Rumor had it that 2020 was going to be the year of the Luminor for Panerai, and this new Luminor Marina Carbotech ref. PAM1661 could be an early indicator confirming that notion. Most of what we saw from Panerai in 2019 seemed to center around the re-shuffling of the brand’s portfolio, particularly with a focus on tidying up existing lines while introducing new Due dress and Submersible tool/sport models. It seems only natural that Panerai turn to its signature breadwinner for the same treatment — and leading things off is a super-technical twist on an otherwise classic.
You wouldn’t be mistaken for wondering if there weren’t already a Luminor Marina rendered in ultralight Carbotech — in fact, there is: It’s PAM661, which is also a black 44mm Luminor case fitted with the same P.9010 movement. But what makes this old reference interesting isn’t its “dirty dial” (a nickname given to Panerai dials that use beige Super-LumiNova), but its somewhat rare dial configuration, which mixes applied circular indices traditionally found on Panerai’s Submersible line with the Luminor’s familiar 6-9-12 “sausage” markers. This new PAM1661 looks to be replacing the “dirty dial,” as it follows the tradition of Panerai updating older models by simply adding a “1” to the first digit in the reference number. In doing so, Panerai also seems to be ditching any potentially confusing hybrid dials and unifying the design language of its key collections — in this case, adhering to a more traditional Luminor look.
Panerai also appears to be streamlining the visual identifiers of the Carbotech models, which are all now delineated by their bright blue luminescent hour markers (or in the case of the Submersible, applied indices) for a monochromatic look that plays well with the futuristic, high-tech aesthetic of the grained carbon fiber case. This cool color scheme and the sandwich dial construction reminds me a lot of the Luminor 1950 LAB-ID from 2017, which shared a very similar dial but housed a wild movement with tantalum-based ceramic mainplates and bridges to yield a sweet, murdered-out view through its caseback. At 49mm, though, that watch was massive by even Panerai’s standards, and eye-wateringly exclusive (it was priced around $50,000 and they only made fifty of them) to boot, which dramatically limited its audience.
Brand: Panerai Model: Luminor Marina Carbotech Dimensions: 44mm Water Resistance: 300 meters Case Material: Carbotech (carbon fiber composite) Crystal/Lens: Sapphire Movement: Panerai P.9010 Power Reserve: 3 days Strap/Bracelet: Panerai Sportech kevlar composite with black DLC titanium buckle Price & Availability: $12,800
This new Luminor Marina Carbotech is still big and expensive, but considerably more approachable on both fronts by comparison, as its 44mm case houses a much more traditional movement – Panerai’s P.9010 calibre, which offers three days of power reserve and an independently adjustable hour hand, which is particularly handy for those who frequently hop between time zones. This new reference PAM1661 has a retail price of $12,800.
Nearly five years ago, I originally went hands-on with the reference GOA40042 Piaget Emperador Cushion Tourbillon Skeleton watch here. Now, in 2020, I revisit the same model Piaget tourbillon to see how it has held up — especially with regard to style, technicality, and overall impressiveness. Piaget has been relatively quiet over the last few years – especially when it comes to men’s watches. Despite the brand having a plethora of emotionally compelling horological wonders,Nearly five years ago, I originally went hands-on with the reference GOA40042 Piaget Emperador Cushion Tourbillon Skeleton watch here. Now, in 2020, I revisit the same model Piaget tourbillon to see how it has held up — especially with regard to style, technicality, and overall impressiveness. Piaget has been relatively quiet over the last few years – especially when it comes to men’s watches. Despite the brand having a plethora of emotionally compelling horological wonders, the company seems intent on relatively superficial marketing that espouses the notion that you might want to wear a Piaget watch to a black tie event. In the future, I’d like to see the brand explain why you might want to choose Piaget to a black tie event (aside from the fact that a celebrity was selected to wear one at an awards show). If Piaget can follow this advice, they will again earn the greater attention from serious aficionados and collectors that they deserve.
As a brand, Piaget currently does far better in the East than in the West. Marketing to these different parts of the world (yes, “East” and “West” are overly broad generalizations) can often involve the need for wholly different tactics as well as symbolism. For example, the figure eight infinity symbol on the dial, which frames the housing for the automatic micro-rotor and the tourbillon cage, is an aesthetic feature I don’t recall noticing back in 2015 (and I wasn’t looking for it, either). Americans don’t really seek out this symbol, but we find it very frequently in watches meant to be sold in China. Piaget has a point. If some consumers in China feel better about a product provided it has a figure eight (“8” is often synonymous with good fortune, as I understand it), and everyone else doesn’t notice — then why not put one in there for good measure? At the same time, how do consumers in the West feel if they believe a watch was designed with an entirely different consumer in mind? These might sound like entirely trivial matters, but people who spend over $200,000 on a watch are rarely without options, and so choosing one timepiece over another can really come down to considerations that might otherwise appear of marginal importance.
Despite Piaget’s hints as to what market they want this (and many other Piaget models) to appeal to, one of the things I love about the Emperador Cushion Tourbillon Skeleton is that it really doesn’t seem to have a particular wearer in mind. A fun question to ask when seeing intricately ornate pieces of horological art such as this is, “Who would look best wearing it?” The focal point of the watch is the lovingly skeletonized and hand-decorated in-house Piaget caliber 1207S automatic tourbillon movement. There is no watch dial, save for what reference points your eyes might find to help you read the time on the off-centered dauphine-style hour and minute hands that sit at around 4 o’clock on the dial. The rest of the face offers a proud yet almost flamboyant “Geneva ballet” of watch parts and openworked bridges that move like streams in Escher-like directions. Is all this a better act for an audience, or is the purpose of this mechanical display for the private enjoyment of the wearer? Hard to say what Piaget was thinking.
Piaget still holds a number of “the thinnest…” records when it comes to watch movements, including that of having the world’s thinnest mechanical watch. When it comes to tourbillons, their ultra-thin efforts in some ways have been beaten by competitor Bulgari. That said, it probably isn’t a good idea to purchase a watch simply because it holds some numerical size record, as that usually doesn’t affect the greater wearing experience. Nevertheless, when spending this kind of money, you want some talking points. Piaget continues to claim that the Emperador Cushion Tourbillon is “the thinnest ultra-thin shaped automatic tourbillon skeleton in the world.” Is it just me, or does that statement include some strange-sounding qualifiers?
The 1207S movement is 5.05mm-thick and constructed of 225 parts. It is the skeletonized version of the 1207 movement that Piaget also produces. The 1207S operates at 3Hz with about 42 hours of power reserve and includes a flying tourbillon that uses a titanium cage. Note the Piaget “P” in the tourbillon itself. The movement displays just the time and is automatically wound with the solid platinum micro-rotor that is also visible on the dial. The watch is very much for both appreciating the structure and finishing of the movement and more trivial matters, such as knowing the time with precision, as a mere secondary concern.
Beauty-wise the movement has got it down. Looks make up for a lack of a certain level of practicality… and yet, at the same time, the movement is highly straightforward, even efficient, in its function and purpose. What I really like is that, without playing any games, Piaget in– the Emperador Cushion Tourbillon Skeleton — is able to satisfy the eyes of a the most seasoned timepiece movement enthusiast, as well as offer a visual beauty that lay luxury seekers can readily enjoy. Not many watches of this ilk can do that, are often either too superficial for enthusiasts or too intellectual for others. Also, do not discount the fact that the movement bridges perfectly match the 18k rose gold case, an additional feat of manufacturing complexity that is not to be taken lightly. For example, the automatic rotor is actually in platinum but colored in a rose gold tone.
In addition to this reference GOA40042 in 18k rose gold, Piaget also produces the Emperador Cushion Tourbillon Skeleton in 18k white gold as the GOA40041. That version includes a tasteful black-colored rotor and matching hands. It is certainly the most traditionally black-tie of the watches, though with the warm tone of rose gold, I think this particular model is the livelier of the two. Note that Piaget has played with other versions of the Emperador Cushion Tourbillon as partially skeletonized with the caliber 1207P movement. Diamonds are certainly available on some versions.
Not that it is new, but wearing this timepiece reminds me of how much I appreciate the Piaget Emperador case. Here it is in a rather large 46.5mm-wide form, but don’t forget that it is relatively thin at just 8.85mm-thick. The Emperador case comes in a few styles, and I really like them all. This is the Emperador Cushion, and it is known as such because while the case is actually around, the dial (accordingly the sapphire crystal as well) is cushion-shaped. The thick, polished bezel contrasts with the brushed middle case that helps emphasize the cushion shape. Relatively stubby lugs help secure a classy, fitted alligator strap.
The Emperador Cushion shape is so nice that Piaget decided to use it as the base of its more recent Piaget Polo S sport-style watch collection. I still think these “black-tie” Emperador Cushion cases do it a bit better, but the round case with cushion dial look is a signature Piaget aesthetic that I think more wrists would benefit from trying out.
As a “statement watch,” I think the Emperador Cushion Tourbillon Skeleton has help us well. Piaget can still claim to produce some of the most beautiful and elegant high-complication watches out there — and no one will ever call them boring. The overall appeal is however a bit “poetic,” which, to me, means it is open for interpretation. Piaget takes a decidedly passive approach to deciding who such a watch might be best for. This allows the confident man with enough occasions to wear a formal watch — and an appreciation (as well as budget) for products that combine technical and craft excellence — to discover and select an Emperador Cushion Skeleton Automatic all by themselves. I would imagine that if two people ever ended up at the same event both wearing this Piaget watch, they could very well have little else in common.
In such ways, the Piaget Emperador Cushion Tourbillon Skeleton is the most Swiss of watches. Forget that Piaget is, indeed, located in Geneva. What I mean is that the watch both intensely focuses on offering an impressive presentation and, at the same time, serves up chilly discretion in regard to describing details about its inner personality. Call that chrono-flirting, if you will. A watch that flirts? Now that is a Swiss timepiece at its finest. Price for the Piaget Emperador Cushion Tourbillon Skeleton reference GOA40042 is $282,000 USD.
It’s just past the stroke of nine, and I’m packed into the Silver Queen — a sleek black gondola flying up Aspen Mountain into the “white room.” Inside are a half-dozen other hopefuls, all keenly anticipating making the first tracks in last night’s freshly fallen snow, which casts a dreamy contrast against the sharp blue skies of another bright Colorado morning. Skiers call this glorious type of day a “bluebird,” and short of going chest-deep on an early spring blower, this is probably about as good as it gets.
It’s been a little over a year since Hublot became the official timekeeper of Aspen Snowmass, one of North America’s longest-running, and most prestigious ski destinations. But this year, Hublot is taking its partnership with the storied mountain (whose mid-century history dates back to the Army’s legendary 10th Mountain Division) a step further, opening its first seasonal monobrand boutique in the resort’s town center. It’s a unique move, considering most of these types of retail spaces in the United States are usually relegated to metropolitan centers on either coast, but Aspen is a truly international ski destination, not unlike Courchevel 1850 in the French Alps or Zermatt in Switzerland (both of which also house a mountainside Hublot boutique), and something about a Swiss watch brand operating in this crisp high alpine air just feels right. To punctuate this opening, Hublot is also introducing a 25-piece limited Spirit of Big Bang watch with the help of Olympic gold medalist and world champion ski racer Bode Miller, who’s made his home on these steep slopes as a friend of the brand for the better part of the last decade.
Using the standard titanium Spirit of Big Bang as a blueprint, the Rockies edition is housed in a bright white ceramic case with contrasting blue subdials and a blue integrated rubber strap, which lends it a decidedly wintertime feel, albeit a cheerful one — a clear bluebird day on the mountain, with sharp contrast between snow and sky. More often than not, white ceramic watches come off as too smooth or glossy, with a “flat” aesthetic that doesn’t exactly endear itself to a high-end luxury product. But this one is different — and if you’re new to the tonneau-shaped Spirit of Big Bang, it’s one of Hublot’s signature collections; unapologetically bold and bristling with interesting lines, facets, and contrasting blasted and polished finishes. All this textured variety thankfully breaks up the surface of the watch, lending it an extremely dynamic and, ahem, “cool” presence on the wrist.
Better still, the new Rockies edition only measures 42mm across, making it wholly wearable on a wide range of wrist sizes, despite the fact that it’s obviously not for everyone (though that’s hardly the point). On Bode Miller’s massive ski-racer wrist, the flared strap is fully flush against the wrist with the clasp secured at its furthest extension. On my skinny 6.5” bike-racer wrist, though, the strap flares out a bit, leaving small gaps to the skin on both sides, though the case itself rests right where it should. I’d imagine this would make for a much more comfortable wear on one of Hublot’s leather strap options. Like much of the rest of the Spirit of Big Bang watches, the whole package is highly technical, yet sporty and playful, and maybe even a little bit defiant in the sense that it feels like an expression of counter-culture — a friendly jab at the traditional skiing establishment and an about-face on what a Swiss watch “should be.”
It’s this ethos that has also defined Miller’s storied ski racing career, one that has obsessed over craft, detail, and precision timekeeping — he credits his early interest in watches to a Casio calculator watch used to time downhill runs on the mountain — while expressing a strong understanding that the only way to be heard, and ultimately be the best in his own realm, was to go against the training and racing conventions of his peers and competitors. Interestingly, Miller’s introduction to Hublot was also one of happenstance, via his primary ski racing sponsor back in the early aughts, which was an apparel brand called Kjus (pronounced “shoos”), also headquartered in Switzerland. He immediately hit it off with Hublot’s then-CEO Jean-Claude Biver, who also relishes a similar defiance of convention, and the rest is more or less history.
Like the rest of the Spirit of Big Bang chronographs, this reference is fitted with Hublot’s in-house-produced HUB4700 calibre, a high-frequency (5Hz) automatic chronograph movement that’s a brand staple, deployed in its more premiere offerings. It’s worth noting that, though Bode Miller didn’t play a role in the design of the Aspen edition, he does already have his own signature model: a black ceramic Big Bang designed in collaboration back in 2011, with a portion of its proceeds benefiting Miller’s Turtle Ridge Foundation, a nonprofit that supports adaptive and youth sports programs.
Miller is one of ski racing’s most decorated athletes of all time (33 world cups, six Olympic medals, four World Championship gold medals, and six World Cup globes, but who’s counting?), so his palmarés fit in neatly with the rest of Hublot’s deep ambassador pool, which routinely taps thought leaders in sport, culture, art, and fashion to create a singularly interesting and diverse roster. This includes the likes of football legend Pelé, runner Usain Bolt, artists Shepard Fairey and Sang Bleu, and also once included the late Kobe Bryant.
Hublot turns 40-years-old this year, having been founded in 1980, so I think it’s safe to assume we’ll be seeing plenty more from the progenitors of “fusion” come Baselworld in April. The price of the Hublot Aspen Boutique-exclusive Spirit of Big Bang is $26,700 USD. Learn more about the Spirit of Big Bang collection at watchesaustralia
Berlin and greater Germany recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. In 1989, the reunification of East and West Germany — memorialized by the destruction of a wall that separated East and West Berlin — was also a precursor to the demise of the Soviet Union and the Cold War between Western powers and those in the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain. One of the most interesting timepieces to celebrate this piece of history is this Berlin Wall Signature limited-edition set of watches from Pramzius. Named after an obscure mythological god known by people in Baltic region of Europe, Pramzius as a watch brand is brought to you by the same people who operate the longstanding online watch retailer R2Awatches.com.
aBlogtoWatch first debuted the Pramzius Berlin Wall Signature Edition watches in early 2018 when they were part of a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. The limited edition of 1,989 watches came with two dial styles (one with or without the more bold graffiti-style “Berlin” statement) and with two case sizes (42 and 48mm-wide). The Berlin Wall Signature Edition watches are also available on a strap or this matching “aged-style” steel metal bracelet. Now after the watches have been produced and released, I offer a hands-on look at this pretty cool, but certainly not for everyone, timepiece.
On my wrist is the 42mm-wide version of the Berlin Wall watch with the “colored dial.” The particular “Berlin” graphic was inspired by actual graffiti from the watch (and that was used with permission by Pramzius). The face itself is bluish actual marble stone, and the dial is a decently legible mixture of applied hour markers with graffiti style 8 and 9 o’clock hour indicators that have been juxtaposed in order to create the “89” number as indicative of the year 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down. Given the art on the dial, I actually think it is pretty legible, overall, and the luminant on the hands and hour markers makes for impressive darkness visibility.
If you’ve been to Berlin — especially in first two decades after the fall of the wall, you’ll immediately appreciate how the “aged, industrial” look of the watch case and bracelet fit in with the vibe of the city. While at times the case feels a bit like a hodgepodge of design elements, it results in a masculine and comfortable aesthetic that is satisfying given the current popularity of “aged-style” (otherwise brand new) timepieces. To achieve this aged effect, the 100 meters water resistant (with sapphire crystal over the dial) steel case and bracelet is given a coating for the visual effect.
On the rear of the case is an etching of the Brandenburg Gate — an important and historic landmark in Berlin and the place where United States President Ronald Reagan famously orated “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Another fun detail that is sure to help with social conversation is the crown of the watch. Inside is a small capsule that contains rocks that came from the actual Berlin Wall itself. Pramzius very much wanted to have an actual part of the Berlin Wall in the watch, and this was a clever way to do it.
Inside the watch is a Japanese Seiko Instrument NH35 automatic mechanical movement. Yes, it would have been nice for the watch to come with a Swiss movement, but at this price point and with all the details in the watch, I am not complaining. In fact, my major takeaway feeling is that Pramzius really went above and beyond in making not only a satisfying historical-themed watch, but also in making a fashion statement well beyond the history the watch is trying to tell. With all the timepiece details meant to satisfy wristwatch enthusiasts, the Pramzius Berlin Wall Signature Edition watches actually better than one might expect, compared to other watches of this ilk in their final execution.
One again, Pramzius produces four versions of the Berlin Wall Signature Edition watch depending on the case size and dial design. Each of the watches is available on either a strap or a matching metal bracelet priced at $649 USD and $699 USD, respectively.
Genus is a newer Swiss watch brand competing in the $100,000-plus price segment with a visually arresting new dial concept that is encapsulated in the GNS (not the most creative name) watch collection. aBlogtoWatch debuted Genus watches here with a discussion of the GNS 1.2 WG, which is the 18k white gold version variant of the GNS 1.1 RG, which is the same timepiece but with an 18k rose gold case and matching movement.
Genus’ GNS watches are not for everyone — nor are they trying to be. The design is a mixture of classic proportions and the ultra-modern sensibility of leaving nothing left to the imagination on the dial and displaying more of the mechanism than is necessary. Such open-worked dials of today are also imbued with the indicators needed to read (just the time in this instance) information on the dial. In the case of Genus, in addition to the open-worked movement, we are faced with a novel means of indicating the time. Without some guidance, it would be easy to misinterpret the dial information altogether. Genus wearers might take joy in that, or otherwise viewing onlookers not familiar with the Genus dial, struggling to read the time when seeing it. There is some guilty pleasure in that, I suppose.
How is time told on the Genus GNS? It has what I call a “serpentine” row of indicators, kind of like a snake is topped with a “head” that serves as the hand, followed by a train of other moving segments that are there for effect. I should say that, in some images of other Genus models, only the lead part of the serpentine hand is on the dial — so I think the full “train” of hand parts is optional for the Genus dial concept. The snake of hand segments moves around the dial in a figure-eight formation while also serving as the minute hand. Actually, the serpentine hand system is just one part of the minute indicator, offering the first digit of the minutes while a smaller dial at 3 o’clock offers the second digit of the two-digit minute indication readout. Most of the time users can rely on just the serpentine hand to gauge the current minutes, but at over $100,000, Genus wants to make sure you can read the minutes more precisely (if you so choose).
Hours are indicated in a “digital” manner with an indicator hand located at 9 o’clock on the dial with an hour marker ring that rotates around the periphery of the dial. Genus attempts to promote legibility by making the indicator hands all red, which does help. Reading the time isn’t too bad once you train your eyes where to look. The serpentine hand is mostly cosmetic for effect, but it does help promote more “dial animation,” certainly a desirable thing.
From a design perspective, it appears that Genus’ design team struggled a bit when it came to mixing traditional and modern design elements into one watch. I believe they were trying to include the “best of both worlds” into the overall design. The GNS has poise and composure, but I am not sure if it ever truly reaches a cohesive theme or design language. For example, the curved bridges and clockwork on the movement are more traditional in design, while the time indicators and case are a bit more contemporary in design. Depending on your taste, the overall GNS composition will make sense to you or feel a bit disjointed when it comes to aesthetic harmony.
The Genus GNS 1.1 RG case is 43mm-wide, 13.1mm-thick, and water resistant to 30 meters. As simple as it is, the case with its brushed finishing in gold is actually rather attractive and the fitted strap considerably helps to improve the look. The “box style” sapphire crystal over the dial is actually one of those more retro-style elements that helps to show off the modern dial quite nicely. Turn the watch over, and through the sapphire crystal caseback window, you’ll see the other side of the movement appearing — once again very traditional versus modern.
The movement inside of the watch is the Genus caliber 160, which is manually wound and comprised of 418 parts (many of those parts are likely in complex time-indication systems). The movement operates at 2.5Hz (18,000 bph) with a power reserve of 50 hours. The movement includes a base along with a module over the base for the particular time indication system. That means in the future, Genus can re-work part of the time indication system (or add to it) while keeping the same base movement architecture.
Two types of timepiece collectors tend to be interested in watches like the Genus GNS. The first group is well-funded and open-minded collectors who enjoy supporting new brands while getting to wear novel concepts on their wrist. This group likes products like the GNS because of their risk-taking and originality. The second group is similarly well-funded people who see the GNS as a bold statement piece and luxury status symbol. For them, the enjoyable dial animation (which looks its best when the user changes the time), the high price of the product, and visually bold design are why the Genus GNS has appeal. The market still has enough of these buyers to make Genus a viable concept, but the competition is still fierce, even at this price point. The Genus GNS 1.1 RG watch has a retail price of 150,000 Swiss Francs.
When it comes to Scandinavian design and aesthetics, one could easily go straight to thinking about IKEA or Fjällräven, but what about a watch brand? Simplicity, functionality, and minimalism are at the core of Scandinavian design, which tends to lend itself to watch design. Scandinavian watch companies have been slowly making their way into the microbrand segment by introducing exemplary offerings with a very high-value proposition. E.C. Andersson, or E.C.A. for short, has released its second watch, the Denise diver, and it deserves some attention, as it checks off a lot of boxes when it comes to being a solid dive watch and a tool watch with all the Scandinavian details you would expect from an independent microbrand.
E.C.A came on the microbrand scene back in 2016 with its first watch, the North Sea, followed by the North Sea II and Calypso, all in multiple case and dial color variants. For 2019, the brand has released a dive/tool watch called the Denise, named after the submarine that was carried on board Jacques Cousteau’s oceanographic vessel. They haven’t said which Denise, specifically, but I’m going to take a guess and say it’s the SP-350 Denise “Diving Saucer” since both the watch and submarine have a saucer-like profile.
When I took delivery of the Denise, the first thing that came to my mind was, ”That’s smaller than I expected,” but that’s usually a good thing coming from me. I’m partial to smaller-cased watches because I have a small wrist and because proportions tend to be more harmonious.
The Denise is just tall enough to feel solid and balanced, while at the same time short enough to fit under most shirt cuffs comfortably at 15mm. It’s not a thin watch, but it feels slimmer than its dimensions would suggest due to its rectangular 70’s-esque top and profile geometry. The lugs ends do curve slightly downward to help with fit, but the horns aren’t long enough to reach below the casebacks protrusion. The overall feel of the watch as it sits on your wrist is flat and planted, without feeling too top heavy.
Dimensions on the website are pretty true to size as a 40mm width without screw-down crown. With the screw-down crown, I found the watch to measure in at 42.6mm, and it wears just like its measurements. The crown’s shallow coin finish knurling leaves a bit to be desired, as it can be difficult to get a good grip when screwing it down. If I may make this comparison, the sizing and dimensions of this watch are very similar to a Rolex Oyster Perpetual case in that the dimensions don’t do justice to the real-life watch presence on the wrist.
The profile view of the watch is of a flattened saucer with the crystal height being just about double the caseback’s height. The flat stainless steel sandwich case looks very balanced and properly finished. The faceting and varied metal finishes cause the light to dance off each part of the watch, adding a bit of luxury and sparkle to an otherwise highly functional diver/tool watch. I also mentioned downturned lug horns, which make the broadside of the watch case look like the hull of a Viking ship when the watch is face down. I guess it could also look like an elongated viking hat with horns as well?
I was fortunate to be able to review two versions of the Denise, the black dial and the blue-to-black circular gradient dial. Both versions are appointed a unidirectional bezel with a dual-purpose countdown and compass function ceramic inserts and a sub-style bezel edge. The spring tension on the bezel is just the right amount and provides 120 positive tactile clicks without much backlash.
I frequently use the dive bezel as a countdown timer for things under 15 minutes or as a stopwatch to time the duration of various activities, Unfortunately, I have yet to test the compass function, as I’ve been fortunate enough not to get lost …yet.
The double-stick markers at 12 o’clock with single stick markers at 3-6-9 make the watch face highly legible in bright-to-low-light situations, even before the lume kicks in, and they’re very vertically pronounced on the dial. All the markers and the hands are bordered by a mirror finish and lumed, adding to the contrast and quick-glance functionality that every field and dive watch needs. Orange accents are tastefully done and the verbiage on the dial face is minimal. Another nod to Rolex is the laser-etched rehaut with the E.C.A logo mirrored and repeated.
The dial is smartly laid out, and there’s very little printed text except for the brand name, city of company origin, depth rating, and the Swedish word for “automatic” (automatisk) — all of which makes it obvious that this isn’t a Swiss brand, and if you haven’t already noticed , it doesn’t say “Swiss Made,” and that’s because the Denise is powered by the Seiko NE57, rebranded and in-house precision-certified as the ECANE01.
The movement is regulated to -1, +4 per 24 hours and is also regulated in five positions with the regulation bias set towards the crown up position. This is thought to be the usual resting position for rubber-strapped watches with deployment clasps, outside of being in a watch winder or pillowed watch case.
This Seiko movement offers a centrally located power reserve module that requires the watch to stack all four hands in the middle, giving the watch great depth. Having the power reserve centrally located adds symmetry to the dial and reduces visual clutter. I did notice, however, that the power reserve hand stopped at different points on the scale on the two separate watches when fully wound or when empty. This may have been due to the different manufacturing times of the watches where the decision of the resting position of the hands could have changed or because one of my review watches was a demo and the other a production model.
The lume quality is exceptionally bright and mostly even throughout its dial application. The color consistency is spot on from the dial to the ceramic bezel insert, which can be challenging for small-batch manufacturers. The “+” side of the power reserve is accented with orange as well but isn’t lumed. Interestingly, the “-” side of the power reserve is lumed; I suppose it’s more important to know if you’re running low on power, in the dark. The blue dialed watch is lumed slightly different with the power reserve being outlined without one side being lume filled. (The thin dashes of lume between the dial markers and bezel markers are reflections off the crystal, which is why they are inconsistent in the picture.)
Although the sapphire crystal is said to be AR-coated, there are some weird refractions and reflections happening between the dial face and the underside of the crystal. When looking at the watch from certain angles, you can actually see a ghosting effect where the reflections of the mirror-finished edges of the markers hover over the dial.
Rubber straps are pretty typical for dive watches, and the Denise is no exception. The Italian rubber is comfortable, but firm enough to keep the watch in its place and has a diamond texture on top and a flat surface on the underside. It does require you to cut it to fitment, but that’s usually par for the course. E.C.A. recently announced that they’ll be making stainless steel jubilee bracelets available starting immediately for all watches as an option. The timing wasn’t right for me to review the bracelet, but I expect it to have the same fit and finish as the watches and really add that extra bit of pop to the overall look of the watch.
The deployant clasp is designed well and its looks complement the watch head very nicely. The clasp is one of the best features of the watch, as a whole, and uses a very simple but effective mechanism that allows you to make five micro-adjustments amounting to 8.5mm of dive extension or retraction. I’ve never gone for a dive in a wetsuit, so I can’t say if the expansion is enough to fit comfortably over a wetsuit, but it definitely works when my wrists swell up in the morning. Its water resistance is rated to 200m, which, as a side, note is 200m shy of what the actual Denise submarine was capable of.
I’ll go out on a plank and say that, if Jacques Cousteau were still alive with us today, he might have worn an E.C.A. Denise. Possibly just for the novelty of having a watch that was named after one of his submarines, but also because he was thought to have worn Rolex, Blancpain, Doxa and Omega. The Denise borrows style, iconography, and function from these watch brands and produces an attractive timepiece that is functional and robust while also being of high quality.
I know you were all thinking it. “When is John going to make a viking reference?” A “viking” is someone who goes on an expedition. I think it’s fitting that a Scandinavian watch brand from Gothenberg, a city rooted in sailing, is endeavoring to create watches for tool and dive enthusiasts that are capable of these duties on a daily basis, while looking great, when all you’re doing is navigating through the daily grind.
E.C.A. produces its watches in limited batches of no more than 250 pieces. As of this writing, there are still 15 pieces left of the black-dialed version and about 30 pieces left of the blue-black gradient dial, and you can pre-order the Arctic Sport version with a white dial and white ceramic insert, each starting at €891.
Richard Mille’s latest release, the RM 52-05 Tourbillon Pharrell Williams, is one of the most dramatic examples of the brand’s artistry in recent years. Produced in partnership with award-winning singer, songwriter, and music producer Pharrell Williams, the new piece takes inspiration from Williams’ lifelong fascination with space travel through an exquisitely detailed design based around the planet Mars. The decorative bridge covering the majority of the dial is the obvious attention-grabber, another titanium piece hand-painted in white and shaped like the helmet of an astronaut. Even more impressive, the topography of the Martian landscape is accurate, depicting the Mariner Valley where the first-ever Mars probe touched down.
Richard Mille’s signature 42.35-millimeter tonneau-style case design is the basis for the RM 52-05 Tourbillon Pharrell Williams, with its blocky overall shape and hex screws surrounding the bezel, but the details of the case are what begin to set this piece apart. The bezel and caseback are made from metallic brown Cermet, an advanced hybrid of titanium and ceramic materials, while the inner sandwiched layer is comprised of carbon TPT, a layered carbon fiber material that has seen extensive use in aerospace. Furthering the spacefaring theme is the crown, with an intricate design that mimics the wheel of a Mars rover.
Like many Richard Mille releases, the RM 52-05 Tourbillon Pharrell Williams features a skeleton dial design, but it’s cleverly hidden by layers of decoration. The main movement plate and bridges are forged from Grade 5 titanium and decorated with slabs of finished aventurine, giving the appearance of a field of stars on the deep blue backdrop of space.
On the sides of the helmet, at 2 o’clock and 10 o’clock, there are two inlaid black sapphires and four inlaid diamonds to create the helmet cameras and floodlights. The visor of this decorative helmet displays a view of the surface of Mars with Earth in the background. The visor is made from a single piece of red gold, hand-engraved in a process of 15 hours then grand-feu enameled and hand-painted by artisan Pierre-Alain Lozeron over 24 hours of intensive work. The resulting finish, with its multiple gradients, required substantial changes to the traditional grand-feu enameling process, taking the art form to its technical extreme. Overlaid on this incredibly executed bridge is a set of intricately designed and space-inspired ladder hands.
While the incredible artistry of the decorative bridge dominates the view of the dial, the tourbillon escapement itself is rather tucked away, only half emerging out from underneath. The intricate complication still receives a prominent position at 6 o’clock but is not made the focus of attention as in many tourbillon-equipped designs.
While the artistry of the dial is immediately striking at first glance, the craft and technical expertise of the movement in the RM 52-05 Tourbillon Pharrell Williams is equally impressive. The manually wound Caliber RM 52-05 movement includes a free-sprung balance with variable inertia, a faster rotating barrel for increased accuracy, a barrel pawl with progressive recoil, pinion and winding barrel teeth with a central involute profile, and spline screws forged from grade 5 titanium. This high-tech approach allows for incredible accuracy, coupled with a 42-hour power reserve.
Richard Mille finishes off the RM 52-05 Tourbillon Pharrell Williams with the signature RM rubber strap in a suitably Martian medium orange.
With only 30 watches produced, the RM 52-05 Tourbillon Pharrell Williams will only make it in the hands of a few collectors. With its advancements in craftsmanship, technology, and design, the watch also commands an equally astronomical price with a recommended retail value of $969,000,
No-holds-barred, creatively designed watches are the true limited editions of today’s biggest watch brands. Seeing 2018’s Rolex Daytona Rainbow almost triple in value, from its $90,000 retail well into the $200,000 range is just one of many fitting examples. On this occasion, we are going hands-on with the latest iteration of outlandish, factory diamond-set Rolex Daytona watches with the Rolex Daytona 116588TBR, nicknamed “Eye Of The Tiger Daytona” or, as I like to call it, the “Rorschach Test Daytona” after the unique gem-set pattern of its dial.
A LONG TRACK-RECORD OF OUTLANDISH ROLEX WATCHES
Rolex has one of the longest track records of consistently, if not frequently, making outlandish and creatively designed watches. I strongly believe this track record comes not simply from a “because we can” but rather a “because we have to” approach. That is something important to think about, not merely for us watch enthusiasts (and the Rolex fans among us), but also for Rolex’s rivals.
All too often, I see how convenient it is to look at high-end watchmaking as the proving grounds for technical refinement, engineering capability, and manufacturing complexity in isolation. Creative watch design, by contrast, often has a take-it-or-leave-it element, whose presence is considered almost insignificant if there is enough technical grandness (infused with loud or condescending marketing) to direct attention away from the staleness that results from the lack of a creative presentation.
That said, I truly believe that the extent to which a brand is creatively/aesthetically exciting matters to every one of us watch-lovers — we just don’t talk about it as much as we do about pricing, watch movement performance, or the controversies around design elements. A brand’s ability to occasionally take itself less seriously is a rare and important treat. If a brand isn’t relevant in its design, it will soon grow irrelevant in other ways, as well.
BRIEF SIDE-NOTE ON HALO WATCHES
We must stick to the point of discussing this new Daytona and not go off-topic too much, but what is a thought-provoker if not such a watch from Rolex? It makes me think of other brands I really appreciate and have owned previously: IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre. Two mighty-awesome brands with fancy factories, rich histories, and more established watch collections than one could shake a stick at… and just look at how much less time we have recently spent speaking about these two.
They, and other established brands like Blancpain and Breguet, enjoy less time in the limelight than they used to just a few years ago. And while they can survive on luxury conglomerate money and by selling bucketloads of basic Reversos, vintage-inspired “novelties,” and the rest, wouldn’t you agree that there used to be so much more buzz when we had fascinating Master Compressors, crazy Extreme LABs, high-tech Ingenieurs and the like? Sure, we might have ended up buying base Reversos and classic IWC Pilots just the same, but we had contemporary watch stuff attracting us to these brands and not just ambassadors, partnerships, and the products that exclusively lived in the past. Halo products have right to exist — all I’m saying is that they should not be limited to technical excellence, but concern modern aesthetics, too.
Sure, it could be said that Rolex gets by selling bucketloads of, well, almost everything, and this gives them plenty of leeway to experiment. But how many major brands can you name that systematically go out on a limb with loud new interpretations on their bestselling designs and collections? There may be the occasional outrageous watch from others, but it’s exceedingly rare that it’s done with any bestselling collections. Whether or not the Rolex Daytona 116588TBR “Eye Of The Tiger” is liked and appreciated is down to a matter of personal taste — but a braver approach of major brands to debut borderline shocking designs is something I reckon would do all of us good.
DETAILS AND SPECIFICATIONS OF THE ROLEX DAYTONA 116588TBR “EYE OF THE TIGER”
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of these offbeat Rolex watches lies in Rolex’s agility in dancing around addressing or specifying literally anything about their actual theme, inspiration, design, or execution. In the watch’s 14-page official presentation, Rolex dedicates two entire pages to saying: “The Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona was born to race, and is the benchmark for those with a passion for driving and speed.” Like anyone cares!
To its credit, Rolex does refer to this version as “mysterious and sparkling” — a description hard to argue against. These two words are right where the presentation ends though, as they are followed by a very dry description of the bezel with its 36 trapeze-cut diamonds, and the paved black lacquer dial where “champagne-colour chronograph counters are intertwined with black lacquer and diamonds.” The rest of the entire document is Rolex describing its impressive features, such as the Manufacture Rolex Caliber 4130, the Oyster case, the Oysterflex bracelet in the exact same way as it does with all other watches.
So, why does the dial look like the eye of a tiger, then? Or a lacquer-diamond tribute to inkblots of Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach? Not a single word on these from Rolex; we are left to our own imagination. As for the core specs, the case is the olden but golden 40mm-wide Oyster Cosmograph Daytona case, fitted with a non-removable lug-structure that allows no three-link solid gold Oyster bracelet to ever be fitted.
In its place, we find the Oysterflex elastomer strap that has a flexible metal blade integrated into its structure. Inside the solid 18-karat gold case is the Rolex Manufacture Caliber 4130, exactly the same movement you would find in each and every other currently produced Cosmograph Daytona. The Cerachrom ceramic bezel has been replaced with 34 trapeze-cut diamonds, all invisibly set, stacked closely next to each other — experts refer to invisible setting as the most challenging setting technique in watchmaking, as the preparation of the slot, as well as the cut, has to be exactly right throughout.
I understand that, in today’s PC world, it’s probably best not to say anything — and if the Swiss watchmaking culture is absolutely world-class in something, it is “choosing not to comment” on anything. It’s often referred to as discretion — I’d rather call it secrecy verging on condescension. 2018’s rainbow model, and all other Daytona and Day-Date rainbows we have seen, are rather self-explanatory. Everyone knows what a rainbow is, and their recreation in colorful, semi-precious stones paints a likeable and neat picture. But this? The 116588TBR? You either get it/love it at first sight, or you probably never will, and Rolex appears not to make an effort to tip you over — save for its beautiful photography.
Okay, so what have learned from Rolex about one of Rolex’s most bizarre creations? Nothing. Better still, the watch is not to be found anywhere on Rolex.com — it is, however, present on the official press site, and it was on show at BaselWorld 2019. The wackiest, boldest, craziest, blingest Rolex watches that are made today will never ever make it to any of those websites, nor the public or media-reserved product viewings of the brand at BaselWorld. We do occasionally get our hands on one or two though.
Irrespective of whether you, I, or anyone else likes the Rolex Daytona 116588TBR, it is, objectively, one heck of a watch both in its execution — there’s a reason why you don’t see invisibly set baguette- or trapeze-cut diamond bezels that often — and in its daring looks. To get back to the original point, I’ll end on the following note. Rolex is considered to stand above others by so many for a vast variety of reasons, from reliability and engineering through history, design, and marketing. But there are other elements as well, a certain air of carefully engineered mysteriousness — which admittedly might irk those of us who want to know and understand it all, but it sure as hell attracts countless others. Having halo products like this that open up a new dimension of the brand, add a depth to Rolex that many of its competitors are yet to dare to create. It is easy to dismiss Rolex as a privileged brand that has the world at its feet — but, again, if what Rolex does was easy, those aforementioned brands would certainly be doing it as well.
My first encounter with the Wild Horologists & Team LCF888 watch was via an email blast notifying me of a new release. Initially, I took the news as nothing more than a bog-standard press notification and was about to file it away for coverage at a later date when something caught my eye. Leaping out from the page were two words that piqued my interest: “school watch.”
I went back and took another look at the lead image. It didn’t seem to correlate with the description of a school watch. It was too slick, too polished, too professional. As a former watchmaking apprentice, I’ve had firsthand experience in producing a school watch as part of my training. While the end products of such endeavors tend to be quite impressive when appreciated in context, they generally look nothing like the WH&T LCF888. Most students’ imaginations are limited by available materials, tooling, and, crucially for this project, contacts.
When you’re starting out in the world of watchmaking, especially if you’re trying to carve a career for yourself at the bench, you’re unlikely to know many people in the industry — certainly not the kind of people you need to know to mobilize 15 separate high-end manufacturers to help in the production of a school project. Given that it is exactly what’s happened here, I thought more investigation was necessary.
Wild Horologists & Team is a unique conglomeration of private educational facility tutors, students, and established industry suppliers. The project was conceived as a way to give the students of an advanced training school in La Chaux-de-Fonds the chance to take a watch from concept to creation, exposing them to a raft of techniques, necessary processes, and logistical hurdles any brand or individual would face when trying to bring a new watch to market.
In an age in which many new brands talk about transparency in an attempt to convince potential purchasers that they are not being fleeced by ridiculous margins, WH&T still manages to offer incredible value when stacked up against brands utilizing that strategy. Asking how this is possible won’t really illuminate the difference between this project and others (because, theoretically, any project could run with such tight margins). The best way to make sense of the pricing structure is to ask why WH&T is doing this.
This is an educational exercise more than it is a commercial project. While this watch could very likely gain sufficient traction at full retail price (should it be put to market following the currently active Kickstarter campaign), building a brand and all that comes with it isn’t part of the mission statement. What that means is that you get the chance to own one of these limited pieces for significantly less than you would expect to pay for a watch of similar quality.
While the WH&T LCF888 does not have an in-house movement, it is proprietary. Caliber C3057 is based on the Valjoux 7750 but manufactured especially for the school by Concepto Watch Factory. The major modifications (aside from the obligatorily customized rotor weight) can be seen on the dial side of the watch. The skeleton display provides excellent depth and a unique visage, thanks to this movement having been designed especially for this project. What is reassuring, however, is that the vast majority of components used in the C3057 are compatible with those of the 7750, so after-care should be something many service centers can handle.
The attention to detail on the dial is immediately apparent. The skeletonized date ring — read between 4 and 5 o’clock — is a joy to behold and not something one would expect to see executed to this level in a watch of this price. The anodized decoration ring that sits beneath the 41mm bezel and the 45mm case (53mm lug-to-lug) coordinates perfectly with the anodized rehaut ring and subdials. This kind of chromatic congruity gives the whole ensemble a look of something way beyond this price bracket. The original handset provides excellent legibility and a distinct character, and while this high-concept design will certainly not be to everyone’s taste, the level of effort and refinement that has gone into the design and sourcing of each component is surely something all lovers of watchmaking can appreciate.
And that appreciation need have nothing to do with the watch itself. The project could inspire a new generation of watchmakers. Just think, the class of students behind this could contain the next generation’s master. Who knows what this kind of experience so early in one’s career could lead to? But beyond the actual value and good vibes surrounding this project, it forced me to ask myself a few difficult questions.
When I studied the watch (before I learned its price) I fell in love with it and decided I wanted to own it based on its appearance and the story behind it. As a lover of the Audemars Piguet concept watches and most mechanically interesting timepieces from Hublot, the aesthetic was right up my street, but I expected the price to be way out of my reach. When I learned how eminently attainable the LCF888 is likely to be, I couldn’t believe it. In some ways, I was disappointed it wasn’t more (which is not a feeling I ever thought I would have and one I can still barely understand).
I’ve spent the last 17 years of my life in and around the watch industry. Throughout that period, I professed heartily that quality mattered more to me than branding, that I sought out the products that offered more for less tirelessly and was unimpressed by status acquisition. Did I want a Rolex GMT Master II “Pepsi” at retail? Sure. But would I ever countenance paying over the odds for it because it was “hip?” No way. I’d much sooner save my money and buy something unheard of that was providing a necessary service to niche horology on an accessible level.
As soon as I got the WH&T LCF888 Chronograph on my wrist, I was dumbfounded. I’d always wanted an AP or a Hublot, but knew I was never likely to be able to afford one. And while I still had neither, I had something that scratched that aesthetic itch without sacrificing quality. I’m not saying there is no difference between this watch and those produced by either Audemars Piguet or Hublot (that would be ridiculous), but, quite simply, there is nothing wrong with the LCF888. Try as I might, I couldn’t find fault with its execution.
There is a massive difference in the level of research and development and hand finishing that goes into creating an AP or a Hublot. Not to mention the impassable gulf of design provenance and industry significance. But from a material perspective, and from a visual perspective, the LCF888 was enough for me to no longer feel bad about not owning either of the other brands.
But it is not a brand. The story is simple, humble, and true. It does not confer a status boost upon a consumer (maybe kudos for those in the know, but that is a very slim slice of society). It is an experiment, a small club of people that buy watches for slightly different reasons. A brief and rare opportunity to be part of something fleeting. Were it not for the fact that a limited number of these timepieces are slated for production (around 1,000 units in total), this piece would have no chance of appreciation. It would be an anomalous object, floating in deep space.
The MECA-10 ranks among the cooler and more novel in-house movements of the last decade. It’s niche, it’s not exactly practical, but once you dig into it, you’ll see that it’s an obscure love letter to mechanics. Ariel has chatted with the “movement engineer” at Hublot who was part of the two-year process of taking it from concept to reality. Now, the Hublot Big Bang MECA-10 “Nicky Jam” wraps that impressive movement in an, ahem, impressive number of diamonds and weird-colored defunct alligators.
It’s a real head-scratcher of a watch for me. At first sight, it looks like a prop from hip-hop videos — and at all the subsequent sights, this impression unpleasantly continues to linger around. But if it’s a bedazzled, “Look at me, did I tell you I got rich fast?” watch that you are after, boy does the MECA-10 “Nicky Jam” pass muster. If you still have a bit of sense left between your pierced ears, you’ll be quick to note that this piece from the top of the Nicky Jam limited-edition food chain is priced at €364,000, making it rather expensive, even by diamond-clad watch standards.
The next question is who, outside of Nicky Jam, would want to drop €364,000 on a watch that pays tribute to Nicky Jam, or anyone outside the manufacturer for that matter? That’s one very expensive way to say: I really am fond of Nicky Jam. For the record, I couldn’t say I have a better understanding or appreciation of six-digit-priced watches attributed to race car drivers, athletes, etc. So, if you are a fan of Nicky Jam and have dropped (or are planning to) €364,000 on this piece — or just €23,800 or €52,900 on either of the two other limited editions — drop a comment below and share why, exactly, because I genuinely am curious.
Where the Hublot Big Bang MECA-10 “Nicky Jam” really shines (ha!) is in the quality of its setting. The setting is so good it is almost wasted on this weird watch. Well, maybe “wasted” is too strong a word. It’s more like Claude Lorrain painting — not the The Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, but a Nicky Jam concert. In all seriousness, the quality of the setting is easily on par with anything I have seen — and I have seen so many bejeweled watches that I need glasses now.
Having looked at my images and macro images closely, it definitely ranks among the top three insanely bedazzled watches, as far as the quality of the work is concerned. The setting used here to fix the 307 baguette-cut diamonds to the case is called “invisible setting,” as the stones are holding each other in place. This requires extremely thorough separation of the base material, the cuts, and the setting itself — Hublot has its in-house gem-setting atelier in Nyon, so big kudos to the craftspeople there. Many workshops and designs leave lots of space (thick material) around invisibly set stones to leave extra room and overall make the work a bit more safe and easy.