Best of Show
Best Watches of SIHH 2014
A much-improved diver and a gorgeous, two-faced perpetual calendar
IWC Aquatimer Chronograph Edition Expedition Charles Darwin
I make no secret of my affinity for IWC, or my love of dive watches, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that the Aquatimer line has always been near and dear to my heart. Even so, I’m not above a little tough love every now and then, so I don’t mind saying that the previous generation of Aquatimers felt a bit uninspired to me.
So it was with great anticipation that I awaited details of the new Aquatimers, and let me tell you folks, IWC did not disappoint. While the entire line has received a technical and design makeover, it’s the new Aquatimer Chronograph “Expedition Charles Darwin” that has me all in a tizzy. Like the other Aquatimers in the collection, it has the neato “SafeDive” ratcheting internal bezel system, while under the hood, it sports IWC’s excellent in-house c.89365 movement — already the makings of a terrific watch.
But what really sets this one apart is its brilliant bronze-alloy case. Yes, yes, I know that bronze cases are so 2011 (that’s when Richemont stablemate, Panerai, introduced their PAM 382 Submersible and touched off a bronze-cased frenzy), but damn if IWC hasn’t reinvented the wheel with this piece. Unlike most bronze-cased watches to date, which tend to be brutish affairs, the Expedition Charles Darwin is refined and elegant in appearance, with its neatly brushed and polished surfaces and sharply creased bevels. And yet, in spite of this veneer of civility, it remains a fully capable diving instrument, with a full 300 meters of water resistance and chronograph pushers that can be operated when submerged. Evolution of the species has never looked so good.
A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar Terraluna
German manufacture A. Lange & Söhne has long reigned as one of the top watchmaking houses of the world, and for good reason: their movement innovations are groundbreaking and their finishing is nothing short of sublime. Every piece bearing the stamp of this Glashütte-based brand positively reeks of taste and refinement. For SIHH 2014, Lange reached for the stars, and this time they came home with the moon. Or, rather, the Terraluna.
The Terraluna, part of Lange’s Richard Lange line of timepieces, is a perpetual calendar, which is one of my favorite complications. Unlike a traditional date complication, a perpetual calendar can accommodate 30-day and 31-day months as well as February’s varying 28- and 29-day months without requiring any outside adjustments. This is a remarkable feat of engineering by any stretch, and yet, with the Terraluna, Lange has proven once again why they deserve their lofty perch in the firmament of haute horlogerie by taking it one step further.
Yes, the dial-side is beautiful with its off-set and overlapping dials that mark hours, minutes and seconds; and yes, there’s a lovely symmetry to the date windows and the gentle arc of the power reserve display at the 6:00 position (a whopping 14 days!). But the fun doesn’t really start until you flip it over and behold the glorious orbital moon phase, which shows the moon as it appears relative to the earth with the movement’s balance wheels taking the role of the sun. This display is truly breathtaking to behold, and is made all the more so wreathed as it is by the intricate workings of the movement, which further showcase Lange’s mastery of movement finishing.
Two Jaeger-LeCoultre lookers
Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre Unique Travel Time
Jaeger-LeCoultre caught my eye when they first debuted the Duomètre line with the Duomètre à Chronographe. The Duomètre concept is incredibly innovative, with two escapements, one to power the timekeeping and the other to power any complications, thus maintaining the utmost of consistency in rate and accuracy. This year’s rose gold Duomètre Unique Travel Time is the line’s latest entry — icing on a cake that was already thick with sugar.
A white gold limited edition Duomètre Unique Travel Time was released at last year’s SIHH. The rose gold version released this year is an open edition, so a lot more folks will get to enjoy their unlimited summer vacations while keeping track of the time back home (no more accidental 3 a.m. calls to Dad when you run out of cash in Zanzibar).
As a map and globe lover, I’m a sucker for any watch that goes about depicting the earth to indicate GMT. The view of the Unique Travel Time’s globe is tied to the travel side, and it’s a view from over the North Pole — unfortunate if you live south of the Equator, but great news for us.
Jaeger-LeCoultre Grande Reverso Ultra Thin 1931 Chocolate
This year I’m going with the Le Sentier company’s watches for both of my picks of the show. I’m an avowed fan-boy of the Reverso, so I’ve been drooling over the Ultra Thin Tribute to 1931 series since it debuted in 2011. 2012 saw the Grande Reverso Rouge (red dial), and 2013 gave us the Grande Reverso Ultra Thin Duoface Bleu. Now it’s Chocolate’s turn.
And to rub it in to the Rouge (which sported a crocodile strap) and tweak the Bleu’s nose just a bit, the boys at Jaeger-LeCoultre once again went calling at Casa Fagliano, the fine family-owned leather works in Buenos Aires. Casa Fagliano has been supplying polo players with riding boots for well over 100 years, and supplied the strap for the Bleu last year. There, Jaeger-LeCoultre procured handcrafted straps of rich cordovan leather, an ideal complement to the Chocolate’s 18K pink gold case, and a perfect match to the dial of this latest Reverso.
One inspired by the vast reaches of space, one that eschews it
A. Lange & Söhne Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase
I was initially considering choosing at least one watch in my price range, but I figured why not shoot for the, ahem, moon? The main top level watchmakers are often referred to as the “Big Three” or the “Big Three + Lange”. However, with watch after watch, A. Lange & Söhne proves that there should be no distinction between it and Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, and Audemars Piguet. I have a hard time finding any creation of theirs that doesn’t tempt me to commit grand larceny (likely the only way I could “afford” a Lange). The updated Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase is no exception.
Lange added a few updates to an already gorgeous watch and somehow made it even more perfect. I have not a single complaint about this watch. The moon phase indicator has been moved from the small seconds dial to the hour/minute dial, allowing for a larger presence; this is a good thing, considering how intricate and beautiful it is. The moon phase disk has a uniquely reflective blue coating layered on top of solid gold, where over 300 stars have been placed by a laser etching process. Supporting its good looks, the moon phase complication is accurate to within a day over the course of 122 years. And if you ever somehow get tired of looking at the dial, flip it over and you’ll find an equally attractive movement. Nothing atypical of Lange watchmaking here — a three-quarter main plate with perfect Glashütte stripes, jewels set in gold chatons, blued screws, and the brand’s trademark hand-engraved balance cock. Break out the scorebook and mark down another homerun for A. Lange & Söhne.
Piaget Altiplano 900P
Piaget is one of those brands that mostly flies under the radar. Known for their ultra-thin (think supermodel-with-an-eating-disorder thin) movements and watches, Piaget has filled up their trophy case with over a dozen records in the “thin” category. At SIHH 2012, they revealed the world’s thinnest automatic skeleton watch with the world’s thinnest automatic skeleton movement. Though I’m no huge fan of skeleton watches, the Altiplano Skeleton Ultra-Thin was by far my favorite, probably the only of its kind I’d love to wear. So, when I heard Piaget was dropping yet another “thinnest” watch, I thought there was no way they’d get close to the bold yet elegant design of the skeleton.
The Altiplano 900P is a dress watch Bruce Wayne would wear. The black-coated bridges contrasted by a steel-colored balance wheel and gears, all accented by the visible jewels, give the 900P a certain “Caped Crusader” feel. To achieve its incredible thinness, which now bears the distinction of the world’s thinnest mechanical watch, Piaget combined the movement’s baseplate with the caseback. At 3.65mm, “svelte” is a severe understatement. This thing is a dessert wafer. I don’t know how much thinner Piaget will go, but as long as they keep bringing their aesthetic A game, you won’t hear me complain.
Re-sized Royal Oaks and a pulse-quickening pulsograph
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Safari
Audemars Piguet arguably invented the luxury steel sports watch with its Royal Oak back in 1972. They did it again in 1993 with the then-gargantuan Royal Oak Offshore. Then the Offshore became the watch of sports and music stars, a symbol of excess, and grew to 44 millimeters to suit this appeal. This year, AP reintroduced a new line of ROOs in the original 42 millimeter size — and they look downright tasteful. Two millimeters may not seem like that much, but for the Goldilocks of the Royal Oak crowd, 42 millimeters is just right. It’s larger and sportier than the classic Royal Oak “Jumbo”, but not as large and over-the-top as the 44-millimeter models.
The Safari has always been my favorite of the 42-millimeter models, and while the old model is still a great-looking watch, it was verging on staleness. The 2014 models keep what made the old one great — the “Mega Tapisserie” textured dial, the brown and white color combo, the brown crocodile strap — but the subtle tweaking of the colors, brown sub-dials, and ceramic pushers and crown bring the design to a new level. The Safari and the rest of the Offshore line are going to be huge hits and on many collectors’ wish lists for 2014, mine included.
Montblanc Meisterstück Heritage Pulsograph
I have to hand it to Montblanc, a brand that usually isn’t on my radar, for releasing a piece this year that really got my blood flowing. The heritage-inspired Meisterstück is a monopusher chronograph, meaning it only uses one pusher to start, stop and reset the chrono. While single pusher chronographs used to be the norm, you don’t see them often anymore, and that’s part of what makes this one cool.
The rose gold case is perfectly sized at 41 millimeters, and the historic Minerva-derived movement, made by hand in the old Minvera factory in Villeret, is easy on the eyes with its gorgeous hand-beveled and polished surfaces and German silver plate and bridges. The pulsometer scale is even useful for taking a pulse, which no doubt will be quickening when using this watch. If Montblanc keeps turning out watches this nice, fountain pens are going to be the last thing on my mind when I hear their name.
A true diver and a rare chronograph
IWC Aquatimer Deep Three
Though it’s haute horlogerie that puts the “HH” in SIHH, show me a great tool watch and I’ll forget all the tourbillons, perpetual calendars and repeaters in a heartbeat. And there may have been no better example of a tool watch at SIHH than the latest iteration of IWC’s depth gauge diver, the Aquatimer Deep Three. As the name suggests, this is the third version, and while the Deep One and Deep Two were pretty special watches, this one proves that the third time is the charm.
The brilliant SafeDive inner/outer timing bezel is shared with the other new Aquatimers. The 46-millimeter case is titanium, a material that makes a triumphant and overdue return to IWC’s dive watch lineup. And while the self-winding calibre 30120 is not one of IWC’s vaunted manufacture movements, it’s not the time-telling we’re smitten with here; it’s the depth gauge. Like the Deep One and Deep Two before it, the Deep Three proves itself the best mechanical depth gauge dive watch on the market, with the ability to track not only current depth in meters down to 50, but also a separate hand that indicates the all-important maximum depth, vital for calculating no-decompression times while diving. That feature, along with the Deep Three’s legibility and ease of use, make it a legitimate backup dive instrument while also being a pretty damn nice luxury timepiece.
Panerai Radiomir 1940 Chronograph
For some reason, a lot of Panerai chronographs in the past haven’t looked quite right; adding complexity to that utterly simple and iconic case seemed to mar the aesthetic. But the Radiomir 1940 chronographs shown at SIHH have us smitten. That case, introduced at last year’s show, suits the addition of pushers, and the wide open dial takes the tachymeter scale and bi-compax subdial layout well, with near perfect proportions. Available in white or black dial versions with the so-called “California” or “SLC” marker options, in white or red gold or platinum cases, these chronos look fresh and timeless at the same time.
But it isn’t just the pretty face that makes these watches winners. The sapphire caseback shows a movement derived from that legendary maker of chronographs, Minerva, whose historic factory is now owned by Richemont stablemate Montblanc. With this movement, the killer looks and the fact that the Radiomir 1940 chronographs are limited to 100 pieces in gold and 50 in platinum, we’re pretty sure they won’t last long.