Watches from the class of 2017 are much like those of 2016 – they’re simple, less expensive and less complicated – and a million miles from the 2012 vintage. Or are they? As watch customers tighten their belts, it would seem at first sight that everything has been ratcheted down a notch. But if you look at the very top drawer, the number of high-complication watches introduced this year makes it look more like a very special year indeed. In quantity, variety and intensity, 2017 is an exceptional vintage for watches with more than the average number of hands.
Major brands like Breguet, Cartier and Lange are singing from their habitual songsheets, but the same applies to more modest brands like Hysek and Bovet. Specialists of the superlative, like Greubel Forsey and Richard Mille, are humming along to the same tune as Montblanc. Highly optimised and versatile multi-complication movements are competing with extraordinarily refined but more specialised mechanisms.
A well-heeled and well-informed collector could find himself hesitating between two very different styles and formats. On one side, you might have an astronomical watch with a tourbillon, a ten-day power reserve and other delights, like the Récital 20 Astérium by Bovet, with its pure classical styling. On the other, there could be Hysek’s Colossal, with a list of complications and spec sheet (time of manufacture, number of parts, dimensions) to make your head spin.
Récital 20 Astérium © Bovet 1822
Colossal © Hysek
This same collector may have to choose between a monster of complexity and a monster of complications. For the complications, the Tourbograph Pour le Mérite by German watchmaker A. Lange & Söhne offers a package including a tourbillon, fusée and chain, perpetual calendar and split-seconds chronograph, with a thickness and weight to match. For complexity, there’s the Richard Mille RM 50-03 McLaren F1, which plays the high-tech card in terms of materials, lightness and rigidity, with a tourbillon, split-seconds chronograph, function indicators and the whole bag of tricks, made of a carbon fibre/graphene composite material inside and out.
Tourbograph © David Chokron/WorldTempus
RM 50-03 McLaren F1 © David Chokron/WorldTempus
For a more modest outlay (relatively speaking) he might also look at a watch that could be considered the quintessence of Cartier’s haute horlogerie expertise. The Rotonde Répétition Minutes Double Tourbillon Mystérieux manages to be spectacular, intriguing and iconoclastic all at once. Conversely, the ExoTourbillon Rattrapante by Montblanc comes straight out of its Villeret workshops, where everything is done the old-fashioned way, by hand, in-house, with an obsessive attention to detail and a reverence for the very best of traditional craftsmanship.
A very important development was the automated 1904MC caliber that premiered in 2011. A thin automated caliber with 48 hours of power book, featuring the time using a subsidiary seconds dial @ 6 along with also a date complication. Cartier made certain that it had enough differences compared to most of the base moves offered by ETA. The ‘Calibre de Cartier’ was the first watch which was powered with all the 1904MC, but soon after Cartier started the use the grade as the foundation for various Chronographs and Perpetual Calendar calibers.The brand new Calibre Diver, that was launched this past year, is powered with the 1904MC. The case diameter is 42mm and the watch has a height of just 11mm. To get a diver watch that’s quite flat, when compared to for instance — the renowned Rolex Submariner that has a height of 12,5mm or the Rolex Sea-Dweller DeepSea that measures 17,68mm. As it should be, the rear of the case is closed and the bezel is self-lubricating and unidirectional, steel coated with ADLC, a substance that is harder than steel. The sapphire crystal that is 1.2mm thicker than that of the standard ‘Calibre de Cartier’ model, makes certain it may withstand the water resistance of 300m, that’s the same as the Submariner and greater than the 100m water resistance of Panerai versions in the same price category.A watch that right took benefit from the technologies of the ID-ONE is that the Astro Tourbillon Carbon Crystal which has been presented in 2013, in a limited edition of 50 pieces. This fresh ‘Astro Tourbillon Carbon Crystal’ premiered in a Niobium metal case, a lightweight and non-magnetic alloy, that resists rust, scratches and shocks also it has the carbon escapement of the ID-ONE. This view is the Worlds first escapement adjustment-free and lubrication free tourbillon.
Rotonde Répétition Minutes Double Tourbillon Mystérieux © Cartier
Exo Tourbillon Rattrapante © David Chokron/WorldTempus
The grand complication remains an haute horlogerie staple, particularly when it comes to introducing a new family or generation of watches. Breguet is no exception: to launch the latest variant on its Marine, the company opted to give it a tourbillon, retrograde perpetual calendar, equation of time and power reserve. The forest of simpler models may help to conceal the great trees that continue to fly the flag for watchmaking excellence. But you just have to look carefully: the sequoias are always visible above the horizon.
Marine Equation Marchante 5887 © Breguet