Dress chronograph is an acquired taste, a love that takes time to develop. I have never seen somebody who initiated his/her collection with a dress chronograph. A "normal" chronograph (I'm looking at you, Daytona)? Sure, that's common. But, say, a Patek Ref. 5170? No, that's never a "first serious watch" candidate. Nothing to do with affordability here but rather, people only tend to slowly, if they ever do, gravitate towards the more delicate, sophisticated pieces after spending some time with their more versatile counterparts as they mature as collectors. And for many, to own a serious dress chronograph is to gain an instant badge of approval in the eyes of fellow aficionados. They're some of the most elegant and romantic timepieces one could possess. And there's nothing quite like the experience of looking at a well finished chronograph movement (if the watch comes with a display case back). For all these reasons, dress chronographs from across eras are categorically going up in value. Well, except perhaps one. The sole subject of today's article, from none other than one of the Swiss "Holy Trinity" manufactures - Vacheron Constantin. And today, we go deep on the Vacheron Constantin Les Historiques Chronograph Ref. 47101/47111.
In-Depth: Why the New A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph Black Dial (in White Gold) Makes So Much Sense
Overview, and a Little Journey of Personal Sentiments
Ever since A. Lange & Söhne released the first ever 1815 Chronograph in white gold and with a black dial in early June this year, my feeling towards the piece has been on what could be niftily described as a roller coaster ride. My first reaction to the piece when my friend showed its picture to me was something like, "oh, that's a first generation 1815 Chronograph. Beautiful, no doubt. What about it?". Completely ignorant of the true identity of the watch in my friend's picture, my somewhat nonchalant remark was shut down instantly. "Dude, this literally just came out 30 minutes ago. It's a new release!", said my friend in a fierce manner, as if I've committed some sort of blasphemy. Let's just say the pulsation meter totally fooled me.
Recently I was given this question by a fellow watch aficionado: If you can own only a two-watch collection - with a combined value of less than HKD200,000 - for the rest of your life, which two would you choose? The question itself is fairly straightforward and I've pondered over similar queries in my head from time to time ever since I began developing a keen interest in watches. So I was able to offer my picks rather assertively (answers to be unveiled at the end of this article; read on).
But that's not the focus of this article. Instead, I'm writing to address two extended questions from my friend's which I feel deserve further examination as they almost universally concern watch lovers of all orders: What counts as a "collection"? And how could we - mere mortals with finite financial resources - build a collection on a budget (relatively speaking that is)?
These questions are quite crucial as I genuinely believe when one gets to a point whereby his/her love for a certain tangible thing in life (e.g. watches, sneakers, cars) becomes so deep, he/she inevitably develops an irreversible sense of specificity about the objective in question. A case in point is that you can't make a suit lover wear a flannel suit in high summer because to him, it is neither weather-appropriate nor does the choice serve as a fair reflection of his knowledge in suiting. He'd opt for a lightweight, breathable linen suit instead. Which means he probably owns at least two suits, each with a specific purpose/ function.
The same goes for watches. Watch collectors acquire multiple timepieces not only because watches are fascinating creations, but also that each of them means something different to its owner and carries its unique functional or aesthetic purpose, however minute the nuances might be. In short, serious watch guys won't stop at just one watch. And when we truly feel the need to have multiple watches in our lives, what are the strategies we can live by? Shall we build something diverse? Or dedicate our resources to a certain specific family of watches that's close to our hearts?
And today I'm trying to give it a crack and offer my two cents on how to build a respectable watch collection with - to push the envelope here - less than HKD100,000.
3. Old is the New New
The practice of watch brands digging into their archive and bringing back their historically popular timepieces has been around for a long time, but 2016 has proven to be an exceptionally big year for vintage re-issues, both in terms of volume and quality. Not only did we see a range of manufactures creating homage pieces that are pleasantly faithful to their very predecessors that inspired them, they also managed to pull it off without coming across as lazy or uncreative, an affliction that re-issues have from time to time. Some very obvious examples include the new Rolex Daytona with black ceramic insert that became a runaway hit, thanks to its aesthetic resemblance with the legendary, vintage "Big Red" Rolex Daytona ref. 6263. Longines, a brand that has consistently excelled with revitalising its products from past eras, came out gunning with the Heritage 1969 Automatic (we wrote about it here), amongst others. Even Vacheron Constantin, the oldest existing high horology house, threw its hat into the ring at one point with their very classic Historiques Cornes de Vache 1955, inspired by a chronograph of theirs from the year, well, 1955.
We don't expect the phenomenon to slow down a bit in 2017. As the adage goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And we are already seeing that adage being played out in this year's SIHH.
The just-unveiled Master Control Date, Master Geographic and Master Chronograph from Jaeger Le-Coultre showcased exactly how it should be done. They are all endowed with a very mid-21st-century sector dial (meaning the dial is divided up into "sectors" by short, straight lines distributed around the watch face) while carry modern features such as the hour and minute hands with in contemporary shape. It's been a while since the watch community at large - whose affinity to vintage pieces have grown exponentially over the past few years - has become so excited about a timepiece debut as such. Old is definitely the new new.
Now, onto the my personal favourite recent development in the watch scene: watches getting smaller!
We are now living in a world dominated by large watches, with the likes of 47mm Radiomir and 48mm Big Bang finding their way to people's wrists more than ever. 36mm is considered "mid-size" or for ladies. Which is ridiculous. As the watchmaking maestro Philippe Dufour once said, any watches larger than 38mm are already going out of proportion, which I feel is true. Sometimes when I try on even a 44m Panerai, I feel like I'm being engulfed by its sheer presence and dimensions - it's as if it is wearing me, instead of the other way round. But for some reason, the industry has been flirting with ever-increasing case size since I don't know when, which never fails to baffle me.
And luckily, in 2016 we see many watchmakers returning to normal, releasing a whole slew of sub-40mm timepieces that are pretty much perfect in their own way.
The Tudor Black Bay 36, or better known as "baby Black Bay", is a 36-mm, dressier rendition of the original Tudor Black Bay that retained several key aesthetic elements that nobody saw coming, but we're so glad it did. This is meant to be an unisex watch that works well both with a bracelet and a strap and more importantly, you can finally wear a Black Bay to the office without having to look ever so slightly out of place, thanks to its restrained appeal.
On the high horology side, A. Lange & Söhne delivered what might be the most affordable superlative dress watch ever created: the Saxonia Thin, available in both 37mm and 40mm cases. It's clean, sharp, and it doesn't cut corner whatsoever with its finishing and construction. If simplicity is indeed the ultimate sophistication, the 37mm Saxonia Thin might just be the embodiment of horological sophistication. And damn, it just looks so classy.
Thinking about getting yourself a new watch? Perhaps it's a good time to think small.
Until next time.
First of all, Happy New Year! Lengbeau would like to wish you all a very successful year ahead. And of course, happy watch hunting!
2016 has been a bittersweet year for the watchmaking scene, to say the least. Sales figures were subdued. Cost cutting a key theme for the better part of the industry. People sacked. And China spending much less on watches compared to before, thanks to the government's anti-graft campaign. Let's just say the industry has seen better days.
Yet, despite the numerous reasons that could theoratically cause the industy to go under, luxuy watches are still being made and companies are still up and running. Barely, perhaps, but they are here to stay. And it's during difficult time that the industry demonstrates its creativity and wit best. And 2016 has proven to be the perfect testament to that.
With 2016 squarely behind us, we reckon this is a good time to do some stocktaking and recount the key trends that largely defined the year - memorable no matter how you look at it - for the watch industry and more importantly, to look to the future and offer our estimate as to which of these currents are likely to carry over into the 2017.
Let's check them out.
Analysis: Atelier de Chronométrie and the Grand Revival of Time-Only, Exquisitely Hand-Finished Wristwatches
The world of luxury watches, and the products it offers, are diverse, vast and multi-layered, no matter how you look at it. Price point. Number of complications. Level of movement finishing. Styling. Materials deployed. Just to name a few options that consumers are spoiled with. As a firm believer that there's something for everybody when it comes to watches, we're happy to see the industry is doing a good job in catering to its audience, no matter how their preferences might diverge.
However, with the watch industry nowadays behaving more like a fashion (if not fast fashion) business in the sense that major brands pretty much adhere to a pre-defined, busy new product release timetable - one that culminates around February/ March during which SIHH and Baselworld take place - it can feel like a bit of an information overload at times.
But that's not the entirety of the watch world. Occupying a relatively small (by production volume) but important space within which are the independents. Those that work at their own paces, taking their time to crystallize their craftsmanships and deliver the most exquisite, albeit not neccessarily the most fanfare-inducing, timepieces.
Today we go deep on a very specific type of wristwatch, made by Atelier de Chronométrie, a truly special independent watchmaker from Barcelona operating on a small scale, that transcends all the glamour, busyness and vanity associated with the watch industry at large: the time-only wristwatches with outstanding movement finishing by hand. Here at Lengbeau we do not shy away from declaring our love for our good old time-only vintage pieces, having repeatedly featured them in our Weekend Brunch Reports. It's hard to deny their charm and pureness, and they are as close to a piece of time-telling jewelry as it gets, if properly made and decorated. Guys, watchmaking doesn't getter any purer than this. Let's check them out.
Analysis: In Defence of Power Watches in Full Gold, Bracelet to Case (and How to Pull Them Off Gracefully)
High Risk, High Reward
Power watches in gold (yellow gold, rose gold and to a lesser extent, the more subtle white gold/ platinum), such as the Rolex Day-Date, are a weird breed. They are capable of yielding vastly different sentiments depending on whether you're the person wearing one, or someone who witnesses one on somebody else's wrist. While it most certainly gives the wearer tremendous pride and pleasure knowing the watch of choice tells the world at least something about his/her level of success achieved in life, there's almost always no saying how the general onlookers would feel about that.
You usually end up with a group who gets totally blown away in awe, secretly wishing to trade place with the watch owner. And then you have a group who either took it as a gold-plated Nixon, or simply not registered anything at all. Last but definitely not least, you have this jealous hater group that jumps on the chance to (again, secretly) comment against you on how showy, ostentatious and tasteless you must be in life, while conjuring up all kinds of lucrative and illegal activities you must have engaged in to gather the fund needed to purchase a vulgar toy as such. In short, donning a full-on power watch in solid gold (all the way from bracelet to watch case) is a risky business, to say the least.
But what's equally true, is that these watches made in precious metal do embody a sense of beauty that could not be easily replicated. Yes, they are very loud pieces and will always attract attention like a piece of magnet. But if made well and worn with confidence, they really are as majestic as it gets. And I mean, who can blame you for owning something beautiful as such? Sometimes, only gold would do. If you've worked hard for it and genuinely appreciate the appeal of it for what it is, then really, go for it. This will be the most satisfying, exciting purchase you will ever make.
And here in Lengbeau we want to offer several tips on how to best choose the gold watch to own, where and when to wear one and most importantly, how to properly carry one without looking like a 6-year old kid trying on his dad's business suit for the first time.
Analysis: Understanding the Genius of the Late Gerald Genta, the Maestro in Watch Designing (Part 2 of 2)
In the first part of this two-part series, we've explored how Gerald Genta, the genius Swiss watch designer, has left his marks on the designs of some of the most important sport watches ever created in the 1970s. However, to stereotype Genta as a sport watch designer would be doing the great man a huge disservice, given he has in fact created dozens of REALLY iconic pieces in the dress watch category, too.
Today, we study three such watches from Genta and unlike the way he has infused easily identifiable, signature features in the sport watches he masterminded (e.g. strong bezel, exposed screws, integrated lugs etc), we have seen a wide array of approaches and aesthetics applied in his dressier creations. And we absolutely love the creativity displayed.
Let's check them out!
Analysis: Understanding the Genius of the Late Gerald Genta, the Maestro in Watch Designing (Part 1 of 2)
Five summers ago, the world of horology lost arguably the most important and talented modern watch designer ever graced the planet - Mr. Gerald Genta. As a watch designing hero to many of us (and most certainly the Lengbeau team), his legacy is to be missed. You might or might not have heard of him but we guarantee you'd recognize some of the his most groundbreaking creations, not the least of which, the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak and the Patek Philippe Nautilus, with the kind of boldness and flair unseen before. Before Genta, there was no such thing as a luxury sport watch in steel. Today, we cannot imagine a world without one.
Yet, Genta's legacy hardly stops at the Royal Oak and Nautilus. A prolific watch designer as he was, he has worked with any number of world famous watchmakers, from Omega and Universal Geneve in his early days, to AP and Patek later on, to the likes of IWC and Bulgari and even Seiko at one point, creating timepieces travelling between the realms of the edgy and the poetic; the solemn and the comical. It is fair to say his influence on how many of the watches at the top of the echelon look, even to this day, is wide and deep and has certainly lived on after his passing.
In this two-part series, we explore his genius and unique design language by revisiting his best works, as a commemoration. In the first part, we examine three Genta-designed steel watches.
Lengbeau cultivates appreciation for the eternal beauty of mechanical watches, for our everyday dudes and ladies.