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Taking place on July 19, Sotheby’s thematic auction to mark the 1969 Moon landing – Omega Speedmaster: To the Moon and Back, Celebrating 50 years since Apollo 11 – is all about the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch, plus a handful of watch accessories and lunar paraphernalia.

The auction is 50 lots, covering a variety of Speedmaster models, starting from the very affordable to “grail” references like the ref. 2915-1 and “Alaska III”  prototype. For those interesting in a lot-by-lot opinion of the sale, check out the article written by Speedmaster enthusiast William Roberts over at speedmaster101.com.

Here’s a look at a couple of highlights.

Lot 10 – Speedmaster ref. 2915-1

The ref. 2915-1 is substantially different from the later Moonwatches but is the one that started it all, being the very first reference of the Speedmaster ever. Its particular combination of features – steel bezel, “broad arrow” hands, straight lugs – give it a distinct and appealing look compared to the later Speedmasters.

This particular appears correct, albeit showing its age. The wear seems pretty even throughout, from the case to dial to back, and is detailed in Sotheby’s condition report.

According to the extract, it was delivered to Mexico in 1958, a year after the model was introduced.

With one of the best examples of the ref. 2915-1 having sold for just over US$400,000 at Phillips last year, the estimate for this well-worn example is US$150,000-200,000.

Lot 13 – Speedmaster ref. 145.022-69 “Apollo XI”

A limited edition to celebrate the successful Moon landing, the Speedmaster ref. 145.022-69 “Apollo XI” was a run of 1014 watches, with the first couple dozen given to officials and dignitaries involved with the Apollo project. The very first watch went to Richard Nixon, who famously declined it; the very watch is in the Omega Museum today.

This reference is an impressively heavy and extravagant watch, and also the very first precious metal Moonwatch. Omega recently reissued the watch to celebrate the 50th year of the Moon landing, but this is an original in strong condition.

It shows moderate, but not excessive wear, and is accompanied by useful accessories, including a period Omega box (though not the desirable Moon crater box) as well as its original certificate.

The estimate is a reasonable US$35,000-50,000.

Lot 15 – Speedmaster ref. 145.022-69 “straight writing”

This is one of the notable affordable watches in the sale, with an estimate of US$8,000-12,000.

It’s pretty much a standard Speedmaster Professional ref. 145.022-69, a fairly common and inexpensive reference, save for one detail – the case back with horizontally arranged text, instead of the later and more common version with the case back text arranged in a circle.

This is a well preserved 1971 example with its original bracelet, although the bezel insert is a later “dot next to 90”, or “DN90”, bezel. The correct bezel is a “dot over 90”, or “DON90”, example, which is not impossible to find but getting surprisingly expensive for an ostensibly common part.

And for anyone who wants to spend a bit less, lot 26 in the same sale is the same reference (again with a “DN90” bezel), but in slightly poorer condition, and for less money, with an estimate of US$5,000-8,000.

Lot 17 – Speedmaster “Alaska III”

Possibly the most valuable lot in the sale, though not the one with the highest pre-sale estimate, the Speedmaster “Alaska III” came about from a NASA project that started in the late 1960s, with the aim of creating a watch to withstand extreme environments.

The earlier “Alaska I” and “Alaska II” watches are more uncommon, but the “Alaska III” is still exceedingly rare, with only a few dozen produced. Based on the standard Moonwatch, the “Alaska III” is the very model that inspired the Speedmaster Speedy Tuesday limited edition of 2017.

A notable detail of the “Alaska III” are the cases that were produced in the United States by Star Watch Case Co., the result of pressure on NASA to support domestic suppliers instead of a Swiss watchmaker.

This specimen is in excellent condition, showing only modest wear. It’s accompanied by an extract confirming its experimental nature. This is estimated at US$70,000-90,000.

Lot 41 – Speedmaster ref. 186.004 “Alaska IV”

This is perhaps the most historically interesting watch in the sale, though not technically or intrinsically interesting, because it is a primitive, digital electronic watch. Back then this was absolutely cutting edge, and presumably cost a fortune, but evidently turned out to be a dead end.

But because this is a primitive digital watch supplied to NASA for the “Alaska IV” project, the successor to the project that spawned the watch above, it is extremely cool.

Twenty prototypes were produced, and a dozen sent to NASA, and this is number 1 of the series delivered to the space agency.

It’s a surprisingly small watch, just 36mm in diameter, though it shares the same “lyre” lugs as the Speedmaster Professional.

Inside is the Omega cal. 1621, a variant of the cal. 1620 found in commercially produced watches. What set it apart from the standard versions are the tritium tubes to permanently illuminate the dial, requiring a slightly thicker case. In contrast, the standard movement relied on a tiny bulb for backlight, as was convention for digital watches at the time.

The estimate is a modest US$10,000-15,000, but expect it to exceed the high estimate comfortably. In 2015, Christie’s sold a pair for US$47,500 including fees.

Auction and exhibition

The preview exhibition is happening from now until July 18 at Sotheby’s New York. The live auction starts at 2pm on July 19, 2019.

For the full catalogue and to place absentee bids, visit sothebys.com.

Sotheby’s
1334 York Avenue
New York, NY 10021
United States

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While Grand Seiko watches are classical and often formal, the Grand Seiko Sport collection is all about larger, more casual watches,

The latest addition to the Sport line is the Spring Drive GMT SBGE248, the first Grand Seiko with a yellow gold bezel and crown. Yellow gold has been widely used for Grand Seiko watch cases, including for the commemorative Grand Seiko Heritage SBGW252, but the two-tone look is a first for the brand – an indication of its conservative approach to design.

The contrast of yellow gold and blue is a tried and tested – and perhaps slightly overdone – approach for a luxe sports watch, evidenced by the popular Rolex Submariner ref. 116613.

On the new SBGE248, yellow gold is applied generously and the colour stands out. The bezel is 18k yellow gold, as is the crown, while the hour markers, hands and markings on the dial are all gilded.

Though the bezel itself is gold, the insert is scratch-resistant sapphire, just as it is on the standard Spring Drive GMT.

Size-wise the watch is identical to the standard model, with a case diameter of 44mm. The case is stainless steel, as is the bracelet.

It is powered by the self-winding Spring Drive cal. 9R66 that guarantees an accuracy of within 15 seconds a month – or half a second a day – and a power reserve of 72 hours. The incredible accuracy is thanks to the electronically-regulated, mechanical oscillator inside; the regulation in turn is governed by a quartz oscillator with an integrated circuit functioning as the brain of the entire set-up.

The calibre also boasts an independent second time zone hand that can be adjusted to local time without stopping the movement.

Key facts

Diameter: 44mm
Height: 14.7mm
Material: Stainless steel
Water-resistance: 200m

Movement: Spring Drive 9R66
Frequency: 32,768Hz for quartz oscillator inside IC
Power reserve: 72 hours

Strap: Stainless steel bracelet

Price and Availability

The Grand Seiko Spring Drive GMT SBGE248 is priced at US$11,500, or 1.3m Japanese yen before taxes. It will be available worldwide in September.

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Perhaps the most successful ladies’ watch design of the 21st century, the all-ceramic J12 made Chanel a significantly player in watchmaking. After a run of nearly 20 years, the first generation J12 finally bowed out at Baselworld 2019, where it was replaced by the new J12.

Possessed of not just a new design, but a “manufacture” movement produced by a joint venture of Chanel and Tudor, the new J12 is a major event for Chanel not just because it will sell in vast numbers, but because it’s the first entry-level watch powered by proprietary movement.

The man behind the revamp of Chanel’s star wristwatch is Arnaud Chastaingt, a modest man with a keen eye for detail who leads the Chanel Watchmaking Creation Studio. A graduate of two Paris-based design schools, the École des Arts Appliqués and Strate School of Design, Mr Chastaingt spent a decade styling watches at Cartier before joining heading across the city to Chanel.

The Calibre 1 inside the Monsieur de Chanel

Since starting at Chanel in 2013, Mr Chastaingt has overseen a slew of new designs, most notably the brand’s first in-house, high-end men’s watch, the Monsieur de Chanel (which really impressed me at its launch).

Unlike most watch designers, Mr Chastaingt oversees the design of the entire watch, including the movement, explaining why Chanel’s own movements share a distinctive house style centred on repeating circles.

I recently spoke with Mr Chastaingt explain the genesis of the J12. He was dressed head to toe in black, but spoke keenly and incisively about the finer details of design. Our conversion that revealed the tremendous effort that went into the redesign. From sharpening the typography to redoing the case structure, no element was spared, yet the watch retains its signature look.

The interview was edited for clarity and length.

Into watch design

As you may know I am not the creative father of the J12; it was created by Jacques Helleu in 2000.

In 2000, I was 20 years old, in design, and I just arrived in Paris and had a crush on the J12. It was more than a crush; it was a revelation for me.

In 2003, I started my career at Cartier. At that time, I knew nothing about watches. I was more interested in fashion.

I was more creative in the first year of my career because when you don’t have technical knowledge, you can be absolutely free. I didn’t enter the watch world through the same door like other designers.

Watches weren’t my obsession; design was more important to me. And it’s true that I fell in love with Cartier. I have a real love for the brand. I worked on classical watches as well as high jewellery watches. It was an amazing experience.

And I was ready to leave Cartier for one brand, and only one, which was Chanel. It was a dream come true for me in 2013.

Arnaud Chastaingt

Taking one’s time

The J12 became my muse. It was a huge responsibility to have a muse like the J12.

When I started working for Chanel, I didn’t want to touch the original design. I needed time and Chanel is a company that has time.

I really wanted to approach the J12 with the same audacity and liberty I felt when I saw the watch for the first time. So I made a deal with the watch; I created special editions and capsule collections such as the Mademoiselle J12 and the J12 XS, which was a very small J12 that I put on a ring, on gloves.

I really needed to have that kind of experience to really understand the J12. One day my face-to-face with the J12 would arrive.

Rethinking the J12

And of course, the project began four years ago. I found that I was ready for this exercise, and I had two options.

The first one was to change everything. At first I wanted to change everything, and I tried I change everything. But I quickly understood that the original design was close to being perfect.

The other option for me was to change nothing, and my only job would be to create a variation like the Mademoiselle.

The new J12 Phantom (left) and J12

But my final choice was to change everything without changing anything. I know it’s a little bit abstract.

My aim wasn’t to create revolution, but an evolution. And that’s why it was important for me to work more like a surgeon than a designer. When it comes to a project like this, humility is important. You have to put your creative ego aside and focus on the icon.

My job in this project was to try to keep the DNA of the watch. There were details I needed to change and develop. I knew the strengths of this watch, and the weaknesses. When I speak about weaknesses, I mean the [technical] weaknesses today, because this watch is close to 20 years old.

The nuts and bolts

I changed 70% of the components in comparison to the original design. One important point of this project is that the new J12 is equipped with a new calibre.

The new calibre is thicker than the original one. It’s only 1mm thicker, but 1mm in a watch could be very important so I spent a lot of time finding a good proportion for the watch to keep the original ergonomics and lines. That is why I chose to have a one-piece ceramic case and to have the sapphire glass attached to ceramic back.

The Calibre 12.1 with the circular rotor

One point was important for me when it came to the movement was the design of the rotor. I didn’t want the classical rotor that you can find on 99% of watches. I wanted the movement to be immediately recognisable as the Chanel Calibre 12.1.

Why the circle? It’s because when I started in Chanel haute horlogerie, I wanted to create a graphic symbol and the round form was one of the details that I had on the Calibre 1, 2 and 3. It was the signature for our iconic watches.

Details, details, details

The J12 is made of ceramic so it is scratch-resistant. Thus, the only thing that reveals the age of [a first generation J12 with a steel back] is the buckle and the case back as they are in steel [especially when you place the watch on its back]. So, we are happy that the customer can now wear the J12 easily without being afraid to have scratches on the watch.

I always found that the original crown was a little too dominant visually; same thing with the ceramic cabochon on the top. I wanted something flatter.

And another thing I wanted to change was the [notched rim of the] bezel. I always found it to be visually dominant as well, so I wanted to have it thinner. At the same time, I increased the number of notches. There were 30 before, and now it is 40.

And the sound [of its rotation] too. The spring inside has changed. When you rotate it now, [the clicks are] softer.

When you’re a designer, you always think about lines and architecture, but sound is equally important. Like in automobile, you don’t see the car, you just hear the lock of the door, and you’ll know if you’re in a luxury car or a cheap car. It’s the same for watches.

I changed components on the dial too. I reworked the design of all the numbers; I discovered that the lines of the numerals weren’t so perfect when I saw a giant J12 banner in New York City.

So I reworked the lines with our typography designer. And the cherry on top is that the numbers are ceramic. Thanks to the manufacture, we found a solution [via injected ceramic].

The font of “automatic” and “Swiss made” on the dial have also changed. We weren’t sure what font Jacques used at that time, but it was important for me that we have a Chanel font now.

And then the hands. I chose to have the same width between the hour and minute hands. One important point was that when Jacques created the watch in 2000, he wanted the perfect negative between the white and black parts of the hands. But black Super-Luminova didn’t exist at that time. I was happy that we have the perfect negative today.

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A winner at last year’s Young Talent Competition organised by F.P. Journe, Theo Auffret was one of three watchmakers in their twenties recognised for outstanding horological achievement.

Now 24 years old, Mr Auffret’s award-winning entry for the competition was the Tourbillon à Paris, which has now been refined, perfected, and turned into a souscription edition of five watches for Mr Auffret to raise the money needed to establish his own workshop.

Like fellow up-and-coming watchmakers Remy Cools and Cyril Brivet-Naudot, Mr Auffret graduated from Lycée Polyvalent Edgar Faure in Morteau, a small town in eastern France. The school has been prolific in turning out talented watchmakers, many of whom exhibit a flavour of 19th century pocket watch movements in their creations.

The front of the Tourbillon à Paris

Hand-made in Paris

Mr Auffret’s final stop in his watchmaking education was a stint at Ateliers 7h38, the complications workshop led by Luca Soprana that’s best known for its work on the Jacob & Co. Astronomia. He spent a year there, working on the recently launched Astronomia Maestro Minute Repeater.

But the formative years of his education were spent with Jean-Bapiste Viot. The Tourbillon à Paris is strongly influenced by Mr Auffret’s time as an apprentice at the Paris workshop of Mr Viot, well regarded for his quirky, distinctive wristwatch.

Like Mr Viot, the young watchmaker relied only on pen and paper to design and construct the prototype of the Tourbillon à Paris.

Almost every part of the prototype was hand-made by Mr Auffret, including the silver case. A couple of parts in the prototype were taken from other movements: the barrel, pinions and a few wheels from the Peseux 260; the escapement from a vintage Jaeger calibre.

Detail of the movement

Tourbillon à Paris

Last December, Mr Auffret set up shop in Paris where he completed the prototype of the Tourbillon à Paris. He plans to produce 20 of them as a “subscription” watch to fund his enterprise, much like Francois-Paul Journe did with his first 20 tourbillon wristwatches.

For the subscription series, Mr Auffret will turn to a CNC machine to produce some of the movement parts, in order to reach his goal of making five watches a year. For the same reason, he is now using watch cases produced by a specialist in Switzerland.

A regulator-style display with a tourbillon regulator, the watch is powered by a hand-wound movement of Mr Auffret’s own design. Open-worked on the front, the hours sub-dial is off-centre, while the minutes are indicated by a central hand. The large tourbillon and barrel are prominent, each secured by a large finger bridge.

A particularly unusual detail on the prototype are the laterally-mounted, cylindrical weights on the tourbillon cage for poising. They are inspired by marine chronometer movements, but Mr Auffret says the production watches will instead have a conventional, flat weight.

Like much of the movement, the hands are cut, filed and polished by hand. The sub-dial for the hours is silver on the prototype pictured, but will be solid gold on the final production; the applied hour markers are gold on both.

The case is 38.5mm in diameter and 12mm high, and available in platinum, gold, sterling silver, or steel. Notably, the price of the watch will be the same regardless of the case material, which ranges from steel to platinum.

Each watch will be delivered in a hand-made box made of exotic wood that includes a travel pouch and spare straps. All the accessories can be customised, including the type of woods for the box, the pouch material, and so on.

Price and availability

The Tourbillon à Paris Souscription is priced at €108,000 before taxes, or about US$122,000. It’s the same in every case metal, because “for very very small production, the manufacturing price is not that different”, according to Mr Auffret.

Only 20 will be made over a span of four years, with a lead time of 10 months from order to delivery. It’s available direct from Mr Auffret.

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Montblanc recently introduced the 1858 Split Second Chronograph with a bronze case, black, multi-scale dial, and a monopusher, split-seconds Minerva movement inside. Priced at just 33,500 Swiss francs, it is a bargain as such things go.

Now Montblanc has taken the covers off the one-of-a-kind, titanium version with a blue agate dial created for charity auction Only Watch 2019. Though it costs a bit more – the estimate is 42,000-48,000 Swiss francs – the watch still feels like a steal.

The dial is made of blue agate, a hard, semiprecious stone, with a graduated colour that darkens towards the edges. Design-wise it’s the same as that found on the bronze model: inspired by a 1930s aviator’s chronograph made by Minerva, it has a double chronograph scale – a telemeter on the outer rim and a snail-shaped tachymeter in the middle. The contrast of white and red against the blue dial is both refreshing and striking.

Notably, the dial forgoes the faux-aged “lume” of the bronze model; the cathedral hands and numerals are instead filled with white Super-LumiNova, letting the retro design speak for itself.

The large dimensions of the case remain unchanged from the standard bronze model – 44mm in diameter and 14.55mm high – but it’s significantly lighter thanks to the lightness of titanium.

The sapphire caseback reveals the gorgeous, hand-wound and hand-finished MB M16.31. It is essentially the MB M16.29 derived from a pocket watch movement, but with the addition of a split-seconds mechanism on top.

The MB M16.31 with an additional column wheel for the split seconds mechanism

It is beautifully decorated with Geneva stripes, perlage and anglage, as well as replete with the signature arrowhead chronograph lever and a large balance wheel with an in-house hairspring. The MB M16.31 beats at a low frequency of 2.5Hz and offers a 50-hour power reserve.

The bronze version with the same, gorgeous movement

The watch has an estimate of 42,000-48,000 Swiss francs. It’ll be sold on November 19, 2019 at Christie’s Geneva, and the rest of the Only Watch catalogue can be seen at onlywatch.com.

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There is no real point in collecting anything unless for the sake of beauty. The moment I see a watch for the first time is always the most crucial. The pieces that ended up entering the collection always touched me viscerally when I first saw them. 

Over time, almost unconsciously, as the collection took shape, the watches not only have a uniformity of standard and taste, but also reflect an intuition distinctly my own. 

Taste is the developed perception of aesthetics unique to every collector, while standard pertains to quality and rarity. In the big picture, “beauty” – in both tangible and abstract terms – has come to encompass all three: aesthetics, quality, and rarity. 

The watches I crave and seek, be it the best examples of the most important references of the most important manufactures, or unique “time-only” examples of incredible quality and design, must be eternal in their beauty. In this article we delve into a few complicated watches close to my heart. 

Passing time cannot affect an object that is truly beautiful. Just look at two of the most important Patek Philippe landmark complicated references: ref. 1518, the first perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch in the world, and ref. 3448, the first self-winding, perpetual calendar wristwatch. Their designs are perfectly balanced, timeless, as fresh today as when they were first introduced – in the early 1940s and the early 1960s, respectively. 

For years, the daunting challenge had been in finding a great example of the 1518 in pink gold, and an early example of the 3448 in white gold.

Fifty-eight examples of the ref. 1518 were made in pink gold, approximately two-thirds of which have been identified. Of the close-to-40 known pink 1518s, very few have survived in good condition. 

Like many of the yellow gold examples and all four steel examples known, most of the pink 1518s are in either sub-par or compromised condition: many have had their dials cleaned or redone, and cases over-polished or reconditioned to look new. 

Unique pink gold Patek Philippe ref. 1518, retailed by retailer Guillermin of Paris, circa 1951

For the Patek Philippe “Padellone” – or ref. 3448 – the ultimate pursuit lay in finding a pre-1970 example in white gold with a dial featuring engraved, enamelled markings – in “untouched” condition.

The vast majority of the 50 known “White Padellone” were made after 1970, the year Patek terminated the traditional, laborious practice of engraving and firing the dials with hard enamel signatures and scales – now sadly a long lost art with the passing of select skilled craftsmen – and switched to simply printing the dials, an inevitable cost-saving measure with the advent of the Quartz Crisis.

For years, obtaining the best of the few enamel-engraved white 3448s made posed a seemingly insurmountable quest, feasible only with the gracious blessing of Father Time. 

Early white gold Patek Philippe ref. 3448 with its original, detachable white gold PP bracelet by Gay Frères, circa 1969

The Rolex Datocompax, specifically the four references with the iconic waterproof Oyster case made from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, was the most important complicated model ever made by the “crowned” firm along with the legendary ref. 6062. 

Despite the juxtaposition of multiple calendar and chronograph complications – like its Patek Philippe contemporaries, the 1518 as well as first and second series ref. 2499 – the case, and particularly the dial, are perfectly proportioned, emanating an aura few other complicated watches can ever hope to emulate. 

Produced in steel, yellow gold, and pink gold, in ascending order of rarity, the endmost target was a great example in pink gold, the rarest metal for the most complicated watch ever made by Rolex.

Pink gold Rolex Datocompax, ref. 6036, retailed by Serpico Y Laino, Caracas, circa 1951

Cultural critic Walter Benjamin once wrote:

O bliss of the collector, bliss of the man of leisure! Of no one has less been expected and no one has had a greater sense of well-being than…a collector. Ownership is the most intimate relationship one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who comes alive in them.

Hunting down treasures, “unobtainium” so to speak, for a collection is a rewarding endeavour in and of itself, but ultimately more satisfying is the building of an extraordinary narrative during every demanding collector’s life. For me, that narrative, once vague but now unequivocal, is the never ending pursuit of the “Impossible Collection” consisting of unique watches of enduring beauty. 

The author was born in one country and lives in another, but his collecting style is best described as a distillation of the finest international taste in timepieces. Noted collector and scholar Auro Montanari describes the author as “a collector with incredible eyes for details”. You can follow the author on Instagram.

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With one watch unveiled each month since January, we are now more than halfway through the 10-piece Lange 1 “25th Anniversary” set.

The latest addition, the Lange 1 Moon Phase “25th Anniversary” was supposed to be launched in June, but instead made its debut this month to coincide with the opening of the brand’s Zurich boutique.

First introduced in 2002, the Lange 1 Moon Phase is essentially the base Lange 1 with the clever incorporation of a moon phase in the sub-seconds. Subsequently, the second generation Lange 1 Moon Phase also evolved to feature a more advanced moon phase display.

The new and improved Lange 1 Moon Phase was novel for the fact that its moonphase display also doubled up as a day and night indicator. Instead of a single disc with two fixed moons as is convention, the display relies on a rotating figure of 8, with each end forming one gold moon.

The “8” is superimposed on an independently revolving blue disc that represents the sky. Half the disc is in a light blue, indicating day time and the second half is dark blue for the night sky, with laser-cut stars dotting it.

The deconstructed display of the Lange 1 Moon Phase

On the commemorative Lange 1 Moon Phase “25th Anniversary” however, the moons are in white gold keeping in line with the anniversary colours of silver and blue.

The dial of the watch is solid silver, with blued steel hands and blue printed numerals.

Visible through the sapphire case back is the 25th Anniversary set’s signature engraving on the balance cock of the calibre L121.3, with the number “25” worked into the motif that has been filled in with blue lacquer.

The handwound L121.3 is based off the L121.1 movement that was introduced in 2015 with the second generation Lange 1.

Features of the calibre include a three-day power reserve on account of the double mainspring barrels, an instantaneous date and a seconds that stops at zero when the power reserve runs out.

Interestingly, the L121.3 is only 0.4mm thicker than the standard Lange 1, even with the moonphase display and day/night indicator that required 70 extra components.

There are only another four more limited editions to be announced before the actually anniversary in late October. All 10 anniversary watches will be sold as a set – with only 25 sets in total – but each watch has its own retail price, making it possible for a retailer to split a set.

Key facts

Diameter: 38.5mm
Height: 10.2mm
Material: 18k white gold
Water-resistance: 30m

Movement: L121.3
Frequency: 21,600bph, or 3Hz
Power reserve: 72 hours

Strap: Blue alligator leather

Price and Availability

The Lange 1 Moon Phase “25th Anniversary” (ref. 192.066) is priced at €43,300, including 20% German VAT. It is a limited edition of 25 watches, and will be part of the 10-piece set that will be launched in October 2019.

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Contemporary Patek Philippe pocket watches are uncommon, and Rare Handcrafts examples – all of which are unique one-offs – are even more scarce. More objet d’art than portable timekeeper, only a handful are made each year.

Sold at Sotheby’s late last year for almost US$290,000, the Rare Handcrafts ref. 982/159G “Japanese Cherry” pocket watch is a particularly delicate example of Patek Philippe’s enamelling.

Unveiled in 2015, the “Japanese Cherry” watch was arguably the most important piece of the Rare Handcrafts collection that year, because the Japanese cherry motif formed the cover of the year’s catalogue. It’s a Lépine pocket watch, with the crown and sub-seconds arranged in a line (as opposed to a hunter movement that has them at right angles to each other).

A plant synonymous with the country, the Japanese cherry produces the cherry blossom, or sakura, a cultural icon of Japan. On the watch branches of the cherry tree are depicted against a pale beige background.

The branches are hand engraved in relief, with the individual cherries being bright red fired enamel with a glossy, rounded finish. And texture of the bark is echoed in the engraving of the oversized, ornately formed bow.

The same pale beige enamel on the back is also used for the dial, which has solid gold, applied Breguet numerals.

The watch itself is a smallish pocket watch of 44mm diameter, with the case in 18k white gold. It contains the cal. 17”’ LEP PS IRM, a beautifully constructed pocket watch movement from an earlier age of watchmaking.

The “PPCo” hallmark on the bow indicates Patek Philippe produced the case in-house, as it does for its wristwatches

Patek Philippe has been producing the 17-ligne pocket watch movement for decades, keeping it pretty much unchanged, explaining the elegant, classically formed bridges that seem to flow.

In fact, the same movement is used by apprentice watchmakers at Patek Philippe as a base to demonstrate their knowledge of finishing. Rexhep Rexhepi, the founder of independent watchmaker Akrivia and a Patek Philippe alumnus, completed one such pocket watch to complete his apprenticeship at the firm.

Another gorgeous detail that is reminiscent old school watchmaking is the large snail cam regulator index.

Because because it is large, or perhaps it is made in tiny numbers, the movement is decorated – most probably by hand – to a notably high degree.

The only detail that could be improved: the inward angles of the bridges are rounded, rather than sharp.

The black polished steel cap for the escape wheel cock

The watch was delivered with a matching 18k white gold chain, but like many other Rare Handcrafts pocket watches, also accompanied by a desk stand. Styled like a Japanese gate and covered in red lacquer, the stand is also in 18k white gold.

Photo – Sotheby’s

The Rare Handcrafts “Japanese Cherry” pocket watch sold for HK$2.25m, or about US$286,875, all fees included, at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in October 2018.

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While it’s a new brand that just made its debut, Genus is founded on the watchmaking talent of an industry insider who has spent a lifetime working on complications. Its first watch is the GNS 1 that tells the time with an ultra-exotic complication with the minutes travelling across the dial like a train.

Conceptually the GNS 1 harks back to the burst of creativity that started in the early 2000s, when watchmakers went all out with imaginative complications to display the hours and minutes. This was the heyday of the Harry Winston Opus series and the birth of brands like MB&F and Urwerk.

The brand

Genus was founded by entrepreneur Catherine Henry and Sébastien Billières, founder of GMTI, a specialist watchmaking workshop.

The son of a watchmaker, Mr Billières started his career at Roger Dubuis in 1999, followed by a stint at Urwerk. In 2011, he set up GMTI, which specialises in primarily in assembly and servicing of complicated movements for major watch brands.

Now staffed by 25 watchmakers, GMTI’s repertoire is diverse, ranging from tourbillon movements bearing the Poinçon de Genève, or Geneva Seal, to time-only movements produced on an industrial scale.

Telling the time

According to Mr Billières, the GNS 1 is the realisation of his long-held ambition of creating his own watch, after spending his career doing it for others.

The GNS 1 is essentially an exceptionally avant-garde display of the hours and minutes. Even when static the face is impressively complex, and fascinating to watch in motion. But as is often the case with such watches, legibility is not the best.

The time is 1:37

The hours are the easy bit, a fixed pointer at nine o’clock indicates the current hour, which is shown on satellite. Twelve satellites, one for each hour, make one revolution around the dial ever 12 hours. And each satellite makes a quarter rotation every three hours in order to keep the numeral aligned vertical.

Indication of the minutes are divided into the tens and single digits. The latter is indicated by an arrow at three o’clock that points to a skeletonised, rotating wheel with the single digits of the minutes.

The single digits of the minutes on the extreme right

The centrepiece of the entire display is the minute display in the centre. This is made up of a travelling train of lozenge-shaped pointers, with the leading pointer indicating the minutes. The train moves along a figure of eight shaped track – which is also the symbol of infinity – with each half of the track rotating in a different direction.

As it is with other exotic time indications, the display would be incredible if it moved quickly, but that is mechanically impossible due to the energy needed.

This video illustrates exactly how it works.

The Genus GNS Wristwatch in Action - YouTube

The movement

The time display module on the front is complex, and made even more complex due to the intricate styling of the bridges, levers and wheels, which are designed to have lots of pointy bits and curves.

Though the visual detail overwhelms everything else, the decoration is finely executed when examined up close. In fact, the finishing is done to a higher degree than the average watch in the avant-garde segment of watchmaking.

All the bridges have frosted surfaces and contrasting, polished bevels on all edges. Each of the wheels have grained tops and chamfered spokes, while most screws and jewels sit in polished countersinks.

From the back the view is more traditional, with the base movement having a layout that is reminiscent of pocket watch calibres, with a large balance wheel, and exposed crown and barrel ratchet wheels. And like many pocket watch movements, it runs at 18,000 beats per hour, or 2.5Hz. According to Mr Billières, the base movement is also an in-house creation.

Though the layout is traditional, the construction is unusual: the escapement is modular and replaceable. Top of the line H. Moser & Cie. movements include a similar feature, which allows the escapement to be swapped for a freshly lubricated and regulated module during servicing.

All of the bridges, cocks and base plate are made of 18k gold, but finished differently due to the modular escapement. So while the barrel bridge and going train bridge are rhodium-plated and frosted, the balance bridge and escape wheel cock are ruthenium-plated for a dark grey finish.

The finishing on the back is as good as it is on the front, but easy to observe due to the more conventional shape and treatment of the components.

One decorative detail the movement does lack is inward angles on the bevelled edges of the bridges and cocks, both on the front and back.

The finishing on the movement is matched to the case colour, so the rose gold case contains a movement with rose gold bridges.

The watch

The watch is large, measuring 43mm by 13.1mm, but sits well on the wrist. That’s because the lugs are short and curved, allowing the case to hug the wrist. And a good deal of the height is a result of the “box type” sapphire crystal that rises up over the case, so it does not seem as thick as the numbers indicate.

And despite its size and being in 18k gold, the watch is not overly heavy as the case walls are kept to a minimum since the movement is a large 38mm in diameter.

Concluding thoughts

Had this watch been launched a decade earlier, perhaps as one of the Harry Winston Opus instalments, it would have been a hit. Today many avant-garde watches have come and gone, so it is more difficult to stand out, but the GNS 1 still manages to impress. The mechanics are ingenious, complex and executed to a high degree of finishing. In short, it is unique; there is nothing else like the GNS 1 on the market.

All of that, however, comes at a steep price that’s hard to swallow. The GNS 1 retails for just below US$290,000, above most of its competition, putting it in a segment of watchmaking that has very thin air. As a result, it will only sell to a tiny number of enthusiasts who appreciate extreme mechanics.

Key facts

Diameter: 43mm
Height: 13.1mm
Material: 18k white or pink gold
Water resistance: 30m

Movement: Hand-wound with 18k gold bridges and base plate
Frequency: 18,000bph, or 2.5Hz
Power reserve: 50 hours

Strap: Calfskin strap with 18k gold pin buckle; folding clasp optional

Price and availability

The GNS 1 is available direct from Genus. It’s priced at 288,500 Swiss francs before taxes, which is equivalent to about US$290,000.

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Last year’s Akrivia Chronomètre Contemporain made its young creator, Rexhep Rexhepi, a star, but the brand’s foundational watch is actually the “AK” series. Chunky and slightly sporty, the AK watches are a world away from the classical styling of the Chronomètre Contemporain, but boast the same level of movement finishing, along with a bonus of elaborately hand-hammered dials.

The second model in the AK series was the AK-02 Tourbillon Heure Minute, or “Hour Minute” – a time-only watch with a tourbillon regulator. The AK-06 probably the finest finished tourbillon wristwatch in its price segment, and in the price segments above it as well.

The AK case

It’s a fairly large watch, with the case measuring 43.0mm with and 12.9mm high. But the lugs are short so it feels fairly compact on the wrist. And because the AK-02 is typically found in a steel case, as is pictured here, or occasionally titanium, it is usually lightweight. Gold cases are available for a modest premium, though rarely requested.

The case feels like it’s trying too hard, and consequently feels overly built, with thick lugs and a high case band. It’s too chunky for my taste, and doesn’t quite suit the refined movement inside.

That being said, the AK-style case has it fans for several reason. The design is distinctive, more distinctive than the old school Chronomètre Contemporain case.

And it is also finished to a high degree, with contrasting polished and brushed surfaces; the wide, polished bevel along its length is sharply executed. In fact, even the underside of the case has polished, bevelled edges, illustrating the brand’s attention to detail.

Note the bevelled edge on the back

Mr Rexhepi has refined the AK case over time, with the latest AK-06 having a thinner and sleeker version of the same case. And he has also indicated that the design will be further fine-tuned in the future.

Heure minute

Most AK watches have solid gold dials, though a few are in steel. This particular example has a solid yellow gold dial that’s finished with a favourite technique at Akrivia: hand-hammering to create a dimpled surface.

A process that requires patience and a deft hand, hand-hammering the dial gives it a granular finish that catches the light in a subtle manner.

Aside from the recent, one-off Chronomètre Contemporain “Only Watch” has a hand-hammered enamel dial, the finish is exclusive to the AK series, which is a big point of attraction for the model.

Like the dial, the hands are hand-made, first filed by hand to give them a rounded profile, then polished and blued.

Here the hands are spear-spared and similar to those on the Chronomètre Contemporain – the brand’s best design – though for those who want something different Akrivia also offers an oddly shaped set of hands that look like grapes with very long stems.

But the best part of all is the movement. On the front the flying tourbillon is visible at six, sitting inside a black polished steel frame.

The finishing is excellent. The steel carriage is finished by hand, with prominent bevelling on its arms, and also the screw heads.

The escape wheel is heat blued, and not silicon; Akrivia only works with traditional materials

On the back the finishing is done to the same high standard. To start with, all of the text on the bridges is engraved by hand, giving the letters the serif font that’s typical of hand engraving. The engraving is, however, slightly uneven in size and alignment, which will no doubt be improved in future examples.

Every component is properly finished, from the polished bevels on the bridges to the countersinks for jewels to the graining and chamfering of the wheels. And Akrivia also adds decorative flourishes that its founder is fond of, like the separate, black polished bridge for the centre wheel.

Even the smallest details, like the steel click spring for the winding ratchet wheel, are executed without compromise.

But like all of Akrivia’s earliest movements, the calibre is not in-house. Instead, Akrivia relies on an ébauche, or movement blank, supplied by MHC Manufacture Hautes Complications, a specialist that builds complicated calibres for a slew of brands. Various customisations are done to the movement made for Akrivia, in order to achieve its classical styling and finishing.

The construction of the movement actually originated with BNB Concept, a now defunct movement maker where MHC founder, Pierre-Laurent Favre, once worked. Akrivia founder Rexhep Rexhepi was once Mr Favre’s colleague at BNB Concept, explaining how the relationship came about.

Though MHC tourbillon movements are found in watches from other brands, the AK-02 is by far – and the distance is huge – the best finished amongst them. In the future, however, Akrivia founder Mr Rexhepi has stated he will develop his own movements for all the brand’s watches.

Concluding thoughts

The AK-02 is a remarkably finely finished, especially for what it costs, which is just over US$120,000. It’s a large sum of money, but there are no other tourbillons of comparable quality for the price on the market today.

While the finishing is unquestionable, the case is an acquired taste. It probably appeals best to someone who wants Akrivia’s quality of finishing, but finds the Chronometre Contemporain boring and old fashioned.

Price and availability

The AK-02 Tourbillon Hour Minute is priced at 124,000 Swiss francs in steel and 128,000 francs in titanium.

Precious metal cases are also available, starting at 136,000 Swiss francs in 18k gold. Various dial colours and finishes, including a spiral grained finish, are also offered.

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