A. Lange & Söhne honors the inimitable Walter Lange with an inimitable special-edition timepiece (and an all-new movement.)
Walter Lange was a horological titan, equal parts technical maestro and visionary businessman. When the Berlin Wall came down, he seized on the opportunity to resurrect his great grandfather’s watch company; within a decade of relaunching, the firm was turning out instant-classic designs and developing superfine mechanical movements.
The felicitously named A. Lange & Söhne Tribute to Walter Lange celebrates the man, who died last year, by debuting an all-new movement. It’s a hand-wound, 36-jewel beauty, which features an independent, stoppable seconds complication. In a nice touch, the caliber name (L1924) and reference no. (297) also point to Lange’s birthday (July 29, 1924).
Breguet’s super-slim tourbillon gets a minimalist makeover.
Looking for a thin tourbillon? Talk about being spoiled for choice. In recent years, we’ve seen remarkably slender movements from Arnold & Son (2.97 mm) and Bulgari (1.95 mm). But both of those are manual-wind. Breguet’s caliber 581, found in the Classique line, lays claim to the thinnest automatic tourbillon on the market today.
The Classique Extra-Plat 5367 brings a new grand feu off-white enamel dial, sans power indicator, offering maximum contrast with minimal clutter. The 18-karat rose gold case retains the customary open backing—all the better to study the mechanical triumph therein: an 80-hour power reserve, at 4Hz frequency, from a 3mm movement.
Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra-Plat Automatique 5367, Price Upon Request; breguet.com
With a completely transparent encasing of its Grand Complication, Hublot redefines the concept of what a precious material can be.
By Stephen Watson
Pink gold? Platinum? Titanium? Market trends predict a return to a new type of discretion. So how about a grand complication that can barely be seen yet has nowhere to hide?
We’re talking, of course, about the magnificent watch on this month’s cover: Hublot’s Big Bang Unico Sapphire. What at first glance appears to be a timepiece made out of clear plastic is, in fact, an ingenious see-through case cut from a solid block of sapphire crystal. Incredibly scratch-resistant and almost as tough as diamond, the case lays bare the inner workings of the HUB1270 UNICO Manufacture self-winding perpetual calendar and chronograph movement in all its technical virtuosity. It’s a watch that must be seen to be believed.
Watch Journal had the opportunity to speak with Ricardo Guadalupe, CEO of Hublot, about the brand’s cutting-edge creativity, mechanical innovations, and enduring devotion to the Art of Fusion.
How did the concept of the clear watch come about?
The idea was to play with the visible and the invisible—to present the heart of an exceptional timepiece as if it was suspended in the air. With a transparent case, a movement can be admired at 360 degrees. Our dream had long been to produce such a watch entirely in colorless sapphire, which is light, nearly invisible, and virtually scratch-proof. Sapphire is one of the hardest materials on earth, second only to diamond.
We also liked the idea that a transparent watch would allow us to highlight Hublot’s tradition of constant innovation in using and developing new materials.
Speaking of cutting-edge materials, Hublot is known for what it calls the Art of Fusion. How has this helped to define the brand’s DNA?
Combining two materials that never coexist in nature is the driving idea at Hublot. Even the first Hublot models from 1980 merged gold cases with rubber straps—quite extravagant for that time! Just like watchmakers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, we will use classic materials such as gold for the case or brass for the movement—however, we combine them with other materials like titanium, ceramic, carbon fiber, Kevlar, even rubber. And we don’t stop there, because we also develop our own new materials. For instance, we have worked in conjunction with the EPFL in Lausanne on basic scientific research for many years. And from this cooperation has arisen a scratch-resistant gold and ceramic alloy that Hublot calls “Magic Gold.”
As a motto, the “Art of Fusion” refers not only to the materials themselves but also encompasses more abstract ideas: the fusion of past and present, tradition and innovation.
How is the sapphire material generated?
Sapphire can be generated by various types of processes, but the ones we use are the Kyropoulos and Verneuil processes. Because sapphire is so hard—measuring 2,000 on the Vickers scale—it requires specific machines to manufacture it and to polish it. Making the sapphire crystal itself was not the issue for us—it was the manufacturing of our components in sapphire that was challenging.The material comes to us in a raw block, which then to be cut into the correct shape. We invested several million Swiss francs in machinery to be able to produce the components and we also invested in machines able to polish the transparency of the sapphire. It took us nearly twenty years to develop the tools and technology that could create the watches to our satisfaction.
What are the possibilities of generating this material? Colors? Textures? Patterns?
The standard color for sapphire is “clear,” but by adding additives during the growth of the crystal, it is possible to create different colors. In 2017 we introduced the sapphire in red and blue. Regarding textures and finishes, it is possible to have a matte or a polished surface finish. Regarding the patterns, for the time being, we use black metallization (for the realization of black smoked sapphire) as well as laser engraving and fill with color lacquer for engravings on the caseback of the watch.
Can you talk us through some of the steps of the watch’s fabrication?
The different essential steps include diamond wire cutting for the raw material, diamond milling for the components to roughed out and diamond polishing of the finished components, so that the surfaces are perfectly polished, revealing the total transparency of this material. The polishing step is very complicated because this is not easy to do on complex shapes and there is a considerable risk of breakage. Sometimes the end step of polishing will also reveal minimal defaults in the crystal.
How long does the process take from start to finish?
It takes between twenty to thirty days to grow a crystal which weighs around 110 to 150 kilos. After this time, we need to cut the raw material, mill it, and polish it. Depending on the component, it can take hundreds of hours to achieve a finished component. And the results aren’t guaranteed until we polish and carefully examine the result.
How do new elements, such as sapphire, help reimagine traditional luxury?
Hublot stands for always being first, unique and different. I think there will always be a place for watches like ours because we are producing watches that are eternal. You have a world of emotions in a box that will last for the next fifty, hundred or two hundred years, but we give them a contemporary design thanks to the unique materials we use and create.
The world’s earliest civilizations kept time by observing the moon—tracking the days from one new moon to the next. The ancient Greeks took the process a leap further, inventing the Antikythera, one of the first-known complex machines. Housed in a wooden box with more than 30 bronze gears, the instrument could predict the moon’s phases and position in the sky. According to historians, the Antikythera’s four-annum cycle was used for adjusting to leap years or pinpointing the best city—sans eclipses—to host the next Olympic games.
Alas, this innovative tool (along with the instructions needed to replicate it) was lost at sea, near the isle for which it was later named. Other tinkerers wouldn’t catch up to the Antikythera’s technology for more than a thousand years. But by the late Middle Ages, Italian astronomer and engineer Giovanni Dondi dell-Orologio of Padua had created the Astrarium, an astrological clock that mapped the positions of the five then-known planets, along with the sun and the moon. This time, the device was reproduced—and shared widely—greatly influencing the burgeoning clock (and future watch) industries.
Rudimentary moon pointers—special discs that rotated on the dial to aim at numerals signifying the moon’s monthly age in days, from 1 to 29—can be found on pocket watches dating back to the turn of the 17th century. But since the real moon’s cycle is about a half day longer, these early versions required manually adjusting the watch at least every couple of years. Over time, the moon-phase complication became both more accurate and more beautiful as elaborate sky scenes were painted on or beneath the rotating discs (which sometimes had open holes to reproduce the waxing and waning of the moon). Adding more teeth to the gears turning these lunar mechanisms resulted in watches that needed far less correction. Some moon phases can now stay true for more than a thousand millennia.
Of course, in the current age of smartphones communicating with satellites in real time, moon phases no longer serve any functional purpose. Their value is purely historic and aesthetic, enhancing traditional timepieces with often gorgeous complications. Take the new Rolex Cellini Moonphase (reference 50535), for example. A handsome, oversize 39 mm case in 18-k Everose gold contains a self-winding movement made by Rolex with the company’s Superlative Chronometer certification, with an accuracy of plus or minus two seconds a day. The blue enamel disc at 6 o’clock tracks the various phases of the moon, indicated by an arrow indicator on the subdial. A full moon is depicted by a meteorite appliqué, while the new moon is designated by a simple silver ring.
The Cellini, the most elegant of Rolex’s styles, has long been overshadowed by the brand’s sportier models, like the Daytona and the Submariner. But this particular edition, designed with a subtle brown alligator-leather strap and spare white lacquer dial demands the spotlight—not least because it’s the first moon phase Rolex has issued in more than six decades.
“Rolex watches with a moon-phase indication are exceptionally rare—among the rarest of all of the brand’s historic and modern models,” says Paul Boutros, Americas & International Strategy advisor and senior vice president at Phillips auction house. Boutros points out that, before the new Cellini, only two Rolex moon phases were ever manufactured: “Reference 8171 and reference 6062 were both produced for only a few short years, from about 1950 until approximately 1954. Due to their timeless beauty, size, and rarity, these references are among the most sought-after of all vintage Rolex watches.”
One particular example, the Bao Dai Rolex, a 6062 moon phase in yellow gold with a black dial and diamond indices, once owned by the last emperor of Vietnam, has set records at Phillips both times it has come to market. It sold for $372,346 in 2002 and $5,034,084 in May of 2017, marking the highest price ever fetched by a Rolex, not once, but twice.
“The new Cellini is especially noteworthy since it is the first modern Rolex wristwatch to include a moon phase,” Boutros says. “Due to its large size and classic aesthetic, we believe it will sell well to collectors of modern, complicated wristwatches.”
Resale value is but one reason to get moonstruck.
WHERE TO WEAR IT
With the once stark line between work and leisure dissolving into a blur, few opportunities remain for true formal dress—and the Cellini Moonphase is, undoubtedly, a formal watch. Perhaps that’s why Rolex has become such an ardent supporter of the arts? It’s certainly one way to ensure the brand’s devotees can find suitable venues to exhibit their finery.
The company underwrites select performances at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, the Royal Opera House in London, the Opéra National de Paris, the Sulzburg Festival and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in Austria, and the Metropolitan Opera in New York, which just celebrated its 50th year at Lincoln Center. Even at the Met, though, dress codes have eased. “Monday nights at the old Met [on Broadway and 39th Street] were all white tie,” says Susan Froemke, a filmmaker who documented the Met’s 1966 move to the Upper West Side in this year’s exceptional The Opera House. “Everybody adhered to those rules,” she adds. “The old house was built by the nouveau riche—the Vanderbilts, if you can believe it—people who couldn’t get boxes at the old Academy of Music. They wanted a place to be seen in their ermine and jewels.”
Now, at Lincoln Center, inside Wallace Harrison’s sleek Modernist temple to the arts, there’s considerably more variety in audience attire. “Today, people are coming straight from work,” Froemke says. “But luckily, they do still make an effort.”
Under the starburst “sputnik” chandeliers, the Cellini will look right at home.
With runway references and an emphasis on crafting in-house movements, Chanel fuses high fashion and watchmaking artistry.
The Chanel Code watch, plus essentials. (Photo: Doug Young)
There’s no arguing that Chanel is a newcomer to the haute horlogerie block. In an industry that measures legacies in centuries, Chanel launched its first watch a mere 30 years ago. But the commitment to the category—bolstered by collaborations with independent watchmaker Romain Gauthier and ownership of watch assembly company Châtelain—has helped it quickly gain on the old guard. Chanel’s mix of technical expertise and its seemingly endless archive crammed with Parisienne elegance makes for a formidable combination.
The jewelry watch Code Coco is a case in point. It borrows design elements from one of Chanel’s iconic handbags, the 2.55, and features crisp, sophisticated engineering. Since debuting in February of 1955, the 2.55 has had a bar-shaped closure called the Mademoiselle Lock, a moniker that—according to lore—referred to Coco Chanel’s perennially unmarried status (or perhaps her alleged habit of secreting love notes in her handbag). The same lock serves as a closure for the quartz-powered Code Coco. It clicks into two positions: When horizontal, the black lacquered dial, which measures 38.1 by 21.5 mm, is fully visible. When the lock swivels into a vertical orientation, it conceals the watch’s hands, obscuring the passage of time. It’s a fitting gesture from a brand whose founder declared, “I don’t know how to be anywhere but in the present.”
The Code Coco’s flexible stainless-steel bracelet unfurls from a bangle to a flat position once opened. A grid pattern that evokes the quilted leather exterior of the 2.55 decorates the polished metal—even the faintest movement scatters light across its textured surface. Another degree of glitz comes from diamond accents. Stainless-steel models include a single diamond on their dials and bezels with or without diamonds. A version in white gold, completely covered in diamonds, is available too—but in a limited edition of five, Chanel’s lucky number and the numeral associated with a certain famous perfume.