A space watch is more than just branding. Torture tested to excel in the most inhospitable of environments, these timepieces are designed to survive instantaneous 200 degree shifts in temperature, acidic humidity and extreme g-forces (shocks up to 40 Gs). Much like the explorers who don them, there are but a lucky few that have earned special recognition. These are our eight picks of the best space watches (or their modern reinterpretation) available for the rest of you dreamers out there.
Showdown at High Tea
The modern pilot’s watch resembles those of the 1940s and ’50s as little as an F22 Raptor resembles a P-51 Mustang. Nowadays, it’s all about materials, ruggedness and functionality. Modern pilot’s watches are also getting as stealthy as the planes they’re modeled after, all blacked out for night maneuvers and flying under the radar. Today we look at two stealth fighters from England, both high flyers, but one that won’t dive bomb your budget.
The Battle of Britain
The three watch companies at the vanguard of the British timekeeping renaissance — Bremont, Christopher Ward and Schofield — represent very different approaches, price points and designs. Yet they share one thing: a distinctively British take on the wristwatch. We spent some time with each to establish a solid cross section of timepieces from across the pond. Put the kettle on and settle in for our impressions.
DECYPHERING THOSE cool-looking rings
The watch is an instrument for telling time, but it can also be used to time a dive or a racing lap, take a pulse, or calculate remaining fuel or crosswind speed or the distance of thunder or artillery. How, you ask? The answer has little to do with the watch’s movement. It’s all about the bezel, that outer ring of metal (or perhaps, nowadays, ceramic) surrounding your watch’s crystal. How each type of bezel works is not complicated per se, but it is deserving of a quick guide.
Building Watches the Old-Fashioned Way
We left Geneva early, before sunrise, our destination the tiny Alpine hamlet of Villeret. This was the home of the historic Minerva watch manufacture, now part of Montblanc, a brand more often associated with writing instruments than those that keep time. Stepping into the building was like stepping back in time to an era when small factories in these isolated mountain towns made a few watches a year.
If you’re like us, you have a long list of watches you’d love to own. But reality (almost) always steps in, and your desires remain unfulfilled. Gear Patrol’s series Want This, Get This presents a lust-worthy timepiece along with a more affordable alternative that scratches the same itch. Today we present two vintage style, military-inspired chronographs, one that gets it right and the other that goes one better — for one tenth the price.
Dress diver par excellence
If the best dive watches tell a story or transport us to a different place, then the D-Star 200 Chronograph ($4,300), with its cool steel case and shimmering blue dial, conjures images of perhaps a teak-decked yacht, the Mediterranean, a cocktail in hand and boat shoes on the feet. This is a watch that does retro right.
Bletchley Park — sound vaguely familiar? During WWII it was a secret compound full of cryptanalysts just outside London where the encoded messages that communicated the movements of the Nazi U-boat fleet were decoded using human and mechanical intelligence. The important but largely unsung work done at Bletchley is said to have shortened the war by two years and saved countless lives. It’s this work, and place, that the Bremont Codebreaker seeks to honor. We break down this unique and historically rooted timepiece.
Arguably First, Undeniably Great
Imagine a time before quartz watches, when the technology of timekeeping was still springs and gears made in workshops in the Swiss mountains. While the Americans and Russians were racing to put men into space, a different sort of race was going on between watch companies sprinting toward the milestone of the first self-winding, or automatic, chronograph. No matter how you frame the discussion, the debate over who created the first automatic chronograph is a heated one. One path to clearing confusion is to say that Zenith produced the very first Swiss-made, fully integrated automatic chronograph — the El Primero.
PRECISE TO WITHIN A GNAT’S EYEBROW
We know you competitive types. For timing grocery runs down to a thousandth of a second, the Bulova Precisionist Chronograph ($799) is one of the most impressive timepieces out there. More specifically, the Precisionist is one of the most accurate watches that doesn’t receive regular timing signals from a remote atomic clock. We break it down.
If you’re a watch nerd, you might recognize the name Carl Evans. He’s the brains (and hands) behind British boutique watch strap brand GasGasBones. Like watch obsessives everywhere, Carl has dreamt for years of creating his own brand of watches. This year he’s finally done something about it. Informed by his 24 years of service in the Royal Air Force, Evans’s first release is a convincing pilot’s chronograph, the 6B MK1 ($2575).
The Ingenieur Chronograph Silberpfeil is a direct homage to the famous Mercedes-Benz W25 Silver Arrow that dominated motorsports between the World Wars. These cars were monsters, with oversized spoked rims and massive straight-cylinder engines barely sheathed in metal. The watch’s dial sports the same circular-grained aluminum treatment as the Silver Arrows’ dashboards, and the caseback has an engraved likeness of the car itself. But enough about the watch. This year, a restored Silberpfeil took part in the famous Klausen Hill Climb race in Switzerland — and this video takes us along for the ride.
Worth far better than third place
Bronze has been around almost as long as horology: finding form in weaponry and decorations at the same time water clocks first appeared (4000 BCE), it’s mankind’s oldest alloy. Concocted in varying combinations of copper and tin, bronze can pack a Vickers hardness rating higher than that of wrought iron and stainless steel combined, and is also anti-magnetic and resistant to the corrosion caused by seawater.These characteristics, along with its ability to stand out in the seas of stainless-steel wristwear, make it an ideal alloy for your wrist.
10 Top-Notch Watches that Won't Break the Bank
When building anything, one must begin with strong foundation. A watch collection is no different. While anyone, given the choice, would undoubtedly begin and end with only finest examples of haute horological hardware, we can’t all justify blowing junior’s college and post-grad funds on something small and shiny. A conservative budget should not dissuade wide-eyed complication connoisseurs however: there are many excellent mechanical options available for the budding collector. We’ve selected ten rock solid options, both vintage and new, that would proudly produce any one-percenter’s tan line. So get started. Junior will thank you — it’s his heirloom, anyhow.
In 1969 Omega released a handwound chrono in a strange shield-shaped case that had the pushers and crown on top of the watch. This so-called “bullhead” style was originally developed earlier for race car drivers, who wanted easier activation of the chronograph and minimal pusher interference. OMEGA, never one to shy away from a historical reference, has just released a limited re-edition of the Seamaster Bullhead Chronograph ($9,600) — albeit one updated with modern features.
If you’re like us, you have a long list of watches you’d love to own. But reality (almost) always steps in, and your desires remain unfulfilled. Gear Patrol’s series “Want This, Get This” presents a lust-worthy timepiece along with a more affordable alternative that scratches the same itch. This week, we’ve found a vintage Cold War-era military chronograph and a modern one that has the same milspec look.
The SR-71 “Blackbird” reigns supreme as the highest and fastest-flying plane ever built. And we mean reigns: 32 of these pitch black wonders have patrolled the skies above hot spots for over 40 years. To honor this achievement in aeronautics, Bell & Ross is releasing the limited edition BR 126 Blackbird ($6,700), and it’s a worthy, interesting tribute.
CALLING ALL FLYING ACES
The Longines Avigation Oversize Crown Chronograph ($3,500) was modeled after a watch built for pilots inhabiting a cold, drafty, post-WWI cockpit. Thanks to timeless design and a few key updates, though, it works just as well during the cold, drafty days of this year’s autumn.
The Mechanical Watch is Dead -- Long Live the Mechanical Watch
It’s 1981. The Quartz crisis is in full swing. You’re a thirty-something watchmaker, trained in the old-school ways of repairing mechanical watches. But, along with numerous other watchmakers in this horological downturn, you’ve just lost your position with one of the biggest names in the chronograph world because you know nothing about quartz movements.
What do you do?
If you’re Gerd-Rüdiger Lang, you start a watch company. A mechanical watch company.
Lanyard not included
Racing-inspired timepieces are plentiful these days. While wrist-worn chronographs have done the trick for decades, the more common instrument in the paddocks, pits and grandstands during the golden age of racing were hand-held stopwatches, chunky steel timers with oversized buttons for precise stops, starts and resets that were often worn around the neck on a lanyard. Young Italian brand CT Scuderia chose these track-day tools as inspiration for their timepieces, including the Corsa ($1,295).
Uncomplicated, for your wallet
Watches that simply tell time are a dime a dozen, and sometimes close to a dozen a dime. But start adding more functions and things can get complicated — and expensive. While we’re just starting to forgive the quartz watch for dealing a near death blow to our beloved mechanical timepieces, there’s no denying that when you want more bang for the buck, battery power is the way to go. You’ll pay dearly for dual time zones, flybacks, alarms and tide trackers on the mechanical side of the fence, but if you’re willing to put up with a tick-tick-tick seconds hand, we’ve found five watches that are happy to complicate your life for under (or around) five hundred dollars.
Three top chronographs go head to head
The popularity and prevalence of chronographs might just make one think that it is an easy watch complication. Everyone from Hamilton and Tissot on up the line to the loftier likes of Patek and Lange & Söhne have one in their lineups. Something about the asymmetrical cases — those buttons poking out from under a shirtsleeve — and the gauge-like dials with tachymetric scales and multiple subdials seems irresistible to men everywhere.
So when we recently got our hands on three of the best available in-house built automatic column wheel chronographs from three legendary companies — Zenith, OMEGA and Girard-Perregaux — it presented an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. We’ll call it a shootout — loosely.
Newman or Everyman?
Today we’ve got a vintage version of “Want This, Get This”, and its timing couldn’t be better. 2013 is the convergence of two important events in the watch world: it is the 50th anniversary of the Rolex Daytona and also the year in which Tudor makes its American market comeback. One is virtually unattainable to mere mortals and one will give you the same look and Rolex pedigree without having to mortgage your home.
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.
An Enigma -- no, seriously
The boys at Bremont have done it again, this time with their limited edition Codebreaker ($18,700 in steel), honoring the UK’s Government Code and Cipher School (GC & CS) at Bletchley Park. As with their previous limited edition pieces (like the HMS Victory and the P-51), Bremont co-founders Giles and Nick English weren’t content to merely limit production and slap a number on the case back.
From Geneva with Love
Patek Philippe has a well-earned reputation as one of the premiere watch manufactures in the world, and their recent exhibition in New York City underscored this fact with what can only be described as a shock-and-awe campaign of stunning effectiveness. We would know — we were there. Read on for our photo essay of the event.
Go Speed Racer
Heuer’s venerable chronograph has an up-and-down history, but 2013 sees a triumphant 50th anniversary of the Carrera name. The limited edition Carrera Monaco Grand Prix ($5,600 on rubber) is one example of the new breed of TAG Heuer Carrera, a chronograph that looks back on its first half-century but is more than ready to face the next one. We got our hands on one.