Flying High

UPDATE! “Pilots Steve Boultbee Brooks and Matt Jones have made aviation history after completing the first-ever round-the-world flight in the Spitfire. Boultbee Brooks and Jones landed just in time for Christmas to a rapturous welcome at Goodwood on the 5th of December, exactly four months after they set off on their epic expedition.”— IWC

When you first lay eyes on the Silver Spitfire, it looks wrong. 

Here, we have one of the most recognizable aviation silhouettes ever, the star of innumerable historic photos and newsreels, untold numbers of model airplane kits, countless museum exhibits, and vintage airshows. But in all those, the Spitfire appears wearing camouflage, spotted in squadron markings, usually with Browning machine guns on each wing. The WWII fighter plane, while iconic, remains synonymous with the deadliest conflict in human history.

But the Silver Spitfire isn’t like other Spitfires. No, this is a special “demilitarized” model, meaning it’s bereft of livery or armament. Washed of war paint, stripped of lethal power, you’re allowed to appreciate it as a technical design object, a functional sculpture. It’s no longer a relic of our capacity to destroy, but a towering monument to our ability to create. 

IWC's restored polished aluminum Silver Spitfire
IWC’s restored polished aluminum Silver Spitfire. Photo courtesy IWC.

Seen this way, the plane looks totally and utterly correct. Especially in the context of the SIHH watch fair in Geneva, where the Silver Spitfire made its debut at the IWC Schaffhausen booth. There, the aircraft was flanked by the Swiss brand’s Pilot’s Watch Spitfire collection. The common thread? Engineering elevated to high art. 

Consider the new collection’s smallest piece, a handsome 39mm two-hand automatic, which packs a 72-hour power reserve. There’s a precision chronograph variant, upsized to 41mm with triple sub-banks, as well as a Big Pilot’s Watch version. The latter features a unique green dial, bronze case, brown calfskin strap, perpetual calendar function, and moon-phase for both northern and southern hemispheres.

SIHH showgoers flocked to the IWC area, eager to snap photos of the new watches alongside an aeronautical legend. Developed during the 1930s, the Spitfire is often cited among the finest aviation designs of all-time. The short-range, high-performance aircraft helped pioneer the elliptical-wing configuration, using sunken rivets to achieve a super-thin cross-section, increasing top speed without sacrificing stability or safety. (R.J. Mitchell, the principal engineer, cut his teeth on racing seaplanes. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he also held a pilot’s license and flew regularly.) 

A newly restored 1943 Super Marine Spitfire MK.IX
A newly restored 1943 Super Marine Spitfire MK.IX currently heading through Asia towards the Middle East before returning home to the United Kingdom. Photo courtesy IWC.

During the famed Battle of Britain, in 1940, Mitchell’s machine took center stage, as British and Canadian pilots fended off a monthslong German and Italian onslaught. The fast, agile Spitfire became the darling of Allied airmen. It curried favor with military brass, too, thanks to its robustness and adaptability. This allowed the British to forgo a clean-sheet redesign for the entirety of the war; instead, they simply updated the trusty Spitfire, creating more than two dozen iterations, suitable for everything from ground attacks to photo-reconnaissance. In total, more than 20,000 examples rolled off the assembly lines between 1938 and 1950. Remarkably, less than 60 remain flightworthy today.

So spotting one always feels special. But coming nose-to-propeller with the Silver Spitfire is a bonafide event. This is a true one-off, born of a partnership between IWC and Britain’s prestigious Boultbee Flight Academy. Using the plane’s historic designation, MJ271, historians were able to trace its lineage and pedigree. Records indicate this particular plane was built in 1943 at a shadow factory in Castle Bromwich, the heart of Britain’s industrial Midlands. It was then flown by Australian, Canadian, Norwegian, Trinidadian, and British pilots, logging more than 50 combat missions before retiring in 1945.

But that was a past life. MJ271 earned the Silver Spitfire moniker after an intensive two-year restoration, during which its body panels were polished to silver-chrome perfection. This bespoke finish only makes the exterior lines more striking. The blister-shaped cockpit, gently swept elliptical wings, oblong tailfin—all intersect gracefully, creating a harmonious whole. It’s a far cry from the jutting, angular look of supersonic aircraft. Modern fighter jets blend into the background of Michael Bay films. The Silver Spitfire could star in an Ezra Stoller photograph. 

The Pilot's Watch Timezoner Spitfire Edition "The Longest Flight"
The Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Spitfire Edition “The Longest Flight” a limited edition of 250 pieces. A simple rotation of the bezel sets the watch to a different time zone.

Aviation buffs will note that the Silver Spitfire is an Mk IX variant, meaning it carries the famed Rolls-Royce Merlin 61 piston engine. Equipped with a trick two-stage supercharger, this 12-cylinder marvel was 30 percent smaller than the Nazi’s BMW radial motor but still produced more horsepower. Outstanding high-altitude performance afforded enormous tactical advantages—so much so that the United States licensed Rolls-Royce’s design, then put it into production stateside. Some historians refer to the Merlin as “the engine that won WWII.”

Which is to say: There’s a workhorse behind the Silver Spitfire’s show pony shell. Good thing, since IWC and Boultbee Flight Academy weren’t contented with the static display at SIHH. Instead, the two brands decided to take this special machine on an unprecedented, four-month-long, round-the-globe flight. Covering some 27,000 miles, the route map includes more than 100 individual legs, stopping in 30 countries. Boultbee Academy aces Steve Brooks and Matt Jones jumped at the opportunity to pilot the expedition.

Their journey commenced in early August when the Silver Spitfire flew west from the Goodwood Aerodrome, a former Royal Air Force base on Britain’s southern coast. At press time, the aircraft was flying over northern Japan, with Brooks and Jones having already logged an incredible 13,000 miles. Along the way, they’ve amassed a serious following: IWC’s plane has more than 75,000 fans across Facebook, Instagram (@thesilverspitfire), and Twitter (@longestflight). 

The evening before the Super Marine Spitfire's initial take off from Chichester/Goodwood Airport
The evening before the initial take off from Chichester/Goodwood Airport. Photo courtesy IWC.

Connect with any of those accounts, and you’ll be rewarded with a constant stream of live updates, plus stunning video and photo content. Look closely at Brooks and Jones—or, more specifically, their wrists—and you’ll also see the crown jewel of the new IWC collection: The Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Spitfire Longest Flight. 

Hewn from stainless steel, this 46mm timepiece brings legibility (high-contrast black dial, lumed markers), and functionality (60 hours power reserve, 60 meters watch resistance) in equal measure. Crucially, it features IWC’s clever worldtime setup; adjust the timezone via bezel rotation, and the hour hand, 24-hour display, and date all synchronize automatically. This watch looks the part, too, with an oversized diamond-style crown, orientation triangle at the 12 o’clock position, and military-green textile strap.

It’s sure to pique the interest of IWC collectors, as the Spitfire Longest Flight is limited to just 250 pieces. But those enthusiasts with an appreciation for aviation will appreciate this watch most. Not only as a special edition that commemorates the Silver Spitfire, and the historic Brooks and Jones expedition, but as a symbolic object. Together, the plane and watch stand as great technical triumphs over two of mankind’s enduring obsessions: taking flight and comprehending time.

Pilots Steve Boultbee Brooks and Matt Jones
Pilots Steve Boultbee Brooks and Matt Jones attending the celebration of the official start of the “Silver Spitfire – The Longest Flight” expedition in Goodwood. (Photo by Remy Steiner/Getty Images for IWC).

One Hundred Shades of Blue

“You’ve got a famous last name,” Norah Jones once sang, “but you’re not to blame.” In an industry where millions of francs are spent trying–and failing–to create iconic and memorable designs, Hublot has done it twice. The brand’s 1980 debut was a scientific and aesthetic triumph; when the Big Bang arrived in 2004, it reimagined the rubber-strap luxury watch as a hugely popular fashion statement. In the decade and a half since, Hublot has updated the Big Bang with a flurry of manufacture movements while reconstructing its case in everything from zirconium to white gold with black baguette diamonds. Yet the firm’s greatest strength–the instant recognition of its core product–is also a significant challenge. How do you keep the Big Bang fresh without losing what made it popular in the first place?

Limited to only one hundred pieces, Hublot reveals the first in a trilogy in collaboration with Lapo Elkann’s Garage Italia. Expressing “Sky,” future editions will represent “Earth” and “Sea.” Photo by Atom Moore.

Lapo Elkann, the artistic director of Garage Italia, knows all about the challenges of fame. Born into Italy’s dynastic Agnelli family, Elkann would eventually become a marketing director for FIAT, the firm founded by his ancestors in 1899. Yet he was not content to labor anonymously in the family fields; Elkann’s outrageous choices in both style and lifestyle put him both on tabloid covers and in Vanity Fair’s Best Dressed Hall Of Fame. He would eventually leave FIAT and start a number of firms devoted to promoting and advancing a uniquely Italian approach to design. 

Lapo Elkann
The dashing Lapo Elkann at his Garage Italia headquarters.

In retrospect, therefore, it seems obvious that Hublot and Elkann would eventually collide–a firm considering how to evolve a famous name and a fellow who had already done so on his own account. The resulting Classic Fusion Chronograph Garage Italia exists in that narrow space where flamboyance meets tradition, to the benefit of both. “You don’t have to shout to be noticed,” Elkann states. “We pride ourselves to be both serious and playful at the same time.”

Indeed, this Hublot is relatively serious, with an ETA-based HUB1143 column-wheel flyback chronograph movement. The look, however, is playful, featuring six titanium screws holding down the first-ever sky-blue ceramic bezel on a 45mm “Garage Italia blue” ceramic case. Elkann’s logo appears at 3 o’clock, polished, and color-neutral like the crown and chronograph pushers. The strap, of course, is rubber–there’s only so much change the customer base will accept, and would it really be a Hublot otherwise? The deployant buckle is titanium.

At Garage Italia, bespoke elements can be added to anything on wheels, water, or wings.

The application of color to high-end watches is still rare enough to be noteworthy, even in what is increasingly looking like an age of near-mandatory ceramics in horology. Carlo Borromeo, Garage Italia’s designer, notes that it’s also a challenge: “When you work with specific colors, there’s a bunch of complications involved in translating a digital idea into a physical object. In particular, it’s really hard if you’re trying to obtain the same colors on different materials and with different processes. Thankfully Hublot has mastered this art, and they were very receptive to our ideas from the very start.”

What keeps the Garage Italia Chronograph from looking like a fashion watch? The fineness of detail helps–but in the end, it’s a matter of proportion and material. Nobody’s idea of an everyday-wear piece, the sky-blue Hublot would be the finishing touch for a truly over-the-top Elkann-style ensemble from Kiton, Brioni, or the tailors on Savile Row. 

Hublot's Classic Fusion Chronograph collaboration with Lapo Elkann's Garage Italia.
A tribute to exceptional motors, design, and creativity. The pale blue ceramic bezel is a hallmark of Garage Italia with its distinctive “I” logo at three.

Launched in May and limited to 100 pieces, this watch is already selling for above retail in the secondary market, suggesting that the firm could have moved a few more than it did. Frustrated would-be purchasers can take heart in knowing the chronograph is merely the first of a three-piece collaboration between Hublot and Garage Italia, titled “Sky, Earth, Sea.”

Elkann is positively ebullient regarding future collaborations: “Garage Italia is defined by Italian excellence and traditional expertise in a contemporary style which is often disruptive. With Hublot, I have found the same hunger for innovation and exploration topped with an unprecedented timeliness for technological prowess.” Will the next two Hublots from the partnership be conventionally shaped takes on the Big Bang? Will they stay near the Classic Fusion Chronograph’s retail price of $14,100? Lastly, will future series-production Hublots benefit from Garage Italia design? Neither Elkann nor Borromeo would provide specifics, but neither would they rule out the prospect of expanding the partnership beyond their limited editions.

Regarding the temptations of fame, Norah Jones sang that “I needed to stand in my own shoes.“ This newest effort from Hublot and Garage Italia does just that, benefiting from its well-known progenitors and designers without relying on nostalgia or retro appeal–and there is more to come.

Hublot's Classic Fusion Chronograph collaboration with Lapo Elkann's Garage Italia.
The automatic chronograph houses the Hublot calibre HUB 1143. The movement runs with at 4 Hz/28,000 A/h with a power reserve of 42 hours. Photo by Atom Moore.

Crazy Rich Collectors


What’s the best way to please your existing fan base while also attracting a new generation of watch collectors? Patek Philippe arrives in Singapore to show us how it’s done. 

As the last family-owned independent watch manufacturer in Geneva, Patek Philippe maintains a special place in the world of fine watchmaking. The brand’s singularly elegant and artistic design language has always defined its products; centuries of experience mean the technical know-how is innate, a tradition of innovation represented by more than 100 patents. 

Put simply: Nobody does it quite like Patek. 

Patek Philippe Watches (R to L) Ref. 5531 World Time Minute Repeater, Ref. 7234 Calatrava Pilot Travel Time, Ref. 5930 World Time Chronograph, all Singapore 2019 Special Editions.
(R to L) Ref. 5531 World Time Minute Repeater, Ref. 7234 Calatrava Pilot Travel Time, Ref. 5930 World Time Chronograph, all Singapore 2019 Special Editions.

All that history and grandeur goes on display at the Watch Art Exhibition. This traveling show, which began in Dubai in 2012, and has since visited Munich, London, and New York, offers free public admission and an opportunity to view some of the rarest and most iconic pieces from Patek’s archives. This year, the exhibition rolled into Singapore, and Watch Journal was on the ground to experience it firsthand. 

According to Patek, this was the ideal location for the 2019 show. For starters, it’s the Singaporean bicentennial—an important event in what’s become one of Patek’s most important retail markets. But the brand didn’t just grow here overnight. In fact, the relationship between Singapore and the watchmaker goes back to 1965, when the city-state first became a sovereign independent republic separate of Malaysia. Mr. Philippe Stern, the current ownership group’s third-generation patriarch, arrived on the scene to start a new sales network. The watches were a hit, Singapore grew into a booming financial hub, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, the bonds between country and brand is stronger than ever before. This much was clear inside the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel, which served as the base of operations for the Watch Art Exhibition. Inside, the venue’s 24,000-square-foot performance space was transformed into an extension of the watchmaker’s legendary museum and the grand salons of its Lake Geneva store. Important historical pieces were brought in from Switzerland; the accomplishments of scientists, metallurgists, and astronomers were proudly on display. There was even a live show presenting rare handcrafts, with master artisans practicing age-old crafts of enameling and engraving and marquetry. 

The Marina Bay Sands, site of the "Watch Art Grand Exhibition Singapore 2019."
The Marina Bay Sands, site of the “Watch Art Grand Exhibition Singapore 2019.”

In terms of programming, this resembled the previous events in London or New York. But the local flavor at this year’s Watch Art Exhibition was next-level. The entrance at Marina Bay Sands paid tribute to the spirit of Singapore, with hundreds of colorful paper flowers, called Majulah Singapura, installed for the occasion. (“Majulah Singapura” means “onwards Singapore,” the opening refrain of the national anthem.) Beautiful papercraft continued in the lobby windows, which were filled with artistic representations of birds and flowers. Also on display were new and rare pieces from the Patek Philippe Museum collection, along with unique timepieces created for Southeast Asian collectors in the past. 

There were treats for the region’s current—and emerging—crop of brand aficionados as well. At the show, Patek unveiled a smattering of exclusive pieces, including six limited-edition watches created specially for Singapore. (Among them: Ref.5930G-011, a red-dial Worldtime Chronograph; Ref.5167A-012, a steel Aquanaut with bold red coloring; Ref.5067A-027, a red Aquanaut Luce with a diamond bezel; and Ref.7234A-001, a stunning blue Calatrava Pilot World Time.) More exclusive debuts, which ranged from dome table clocks to pocket watches and chronographs, offered a selection of rare handcrafts inspired by cultural and artistic expressions of Southeast Asia. 

The Patek Philippe Ref. 5303 Minute Repeater Tourbillon, a world premiere Singapore 2019 Special Edition
A limited-edition of twelve pieces, Patek Philippe Ref. 5303 Minute Repeater Tourbillon, a world premiere Singapore 2019 Special Edition.

But in terms of high-watchmaking, the new Minute Repeater Ref. 5303R-010 managed to steal the show. Limited to a total of 12 pieces, this grand complication debuted an exceptional manually wound caliber; it displays the gong hammers on the dial side, exposing the entire repeater mechanism and tourbillon. The rose gold case and matching gilded baseplate are contrasted by a minute track running along the exterior, and a black leather strap with matching red stitching.

Predictably, all of these new designs kicked off a frenzy, with collectors and enthusiasts flying in from all points of the globe. But the ultra-desirable pieces (including the #trending red Aquanaut) were available exclusively to the residents of Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Which is to say: Best of luck getting your hands on any of them.

Still, western collectors—and, really, anybody who cares about craftsmanship, design, or horology—could appreciate the Watch Art Exhibition. Patek’s history and products offer a unique perspective on humanity’s creative pursuits, and a small company that’s spent centuries honing its trade. Amid the monuments to that pursuit, the brand’s current patriarch, Thierry Stern, paused to reflect on the Patek Philippe magic. 

The steel Aquanaut in red, Patek Philippe Ref. 5167
The steel Aquanaut in red, Patek Philippe Ref. 5167, symbolizing good fortune (especially for the lucky 500 able to get their hands on one).

“It’s a family taking care of the business,” he said. “I have two people who know how to design. So we talk. Knowing them so well, and them knowing me so well, the image appears in front of us. After all these years, you simply know how to do it.”

Jimmy Chin’s Greatest Climb

Panerai ambassador, Jimmy Chin, puts the rugged Submersible BMG-Tech Carbotech to the test with an independent film project made exclusively for the launch.

By Blake Rong

The BMG-Tech Carbotech (PAM00799) might be submersible to 30 bar (300 meters) but Jimmy Chin proves the watch is equally rugged on dry land. Two of Panerai’s most inventive materials in one watch, a BMG-TECH case, and Carbotech bezel ensuring extreme strength, scratch resistance, and lightness. Photo by Atom Moore.

You may have heard this kind of story before. A couple flees a revolution, lands in America. In the unlikely cold of the Midwest, they raise a son. They pin their hopes and dreams of the future on him. He learns two languages, takes violin lessons, takes martial arts and swim lessons, reads books, enrolls in SAT classes. Earns straight As at boarding school. Learns patience, hard work, humility, the wisdom of keeping his head down. Every opportunity afforded to him off the sweat of their backs. He goes to a good university, where he studies international relations, with law school ahead. And then, he buys a 1980 Subaru wagon, drives to Yosemite, spends a year in the wilderness—then another. And never looks back.

“I was brought up with this idea of excellence: If you were going to pursue something, it was really not about whatever pursuit, it was about the craft,” said Jimmy Chin, 45, youthful and lean, who first fell in love with rock climbing in the late 90s. Back when it was still a fringe activity, Chin was living in Yosemite among the proud, Thoreau-like devotees who dubbed themselves “climbing dirtbags.” Among these characters—incredible athletes, said Chin, who were living on the fringes of society—he found his people, made lasting friends, and thrived. 

Filmmaker/photographer Jimmy Chin
Jimmy Chin, wearing the BMG-TECH Carbotech, is an Academy Award-winning filmmaker, Nat Geo photographer and mountain sports athlete best known for his ability to capture imagery and stories while climbing and skiing in heart-pounding high-risk situations. He is also Panerai’s newest ambassador. Photo by Nick Martini.

During one climb Chin borrowed the camera of his climbing partner, Brady Robinson, and took a picture of him hanging in a bivouac off the side of El Capitan. Robinson developed the photo and sold it to the clothing brand Mountain Hardwear for the princely sum of $500—a fortune among the dirtbags. They split the money. Chin, still living in his Subaru, used his share to buy his first camera. He was hooked. 

“I’ve been told, and I believe it’s true, you find your mentors, or the mentors find you,” said Chin. “I didn’t go to school for photography, I didn’t go to school for filmmaking, I was really fortunate in the sense that when I committed to the craft of photography, filmmaking, career, the universe would provide.”

In 1999, Chin and Robinson organized their first major expedition to Pakistan’s Karakoram mountains, the second-highest range in the world. The expedition lasted three months. The team climbed the 6,325-meter Fathi Brakk, a jagged granite spire that rises dramatically over pools of glacial water,  like a fantasy castle inhabited by dragons. In an era before the Internet or widespread GPS, Chin and Robinson were to venture to one of the most remote places on Earth.

Panerai's BMG-Tech Carbotech watch
The 47mm case is made of BMG-Tech, a bulk metallic glass which is harder and lighter than steel with extreme resistance to corrosion, external shocks, and magnetic fields. Photo by Atom Moore.

“I took a big leap in terms of making commitments to make that expedition happen. Convincing a group of my peers to trust me and making it happen and then going off and climbing these big alpine high-altitude, fairly complex climbs, that was a big leap for me, gave me a lot of confidence in trusting myself and following my instincts. I was the expedition leader, and it was a lot at the time. but I trusted myself, trusted in the universe, trusted that things would work out.”

The team climbed a dangerous and unproven new route. They endured falling ice blocks, rock slides that nearly crushed them. It was Chin’s first time shooting with an SLR camera. When they returned, his expedition photographs found their way to clothing catalogs, and suddenly, Chin was hot. 

As a filmmaker, Jimmy Chin’s experience in the adventure and extreme sports world brings an authentic and unique perspective to storytelling. Photo by Nick Martini.

In 2001, Chin began shooting campaigns for The North Face, which became his sponsor. The next year, Chin participated in a 300-mile trek across Tibet’s Changtang Plateau; his photos were featured in the April 2003 issue of National Geographic. Chin’s parents saw their son give a talk in Washington D.C., surrounded by his photographs, and they understood: how one can build a life in circuitous routes, much like a snakelike climb up a rock face. Meru, the first documentary directed by Chin and his wife Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, debuted in 2015 at the Sundance Film Festival. It won the U.S. Documentary Award there and was shortlisted for an Oscar. It detailed his team’s climb up Meru Peak in India’s Himalayas, ascending a route evocatively named the “Shark’s Fin.” Last year’s follow-up, Free Solo, won an Oscar and a BAFTA, and at the 2019 Emmy Awards, racked up 20 trophies across seven categories. In Free Solo, the camera was on Alex Honnold attempting to freehand climb Yosemite’s legendary El Capitan. Now, Chin was returning home. 

“I was brought up with this idea of excellence: If you were going to pursue something, it was not really about whatever pursuit, it was about the craft.”

“We’re constantly referencing time in relationship to where we are on the mountain,” said Chin. “It affects your decisions.” Time is of the essence: It is the one consistent variable among the unpredictable, a potentially lifesaving source of stability. Climbers check their progress by how much time has elapsed, which in turn determines their route, their energy levels, and weather conditions. Knowing when to turn around or whether there’s still time to push forward is vital. “I’ve always said that time is the only true currency, and I still believe that,” said Chin. “In the mountains, you could do big expeditions and big climbs. You’re constantly checking the time in terms of progress, in terms of where you are on the climb, how you make decisions moving forward or retreating.” 

That’s the basic premise of a timepiece, anyway. But when, say, skiing down Mount Everest’s  Lhotse Face, as Chin did in 2006, a watch’s ruggedness takes on another dimension. Panerai recently appointed Chin as a brand ambassador—at the Emmys this year, he wore a Luminor 1950 GMT—in the hopes that its latest ultra-functional timepiece, the Submersible BMG-TECH, can keep up. 

Panerai is attempting to harken to its past of building properly rugged hardware. The BMG-TECH series recalls the dive watches issued to the Italian Navy as a fount of never-ending inspiration—one that has sustained the brand as it went from obscure foreign curiosity to fashion icon. Watches, said Chin, are like climbing gear: “Some of the most useful pieces of gear are the timeless and the most well-designed pieces that we still always use … it’s almost less about the watch getting me out of a bind but keeping me from getting into a bind.” 

Filmmaker/photographer Jimmy Chin
For Panerai, Jimmy has recently shot a short film that depicts his ever-intensifying work ethic, pushing himself and his talents to even greater heights. Photo by Nick Martini.

BMG-TECH is a bulk metallic glass, an alloy of zirconium, copper, aluminum, titanium, and nickel that is heated and rapidly cooled, a process similar to glassblowing, but where the atoms retain a chaotic structure at the microscopic level. It can never corrode, says Panerai. It is shockproof, scratchproof, and resistant to magnetism. It is super light, and the carbon fiber bezel only adds lightness. All the better to protect the P.9010 automatic calibre, an in-house movement with a three-day power reserve and 28,800 beats per hour. Two different types of Super-LumiNova differentiate the small seconds dial from the main functions, and the light blue adds a chic contrast. That beefy crown lock has always been a polarizing Panerai element; here, it aids in the watch’s 300-meter water-resistance rating. If the watch is as bulletproof as Panerai suggests, then it will survive anything Chin’s next expedition can throw at it. 

There is always something coming up next. Viewed from Chin’s lenses, the world shrinks, and the vast remoteness of territories appears in our mailboxes and on our phones. There is an element of wistfulness to this—are there still far-flung lands to be discovered? Is there still time left? The Changpa nomads have been around for a lot longer than National Geographic; British surveyors crisscrossed the Karakoram mountains as early as the 1800s, and Yūichirō Miura became Chin’s predecessor when he skied down Everest himself, in 1970, complete with a parachute and broken limbs. (The ensuing documentary on Miura won an Oscar, something Chin can surely appreciate.) 

In Chin’s mind, there are endless places to be explored. He spends part of his time in New York City and in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and despite his youth spent climbing the Rockies in a Subaru, there is still uncharted territory among the Tetons. “You know what, there’s still a lot of this planet that has not been explored,” he said. “There are so many mountains in the Himalayas that have not been explored. There are still tons of potential. You have to get creative. We have so much more tech these days to go further, and so our capacity to be explorers is changing and progressing and allowing us to push further to areas we’ve never been … the oceans, for example. And of course, there’s space!” 

Chin in space? The world waits for that documentary with bated breath. 

Why So Serious?

Created as a fitting tribute to DC Comics’ villains, RJ reimagines the character watch with a mischievous glint in its eye.

The world of high-end watchmaking can often be a sober and serious place. But in the world of RJ, haute horology and a sense of wonder aren’t mutually exclusive. The brand’s playful timepieces have smiles built right into their DNA. 

The limited edition titanium RJ X Joker houses the RJ20142 self-winding mechanical bidirectional movement.

Founded in 2004, and relaunched last year under the creative direction of CEO Marco Tedeschi, RJ has made its mark on modern watchmaking thanks to surprising collaborations. These draw inspiration from pop culture iconography, ranging from Marvel and DC Comics superheroes to beloved video-game characters like Super Mario, Space Invaders, and Pac-Man. If you’re looking for a tourbillon with an artisan-crafted Pokémon dial, this is where you’ll get it. There is even a pavé diamond and pink sapphire-encrusted Hello Kitty timepiece.

“We attract a wide range of people who want something different and, most importantly, something fun,” Tedeschi tells Watch Journal. “It’s essential for me to have a product you can identify by the wrist. There is simply no way to mistake an RJ for anything else in the world.”

That is certainly true of the brand’s two newest pieces. The first is a colorful callback to Batman’s original nemesis, The Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime made his DC Comics debut in 1940 and has been the arch-enemy of Gotham City’s crime-fighting bat ever since. The Joker’s distinctive look — purple-and-green clothing, exaggerated facial features — come through in RJ’s laser-engraved titanium tribute, which features hand-painting and is limited to 100 pieces. It’s a killer chronograph in every sense.

For those after a more conceptual homage, RJ is also offering a timepiece inspired by another one of Batman’s iconic foes: Two-Face. Calling on the villain’s conflicted nature, one half of the watch is pristine, while the other half is cleverly “burned away” (just as the character’s face was in the comics) to expose the skeletonized movement inside. It’s exactly the type of timepiece that attracted Tedeschi to RJ.

The RJ Two-Face represents the good vs. evil struggle of Batman’s former ally, Gotham City’s District Attorney Harvey Dent. Acid sold separately.

“I was interested in the brand for two main reasons,” he says. “The first was the main concept, which was the core product having a material that has a fascinating story incorporated within the watch, and, of course, the collaborations.”

For Tedeschi, leveraging those partnerships is the key to success moving forward. That means bringing more of RJ’s watchmaking in-house and starting to produce its own movements in Geneva. Here, he sees opportunities to make his company’s timepieces even more unique. 

“We are going to increase the collaborations, and the idea is to work on the character differently,” he says. “Before we used to have a dial…. We are now, being a manufacturer, able to incorporate the collaboration with the movement itself.”

The addition of in-house mechanicals will no doubt yield unconventional results. But diving into the unorthodox is simply a matter of course for RJ. In addition to the pop culture-inspired collaborations, the brand is known for its DNA Concept watches, which bring history-making material to the wrist. One such watch used steel from the Titanic; another contained actual moon dust. The RJ6919, released earlier this year, has pieces from the Apollo 11 spacecraft integrated into the bezel. 

The dial coloration is hand applied, meaning no two watches will have the exact same makeup.

(Tedeschi, on how RJ sources these fantastic materials: “It [the metal] was sourced from the original refinery, even from the same batch of steel they used in the Titanic. For the Apollo, we bought the various artifacts from different parties at an auction.”)

The CEO is staying tight-lipped about what surprises will be coming our way soon, allowing only that RJ is “currently following other sales to purchase additional unusual materials.” What Tedeschi can reveal is that the shape of the watch, with its distinctive case protective “bumpers,” will always remain the same. 

“The shape is quite simple, integrated within the case, we will never exclude having the case shape without the bumper in the future,” he says. “The essential thing is to have those four elements at 30 degrees from the primary axis. That’s how we define the RJ watch.”  

That faith in the DNA is a large part of the brand’s bright future under Tedeschi. It’s also a statement of confidence in RJ’s place in both popular culture and watchmaking. This is why Warner Bros and DC Entertainment are continuing to join forces with Tedeschi, bringing their most infamous characters to life as rare, limited-edition watches. Seeing the finished Joker product, it seems that faith is well-placed. For collectors with a comic-book bent, the only question left is this: Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?

The Arraw RJ Joker comes with interchangeable straps in alligator or rubber with contrast stitching.
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