Original Series
By Jason Heaton
on 5.9.13
Photo by Gishani

After some years occupying the dreaded fashion watch segment, Baume & Mercier has been regaining its former glory with several beautiful new timepieces and an evocative brand image. Two years ago, the Capeland Flyback chronograph took the watch world by surprise, a drop-dead gorgeous timepiece backed up by the exquisite execution of a classic complication (the flyback). Even jaded critics were smitten with this piece, and it firmly planted Baume & Mercier back in focus as a company to watch. With the new Clifton series, Baume has managed to avoid the sophomore jinx, delivering yet another brace of seductive watches.

MORE TIME ON OUR HANDS: JeanRichard Terrascope | Best New Watches at SIHH 2013 | First Look at the A. Lange & Söhne Grand Lange 1 Lumen

The Clifton is a new name for Baume & Mercier but one that, like the Capeland, looks back for inspiration. Anyone watching the TV, music and fashion worlds knows that nostalgia is in, and this is nowhere more evident than in the watch world. Everyone from Jaeger-LeCoultre to J. Crew has a watch that conjures up a golden age, using “aged” luminescent paint to nylon straps and acrylic crystals. With watches, “retro” makes sense. After all, timepieces, especially mechanical ones, are anachronistic objects; the choice to wear one is more about a respect for traditional craftsmanship, technology and aesthetics than it is about telling time. This is nowhere more evident than in the Clifton Complete Calendar ($4,900). If you squint or see it from a distance, this could be a handwound triple date from the 1950s.

TICK LIST

Baume-Mercier-Clifton-Complete-Calendar-gear-patrol-tick-list

Movement
Automatic
Oscillating weight personalized with snailed & Côtes de Genève decor
Circular-grained bridges
Black & rhodium-plated screws
Jewels: 25
Power Reserve: 42 hour powers
Frequency: 4Hz

Functions
Moon phases
Day & month indications
Central hand date

Case
Polished & satin-finished steel
Diameter: 43mm
Thickness: 12.25mm
Antiglare scratch-resistant sapphire crystal
Sapphire case back with screws
Water resistance: 5 ATM (50 meters)

Dial
Sun satin-finished silver-colored
Gilt Arabic numerals and indexes
Gilt hands

Strap
Square scales black alligator
Triple folding clasp with security push-pieces

The moonphase complication is one Baume & Mercier chief designer Alexandre Peraldi calls “the most poetic”. Indeed, when, in the past century, has one truly needed to know the phase of the moon? While the chronograph, the perpetual calendar and the alarm all are utilitarian complications, the moonphase is more whimsical, introducing an artistic element to a watch dial. The Clifton’s moonphase display is at the lower half of the dial — and it’s the watch’s most distinctive feature. As the moon moves through its phases every 28 days or so, the silver moon slowly makes its way across the aperture, from waxing to full to waning, as the month passes.

While the moonphase complication may be whimsical, the complete calendar complication more useful. The month and day are indicated at the top of the dial, while the date itself is pointed to on an outer, numbered ring. While reading the date via a pointer takes some getting used to, the red-tipped hand and the month and day apertures add points of interest to the elegant sunburst silver dial.

Like all of Baume & Mercier’s movements, the calibre that drives the Clifton Complete Calendar comes from a third party — in this case, Dubois-Depraz, a long-respected Swiss builder of complications. Baume is up-front about its practice of “etablissage,” the sourcing of third party movements for its watches; all assembly, decoration and quality control is performed in-house. This method of building watches is nothing new, and Baume does it better than most. The circular graining and Geneva stripes of the Complete Calendar’s movement are on par with many in-house movements, if a bit small for its case.

Speaking of size, the 43mm steel case is one of the best parts of the Clifton Complete Calendar. Though large for what is clearly a dress watch, the tapering lugs (they fold down over the wrist) and domed crystal (sapphire, naturally) lend an overall sleek appearance. Its size has the added benefit of making the watch more versatile, modern and slightly sportier than a typical, dainty dress watch — not that we’d be pairing it with swim trunks anytime soon, thanks to its elegant black crocodile leather strap and fold-over deployant clasp.

If you squint or see it from a distance, the Clifton Complete Calendar could be a handwound triple date from the 1950s.

The shoulders of the case are beveled and polished in contrast with the brushed sides and lugs. A transparent caseback allows views of the self-winding movement with its oscillating weighted rotor. To set the month, day, date and moonphase, four small recessed push buttons are set into the two sides of the case; they’re unobtrusive while wearing the watch, and a pleasure to operate in a satisfying mechanical way using a safety pin or toothpick.

The Clifton Complete Calendar is available with either a blue or silvery white dial, the former matched with silver hands and markers, the latter with gold. Both are elegant, high-quality timepieces with an interesting complication and, at less than $5,000, are watches that truly swing above their weight. A vintage look paired with modern size and reliability makes for a watch you can wear for decades — summer, fall, winter, or spring.

METHODOLOGY: We wore the Clifton Complete Calendar for two weeks, subjecting it to numerous happy hours, dinners out and a few top-down drives.