate the trend in larger watches. Or perhaps it seemed, to the people at Rolex, like a logical evolution in the Sea-Dweller line.

 

Haters of the Rolex cyclops date magnifier will be pleased that the Sea-Dweller does without one

Whatever the Deepsea was supposed to be, the designers at Rolex still pay their dues to it in the design of the new Sea-Dweller. In among all the historical influences and traditional touches, there’s a nod — albeit a subtle one — to the gentle giant of Rolex.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch In Focus – Omega Aqua Terra

Omega has always been a good brand. Excellent, in fact. Omega watches are quality items, packed with know-how and heritage, and they’ve worn a comfortable groove as the go-to alternative choice to Rolex. But that’s unfair, right? Omega’s heritage rivals Rolex’s easily, and the watches from the two manufacturers can go head-to-head all day every day. So why does Omega play second fiddle to the five-pointed crown? The management at Omega must have asked itself the same question, because the last few years have been the Biel factory’s most bountiful in recent times.

 
Omega Aqua Terra
Rewind ten years ago, and Omega was announcing a jewellery line and a GMT version of the Seamaster Professional. Yawn. At Baselworld 2014, there’s been a re-edition of the Seamaster 300, the Speedmaster Mark II (racing dial included) and this, the Aqua Terra Master Co-Axial. And that’s following a year of the likes of Bullheads and ceramic Speedmasters. These are watches to get properly excited by, demonstrations that the old dog can still turn out a trick or two. While Rolex is teasing people with the watches they want but will never be able to afford (I’m looking at you, Pepsi bezel), Omega is making the watches they’ll actually be buying.
Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra
The stripes on the Aqua Terra’s dial are inspired by the teak decks of luxury yachts

The pick of the bunch this year is the Aqua Terra Master Co-Axial. The Speedmaster Mark II is tempting, you bet it is, and the Seamaster 300 didn’t make the choice any easier, but the Aqua Terra is more than just a watch: it’s a line in the sand, a battle cry across the no-mans land between the Omega factory and the Rolex factory that bellows, ‘We’re coming to take that crown!’

Disagree? Think the Aqua Terra Master Co-Axial is the least interesting of the bunch? Let’s explain. The new Aqua Terra has a few choice tweaks over the outgoing model that earn its right as champion: the name has changed slightly, which is reflected on the dial; the metal frame around the date window has gone; oh, and it gets the incredible anti-magnetic movement from the Aqua Terra >15,000 Gauss.

Omega Aqua Terra watches
The anti-magnetic movement from the Aqua Terra >15,000 Gauss features here, too
Let’s be honest: when we saw the concept >15,000 Gauss, we all thought it was a one-off marketing ploy to put the horse-shoe-shaped logo under our noses. But no, here it is, in a watch that costs less than Rolex’s Submariner and looks just as good (if not better). This prolific use of non-magnetic parts is probably the biggest leap in watchmaking tech since the co-axial escapement, and even more practical. And yet it comes without the sacrifice of quality. The teak-deck dial abounds with surprising details, the hands and markers are sculpted with multiple finishes, the updated calibre 8500 manages to look stunning despite the rotor weight taking up half the view.
The calibre 8500 now has its key moving parts made from non-magnetic materials

With Rolex RRPs wafting up on the economic thermals of the Far East, now is Omega’s best chance to seize the throne and fully regain the reputation it once had. With watches like the Aqua Terra Master Co-Axial on the front line, it could happen sooner than you think.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch In Focus – Breitling Chronomat 44

Breitling is the yeast extract-based spread of watchmaking. Some people can’t get enough of them, others wouldn’t even wear one on a bet, but either way we’ve all heard of the brand. Pre-quartz revolution, Breitling watches were the go-to tools of the experts, found on the wrists of pilots, engineers, scientists and even astronauts, but post-quartz revolution, well—let’s just say that Breitling seems to have taken a little longer than most finding its groove.

Breitling Watches

The result of this was an abundance of confusingly similar models, leaving newcomers with a muddle of watches to choose from. Breitling has recently managed to consolidate its lines, leaving some that honour the brand’s illustrious past and others that look to future. The cherry on the cake was the brand’s first new in-house chronograph movement since the quartz revolution, the B01. That was launched five years ago, and it was released to a rumbling of questions: Is it going to be expensive? Will it be reliable? Is there enough demand for it?

Breitling Chronomat
The 18k gold hands and markers create a mild but pleasing contrast against the white dial

It’s been long enough to answer those questions now, and it seems that any concerns were unfounded. Lets not forget that this isn’t the first time Breitling’s been involved in the development of a chronograph movement: in the sixties, the watchmaker collaborated with TAG Heuer (then Heuer) and others to develop the Calibre 11, the world’s first integrated automatic chronograph movement. The B01 too is a tremendous achievement, costing millions to produce, and is well specced with a 70-hour power reserve, vertical clutch and column wheel at its heart.

With the in-house movement comes a marked improvement in build quality, with the Chronomat here exhibiting slick detailing throughout. Finishes are reference level, tolerances millimetre perfect, the balance of luxury well-judged. On paper, the Chronomat 44 is the ideal flagship for Breitling’s range, carrying a proud heritage forward. Pricing is about right, too, sitting £1,000 less than Rolex’s Daytona.

A science-fiction–inspired font lines the
bezel, and it’s a choice not everyone is sure about

But it’s not all cake and party hats, because it seems that Breitling still hasn’t been able to shake the last of its uncertain years. Where some details impress, others confuse. Why does the crown guard bulge and dip towards the pushers in such an awkward way? Why is there a square in the middle of the dial made up of lines, one edge of which steps around the logo? And who on Earth picked that retro-futuristic space-age font for the bezel? Erase that shaky judgement with the mind’s eye and you’ll see a very handsome watch, but unfortunately reality must be faced: those niggling little foibles really are there.

Breitling’s in-house chronograph—its first for
decades—remains hidden under the caseback

Still, it’s a step in the right direction and if, while we wait for the flagship Chronomat to take on a more resolved form, we still have a hankering for a Breitling with that excellent B01 inside, there’s the vintage-inspired Navitimer 01 to tide us over. Breitling’s time is yet to come, but be patient—it’s coming, and it’s coming soon.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch in Focus – The Rolex Deepsea D-Blue

Movie tie-ins? Limited edition colours? Hip hop-esque naming conventions? The last company you’d associate that little list with is Rolex, but sure enough, the Deepsea D-Blue ticks all of them. Released to celebrate the premiere of James Cameron’s diving epic, Deepsea Challenge 3D, the Deepsea D-Blue says more about the future of Rolex as a company than it does about itself.

Rolex Deepsea

But first, the details: in 2012, James Cameron sank to the lowest point on Earth, a part of the Mariana Trench called ‘Challenger Deep’. On the outside of his vessel (named Deepsea Challenger) was strapped an extreme version of the Rolex Deepsea, which performed flawlessly for the entire eleven-kilometre journey to the bottom. The new D-Blue honours the triumph of both James Cameron and the tech he took with him with a handful of colourful nods, the most obvious being the blue-black gradient on the dial, representing the ominous view Cameron would have experienced as he sank deeper and deeper into the abyss.

Rolex Deepsea D-Blue
The blue dial sinks to a deep black, imitating
the view James Cameron had from his submarine

The other change over the standard Deepsea is the transference of the word ‘Deepsea’ from the top half of the dial to the bottom. The text is pumped up a few point sizes and coloured bright green, the same as that on Cameron’s sub. And that’s where the differences end. The D-Blue has the same 44mm steel case, the same ceramic bezel and stepped rehaut ring, the same titanium caseback insert and fantastically engineered bracelet. Verbally delivered, the changes for the D-Blue special edition seem, well, crass; to see for yourself, they are surprisingly tasteful.

Deepsea D-Blue
Like Cameron’s sub, the Deepsea Challenger, the
Deepsea D-Blue makes use of a vivid green

It comes as no surprise that this turnaround in unwritten company policy (imagine a Concorde special edition GMT-Master, or a limited edition F1 Daytona . . . no? Exactly) sits alongside the introduction of Jean-Frédéric Dufour as Rolex’s new CEO. Fresh from revitalising Zenith following an odd run under Thierry Nataf, Dufour’s credentials are well-known and impressive. The D-Blue may or may not have been devised just before his appointment, but the very fact that it sits in jeweller’s windows is a promising sign for the future of the brand.

Dufour’s approach to Zenith could almost be carbon-copied over to Rolex with little opposition from fans; in fact discussions are already in full flow between eager speculators, wondering what Dufour’s first signature piece will be. With sister company Tudor doing so well with its Heritage line, and Zenith designs borrowing more than a pinch from its back catalogue, Rolex—with Dufour in charge—may well be heading into an era of historic designs that will make their mark for future generations

Rolex Watch
The tech spec of the watch is the same as the standard
model, keeping it sealed down to 3,900m
 
The D-Blue is a nice watch if you already like the standard Deepsea, but it’s so much more than that: it’s a turning point in the previously staid development of Rolex, a nudge back on track to becoming the pioneering watch brand it once was. We’re rooting for you, Jean-Frédéric. We’re rooting for you.
[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]

Watch in Focus – IWC Ingenieur Double Chronograph

Over half a century ago, IWC introduced an antimagnetic watch to fulfil the needs of engineers during advances in the understanding of electricity. Balance springs, being the delicate things they are, tend to bind together when magnetised, speeding up a watch and eventually stopping it. By utilising a soft-iron inner case, IWC protected the movement from magnetic fields to very high levels, and that was that. Except it wasn’t, because now there’s the Ingenieur Double Chronograph Titanium.

IWC Ingenieur
 

The reason for this brief history lesson will become clear, but first, take a moment to read a line quoted from IWC’s press release regarding the new watch: ‘In order to reduce weight and height . . . the watch does away with a soft-iron inner case.’ Over fifty years on from the original Ingenieur, it’s time to take stock of what this iconic model has become.

IWC’s on-again-off-again relationship with Mercedes-Benz is currently in an on period with a lucrative deal to sponsor the car manufacturer’s F1 team. It’s a good fit—speed, engineering, heritage—but it comes at a cost. To cater for the Mercedes partnership, a more sporting complication has been added to the watch, which necessitated the removal of the feature that originally made the Ingenieur the Ingenieur.

IWC Ingenieur Watch
The titanium case may be large at 45mm, but at 130g it’s lighter than expected, 115g lighter than in steel

All that aside, the watch is everything it aims to be. Clearly positioned for fans of large, sporty watches, its not inconsiderable size is absorbed weight-wise with the use of titanium. The muted finish lends a sense of purpose, even if we all know the folks on the pit wall are staring at digital times on computers rather than analogue times on their wrists.

As with all things IWC, it’s a very well made watch. Vulcanised rubber is used to coat the pushers, giving them an appropriately grippy finish and contrasting the black and blue dial nicely. The dial itself is bold and clear, feeling technical and functional while also displaying enough design detail to not come across as lazy or unfinished. The three-dimensional layering seems well thought out, packaging the time, day-date and chronograph functions without clutter or distraction.

IWC Ingenieur Chronograph
The chronograph gets twin second hands to ‘split’ recorded times on the fly using an extra pusher

The focus of this piece is it’s ability to measure split time, thanks to its double chronograph calibre 79420. Based loosely on the ETA 7750, it arrives at IWC in kit form, has most of the original ETA parts binned and is transformed into something worthy of the IWC name. The modifications include the addition of the double chronograph mechanism (hence the removal of the soft-iron inner case to accommodate it), a design originally developed by former IWC watchmaker Richard Habring.

It may seem that IWC has ignored its roots with the Ingenieur Double Chronograph Titanium, and in a way it has, but not to its detriment. For those who think it’s too big, or needs a soft-iron core, there exists the IW3239, a more honest nod to the Ingenieur’s heritage. The original Ingenieur was made for engineers and catered for the market of the time; today, it’s made for a different set of people, and they want something a bit bigger, a bit sportier and packed with clever tech. For them, IWC has really hit the mark.

[Note: This is an updated post of a Guest Article published earlier on our website by Gary Robery from Watchfinder.co.uk]