ESCAPEMENT is an online magazine aimed at individuals with a passion for watch collecting, who appreciate “the finer things in life. The purpose of ESCAPEMENT is to help readers understand the intricacies of haute horlogerie by providing an insight behind the scenes of the watchmaking industry and conveying the craftsmanship employed by some of the world’s finest watchmakers.
The MeisterSinger No. 03 Bronze, which imparts the hours and minutes with a single hand, features a bewitching blue dial and is housed in a generously proportioned 43mm bronze case. Angus Davies spends a week in the company of this German watch and reflects on its character and influence on the wearer’s psyche.
The ‘Bronze Age’ (4000BC and 1200BC) is a term used to describe the period of time between the ‘Stone Age’ and the ‘Iron Age’, when different civilisations discovered the benefits of bronze. The first people to embrace bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, were the ancient Sumerians, based in the Middle East.
The Bronze Age marked the first time that man worked with metal. Bronze proved harder and more durable than copper, making it ideal for tools and weapons. Over time, the understanding of metals increased, leading to metalworkers making various objects from bronze, copper and gold. The making of cart wheels and agricultural implements such as ploughs can be traced to the Bronze Age.
Bronze has several properties. The alloy has a high ductility, allowing the material to be stretched into wire or hammered into a thin strip without breaking. Bronze exhibits low friction against other metals and it does not generate sparks when it comes into contact with a hard surface, making it ideal for use in close proximity to explosive or flammable materials.
In recent years, the world of watchmaking has rediscovered bronze. When bronze is exposed to air, it oxidises forming a protective layer termed, ‘patina’, preventing the onset of corrosion. It is this patination which has ensnared the hearts of horophiles. Early examples of bronze watches acquired a rich green hue, granting them an age-old appearance. As time has passed, some brands have tried to inhibit the transition to green tones, preferring to retain the brown, slightly distressed appearance of new bronze.
In recent years, MeisterSinger has witnessed the public’s liking for bronze watches but has clearly chosen to wait. No doubt it has wanted to see if the public’s love for the metal was a passing trend or likely to endure for years to come. At Baselworld 2019, the Münster-based firm unveiled three references in bronze cases, the Perigraph, the Metris and, lastly, the No. 03. These models have been staples of MeisterSinger’s collection for a while, however, by equipping each reference with a bronze case, the German company has suffused each watch with a wholly different character.
I decided to look at the MeisterSinger No. 03 Bronze, a model which shares some of its DNA with the brand’s inaugural watch, the suitably named, No. 01.
MeisterSinger – an alternative philosophy
In my twenties, I rushed from place to place at breakneck speed. Meals were often consumed in a few nanoseconds and my social life came second to my professional responsibilities. I obsessively pursued material goods at the expense of my own well-being. Now, I am 51 years of age and life’s tempo is less frenetic. I can see the folly of my youthful actions and now view the notion of time very differently.
Today, my schedule is not measured in seconds, it’s far more relaxed. I don’t obsess about owning a larger home, a faster car or wearing designer clothes. My life is punctuated by experiences. Time is precious and, now I am older, it is more valuable. Perhaps it is for this reason that I am drawn to MeisterSinger’s watches. While they are accurate, they only show time to the nearest 5-minute interval, inviting the wearer to work to an andante beat rather than succumbing to the perils of a presto tempo. Indeed, MeisterSinger’s symbol, the fermata, implores the wearer to stop and savour each moment.
MeisterSinger is synonymous with producing single hand watches. In the case of No. 03 Bronze, the lone red-tipped hand is presented in ‘Old Radium’, heightening the vintage character of the watch. The hand circumscribes the periphery of the dial, almost touching the internal edge of the case.
Each hour is presented in double-digit form, a design code the brand has favoured since its inception. The double-digit format imbues the indexes with a harmonious mien. A series of graduated lines, positioned in between each hour marker, indicate 5-minute, 15-minute and 30-minute intervals.
Initially, viewing the unusual hour and minute display may seem a tad off-putting. However, after a short period has elapsed, the single hand method of indicating time proves most intuitive. A date display is positioned above 6 o’clock, where red numerals on a cream date disc succinctly converse with their wearer.
MeisterSinger describe the dial as ‘deep blue sunburst’. Most of the time the dial appears dark anthracite or black, however, when it tastes the sun’s kiss, it assumes a blue tone. The shade morphs from steel blue to Aegean blue, transitioning through a myriad of shades in between. Furthermore, the ‘sunburst’ or sunray dial elicits areas of light and shade. The brand’s own images do not fully convey the plethora of hues manifest with this dial. However, this is understandable as I repeatedly tried to capture the variety of tones with my camera, standing in shadows as well as squinting in the sun’s gaze.
Despite its comparatively modest asking price, MeisterSinger has endowed this watch with an enchanting and sumptuous dial.
The MeisterSinger No. 03 Bronze case measures a fulsome 43mm in diameter. The lugs taper sharply downwards, coaxing the strap to encircle the wrist. MeisterSinger has fitted the watch with a dark brown hand-stitched calf leather strap, paired with a bronze buckle. While the German watch was temporarily in my custody, I found the shape of the case, the lug design and the gentle caress of the strap afforded sublime levels of wearer comfort.
MeisterSinger has elected to use a particular type of bronze which acquires its patina comparatively slowly. I am not sure whether this is achieved by tweaking the composition of the alloy or, alternatively, treating it in some way. Personally, I like the appearance of the case when new, as it exhibits a blend of warm golden hues and brown tones. Should the wearer wish to remove the patination, Manfred Brassler, the company’s founder, explained that this can be easily achieved, merely by wiping the case with a silver polishing cloth.
The bezel, centre of the case, including the caseband and lugs, the crown and the pin buckle are all made of bronze. However, MeisterSinger has shrewdly fitted a stainless steel caseback to the watch. Bronze often contains nickel which is known to cause an allergic reaction in a small number of people, hence the German firm’s decision to use stainless steel for the caseback, the primary point of skin contact, seems eminently sensible. The caseback is secured with six screws and features a pane of sapphire crystal, granting sight of the self-winding movement within.
The MeisterSinger No. 03 Bronze is fitted with an ETA 2824-2 or Sellita 200-1 movement. Both movements share a similar design, albeit the Sellita calibre features an additional jewel. Many watch brands choose to use both movements in order to mitigate the potential harmful impact of delayed supplies.
Observing the dial of a MeisterSinger, one becomes aware that the lone hand moves very slowly. In 30 minutes, a conventional minute hand rotates 180°, however, the single hand fitted to this watch arcs just 15° over the same period. As the motion of the lone hand is very different to a conventional watch, the movement within a MeisterSinger has necessitated modification. The dial of this timepiece provides a relaxing place for the eyes to dwell.
The oscillating weight within the movement is embellished with Côtes de Genève motif and adorned with engraved golden text. The balance has a frequency of 28,800 VpH (4Hz) and, depending on which calibre is used, the movement contains 25 or 26 jewels. A single barrel provides 38 hours of autonomous operation.
I always associate the MeisterSinger name with gleaming cases, crisp dials and contemporary design. The MeisterSinger No. 03 Bronze evinces a slightly different persona. Its case has an aged, slightly distressed appearance and the dial, while eminently legible, is not one distinct shade but rather a melange of black and blue tones.
While MeisterSinger has chosen to foray into uncharted territory by using bronze, it has not abandoned the brand’s reputation for superb dial designs and cases proffering excellent ergonomics. Every element of the MeisterSinger No. 03 Bronze coalesces wonderfully and the model confers an extraordinary level of wearer comfort.
Despite its modest asking price of £1990 (RRP as at 4.7.2019), the watch exudes refinement. The dial is exquisite and the case is impressively executed. The movement lacks some of the impressive finishing found on the brand’s Circularis models, but the keen pricing of the No. 03 Bronze precludes this.
Beyond its exhaustive list of qualities, the MeisterSinger No. 03 Bronze bestows a certain mindset. Bronze wears its age proudly, showing it has lived a little. Furthermore, the notion of enunciating time with a single hand, invites the wearer to ignore the futility of seconds and absorb the here and now. It is with the wisdom of middle age that I can appreciate the value in MeisterSinger’s philosophy and, more pertinently, appreciate the allure of the No. 03 Bronze.
In the final part of its 3-part series, ESCAPEMENT takes a detailed look at the finished Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance. This feature includes images, specification details and pricing.
Over the last few weeks, I have published two exclusive behind-the-scenes reports on the making of the new Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance. In this article, I reveal the completed watch and explore its composition in detail.
However, before embarking on my examination of this grand complication, I wish to return to 2008. The world was deeply immersed in a so-called ‘global financial crisis’. Sub-prime lending led to legions of borrowers defaulting on payments and intriguingly-sounding ‘credit default swaps’ suddenly became worth a fraction of their previous value. During this period, several major banks and insurance companies collapsed. It is widely believed that this economic period represented the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The watch industry was not immune from the financial sector’s acute malaise. Fewer affluent buyers were choosing to buy expensive watches when their savings were in jeopardy and the prospect of redundancy loomed large. Nevertheless, one year later, in 2009, against this pessimistic backdrop, Serge Michel, the Founder of Armin Strom and his longtime friend, Claude Greisler, chose to open the company’s inaugural Manufacture in Biel, Switzerland.
One benefit of opening a Manufacture at this time was that plant was available at heavily discounted prices. Suddenly, this young firm had an atelier filled with CNC, profile turning and wire erosion machines and, most pertinently, the capacity to make a plethora of components in-house. The brand produces a multitude of parts, including base plates, bridges, levers, pinions, pivots, screws and wheels.
Over the years, this company has enjoyed exponential growth as more discerning horophiles discover the allure of an Armin Strom timepiece. Furthermore, it has never ceased innovating, a trait manifest with the unveiling of the company’s first resonance models in 2016.
Now, Armin Strom has chosen to recognise the 10-year anniversary of the Manufacture opening by creating its most complex watch to date, the Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance. This model, limited to 10 pieces, pairs two high complications, resonance and a minute repeater, justifying the appellation, ‘grand complication’.
Front – ‘We show what we make’
Throughout its history, Armin Strom has always showcased a myriad of components normally hidden from view. Indeed, the brand often uses the strapline, ‘We show what we make’ on many of its promotional materials. The Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance does not hide its light under a bushel, revealing its thought processes to the mechanically curious while simultaneously exhibiting a high quotient of hand craftsmanship.
Front – time indications
The lancine-shaped hour and minute hands are made of stainless steel, presented in a golden hue. The hands float above a smoked, sapphire crystal dial with each hour denoted with golden-toned Roman numerals.
Unlike some skeleton watches where the time indications merge into a sea of parts, the pane of fumée sapphire crystal causes the time indications to lucidly step forward while conferring views of the mechanical backdrop. Moreover, the impressive readability of the dial is heightened with a crisp chemin-de-fer, allowing the wearer to easily read-off the prevailing minutes.
Front – gongs and hammers
Typically, the gongs fitted to a minute repeater are circular and virtually hug the interior walls of the case. Armin Strom has chosen an alternative path to greatness. The gongs are not circular. They originate from the plot, navigate around the hammers and then hug the periphery of the smoked sapphire dial, forming a slightly irregular shape.
Looking at the gongs fitted to a ‘normal’ minute repeater, they are positioned parallel to the base plate with the upper gong sitting directly above the lower gong. Again, Armin Strom has set aside convention. The gongs sit lower near the plot than they do at 6 o’clock. The raised position of gongs at the base of the dial provides room for the two balance wheels and resonance clutch spring to sit neatly below. Another difference with the Armin Strom gongs is that they assume a three dimensional profile.
The hammer at 1 o’clock is larger than its adjacently positioned counterpart and chimes the hours. Both hammers collaborate to sound the quarters, striking the gongs just a split-second apart in order to provide a means of differentiation from the hour and minute indications. When the hammer at 11 o’clock sings solo, it strikes the gong, indicating purely the minutes. The chiming sequence of hours, quarters and minutes is ‘on demand’, actuated by a slider on the side of the case. The tempo of the chiming sequence is controlled by the centrifugal governor. For example, if the time indicates 4:49, the time taken to chime the four hours and the four minutes is the same as horological etiquette dictates.
Front – tremblage, bevelling and mirror polishing
Two large, golden balance cocks swoop from the northern hemisphere of the dial, following the contour of the case’s interior. The upper surface of each bridge features a granular appearance, produced using a process called ‘tremblage’. This technique involves the use of a hand-held burin, where a highly skilled artisan makes small indentations in the upper epidermis of the bridge. The resultant surface exhibits a rich texture.
The remaining surfaces of each cock are beautifully bevelled by hand, consistent with the epithet ‘haute horlogerie’.
The hammers and the patented resonance clutch spring are painstakingly polished on a tin plate by hand. The tin plate is smeared with a coarse abrasive paste and the component is polished in a circular motion. Increasingly finer paste is used as the desired finish approaches conclusion. As its name implies, mirror polishing, sometimes termed ‘black polishing’, exhibits a mirror-like appearance which from some angles looks black. This technique is usually the preserve of high-end watches, its protracted creation preventing its use on cheaper timepieces.
Front – two balance wheels and patented resonance clutch spring
Unusually, the Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance features two vertically-stacked independent movements. Each movement has its own independent mainspring, both of which are stored in one common barrel.
The Caliber ARR18 features two balance wheels. These are variable inertia balances with timing screws positioned in-board, recessed in the rim of the two wheels. The two balance wheels are linked using the brand’s patented resonance clutch spring. In my two previous articles I have discussed at length the phenomenon of resonance. However, I will just outline the benefits. By linking the two balance wheels with the resonance clutch spring, the two balances work in synchronicity. When the watch is subject to shock, any resultant increase in speed of one balance will be countered by the decrease in speed of the other balance i.e. averaging and minimising the effects of perturbation.
Armin Strom’s resonance system confers superior accuracy, matching the venerated tourbillon. In addition, the resonance system mitigates energy consumption, manifest with the model’s impressive power reserve of 96 hours. Lastly, resonance lessens the influence of outside perturbation, such as shocks to the balance staff, thereby enhancing precision. The resonance system proffers superior stability to a tourbillon.
Armin Strom, in collaboration with Le Cerle des Horlogers, the minute repeater specialist, sought the optimum case for the Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance. Claude Greisler designed the exterior of the case, seeking the best design to accentuate the appearance of the dial. However, the case of this model went beyond mere aesthetics.
Grade 5 titanium was selected as the preferred material for the case. The low mass of grade 5 titanium accentuates the sound generated by the hammer and gong ensemble. While noble metals are often used by other brands for minute repeater watches, their dense characteristics have a tendency to muffle the resonating sounds produced. Armin Strom sought to achieve the sweetest sound possible and, after much debate with Le Cerle des Horlogers, established that the lightweight metal was the best option. Incidentally, grade 5 titanium is also hypoallergenic and renown for its skin-friendly properties, proffering an additional benefit.
Despite having an enviable reputation for its in-house expertise, Armin Strom continues to work with specialist suppliers of dials and cases. In terms of cases, Claude Greisler normally designs the case to house the movement and confer a pleasing aesthetic. However, in this instance the interior of the case is critical to the quality of the sound produced. Armin Strom’s case supplier has much experience with chiming watches and designed the case interior to favourably accentuate the sound of the minute repeater.
Furthermore, the generous dimensions of the case augment the dulcet tones of the hammers and gongs. However, having tried on a 3D printed version of the case, I can attest that it does not feel unwieldy.
The wearer can actuate the chiming sequence by pushing the slide adjacent 9 o’clock. Consistent with Armin Strom’s design language of several years, the case is also fitted with the brand’s famous ‘lip’. Clients can have their initials engraved upon the lip, albeit some Armin Strom clients, myself included, prefer to leave the lip unadorned. A pane of sapphire crystal to the rear affords views of the hand-wound movement.
Movement – further discussion
Viewing the rear of the Caliber ARR18, one is indulged with a sea of finely decorated components and mind-blowing technical complexity.
A few weeks ago, I visited the premises of Le Cerle des Horlogers and looked in awe at the assembly of the minute repeater module. The mellifluous sounds of the hammers and gongs momentarily kissing is made possible by racks, snails, cams and wheels. Each base part, some of which are produced at Armin Strom’s Manufacture, are passed to the minute repeater specialist and patiently finished and assembled with time-served hands.
The minute repeater is equipped with a security system which prevents the wearer operating the slide on the side of the case while time-setting or winding the movement. Sadly, many other minute repeaters do not feature such a system, which can sometimes result in expensive repair bills.
The TAG Heuer Monaco 1989-1999 Limited Edition is the third model in the anniversary series, made to commemorate the 50th year of the Swiss marque’s square-shaped chronograph. This detailed review includes images, specification details and pricing.
This year, the Heuer Monaco celebrates its 50th anniversary. Its square case, the unconventional positioning of the crown and the angled chronograph pushers have been retained ever since the inaugural version of 1969. Over the years, the lugs have grown marginally wider and the movement has been updated, consistent with the widespread business ethos of ‘continuous improvement’.
Despite some notable exceptions, the Monaco’s dial has always remained blue and the avant-garde brand has never strayed from the original model’s dial topography. However, TAG Heuer, keen to recognise this important landmark in its history, recently announced the release of five limited edition Monaco models, each referencing a different period in history. The Swiss watch marque has granted its design team much freedom to creatively style each reference. To date, the brand’s designers have focussed their attention on the dial epidermis of each model, retaining the case and movement found on the standard, non-limited watch. So far, the appearance of each limited edition timepiece has proved spectacular, vindicating the decision to allow the design team to fully explore its creative potential.
The Swiss firm has chosen to release each limited edition reference, one at a time. Initially, the brand unveiled the TAG Heuer Monaco 1969-1979 Limited Edition, thereafter the gorgeous TAG Heuer Monaco 1979-1989 Limited Edition and now, this latest reference, the TAG Heuer Monaco 1989-1999 Limited Edition. This most recent watch references a period of my life which I look at with sepia-tinged spectacles and reminds me of a time when I had hair and sung along to my cherished Oasis. TAG Heuer has cleverly recognised that everyone likes to look at a former era and sentimentally recall the past.
While my review of the TAG Heuer Monaco 1969-1979 Limited Edition explores the history of this legendary square watch and its dial, case and movement, this feature focusses on the TAG Heuer Monaco 1989-1999 Limited Edition and, most specifically, its prepossessing smile.
The TAG Heuer Monaco 1989-1999 Limited Edition retains the torso of its non-limited siblings but sports a new face. This latest model, restricted to just 169 pieces, is suffused with a granular complexion. I cannot recall another version of the Heuer Monaco sharing the same textured vista.
The highly polished baton-style hour and minute hands feature a liberal application of luminescent treatment and vivid red, triangular tips. The svelte central seconds hand is presented in a bold shade of red and steps forward from the grey-toned backdrop, heightening readability.
In his book, ‘The Times of My Life’, Jack Heuer reveals an unwavering obsession for legible dials. This is evident when holding the classical blue dial Monaco. The Swiss brand has never wavered from this design philosophy. When examining the dial of the TAG Heuer Monaco 1989-1999 Limited Edition, its peerless legibility is clear to see. Moreover, beyond its notable functionality, the dial wonderfully effervesces with originality and style.
Consistent with Monaco lore, the dial is endowed with two registers. The leftmost register displays the running seconds while a 30-minute chronograph register is positioned opposite. The square registers share the design of the 1969 original and feature straight sides and rounded corners. Both counters are presented in silver, framed with blue tracks marked with silver-toned strokes.
A circular minute track, depicted in blue, subscribes to Monaco tradition. Each 5-minute integer is marked with a blue dot and red stroke. Reading off the elapsed time using the central chronograph seconds hand is a matter of child’s play. Everything is crisp and clear.
At no stage could anyone accuse the Monaco of looking like its counterparts. The positioning of the crown on the right flank, the prominent sapphire crystal and the angled chronograph pushers are highly original. Likewise, the baton-shaped indexes are aligned east to west, imbuing the dial with a slightly idiosyncratic appearance.
The date, positioned at 6 o’clock, is framed with a neat white border.
The TAG Heuer Monaco 1989-1999 Limited Edition, along with its forebears, not only exudes a high quotient of style, but also proves very practical. The prevailing time is imparted succinctly. Furthermore, the central chronograph seconds hand and 30-minute register prove intuitive to read and there is no lag between observation and understanding.
The Swiss firm, based in La Chaux-de-Fonds, is clearly mindful of the Monaco’s legendary status. Any limited edition would always need to incorporate certain aesthetic prerequisites for it to be considered a Heuer Monaco. The avant-garde brand has shrewdly retained the famous square case, truncated lugs and aforementioned angled pushers.
Nevertheless, TAG Heuer has embraced some new ideas, equipping the Monaco 1989-1999 Limited Edition with a blue calfskin strap, incorporating ebullient red stitching. It upholds the historic model’s perforated design but ventures off-piste with the new cheerful colourway.
The TAG Heuer Monaco 1989-1999 Limited Edition is fitted with a solid caseback, marked with two engravings, ‘1989-1999 Special Edition’ and ‘One of 169’.
Like the first two anniversary models, the TAG Heuer Monaco 1989-1999 Limited Edition is fitted with a modern-day version of the Calibre 11, measuring 30mm in diameter. The movement has a frequency of 28,800 VpH (4Hz), contains 59 jewels and harnesses sufficient energy to deliver 40 hours of autonomous operation.
When discussing the TAG Heuer Monaco 1969-1979 Limited Edition, I explored the history of the Chronomatic Calibre 11 movement including its influence on the location of the crown on the left flank of the case. While the position of the crown is no longer a consequence of the movement architecture, it has been retained for the delectation of traditionalists.
By creating a series of anniversary models, TAG Heuer implores the watch buyer to embrace nostalgia. The TAG Heuer Monaco 1989-1999 Limited Edition references the 1990s, a period I would describe as my salad days. A few notes from a former song, a visual reference from the past or an item of period clothing invites the mind to reminisce. Clearly, TAG Heuer understands the allure of nostalgia very well. Each of the three limited edition models to date have asked would-be wearers to look back to the past and quaff each creation’s period influences.
Image – TAG Heuer Monaco 1989-1999 Limited Edition
In my opinion, all of the TAG Heuer Monaco anniversary models have played the nostalgia card very skilfully. For example, the TAG Heuer Monaco 1969-1979 Limited Edition wonderfully captures the green, beige and brown hues that were so prevalent at the time.
Image – TAG Heuer Monaco 1969-1979 Limited Edition
Image – TAG Heuer Monaco 1979-1989 Limited Edition
The original Heuer Monaco cast aside the prevailing convention and mediocrity of 1969. It challenged the established ideas of watchmaking with thought-provoking details and breathtaking originality. With the passage of time, this watch has become an icon and an established part of the horological landscape. By releasing these limited edition creations, TAG Heuer reminds us how 50 years ago, the company’s designers set aside the rules and created something revolutionary. Now, the Swiss avant-garde brand has shown once again its capacity to produce imaginative designs and an impressive degree of creativity that shows no signs of waning.
Vacheron Constantin Historiques Triple Calendrier 1942
The Vacheron Constantin Historiques Triple Calendrier 1942 upholds the Genevan marques’s reputation for creating elegant calendar watches. This model incorporates period details such as claw-type lugs and a case embellished with triple gadroons. However, this is not merely a replica of a former model but a sympathetic re-interpretation of a classic design, infused with a ‘contemporary twist’.
Calendar watches represent an important pillar of the Vacheron Constantin brand. Indeed, one of the first horological complications offered by the luxury marque, harking back to the 18th century, was a calendar displaying the date and weekday. Later, the Maison combined high complications such as minute repeaters with calendar displays, including the venerated perpetual calendar.
In the 1920s, Vacheron Constantin housed calendar indications within a wristwatch, skilfully miniaturising the know-how first seen within a pocket watch and adapting it for wear upon the arm. However, it was the 1940s which represented the heyday for Vacheron Constantin calendar watches.
At the time, the indexes on some references comprised of Roman numerals while other models featured a combination of Arabic numerals, often used to denote even-numbered hours, and dots, rectangular batons or triangular indexes to indicate the intervening hours. Typically a small seconds display was positioned at 6 o’clock and on some models, not all, this was combined with a moon phase indication.
The Genevan firm’s calendar watches were mostly housed in round cases endowed with claw-type lugs. However, throughout its lengthy history, Vacheron Constantin (founded in 1755) has repeatedly shown it can never be typecast. For example, the Toledo wristwatch (circa 1952), equipped with day, month, date and moon-phase indication, was presented in a striking rectangular case with curved sides, nipped at the waist.
Recently, I had the opportunity to don my brim edge Fedora and closely examine the Vacheron Constantin Historiques Triple Calendrier 1942 at close quarters. This sympathetic recreation of the 1942 timepiece, the reference 4240, successfully captures many of the period design elements found on the original watch. However, the Genevan Maison has not simply produced a mere facsimile of the ref. 4240 but chosen to distill the aesthetic, imbuing the model with some contemporary touches.
A brief look at the terms used with calendar watches
A complete calendar (full calendar) shows the date, the day of the week, the month and moon phase. Those months with less than 31 days require the wearer to manually adjust the date five times a year.
An annual calendar can show merely the date or it can be a full calendar. However, with this complication, the movement is able to differentiate between those months with 30 and 31 days, automatically changing to the 1st of the month when appropriate. The only exception to this is on the morning of the 1st March, when the date needs to be manually corrected.
A perpetual calendar automatically takes into account whether a month has 28, 29 (leap year), 30 or 31 days and adjusts the date accordingly. The wearer only needs to adjust the date in 2100, 2200 and 2300 which are not leap years. Typically, a perpetual calendar will display a full calendar and a leap year indicator.
Vacheron Constantin has much expertise making all three types of calendar watch, having made numerous examples of each. Currently, the brand does not offer an annual calendar, however, based on its vast experience, this complication would not be a problem to this high-end practitioner of watchmaking.
The Vacheron Constantin Historiques Triple Calendrier 1942 is offered in two colourways, one with burgundy dial accents and a second with blue dial detail. Personally, I favour the latter reference.
Image – ref 3100V/000A-B425
In the northern hemisphere of the dial, the brand’s emblem and nomenclature provide reassurance that this timepiece has been distilled to the nth degree and made to the most exacting standards. Indeed, for many years the cognoscenti have mentioned the company’s name in reverential tones and grouped it with Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe, two other esteemed horological marques, conferring the trio with the epithet, ‘The holy trinity of watchmaking’.
Image – ref 3100V/000A-B426
Beneath the aforementioned branding, two rectangular apertures frame the day and month. The two indications convey meaning using a slender blue typeface set against a crisp white backdrop.
The blue baton-style hour and minute hands are supremely slender. They exhibit a seemly, almost balletic poise, brimming with grace. However, on reading this, the svelte profile of the hands may lead to questions about the readability of the indications. Rest assured, while the hands are incredibly majestic they also prove eminently legible.
The dial epidermis is silvered, incorporating a subtle sunburst finish and exhibiting a muted cream tone. The dial provides a fantastic foil for the various hands. Each hour, save for 6 o’clock, is denoted with Arabic numerals.
A snailed small seconds display is positioned above 6 o’clock and incorporates a blued hand, Arabic numerals and a combination of short and long strokes. Every element is crisp and neat, superbly circumventing ambiguity.
A white track encircles the central area of the dial. The trackis marked with 31 values, each representing the date and each depicted with succinct blue numerals. A silver-toned hand, featuring a prominent red tip, kisses the date values, efficiently indicating the prevailing date. The juxtaposing of the white track against the cream dial hues provides an effective means of delineation as well as augmenting the visual allure of the vista presented. The font used for the blue date values matches the black hour markers, contributing to the overall cohesion of the dial design.
A chemin de fer graces the periphery of the dial and proves helpful when reading off the prevailing minutes.
One concession that the Genevan brand has made to modern tastes relates to the size of the Vacheron Constantin Historiques Triple Calendrier 1942. This modern-day recreation measures 40mm in diameter, making it significantly larger than most watches of the 1940s. However, this should not be misconstrued, the scale of this watch is not excessive, indeed, it would be considered modest when contrasted with the majority of present-day watches.
In the 1940s, claw-type lugs were very much en vogue, however, despite the passage of time, their aesthetic appeal remains undiminished. Quite simply, they remain supremely graceful. Moreover, their allure is not merely restricted to their aesthetic charm, they also unite ergonomically with the wrist.
Image – ref 3100V/000A-B425
The box glass sapphire crystal also doffs its hat to the design language of the 1940s era. It invites available light to flood the dial plane, augmenting legibility. The appearance of the case is wonderfully enhanced by incorporating a ‘triple gadroon’ caseband. This feature is comprised of three curved sections on the flank of the case, stacked one upon the other, implying the wall is made of three circular sections despite being of monobloc construction. This illusion bestows an eye-catching appearance and invites the wearer to examine the surface closely with an outstretched index finger.
The crown sits unobtrusively against the caseband, reinforcing the softly spoken character of the Vacheron Constantin Historiques Triple Calendrier 1942. The crown has two positions. When it is pulled out fully, the hour and minutes can be adjusted. Alternatively, when the crown is pushed fully home, the watch is in winding mode, allowing the wearer to energise the mainspring. The corrector, positioned within the caseband at 2 o’clock, allows the wearer to adjust the month display, using the corrector pen which is provided with the watch. A further corrector, for adjusting the date, is located is located at 4 o’clock.
A key attribute of any Vacheron Constantin watch is the matchless movement housed within the case and the Historiques Triple Calendrier 1942 proves no exception. Therefore, I applaud the historical firm for choosing to equip this timepiece with an exhibition caseback, affording views of the hand-wound Calibre 4400 QC.
The Vacheron Constantin Historiques Triple Calendrier 1942 bears the Geneva Seal, otherwise known as the Poinçon de Genève. Firstly, this symbol acts in the same way some wines are marked ‘appellation contrôlée’, indicating that a watch is ‘made by the craftsmen of the Republic and Canton of Geneva’.
In addition, the shield-shape symbol signifies that a watch has met a range of stringent criteria relating to the specification of components, their finish (where appropriate) and ‘reliability’. This latter criteria includes tests for the correct functioning of parts, water resistance and accuracy, to name but a few.
The Geneva Seal came into existence in 1886 and it has been an indication of no-compromise quality ever since. Those companies marking products with the Poinçon de Genève are regularly audited by independent inspectors. Only if these firms continue to fulfil the onerous criteria of the Geneva Seal can they continue to produce watches bearing the prestigious emblem. Needless to say, the Poinçon de Genève is only found on watches of the finest quality.
The hand-wound Calibre 4400 QC was ‘entirely developed’ by Vacheron Constantin and each example is painstakingly ‘crafted’ by their talented personnel. The movement is comprised of 225 components, including 21 jewels. Measuring 29mm in diameter, the movement occupies a significant proportion of the case, hence its scale befits the watch’s 40mm diameter.
Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition Steel SBGK005
The Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition Steel SBGK005 embodies the Japanese marque’s empathy for nature and incorporates peerless craftsmanship. Moreover, this article looks at three further variants of this model, each housed in a sumptuous gold case, the SBGK002, SBGK004 and SBGK006.
Every year, in March and April, legions of foreign travellers descend on Japan, eager to view the country’s legendary cherry blossom. However, while the ballerina pink hues attract many overseas visitors, their numbers pale when compared to the blossom-obsessed indigenous population. The Japanese enjoy cherry blossom viewing, often eating and drinking beneath a canopy of gentle, relaxing hues. Japan’s widespread appreciation of cherry blossom extends to works of art, where the fleeting nature of the beautiful blossom is captured for posterity.
Japan has always demonstrated a profound empathy for nature. Moreover, Japanese firms have sought inspiration from scenery, wildlife and various other natural phenomena. A few years ago, Grand Seiko captured hearts with its now legendary ‘Snowflake’ dial. The chaste white dial epidermis is enriched with a texture that emulates the appearance of freshly fallen snow. This watch remains a popular model for the brand’s many devotees.
In 2014, Grand Seiko won the ‘Petite Aiguille’ at the prestigious Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG). The honour was awarded to the Japanese firm for its Hi-beat 36000 GMT Limited Edition (SBGJ005), the first Grand Seiko timepiece endowed with a dial inspired by Mount Iwate. This motif featured a series of lines radiating from the centre of the dial, said to be inspired by the many ridged contours of the mountain.
Located near the foothills of the Mount Iwate is Shizukuishi Watch Studio. It is here where mechanical Grand Seiko models come into the world. Artisanal crafts abound. Watchmakers sit at bespoke benches, made to measure in order to ensure an optimal ergonomic relationship exists between time-served hands and the timepieces they lovingly create.
When exploring the external perimeter of the Shizukuishi Watch Studio, one cannot help but notice the large signs which list the plants and wildlife within the immediate vicinity. Once again, the company’s empathy for its immediate surroundings is manifest. It is this affinity with nature that influences the composition of several watches bearing the ‘GS’ logo.
Recently, a selection of new, hand-wound watches left the confines of the Shizukuishi Watch Studio including the steel Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition Steel SBGK005. While exploring this steel watch, I will also venture off-piste and discuss its siblings, each housed in a gold case.
In recent years, several watch brands have released timepieces equipped with blue dials. However, the dial of the Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition Steel SBGK005 stands apart from the crowd, sporting a muted shade of Aegean blue. Indeed, ‘muted’, ‘discreet’ and ‘subtle’ are all suitable adjectives for this softly-spoken timepiece.
The dial is enriched with the brand’s Mount Iwate motif. The aforementioned Hi-beat 36000 GMT Limited Edition (SBGJ005) sold like proverbial ‘hot cakes’ when it was unveiled, hence those readers already succumbing to the charms of the SBGK005 should bear this in mind. Lines emanate from the fulcrum of the dial, conferring a fascinating texture for the onlooker’s delectation. This is a dial that enchants the wearer, but not at the expense of conveying time. Indeed, the Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition Steel SBGK005 is a paragon of readability.
Dauphine hour and minute hands proclaim the prevailing time with absolute clarity. The hands have faceted edges which efficiently coax light, conferring a useful quotient of brilliance. The minute hand features a curved profile, designed to follow the domed contour of the dial. Each hour is represented with a gleaming, faceted index. Positioned in between each index are short, crisp strokes allowing the wearer to easily read-off individual minutes.
Adjacent to 3 o’clock, the dial is marked with a crescent-shaped scale. A lone, elongated hand collaborates with said scale to indicate the available energy held within the spring barrel. Interestingly, Grand Seiko has, once again, bent the hand of the power-reserve indicator in order to hug the dial’s contoured profile. The brand’s attention to detail is breathtaking.
A small seconds display at 9 o’clock acts as a counterbalance for the power-reserve indicator. Indeed, the scale and position of the small seconds display and its neighbouring indication, confer both balance and a notable sense of cohesion. However, the inclusion of both indications does nothing to impair the proclamation of hours and minutes. Every element of the dial composition is clearly the consequence of careful and protracted consideration.
Alternative dial options in Urushi lacquer
While the Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition Steel SBGK005 is endowed with a blue dial, the Japanese firm also offers alternative models in gold, each paired with a distinctively hued canvas.
Image – Mount Iwate
The SBGK002 is presented in an 18-carat rose gold case. The dial, enriched with Urushi lacquer, is described by the brand as ‘amber’, however, I must confess when I cradled the watch in my hands, it appeared almost scarlet. The dial colour is made from ‘transparent and long lasting Urushi that comes from trees grown in and around the town of Jojobi that lies under Mount Iwate’. The Mount Iwate motif fills the dial, acting as a reminder of the model’s place of origin.
Also housed in an 18-carat rose gold case, the SBGK004 employs the same lacquer as its ‘Amber’ sibling, however, iron is added to the mix bestowing the dial with a deep abyss-like shade of black.
Both these models are enriched with Maki-e, a traditional technique used for a variety of high-value Japanese goods such as luxury fountain pens. The process involves applying numerous layers of lacquer to the surface to form an undercoat. Thereafter, the hour markers and ‘GS’ logo are ‘drawn’ on the surface using fine brushes. Powdered gold or platinum is then sprinkled on the surfaces. Finally, said surfaces are polished by hand in order to bestow a shimmering, three-dimensional appearance to the indexes and logo.
When Grand Seiko chose to endow these models with Maki-e dials, it turned to Urushi master Isshu Tamura in Kanazawa on the west coast of Japan’s main island. The artisanal prowess of Tamura is clear to see. Indeed, each marker, presented in relief, shares the same height despite the curved profile of the dial.
The SBGK002 and the SBGK004 share the same dial layout as the Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition Steel SBGK005. Both the SBGK002 and the SBGK004 are limited to just 150 pieces each, conferring a high degree of exclusivity.
Where the previously mentioned models incorporate intricate dials, the SBGK006 favours absolute conservatism. Presented in an 18-carat yellow gold case, this watch exhibits a slightly ‘retro’ appearance.
Image – SBGK006 (to be released in July 2019)
Despite sharing the same dial topography as the aforementioned watches, the SBGK006 looks decidedly different with its blemish free, pure white dial. Its chaste dial provides the perfect backdrop for the expression of time. Nothing inhibits understanding.
In July 2019, the SBGK006 will be released for general sale and will form part of Grand Seiko’s permanent collection.
The case of the Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition Steel SBGK005 subscribes to the company’s famous house style. The term ‘curved sideline’ is used by the Japanese firm to describe the trajectory of the caseband. The lugs are integrated into the caseband, melding together in a seamless arcing strip of steel.
A half recessed crown nuzzles into the caseband, underscoring the discreet persona of the watch. Scrutinising the case closely, one discovers the brand’s ‘reverse slanted bezel wall and case side’. This description is used to relate the way the caseband, positioned towards the rear of the watch, tapers inwards as it nears the dorsal flank of the case. Not only does this heighten the aesthetic allure of the watch, but it also allows the wearer’s wrist to articulate more freely, augmenting wearer comfort.
Measuring 39mm in diameter, the Grand Seiko Elegance Limited Edition Steel SBGK005 sits unobtrusively upon the wrist. Owing to the absence of an oscillating weight, this hand-wound timepiece proves slimmer than its automatic counterparts, measuring 11.6mm in height.
A key attribute of any Grand Seiko model is the mirror-like finish of the case. This gleaming appearance is the result of ‘Zaratsu’ polishing. Only after approximately three years of extensive training is a Grand Seiko employee deemed ready to polish cases using this technique.
In order to achieve the flawless finish synonymous with Zaratsu polishing, the case is placed in a holder. This holder is unique to the artisan and allows them to position the case against a revolving wheel. The wheel is brushed with a liquid containing a coarse abrasive compound. After prolonged polishing with one compound, an alternative liquid is used which features finer particulates. As the wheel rotates, the artisan manipulates the position of the holder, changing the angle of interaction between the case and the wheel. At all times, the artisan has to exercise great care not to change the shape of the case. While this process may appear protracted, the peerless result justifies the effort made.
A sapphire caseback affords sight of the Caliber 9S63 movement. The pane of sapphire is embellished with the Japanese firm’s blue lion mark.
When Grand Seiko unveiled the SBGK005 and its golden siblings, it proclaimed, ‘It has been eight years since the last manual-winding caliber in Grand Seiko and it has been worth the wait’. While this statement ably conveyed meaning, it seemed almost boastful and out of character. I suspect it was the consequence of an overzealous copywriter. My reason for making this comment is that the company is incredibly modest. Its achievements are many, often revealed merely in passing.
The Calibre 9S63 is a hand-wound movement containing 33 jewels. Similar to some of the other Grand Seiko watches, the movement incorporates parts made with MEMS technology. This know-how, often referred to as LIGA technology in Europe, allows Grand Seiko to produce components to infinitesimal tolerances using a combination of lithography, electroforming and moulding.
Grand Seiko uses MEMS technology for producing the escape wheels. The elaborate design of the wheel would be difficult to realise using conventional milling techniques. The teeth of the escape wheel incorporate small reservoirs which retain lubricant, mitigating wear. Furthermore, the lubricant reduces friction and, by default, minimises energy consumption. Each tooth of the escape wheel is openworked, reducing mass and, again, reducing energy consumption.
In terms of the escapement, weight reduction is of critical importance. The pallet lever, sometimes called the ‘anchor’, features a series of intricately shaped holes. This design reduces mass without losing torsional strength. Once again, the benefits of MEMS technology comes to the fore.
Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance (Part Two) – In this 3-part series, ESCAPEMENT goes behind the scenes and looks at the making of the base movement and minute repeater module.
Claude Greisler, the CEO and Technical Director of Armin Strom, was eager to create an extraordinary watch to mark the 10th anniversary of the company’s Manufacture. He found inspiration in Bern, the home of the Zytglogge. This thirteenth century clock incorporates automatons and mellifluously chimes the hours and quarters.
Greisler had the inspired idea to combine the brand’s impressive resonance system, a means of conferring amazing precision, with aural resonance using the age-old complication, a minute repeater. As Greisler explained to me during a recent visit to the Manufacture, ‘by combining two large complications, resonance and a minute repeater, we have created our first grand complication’.
As I mentioned in the first part of our 3-part series of features, Claude sought the help of his longtime friend, Alain Schiesser of Le Cercle des Horlogers. This specialist firm, located close to La Chaux-de-Fonds, the watchmaking capital of Switzerland, has much expertise in the making of minute repeaters.
A Manufacture par excellence
Unusually, Armin Strom is a Manufacture. While the number of companies possessing the necessary in-house expertise has grown in recent years, a significant number of watch brands still purchase generic movements from third parties.
Image – some components made by Armin Strom are incredibly small
At Armin Strom’s atelier in Biel, numerous components are made using high-tech equipment such as CNC machines, profile turning machines (bar milling) and wire erosion. The company makes all of the movement parts with the exception of the assortiment (escape wheel, lever and roller), balance wheel and hairspring.
Everything starts with the platine (bottom plate). It is cut from a square brass blank using a CNC machine and provides the chassis of the movement to which other components are affixed. Thereafter, bridges, wheels, pinions, pivots and screws are made to infinitesimal tolerances. Indeed, some parts are so small they are barely visible to the human eye.
Image – bevelling of a balance cock for Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance. Task undertaken at Armin Strom
After machining, components are entrusted to time-served hands which painstakingly bevel, engrave and polish the minute parts. The bottom plate is adorned with perlage and the bridges are embellished with Côtes de Geneve. The parts are then handed to the company’s in-house electroplating department. The brass and steel components are initially plated in gold prior to receiving an application of nickel. This process prevents corrosion and hardens the surfaces. Finally, the parts are dipped in the electroplating baths to imbue them with a particular colour. In the case of the Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance, the movement components are presented in ruthenium, imbuing them with a deep, rich, anthracite hue.
The movement is then passed to the watchmaker for assembly. Jewels are set into the base plate and bridges using a hand tool which pushes the jewel into its intended home. Once the jewels are set, the watchmaker adds the gear train and mainspring before adding the escapement and balance wheel. At this stage, the movement begins to pulse with life. However, just as the watchmaker sees the completion of the task on the horizon, he has to disassemble the watch, clean and dry each component prior to reassembly and lubrication as fine watchmaking etiquette dictates.
Once the watch is finally completed, it is tested over a number of days, ensuring the watch confers precision. It is only after this exhaustive process that a watch will leave the Armin Strom Manufacture in its presentation box.
The base movement
The Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance features the Manufacture Caliber ARR18. This consists of two elements, the base movement and the minute repeater module. Once the two elements are brought together, the movement measures 39.40mm x 11.35mm and is comprised of 408 components.
The base movement is made in Armin Strom’s Manufacture, prior to being passed to Le Cercle des Horlogers. Many of the parts used within the minute repeater module are made in Biel and transferred to the minute repeater specialist.
Looking closely at the base movement, it is actually not one movement but two. Each movement has its own regulator. Unusually, each independent mainspring is housed in one barrel and collectively they deliver 96 hours of autonomous operation. Each movement is hand wound, energised by turning the lone crown at 3 o’clock. The movements are vertically stacked.
At this juncture, many readers may wonder why the Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance contains two balance wheels. The model is equipped with an innovative resonance system which utilises two regulating organs, conferring several tangible benefits.
Base movement – resonance
Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695), the inventor of the pendulum clock and one of the most important figures in the field of horology, is said to have been the first person to witness resonance. He noticed that two separate pendulum clocks, when sharing a common beam, moved in synchronous motion.
Later, both Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823) and Antide Janvier (1751-1855) would create double pendulum clocks. When two pendulums are subject to shock, one may slow down but the other will run faster by the same amount, minimising the effect of outside influence. Furthermore, both pendulums will ultimately return to a synchronous state. It is this phenomenon which Armin Strom has mastered and employed in several of its watches.
Both independent regulation systems are linked to a patented resonance clutch spring. The benefits of the resonance are threefold: a stabilising effect on timekeeping (better accuracy), conservation of energy and reducing the negative implications of shocks (better accuracy).
Armin Strom expended much effort refining the shape of the clutch spring in order to achieve resonance. It took Greisler three years to arrive at the optimum spring specification. However, his efforts were rewarded when CSEM, the independent Swiss research and technology organisation, confirmed that the two balance wheels linked by the patented clutch spring constitute a ‘true mechanical system’.
The resonance system conceived by Armin Strom should be viewed with the same reverence as the iconic tourbillon. In fact, Armin Strom’s system matches the accuracy of a tourbillon while delivering superior stability. Quite simply, the resonance system is a high complication.
Minute Repeater – introduction
In bygone times, before electric street lighting was commonplace, it was difficult to read the dial of a watch. The minute repeater allowed the owner, on demand, to hear the time through a series of chimes. These chimes would indicate the hours, quarters and minutes, merely by activating a push or slide-piece on the side of the case. Typically, minute repeaters chime three different sounds. Hours are normally signalled with a low tone, the quarter hours by a sequence of two tones and the minutes by a high tone.
Image – part complete minute repeater with no gongs
Usually, the sound is generated with two circular loops, formed of steel, termed ‘gongs’. These are struck by hammers to produce the desired sound. The strike mechanism of a minute repeater is formed of intricately shaped racks, snails, cams and wheels. The minute repeater is widely regarded as one of the most challenging complications to realise.
Minute Repeater module by Le Cercle des Horlogers
The first thing which is evident when looking at the minute repeater module fitted to the Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance is that the gongs do not conform to convention. The two gongs are an eccentric shape and exhibit a three-dimensional profile. The gongs are affixed to the case and movement with a ‘plot’.
Image – the unusually shaped gongs of the Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance
As the gongs emanate from the plot, they follow the contour of the dial and rise upwards, floating above the two regulator organs. This design invites the wearer to look closely at gongs, not just from above but also from the side. This characteristic is consistent with the brand’s message of ‘we show what we make’. Another benefit of this design is that the gongs sit close to the sapphire crystal enriching the sonorous voice of the watch.
Image – brass plate used for refining the profile of each metal wire
Making gongs is not for the fainthearted. A piece of steel wire is subject to repeated heating cycles and then skilfully formed by hand into the desired shape. A brass plate, machined using CNC at Armin Strom’s Biel HQ, features an outline of the gong and is used to fine-tune the gong’s contours. Schiesser himself makes all of the company’s gongs, expending numerous hours, painstakingly refining the profile of each metal wire.
Image – a gong with two parts of the plot shown
The two gongs are held within the aforementioned ‘plot’ (sometimes called the gong heel), but despite their close proximity, they never touch. The area of the gong adjacent to the plot is carefully filed to achieve the desired sound. Mere microns are removed from each gong. Should Schiesser remove too much material from the gongs, they would be rendered useless and discarded to waste. Thankfully, with years of experience, Schiesser seldom makes mistakes. It requires 30 operations to make a gong. Schiesser spent two months making the first five pairs of gongs. Perfection is never the product of haste.
The plot features three screws, two affix the plot to the base plate while the third connects the plot to the case. Incidentally, the case is made of titanium which, owing to its light mass, causes sound to resonate wonderfully, surpassing the performance of gold or platinum alternatives. The interior of the case is expertly designed to augment the richness and quality of the sound produced. While Greisler designs the exterior of the case, a specialist company is responsible for the case’s interior shape.
When the fortunate wearer of an Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance actuates the chiming sequence, a dedicated mainspring is wound and each rack falls onto its respective snail. For example, the hour rack falls onto the hour snail, the quarter rack falls onto the quarter snail and, lastly, the seconds rack falls onto the seconds snail. When the racks have fallen onto their respective snails and the slide has been released, the watch is ready to chime.
In this interview with Robert Punkenhofer, Carl Suchy & Söhne, the charismatic Co-Owner and Founder of the reinvigorated watch company discusses the influence of Adolf Loos on the brand’s designs, the involvement of esteemed watchmaker, Marc Jenni, and the company’s plans for the future.
I first discovered Carl Suchy & Söhne while attending Salon QP, back in 2017. The brand was showcasing its beautiful Waltz N°1 watch.
The dial of this model is suffused with a myriad of parallel lines, arranged along a north-south axis. Unusually, the dial eschews a conventional small seconds display and features a ‘waltzing disc’. The disc which is also adorned with lines, similar to the main dial display, is barely noticeable when all the lines align. However, most of the time, the contrasting orientation of the lines stands out and confers a palpable dose of intrigue. Furthermore, not only does the Waltz N°1 effervesce with style, it also harnesses an exquisite high-end movement from Swiss movement specialist, Vaucher Fleurier Manufacture.
Interview with Robert Punkenhofer, Carl Suchy & Söhne (RP) by Angus Davies (AD)
AD: What makes Carl Suchy & Söhne special?
RP: First of all the amazing legacy of Carl Suchy & Söhne. The company was founded in 1822 by watchmaker Carl Suchy who, thanks to his creativity and his innovative clocks, was appointed an official purveyor to the Habsburg Court. Later, this would also encompass his pocket watches. The brand catered for famous customers such as the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, his wife Sisi and the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. This legacy is unique and cannot be copied.
Image – Carl Suchy & Söhne shop in Vienna
In recent times, we have managed to create an extraordinary contemporary watch. Our design inspiration was the Austrian architect Adolf Loos, one of the precursors of Viennese Modernism – the design era that strongly influenced Vienna’s appearance and image. The watch features the characteristics of Viennese elegance and eschews a conventional seconds hand, employing a ‘waltzing’ disc, a design feature unique to our brand. We believe that Vienna, unlike London or New York, does not march to a frenetic pace – here, not every second counts. Lastly, the Habsburg Empire used to be a famous watchmaking centre and now, once again, we are able to offer an amazing Austrian watch marque that is on a par with brands in Switzerland, Great Britain and Germany.
AD: Carl Suchy & Söhne was founded in 1822 but disappeared from view in 1914. As I understand it, you revived the brand in 2016. Can you explain a little about what attracted you to the brand?
RP: I heard about this amazing story about a family firm who were purveyors to the royal Habsburg court for three generations. The company had participated at world fairs in Paris, Germany and all over the world; it had workshops in Vienna, Prague and La Chaux-de-Fonds. I wanted to prevent this great piece of history from being forgotten and create something outstanding, while respecting the unique DNA of the historic Carl Suchy & Söhne brand.
Image – Carl Suchy & Söhne workshop in La Chaux-de-Fonds
AD: I believe you are the co-owner of the brand with a background in art and design. What enticed you to the world of horology?
RP: For me, coming from a background in art and design – not a watch collector or former manager working for a big watch brand – my motivation was to prevent the company’s amazing history from being forgotten and create a design worthy of the brand’s legacy. My outsider status turned into an advantage – especially in terms of the design, creativity and art related activities.
AD: While Carl Suchy & Söhne harks back to the 19th century, the design language of your watches was inspired by Adolf Loos, an Austrian architect from the 20th century. How did Loos’ work influence the creation of the Waltz No.1 timepiece?
RP: Adolf Loos was our absolute inspiration. Carl Suchy’s prime era was around the time of Biedermeier, a very classic and conservative style. We continued where Suchy once stopped – in the era of Viennese Art Nouveau and ‘Wiener Werkstätte’ – the prime time of designers like Josef Hoffmann, Gustav Klimt and of course Adolf Loos, who famously called ornament a crime, meaning that a minimalistic design approach is necessary to achieve outstanding elegance. When you look at our watch, it is in line with Loos’ credo.
Image – Adolf Loos
We have achieved the elegance of the watch by seamlessly connecting one material to the next – the leather straps connect the steel, the steel case blends into the glass and the dial and indexes are curved upwards on the outside, connecting to the glass and case again. The split dial with its lined pattern is directly inspired by one of Adolf Loos’ buildings in Vienna. Even the pattern on the inside of the leather strap is inspired by the ceiling of Adolf Loos’ famous ‘Loosbar’ in the heart of Vienna.
AD: The Waltz No.1 timepiece is beautifully styled. Did you utilise the talents of an in-house designer or an external agency?
RP: We hired a very young designer, Miloš Ristin, who at that time was still studying at the famous Swiss design university ÉCAL. After he totally immersed himself into the Viennese lifestyle for a few weekends, he created the beautiful Waltz N°1. While we have no in-house designer, the whole design and development process is very much in-house, meaning that I’m personally guiding these processes. We are now looking ahead to future products and I am in discussion with great Viennese and international designers. However, this is to create not only a second model for the wrist, but also a unique signature piece – a table clock.
AD: Several of your current models use the Caliber 5401 by Vaucher Fleurier Manufacture or, in the case of your skeleton watch, the Caliber 5401/180. These movements are beautifully appointed, featuring a variable-inertia balance and a micro-rotor. I was very surprised to see that your entry model is priced at €8495 including VAT.
How have you delivered a watch of this quality for the money?
RP: Of course it was a stretch. We could have used a standard ETA-movement, but we wanted to work with Vaucher Fleurier and Marc Jenni, who adapts the movement and handcrafts the watch, because Carl Suchy & Söhne has always been the best of the best.
We did not want to be in the mass-premium segment, rather we wanted to operate at the top level. Therefore, Vaucher, who is working with brands such as Parmigiani and Richard Mille, was a logical partner. I did not want Carl Suchy to turn in his grave by using a cheap movement and producing an inferior watch. That would have been unthinkable. Furthermore, selling our watches at keen prices may be a consequence of selling half of our watches directly to the public.
AD: How do you convey this impressive value for money to the watchbuying public?
RP: We convey the value with our amazing dealer network, including retailers such as Laurent Picciotto of Chronopassion Paris, The Lavish Attic in Hong Kong and Noble Styling in Tokyo. All these retailers share a passion for independent brands. Having a background in art and design, Carl Suchy & Söhne brings an exclusive look and feel to the way its products are presented. This is manifest with the way we receive personal customers in the beautiful Viennese Looshaus. At exhibitions and events, we always try to focus on every detail so that the customer experience is very personal, very direct and very luxurious.
AD: Carl Suchy & Söhne is a small brand, which was only revived in 2016. What attracted renowned watchmaker Marc Jenni to work with you?
RP: As Carl Suchy & Söhne were one of the best watchmakers in the past, a Viennese firm not a Swiss Maison (he smiles), I think Marc was drawn to our company’s legacy and he shared our passion for the project. I suspect this was his motivation, rather than the money. As a third generation watchmaker from Switzerland, helping a 200 year old Austrian start up, it must have been an interesting challenge for him. He did an amazing job.
Image – Marc Jenni
AD: What skills has Marc Jenni brought to your company?
RP: He was essential in sourcing all the parts of the watch from the dials to cases, even the leather used for the straps. He worked only with the best suppliers and produced a watch made entirely of high quality Swiss components. Marc Jenni is highly regarded in the international watch business, so he also complemented my lack of experience in this field.
AD: How do you distribute your products?
RP: Through our dealers, a very selective network that we hope to extend, together with direct sales via our showroom in Vienna and online boutique. In the first year of our launch, we were able to sign up retailers in six cities worldwide. We are now targeting the US and have recently appointed an agent, based stateside to handle sales.
AD: To date, your watches have displayed hours and minutes with a ‘Waltzing Disc’ at 6 o’clock. Do you envisage offering watches with complications in the future?
RP: For sure we have many ideas for new watches and new complications. Of course, every new model is a huge effort in terms of time and money. As we are a small start up and not a million dollar company, we have to take it slow. At the moment our main focus is on making the Waltz N°1 better known than it is now. As you can see with the model’s rotating seconds disc, it is not enough for us to just add a standard complication that many other companies have. If we choose to offer a GMT or chronograph in the future, it has to incorporate a twist that only Carl Suchy & Söhne can offer.
AD: What are your aspirations for the brand?
RP: In the 19th century, Carl Suchy & Söhne was known as one of the best watchmakers in the world. This is where we want to return to in the future and to be known as one of the world’s coolest watch brands – cool in an elegant way, refined and sophisticated.
I am always surprised that each month, I hear of yet another new watch brand. Often, I ponder how many of these fledgling companies will survive in the long term. It is for this reason that I generally wait and see if a horological start-up flourishes or disappears into the ether.
The resurrected firm of Carl Suchy & Söhne has passed its probationary period and looks destined to prosper in the long term. There are several factors which heighten its chance of success.
Image – Vintage Carl Suchy & Söhne pocket watch
Firstly, the design of the Waltz N°1 is beautifully resolved. It brims with eye-appeal and the dial is a paragon of readability. The Austrian firm subsequently introduced a skeleton watch and a high-end model encased in gold. However, the commonality of each model is clear to see. When a company employs a consistent design language, the consumer can better understand what the brand represents and buy into the persona of its watches. Carl Suchy & Söhne clearly understand this.
Beyond the brand’s aptitude for design, it has demonstrated it understands the importance of using a high quality movement. Vaucher Fleurier Manufacture craft movements to an exalted standard. For example, the Caliber 5401 incorporates a variable inertia balance which confers superior precision to a movement featuring a balance fitted with a simple regulator. Moreover, by engaging Marc Jenni, a highly respected watchmaker, Carl Suchy & Söhne has shown it is determined to deliver beautifully finished, precise and reliable timepieces.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for any independent brand is product distribution. Often retailers are unwilling to engage young brands. However, Carl Suchy & Söhne has attracted the patronage of some of the world’s most prestigious retailers, including the legendary Chronopassion of Paris.
Based on the above observations, I suspect Carl Suchy & Söhne will continue to thrive, hopefully conceiving further watches infused with a distinctive Austrian style.
Cyrus Klepcys Vertical Tourbillon
Carl Eady reveals his fondness for a neoteric timepiece endowed with a vertical tourbillon, thought-provoking styling and high-end finishing.
This detailed review of the Cyrus Klepcys Vertical Tourbillon includes images, specification details and pricing
Cyrus the Great (c600-530BC) hailed from Persis (Persia) and was a visionary ruler who founded the first Persian Empire ‘Achaemenid’, which at the time was the world’s largest empire. He went on to conquer the Median, Lydian and Neo-Babylonian empires. Despite his undoubted power and prowess for military strategy, he respected the culture and traditions of the lands he conquered.
Named after this most inspirational leader, the brand ‘Cyrus’ arrived on the horology scene in 2010. In its own words, the brand demonstrates ‘a conquering spirit and the courage to take risks’. Whilst the company’s designs may challenge those possessing more conservative tastes, they are undeniably finished to the most exacting standards. Jean-François Mojon is the brand’s master watchmaker and creative force. The 2011 winner of GPHG ‘Watchmaker of the Year’ and creator of the Harry Winston ‘Opus X’, Mojon is the brains behind some of the most inventive and audacious pieces to enliven the independent horology scene.
In 2018, the Le Locle based brand launched its first tourbillon and its most daring timepiece to date, the acclaimed ‘Klepcys Vertical Tourbillon’. Fifty-eight pieces of each colour variant were produced comprising rose gold, rose gold with DLC and finally all black DLC. The success of these pieces has led Cyrus to manufacture three skeletonised iterations that reveal much of the stunning hand wound in-house movement. Launched at Basel 2019, they are limited to just 5 examples of each colour variant.
Cyrus recently visited ‘The Watchmakers Club’ event in London’s Covent Garden, where attendees were lucky enough to get hands on with its exceptional pieces and, in particular, the Rose Gold and Black DLC Limited Edition Ref. 539.506.GD.A
Despite being a relatively young brand, Cyrus has created a unique design language. Cushion shaped cases house its creations, whilst the twin crowns positioned at 3 and 9 o’clock afford the watches a pleasing symmetrical aesthetic. Not only do they provide balance, their function brings simplicity, with one crown advancing the jumping hours (perfect if switching time zones) and the other setting the time and manually winding the movement.
The 44mm two-tone case of this Klepcys Vertical Tourbillon is comprised of some 26 parts and is exquisitely finished. The gold elements of the case combine three complementary finishes. The lugs sport a sumptuous satin grain, juxtaposed with sublime mirror polish edges, while the recesses display a matt ‘microbillage’ (bead blasted) finish. The black bezel is DLC coated, Grade 5 titanium and displays a highly polished outer with a finely brushed inner. On the reverse side, a transparent anti-reflective sapphire crystal is a window into the calibre CYR625. Above the dial, a specially shaped domed sapphire crystal has been fashioned to accommodate the bridge structure and tourbillon. A consequence of this avant-garde design is the height of the crystal required, resulting in a case thickness of 19.9mm. Arguably, this is a small price to pay given the model’s stunning three dimensional architecture.
Dominating the Klepcys Tourbillon is the vertical bridge running from 6 to 12 o’clock. It is inspired by drawings created by Da Vinci for a bridge over the Golden Horn, a natural inlet of the city of Constantinople (now Istanbul). At first glance, for some it may be a bridge too far, however, for those whose philosophy resonates with the ethos of Cyrus it will no doubt symbolise a spirit of adventure. This spectacular feature, with beautifully polished and bevelled edges, houses the vertical tourbillon cage and through its domed arches one can see the mechanism in full detail.
The original Klepcys Tourbillons (2018) all came with solid dials. With the 2019 variants, the decision to reveal the movement with an open dial adds to the intrigue of the watch. By separating the two halves of the dial estate, the bridge perpetuates the symmetry found elsewhere on the watch. Hours and minutes are displayed by means of two arced scales around the dial’s perimeter. Each is black (DLC) finished with white Arabic numerals. On the left, the 12-hour markers welcome a long skeletonised hand which ‘jumps’ between hours before returning to its point of origin via a retrograde mechanism. The corresponding retrograde minute hand is also skeletonised, gently sweeping clockwise past the five-minute markers. The seconds display is communicated via twelve tiny numbered tiles which decorate the perimeter of the tourbillon’s rotating cage.
The available power reserve is communicated by means of a 5mm rotating ball situated at 12 o’clock. Finished in microbillé DLC, it has four Arabic numerals set neatly within tram lines, indicating the ‘days left’ before further manual winding is required. A playful representation of this complication perhaps, but this is without doubt serious horology.
The calibre powering this magical timepiece is the 51 jewelled CYR625 which is comprised of 344 parts. Beating at 3Hz, the twin barrels harness approximately 100 hours of power when fully wound.
Mojon and the Cyrus team clearly have exceptional talents in mechanics, design and finishing. However, revealing so much of the movement through the open dial presents a degree of risk. With today’s mobile phone cameras equipped with macro lenses, the slightest imperfection or burred screwhead could threaten a brand’s credibility. For Cyrus though, many painstaking hours spent at the bench has resulted in production values that warrant the closest of inspections. Beautifully decorated throughout, this timepiece is just as spectacular when viewed through the exhibition caseback.
Enhancing the symmetry throughout the watch, the bridges display an ornate sunray pattern, created by alternating polished and sandblasted finishes. Two parallel barrels sit beneath the ratchet wheels. Akin to the eyes of a knowledgeable owl, the wheels are decorated in black lacquer and embellished with brushed Cyrus logos.
Despite the tourbillon being patented in 1801 by Abraham-Louis Breguet, this derivative, the vertical tourbillon, is a surprisingly rare sight. The anti-gravity thinking behind the tourbillon is well documented and it has fascinated watch enthusiasts since its conception. Cyrus has set their tourbillon cage on a vertical axis at 90°. During normal wear, it will therefore spend most of the time in a vertical position, ensuring precision is optimised. Comprised of 52 parts, yet weighing less than a gram, the beating heart of this movement is nothing short of spectacular. Rotating 360° per minute, the tourbillon also incorporates a seconds indication.
With a watch endowed with such a modern appearance, one may have expected the strap to be made of a contemporary material rather than the leather which has been used. However, collectors will not be disappointed with the sumptuous alligator leather chosen as it proves a harmonious pairing with the case. The strap affixed to the two toned case edition 539.506.GD.A is black and secured with a black titanium folding clasp, adorned with the Cyrus logo.
The creativity on display from the current crop of independent brands in the industry is truly first class. To stand out in such a sea of talent requires brands to push the boundaries of design and possess the technical expertise and finishing skills to bring new visions to life. In creating the Klepcys Vertical Skeleton Tourbillon, Cyrus, driven by Jean-François Mojon, has proven its credentials and deserves to be recognised for its place in the top tier of independent watchmaking.
Maurice Lacroix Masterpiece Square Wheel Retrograde 43mm
Maurice Lacroix has always had the capacity to dazzle by endowing its watches with innovative ways of indicating time. This recently launched model features clover-shaped and square wheels and a date display which arcs gracefully before returning to its point of origin. However, despite the groundbreaking nature of its display, this watch also incorporates traditional Swiss craftsmanship.
This detailed review of the Maurice Lacroix Masterpiece Square Wheel Retrograde 43mm includes live images, specification details and pricing.
Retrograde indications have long since been a part of Maurice Lacroix’s Masterpiece collection. The Swiss watch company, based in the Jura, the watchmaking heartland of Switzerland, has much expertise in producing watches endowed with retrograde indications.
While Maurice Lacroix has produced classical watches, displaying hours, minutes and seconds using conventional coaxial hands, it has also embraced new methods of imparting time. In 2010, it unveiled its inaugural square wheel timepiece, featuring a clover-shaped wheel in mesh with a square wheel, lucidly conveying meaning. This initial model was ground-breaking when launched and upheld the brand’s reputation for iconic design. Moreover, the legend of the ‘Square Wheel’ lives on.
In recent months, the Swiss firm has unveiled a new watch which incorporates both forms of indication, the aptly named Maurice Lacroix Square Wheel Retrograde 43mm. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to wear the watch for a few days and experience Maurice Lacroix’s accessible take on luxury.
The hours and minutes are proclaimed with blued, faceted hands. They exhibit a traditional appearance and look glorious when bathed in light. Roman numerals encircle the dial and sit atop a ring of satiné circulaire. A chemin-de fer hugs the periphery of the dial, proving ideal for reading-off the prevailing minutes.
At this juncture, despite its notable style, the Maurice Lacroix Square Wheel Retrograde 43m may sound conventional. However, as I go on to explain over the coming paragraphs, there is certainly nothing ordinary about this Swiss timepiece.
A clover-shaped wheel engages with a square wheel in order to indicate the running seconds. Each wheel sits upon a bed of clous de Paris, adding a delightful texture to the horological vista presented. A seconds track frames the square wheel and the wearer reads off the current value using a truncated inner spoke of the wheel. The display is individualistic yet remains eminently simple to interpret.
In the south-easterly region of the dial, the current date is shown with a blued, lancine-shaped hand. It points to an odd-numbered value, or a blued sphere positioned in between, denoting an even-numbered integer. As the month concludes, the date hand returns to its point of origin with breathtaking alacrity and the time’s journey continues anew. The display provides a simple method of enunciating the date while imbuing the dial with a sense of theatre. Again, clous de Paris and satiné circulaire adorn the indication’s domain.
While some watches are merely functional, imparting time with cold efficiency, the Maurice Lacroix Masterpiece Square Wheel Retrograde 43mm transcends the perfunctory and enlivens the soul. Both the square wheel and retrograde indications evoke thoughts.
For example, I pondered the relationship between the clover and square-shaped wheels, both individuals with their own distinct physique and yet, despite their differences, they remain locked in an endless kiss. Are they lovers, destined to spend their lives together?
Likewise, when I appraised the retrograde display, I momentarily thought of the past and those times I wish to revisit and experience once again. The notion of wiping the slate clean and starting afresh will appeal to those experiencing guilt or in the midst of a midlife crisis.
Whether an onlooker shares my thoughts or not, the fact remains the Maurice Lacroix Masterpiece Square Wheel Retrograde 43mm invites the wearer to view time from a different perspective.
While the dial of the Maurice Lacroix Masterpiece Square Wheel Retrograde 43mm wholeheartedly embraces innovation, the case assumes a more conservative character. That said, close examination of the case reveals that Maurice Lacroix has not eschewed style.
The caseband tapers inwards as it approaches the caseback. Meanwhile, the caseback projects from the sides of the case, forming a small lip, and the lugs feature a chamfered edge to their upper plane. The crown incorporates a twisted grip, resembling the rifling of a gun barrel.
A corrector is positioned within the caseband, adjacent 4 o’clock. This allows the wearer to adjust the retrograde date with the aid of a suitable stylus.
Measuring 43mm in diameter, this Maurice Lacroix Masterpiece deftly avoids the diminutive or oversized proportions of some watches. Indeed, its scale should suit the majority of would-be wearers. The short lugs sharply taper downwards, enhancing the ergonomic union with the wearer’s wrist.
An exhibition caseback affords views of the self-winding movement within the watch.
The automatic Calibre ML258 features an in-house module. It incorporates exquisite finishing, including an openworked rotor adorned with Côtes de Genève motif, rhodium plated bridges, embellished with the brand’s ‘M’ logo, and a judicious sprinkling of colimaçon and sandblasted surfaces. Indeed, Swiss craftsmanship is omnipresent.
The balance has a frequency of 28,800 VpH (4Hz) and the movement contains 37 jewels. The power reserve is sufficient to deliver 36 hours of autonomous operation.
When a brand designs a dial and chooses to embrace originality, it risks complicating the proclamation of time. Thankfully, Maurice Lacroix has delivered innovation without marring readability. The comparatively conventional hour and minute hands lucidly express the prevailing time, while the simple to read seconds indication is both enchanting and playful. The date display is also intuitive to read and free of ambiguity.
However, both the seconds and date indications surpass the merely functional, provoking discussion and eliciting philosophical thoughts. Quite simply, the Swiss firm implores the wearer to view time from a different perspective.
Maurice Lacroix has juxtaposed classical design with groundbreaking aesthetics and, in so doing, created a potentially iconic design. However, despite the complexity of its composition and the quality of its components, this timepiece remains financially accessible. Indeed, with several attributes, and keen pricing, this watch confers both virtue and value, making it worthy of the soubriquet, ‘Masterpiece’.
Michel Loris-Melikoff, Baselworld
Angus Davies chats to the Managing Director of Baselworld and learns more about the legendary watch and jewellery fair. Moreover, Mr Loris-Melikoff provides a fascinating insight into the future plans for the world-famous exhibition.
Michel Loris-Melikoff, Baselworld outlines some of the changes his team have made, his plans for the future and, similar to Art Basel, taking the Baselworld brand to overseas venues. Thereafter, Angus Davies distills Mr Loris-Melikoff’s comments and provides his thoughts on the way brands engage with retailers, journalists and, more pertinently, consumers.
When preparing for my annual trip to Baselworld, I always pack my suitcase with several pairs of ‘comfy’ shoes, a few notebooks and numerous bars of chocolate. Navigating the fair’s exhibition halls, running from one appointment to the next, is not for weaklings. Blistered feet are an inevitable consequence of a hectic schedule.
I have sojourned in Basel many times over the years. Initially, I visited the fair and its host city as a collector. However, for the last few years, I have worn a journalistic hat when visiting the fair.
Over the years, I have witnessed the exhibition change. There are fewer exhibitors these days and the number of visitors has also fallen. In 2018, the Swatch Group announced it would be leaving Baselworld, eliciting gasps of astonishment throughout the watch industry.
In 2018, Sylvie Ritter, then Managing Director of Baselworld, stood down from her role and Michel Loris-Melikoff assumed Ms Ritter’s former role.
Despite historical protestations about exhibition and accommodation costs, together with criticisms of the food available coming from some quarters, I have always been a huge fan of the event and I continue to remain so. This year, 2019, the first iteration of the fair under Mr Loris-Melikoff’s control was, in my opinion, the best yet. My diary was packed with appointments and at no stage was there any opportunity for me to twiddle my thumbs.
The spacious design of the fair felt more luxurious and relaxed. From a selfish perspective, I appreciated the new press facilities. Moreover, with a multitude of interesting brands exhibiting, I felt the cost of my flights and accommodation was justified.
Having witnessed the improvements of Baselworld 2019, I was curious to hear from the man tasked with the renaissance of the annual watch and jewellery fair.
Interview with Michel Loris-Melikoff, Baselworld (MLM) by Angus Davies (AD)
AD: What do you think makes Baselworld special?
MLM: Only Baselworld brings together and connects the most important global players in the industry: the Baselworld Community. Based on our vision Baselworld 2020+ we are transforming and developing it into the industry’s most relevant B2B/C “live experience and business platform” – the place where brands of all different industry sectors influence, inspire and activate the community. A platform for experiences, interactions, dialogues, services and business. All of this has been designed based on the most recent market insights and intended for all target groups – live, digital and relevant all year round.
AD: I have been visiting Baselworld for a number of years, however, the fair in 2019 was my favourite. From a selfish perspective, the press area was much improved. However, with regards to the event as a whole, it was more spacious and felt more luxurious. Moving forward, as more brands are attracted to the new-look Baselworld, will you be able to maintain the wonderful airy feeling?
MLM: Indeed, many visitors have expressed similar emotions about this year’s show, especially the new ‘atmosphere’. For Baselworld 2020, we intend to continue along similar lines, creating an atmosphere that is conducive to all visitors, airy and open, with constructors given pretty much free rein to be creative within the concept of the whole show. At next year’s event, you can expect to see a good mix of exhibitor booths along with spaces for events, encounters and experiences.
AD: How do you envisage the event changing?
MLM: For 2020, we are putting all our energy into transforming Baselworld into an experience platform. This process will not be finished with the show’s 2020 edition, but will take some years to complete. In concrete terms, we will create new event zones, e.g. for augmented and virtual reality. We will establish new event formats such as a Retailer Summit, CEO talks or pop-up events. We will offer new services, such as marketing support or an e-concierge, catering more strongly to retail customers and collectors. We will reopen Hall 2 and locate Innovation Zones on the ground floor. Gemstone exhibitors will likewise find their new home in Hall 2.1. At the same time, we are in the process of developing a digital business platform that networks all the relevant players in the industry – the entire Baselworld Community – 365 days a year.
AD: I have watched one of your promotional videos and noted the mention of regional ‘pop-up’ events. Can you explain the rationale for this and indicate where we may expect to see the pop-ups and when?
MLM: The Baselworld brand is world renowned. The show’s reach extends well beyond the city and country which gives us the confidence to consider regional pop-up events in other cities. Our parent company, The MCH Group, has experience in this regard thanks to Art Basel’s shows in Miami and Hong Kong with regional teams in place. Considering that Asia shows the strongest growth potential for the watch and jewellery industry, we intend to emulate what the brands themselves are doing with their presence on this continent. Baselworld is currently in the process of assessing these markets and our options and you can expect us to make some announcements in this respect in the coming months.
AD: Prior to being a watch journalist, I visited Baselworld as a modest collector. I loved the event but had two frustrations. Firstly, the tickets seemed costly and, secondly, it was difficult to actually touch products. Are there any plans to address this? For example, TAG Heuer displayed timepieces using an innovative system which allowed visitors to closely examine the watches while preventing them from being stolen.
MLM: As mentioned, we have listened to the wishes and needs of all stakeholders and one of the steps we took in 2019 was to reduce the ticket prices for tickets purchased online. That was an interim first step. For Baselworld 2020, we are considering new formats and tickets prices, adjusted according to attendee type. You can expect news on this in good time.
Presentation of products: Of course, it is the exhibitors themselves who primarily determine how products are presented. But we will take the lead here with augmented reality and virtual reality applications, utilising exciting new possibilities for our media and also presenting the brands as offers. In our opinion, innovative digital formats perfectly complement the live experience.
AD: The culture of Baselworld has significantly changed since you assumed the role of Managing Director. In the past, if I am honest, the personnel seemed cold and aloof. This year, I was amazed how keen the staff were to engage with visitors. Each day in the press area, I was served by a wonderfully friendly and cheerful lady. One day I commented that she clearly understood the importance of customer service. She proudly stated that she had formerly worked for Disney. Have the management team at Baselworld sought personnel with a customer service background?
MLM: I am very pleased by your feedback because it is our explicit goal to set a new tone and decisively improve service for customers and visitors. This naturally also played a role in choosing, briefing and instructing our personnel. Everyone who comes to Baselworld should always be treated in a courteous, friendly and attentive manner.
AD: Have the personnel received additional customer service training?
MLM: No, there has been no additional training, but we have pointed out in the briefings that neither I nor the MCH Group pay the service staff wages. In reality, our personnel’s wages are paid only by their customers, i.e. our exhibitors and visitors.
AD: There are several brands exhibiting in nearby hotels, presumably as a cost saving measure. What plans do you have to bring them into the confines of the main fair? Clearly, this will prove more convenient for visitors and showcase the brands in a more luxurious setting.
MLM: There are always a few “free riders” in the environs of every trade show. This is not unique to Baselworld. In the past it was mainly small, newly launched brands that hoped to grow by basking in Baselworld’s glow. But now, merchandise is also being shown by some well-established brands that formerly exhibited at Baselworld. Here we must clearly seek dialogue, discuss the reasons and offer alternative options or attractive new formats.
For 2020, we will also reduce our prices for stand space, depending on each stand’s location, by 10 to 30 percent. At the same time, we will also leave more latitude and make fewer specifications as to how stands should be designed. With these measures, I trust that more brands will be convinced of the advantages of resuming participation.
AD: Some brands have voiced a desire to hold ‘roadshow’ type events or invite retailers and press to their own event in one specific location. The problem I envisage with this strategy is that it is very time consuming and costly, particularly for independent journalists, to visit one or two brands alone. Moreover, it does not seem very environmentally friendly to have retailers and press spending more time travelling by plane. The beauty of Baselworld is that visitors can see several brands in just one day. Quite simply, it is more efficient.
MLM: I agree fully and have nothing to add, except perhaps this: ‘Why can’t such a “roadshow” also be part of the Baselworld presence of a brand?’ We are open to discuss the possibilities.
AD: What do you think is the best strategy to entice brands to return to Baselworld?
MLM: Our “Baselworld 2020+” vision is a direct result of consultations with all stakeholders. We have listened attentively to our customers, retailers and visitors and tried within our means, to tailor the show to meet their wishes and desires. We firmly believe in the success of this vision and its associated measures. We are putting all our effort into maximising the reach of this message to all brands in the industry with the goal of convincing them of the benefits of joining us on this exciting journey into the future. Secondly, we want to develop and offer numerous new and different formats. Some participants may feel more comfortable with these formats than with past ones.
AD: Can you explain the rationale for running SIHH and Baselworld back to back in 2020?
MLM: Synchronization of the two most important Swiss watch fairs has, for the past 10 years, been a recurring wish expressed by exhibitors and visitors alike. Instead of obliging customers and journalists to travel to Switzerland twice within a relatively short span of time, we now offer them the opportunity to discover the innovations of the most important brands within a manageable timeframe. This efficiency is in the best interests of the entire Swiss watch industry. After all, dealers want to trade and sell, rather than being obliged to spend half a year travelling from one presentation to another and from one fair to the next. And the media’s travel budgets are no longer as ample as they used to be.
AD: One area of the show which I liked this year was the ‘Incubator’, where small brands were able to present their models effectively at a desk. This clearly provides a low-cost means of participating in Baselworld. I like the concept, albeit I am not sure whether it is consistent with the luxury image of the fair. Do you envisage developing the concept further?
MLM: The “Watch Incubator” concept developed relatively late in response to strong demand from many small watch manufacturers and inventors, to whom we were unable to make attractive offers in the existing formats. Of course, one can justifiably ask: Is this Baselworld? Our answer is: Absolutely! Baselworld brings together the entire diversity of the industry, including microbrands and newcomers like those in the “Watch Incubator”. What would the alternative be? For them to show their merchandise in hotel rooms or restaurants throughout the city? We believe that they will profit enormously from everything being located within the same area. It is more convenient for customers and they can benefit from numerous services. After all, who knows, maybe next year one or the other of those microbrands or newcomers will participate in “Les Ateliers” or exhibit in Hall 1.1? Every brand started small – with an idea, a model or a special feature – and it had to publicise itself and its USPs. Quite a few such start-ups grew to maturity with and through Baselworld. We have the intention of introducing the “Incubator” concept into jewellery too. The underlying motivation: we want to, and we must, lower the thresholds by creating offers that enable more brands to exhibit at Baselworld. We will certainly still have to talk about the specific details in terms of size, stand construction, placement and design, and we are actively working on this.
AD: While the media have regrettably focussed on the negative stories, highlighting those brands which have left, there is much to be positive about. For example, the decision by Rolex and Tudor to announce they are returning in 2020 and increasing their exhibition space. This is clearly a ringing endorsement for the new management team at Baselworld. What do you think the future holds for the fair and what are your goals for next year and beyond?
MLM: Our goal is simple: we want to build a modern platform that promotes good business deals, offers incomparable experiences and interconnects the industry and the community. Baselworld should be a “must-attend” event because it uniquely interlinks the players in the industry. If we can achieve this goal together with the exhibitors, visitors, journalists, collectors, enthusiasts and fans, then Baselworld will surely have an exciting and successful future.