As it goes for just about anything “military”, issued timepieces are some of the most collectible in the watch world. Between enthusiasts looking for a rugged watch to go on adventures with, fashionable folks pulling off military-inspired looks, and history buffs bolstering their military regalia collection, the military watch market faces the perfect storm of demand. Couple that demand with a fixed number of issued timepieces, and you start to see the whole picture. The rabbit hole of military watches and their history delves very deeply, very quickly, so we’ve broken our overview into two parts: those countries from the West with influential and interesting military timekeeping history, and those from the East. This week, the West — America, Britain, Germany, France, and the unlikely Brazil, Argentina and Peru — flexes its stuff.
A Compendium of Wearable History
Best of Show
Every year we come away from Salon International Haute Horlogerie, the world’s most prestigious watch show, feeling privileged and awed. This year was no different. The competitive environment of the show, the electric vibe among the attendees and the enthusiasm of brand reps and watchmakers showing off their new creations make the Palexpo in Geneva a wonderful place every January.
After we’ve returned home and slept off the jetlag, we like to poll our team of Timekeeping contributors for their picks from the preceding week. So with our further ado, here are our favorite watches of SIHH 2014.
From Geneva with Love
This time of year, the horological universe revolves around the Palexpo center in Geneva. It’s SIHH — the Salon International Haute Horlogerie, where the watch brands under the Richemont Luxury Group umbrella (and a couple of outlying independents) convene to display their wares in elaborate and opulent “booths” that defy that pedestrian name. Journalists and retailers from around the world descend on Geneva to jostle for first looks at the latest and greatest creations from legendary maisons like Jaeger-LeCoultre, A. Lange & Sohne and Audemars Piguet. Follow our man on the ground, Jason Heaton, as he sends in the latest horological news every half hour.
Do You Wanna Go to the Moon?
When the doors open on the annual SIHH watch fair in Geneva, there’s a stampede of journalists to the A. Lange & Söhne booth to see what new timepiece miracles the Glashütte brand has introduced. The German brand never disappoints, and this year is no exception: the Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar Terraluna ($215,100+) is a spectacular timepiece, yet another tour de force from Glashutte. In this video Lange’s Technical Director, Anthony de Haas, explains the masterpiece.
Put Your Hands Together
There are certain events in the watch industry calendar you can count on like clockwork. The beginning of the year sees the big fairs where new watches are introduced; as winter approaches, the awards are handed out to the best of the best. Last week the prestigious GPHG (“Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève”) awards, which honor the most innovative, beautifully designed and important watches in a given calendar year, were announced in Geneva. Several of this year’s winners were timepieces we’ve covered — and two of our own GP100 winners also took home trophies, including the grand prize. Coincidence? Depends who you’re asking.
While the A. Lange & Söhne Grand Complication is not the most complicated timepiece ever made, it’s the most complicated timepiece ever manufactured by A. Lange & Söhne, and arguably the most challenging ever attempted by any brand. It took Lange seven years to develop the watch’s L1902 movement, which features a sonnerie (chiming mechanism) with grand and small strike, a minute repeater, a mono-pusher rattrapante (split-seconds: a complication within a complication) chronograph with minute counter and flying seconds (it indicates fractions of a second in a sub-dial of its own: another complication within a complication), a perpetual calendar with date, day of week, and month in four-year cycle, and a moon phase.
A Complicated Beauty
We’ll never own a watch like the A. Lange & Söhne Double Split, the world’s only mechanical split seconds and split minutes chronograph. Not many people will. But just wearing it for a month was a privilege, like taking a lap in a vintage Aston Martin DBR or sipping a dram of 1962 Macallan. To try to distill down its essence to a mere hands-on review seems almost blasphemous. So we won’t. This is a watch to be gazed on and lingered over. Enjoy the photos.
We Have All the Time in the World
In a wristwatch, any function beyond merely telling the time of day is called a “complication”. This term encompasses simple functions such as the date, poetic ones like the phases of the moon or even something as esoteric as sidereal time. But perhaps the most useful watch complication is the ability to tell the time in more than one time zone. Since the advent of the traveler’s watch, we’ve seen every conceivable variation of the traveler’s watch — for pilots, divers, businesspeople — but all still live up to their raisons d’êtres: keeping track of the world’s times at a glance, no matter the complication style. Here are five of the best out there (yes, we said best, so gird your wallets) that are ready to take flight.
Time to Drive
Wheels and gears, second hands and tach needles, power trains and power reserves. Men have always been fascinated by time, speed, accuracy and power — and the beautiful combination of high-end timepieces and exotic roadgoing automobiles captures these obsessions appropriately. And whether the watch of choice is used to measure lap splits or to simply echo the same kind of quality and heritage as his car, you can be assured that careful time was taken to select both. We match up some of the best in timekeeping and automobilia in Gear Patrol style.
IF YOU LIVE TO BE A HUNDRED
Hope you’ve been taking care of yourself. The A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Rattrapante Perpetual Calendar ($189,000 in rose gold, $213,000 in platinum) won’t need to be corrected until the year 2100 (only one in four century years is a leap year — 2100 is not). That’s 87 years of being entirely correct; not even your better half can beat that. We break it down.
It Was the Best of Times
Nothing helps shake off the doldrums of mid-winter like a visit to Geneva for the annual Salon International Haute Horlogerie. For the uninformed, SIHH is the watch trade show put on by the watch brands under the Richemont Group umbrella and some of their friends. Familiar names like IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Panerai set up shop next to lesser known watchmakers like Parmigiani and Gruebel-Forsey in the grand confines of the Palexpo convention center. We asked Gear Patrol’s Timekeeping writers to weigh in on what impressed them the most from this year’s crop of timepieces. Their picks vary from the classic to the outrageous (see the Tourbillon Yohan Blake, below), and together they represent a great range of SIHH 2013.
The watch company that came in from the cold
Gear Patrol’s Jason Heaton travels to Saxony, home of A. Lange & Söhne, to explore the region, experience the watchmaker and learn its storied history. Read on for our short film, photo essay and his story — filled with snowy drives, German culture, precision watchmaking and an incredible company that came out of the cold.
Christmas came early in Saxony this year, at least for Gear Patrol and a few other journalists who were given a rare sneak preview of one A. Lange & Söhne’s novelty timepieces for 2013. On a snowy night in a villa overlooking the Elbe River in Dresden, Lange CEO Wilhelm Schmid introduced the Grand Lange…
Two years ago, we were invited to visit the Glashütte, Germany workshops of A. Lange & Söhne, and ever since then, we’ve been a fan of the brand. Their understated elegance flies under the radar of all but the timepiece cognoscenti, most of whom shorten the tongue-twister name into simply, “Lange”. Since the brand emerged…
Lighting the Way
When we think of fine watches, our minds automatically shift to thoughts of the quaint villages and alpine vistas of Switzerland, or, increasingly, to Germany’s Glashütte region, where brands like A. Lange & Söhne and Glashütte Original hail. But what of merry old England? Given that some of the most renowned figures in horology have…
Vorsprung durch Technik
Ask the average guy where the best watches in the world are made and he will undoubtedly say, “Switzerland.” After all, most of the recognizable brands like Jaeger-LeCoultre, Vacheron Constantin, Rolex and Patek Philippe hail from that neutral Alpine nation. It is partly the neutrality of Switzerland that has allowed these great names of horology…
The World's Best Watch Company Isn't in Switzerland
While peering through a magnifying lens, counting 184 tiny faces carved on a cherry pit, I started to understand what sets the German watch company, A. Lange & Söhne, apart. I was in the “Green Vault” of the Residenzschloss in Dresden, the historic palace of Saxon royalty, where a staggering collection of opulent knick-knacks is…