“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” As a year
           in which the order book of Basel/SIHH registered an upward spike, 2005
           will most likely be judged as one of accelerated market growth, at odds
           with the turbulence associated with Charles Dickens’ original reference to
           the French Revolution.
                   While a highly commercial 2005 products impressed distributors,
           retailers, the media and yours truly, in a narrowly defined puristic sense,
           it was also disappointing with unmet expectations. Despite the launch of
           some technically impressive watches, there was an obvious absence of truly
           ground-breaking complications.
                   The verbal pre-fair promise of a lubricant-free escapement by a
           normally reliable watchmaker did not materialise in time, and a couple of
           complicated pieces planned to be unveiled at Basel fair were said to be
           postponed or shelved; not an unusual occurrence by industry norms but
           particularly disappointing in 2005, when major revolutionary breakthroughs
           have perhaps fallen behind the rapid improvements in watch aesthetics.
Without doubt, L.A. Breguet is acknowledged as the most                     If anyone doubted Breguet’s claimed patrimony to
important watchmaker in the history of horology. Generally         the L.A. Breguet heritage in recent years, La Tradition should
credited with most of the important inventions in the realm        at least lay such concerns to rest. Since Girard-Perregaux’s
of watchmaking, his legacy today is also inseparable from          remake of the Triple Bridges Tourbillon wristwatch in 1991,
his unique simplistic balanced aesthetic, a visual magic           La Tradition is perhaps the only other watch that has
commonly referred to as the ‘Breguet Look’. It is a style          successfully remade an old historical movement. It is little
which is impossible to define but collectively includes his        wonder that La Tradition was one of the most talked about
simple yet elaborately guilloched dials, elegant Breguet           watches in Basel 2005.
hands, very clever use of basic Roman Numerals hour                         A clear sign that the watch has made an impact is
markers plus, of course, a still mysterious X-factor.              the fact that a fictitious joke involving industry giant Nicholas
        In the modern history of watchmaking, watchmakers          G. Hayek, and brilliant marketing conjurer and the brain
like George Daniels, the man Daniel Roth, Roger Smith and          behind Blancpain’s heritage, Jean-Claude Biver (now CEO
Francois-Paul Journe have made no secret of their admiration       of Hublot), was being whispered by some in glee.
for L.A. Breguet, and individually, perhaps, tried to stake                 Similar to a pre-glastnost Russian political joke, the
a claim as the modern equivalent.                                  tone tends to be intentionally caustic but should not be
                                                                   taken too seriously or literally, and certainly no more than
                                                                   a good laugh; one should not read too much into the joke.
                                                                   Biver : “Can the Breguet La Tradition movement ever be
                                                                               used in a Blancpain?”
                                                                   Hayek: “Not as long as you are around.”
                                                                   Biver: “Can Blancpain ever do a Tradition a la Breguet?”
                                                                   Hayek: “Not as long as I am controlling the Swatch Group.”
                                                                            While Breguet tediously reconstructed calibre 507DR,
                                                                   Panerai chose to return to its Italian Military roots by a
                                                                   different path. The Angelus SF 240 Eight Days movement
                                                                   was used in several 1940/50s Italian Navy watches including
                                                                   the 6152/1, which was the inspiration for the much sought-
                                                                   after 1950. This year’s revival of the Luminor 8 Days (now
                                                                   commonly referred to by fans as a brief ‘Angelus’) using the
                                                                   original Angelus movement is an exact replica of the vintage,
                                                                   including the patented circular inscription of the “8 GIORNI
                                                                   BREVETTATO” (8 Days Patented) dial, the 1950 case and,
                                                                   of course, exact original Angelus SF 240 calibre.
                                                                            The lot of a few hundred movements was supposedly
                                                                   found in a box when the company was sold to Vendome.
                                                                   Panerai carefully restored the movements by disassembling,
                                                                   cleaning, polishing, and re-assembling the plates, bridges
                                                                   and parts, and successfully recovered around 200 of
                                                                   the calibres. But only 150 pieces of the watch will be
                                                                   issued while around 50 movements will be kept as after
                                                                   service parts.
         Swatch Group haute horlogerie brand Breguet is the                 Based on the legendary success of the platinum
only house legally allowed to sign the dial and the movement       Radiomir PAM21 using the vintage 16-lignes movement (as
a la the old master, and in addition to the value of association   used in vintage Rolex), this stainless steel Luminor 8 Days
with possibly the greatest watchmaker ever, they have              is likely to replicate or even surpass its cult-like status.
invested millions of dollars and years of effort to bring us                This will be the only opportunity to own a genuine
the new calibre 507DR movement. It replicates in almost            remake of any vintage watch if the originality of the
exacting detail the traditional vintage Breguet movement           movement is essential. Delivery of the limited edition of 150
plate layout and design – down to the original gold coloured       watches is expected to begin by end 2005. They are sold
movement brass plates, and the characteristic Breguet              only through Panerai boutiques but registration for the
Parachute anti-shock system. Due to the massive funds and          intended buyer wait list has already been halted (the list is
time invested, it is most likely that the movement will not        rumoured to have exceeded 900 names). The allocation of
be exclusively used in the basic La Tradition Ref.                 the watches is at the sole discretion of CEO Angelo Bonati.
7027BA/11/9V6 but also the basis for future complications,         So, indirectly, every eventual Angelus owner has to be
and potentially, a complete new range of La Tradition              personally approved by Mr Bonati.
watches.                                                                    The Angelus, launched between the first Radiomir
                                                                   using a Jaeger-LeCoultre movement and the new inhouse
                                                                   Radiomir 8-Day GMT with horizontal power reserve, will
                                                                   form an important strategic nexus in the historical 8 Days
                                                                   range of current and future Panerai product mix.
In recent years, the small but growing group of super-rich
casual collectors is no longer satisfied with traditional haute
horlogerie watches. They want watches with very different,
distinctive, contemporary and bold designs and, above all,
exorbitantly high prices (or at least expensive enough to                 Opus is the brilliant project of Harry Winston
badger others with an obvious display of wealth).                 Timepieces CEO Maximillian Busser, who has single handedly
         While these watches must be mechanical and should        made this jewellery watch house a now respectable brand
have at least superficial technical appeal, the pure technical    even amongst watch purists. Max understands the technical
aspect, even if impressive in some of the watches, matter         watch segment from his years of working in Manufacture
much less to the fans than generally perceived. In a positive     Jaeger-LeCoultre, and is acutely aware of the collectors’
sense, Roger Dubuis, DeGrisogono and Jorg Hysek will feel         mindset. His collaboration with Francois-Paul Journe,
right at home here, although in my personal opinion, Richard      Antoine Preziuso, Vianney Halter, Christophe Claret, and
Mille is undoubtedly the most revered in this niche segment.      now Felix Baumgartner has gained millions worth of free
         Richard Mille is an intelligent product done right       media publicity, and the attention of the industry and
and at the same time, is nicely complemented by its technical     collectors alike.
charm. Whatever one feels about the brand, the main                       Much of the limited edition (100 pieces in total)
attractions are unique: contemporary fusion looks and the         Opus 5’s secret lies in the three small blocks arranged like
clever use of movement/case materials. On hindsight, the          satellites within a three-dimensional system permanently
brand becoming an icon in this rapidly growing niche market       displaying three hours on the dial, but with only the ‘current’
thus far is hardly surprising.                                    hour seemingly connected to the retrograde minute prism.
         As I suspect buyers in this segment want a distinctly    For example, the seamless change of one hour block at the
different product, the sudden influx of Roger Dubuis and          turn of the hour (at 60 minute) as the next hour block (at
Richard Mille look-alikes this year could spell trouble for       zero minute) exactly coincides with the retrograde minute
the segment. If imitation is the strongest form of compliment,    hand jumping backward instantly is visually stunning.
the industry tribute to these two brands has turned into an       Even without considering the impressive hour change, this
avalanche!                                                        machine-like wristwatch combines old watchmaking skills,
         While there is no doubt as to the inspiration behind     Baumgartner’s innovation and the most futuristic aesthetic
the attractive Cvstos watches, one positively original idea       ever seen in a mechanical watch. If the mechanical watch
which can also appeal to this mindset is an exceptional           appears as a gadget on the wrist of James Bond in 2010,
technical watch, the incomparable Harry Winston Opus 5.           this product of ancient watchmaking would still not look
This miniature machine designed by Felix Baumgartner              out of place.
carries an interesting ‘Geneva Cross’ hour mechanism                      At press time, Max Busser has tendered his
somewhat similar to the complications in the Audemars             resignation, and will probably initiate a new exciting watch-
Piguet Star Wheel, Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Explorers        related project. In my personal opinion, Harry Winston will
and, indeed, Baumgartner’s own Urwerk.                            find his shoes a little tough to fill.

Five years ago, Jaeger-LeCoultre (JLC) was a respectable                  The shock absorber case is used with the already
company with boring watches, with a product mix over-             rugged autotractorised movement and the mechanism works
dependent on a single range of Reverso. While there was           on two different levels. Light titanium (density of 4.8g/cm3)
significant progress made by the company known only for           is used inside an outer protective covering of stainless steel
its movements prior to 1991, less conservative JLC fans           (density of 7g/cm3) or platinum (density of 20g/cm3) for
were getting impatient with many perceived look-alike             functional reasons. The platinum/titanium version will be
Reversos and Masters.                                             limited to 200 pieces only.
        Today, the team led by CEO Jerome Lambert can be                  Firstly, when one swings his/her wrist hard against
justifiably proud of a complete range of strong good-value        a solid surface, the constant acceleration to the watch will
products; from an almost completely revived Master range          be stopped by the external force from the solid, say a wall.
and the more exciting Grande Reversos to the very successful      The effective impact on the watch depends on both how
Master Compressors, the revived 101, AMVOX and women’s            fast the watch is stopped and how much force is needed to
Ideale.                                                           decelerate the swinging watch to a standstill. If Newton’s
        The continuous research into product improvements         Second Law of Motion is applied, with constant acceleration
and new complications in the manufacture is relentless.           assumed just before the impact, the force needed to stop the
From producing much more reliable and easier to regulate          case correlates directly to the mass of the case. By using
and maintain autotractor movements to last year’s tour de         materials of different densities, the exterior denser case is
force Gyrotourbillon, this genuine manufacturer has               able to deflect some of the forces imposed on the movement.
seemingly encroached on all segments of the high end              As the shock hits the interior movement casing, the 4 springs
mechanical watch market without mercy.                            and the air chamber will also slow down the impact and
        If the JLC product team needed a pause after last         absorb almost half of the impact, making the watch virtually
year’s strong products, they did not show it. This year’s         indestructible on a sporting individual.
Master Compressor Extreme World Chronograph and the                       Another interesting ‘fun’ feature of the case is a strap
Master Minute Repeater Antoine LeCoultre prove that 2005          changing mechanism integrated into the case construction.
is another innovative year for JLC.                               One just needs to flick a button on the caseback, take
        In 2005, launching a new in-house integrated              out the strap, and snap in another within seconds. No
chronograph movement is obviously not enough for JLC.             watchmaking tool or skill is necessary.
In addition to a classic column wheel calibre with the superior           To contain the rugged chrono movement, anti-shock
vertical clutch chrono coupling, Extreme World boasts 72          case and integrated strap changing mechanism, the volume
hours of power reserve, a world timer and a world premiere        of the watch has to be large and hence the diameter of the
case anti-shock technology.                                       watch is 46.3mm! However, most who have tried the actual
        In the Compressor Extreme World Chronograph, a            watch find the watch wearable.
titanium movement case housing sits snugly on a stainless                 As for the Master Minute Repeater Antoine
steel or platinum outer case, suspended by four springs and       LeCoultre, the watch is impressive even before one hears its
an absorber chamber filled with air. To avoid possible leak,      beautiful chime. It incorporates an unusual torque-meter
the air chamber will be factory tested with filled helium, a      and the amazing 15 days power reserve indicator.
lighter air which escapes more easily. In the final product,              The project begins with basic objectives: to build a
the chamber is filled with air.                                   watch with a water-resistant Minute Repeater in a platinum
                                                                  case which sounds as good, if not better, than any of the
                                                                  current top end repeaters.
                                                                 THE 250TH ANNIVERSARY OF
                                                                 THE OLDEST WATCH BRAND,
                                                                 VACHERON CONSTANTIN
         Minute Repeater gongs vibrate and do not chime          In the last few years, Vacheron Constantin has taken over
independently. The vibration uses the case as a sound            the HDG movement maker (now named Vacheron
chamber, and, by itself, platinum makes one of the worst         Constantin Valee-de-Joux), built and opened a new
chambers ever and this is the reason most platinum repeaters     headquarters and manufacture in Plan-les-Ouates and a new
sound kind of ‘dead’.                                            museum in Geneva, and called it the Maison (home) of
         Most minute repeaters’ claim to water resistance is     Vacheron Constantin.
suspicious, especially when one operates the watch in a                  Vintage Vacheron Constantin have seen some serious
humid condition.                                                 interest in watch auctions and clearly the 250 anniversary
         Not many brands have the ability to make in-house       products, including the 16 complications Tour de I’lle, the
repeaters, and amongst those who can, even fewer repeater        QP Tourbillon St Gervais, the beautiful set of Metiers d’Art,
chimes are of acceptable aural quality. While the audio          the piece unique Esprit des Cabinotiers clock and Jubilee
quality judgment tends to be a little subjective, good quality   1755 were all part of a carefully planned foundation for a
chimes can generally be agreed upon by experienced               long term brand strategy. While the future is an unknown,
watchmakers. As a general rule, Patek Philippe, Vacheron         what Vacheron has done in the last few years has been truly
Constantin and Philippe Dufour repeaters are considered          impressive and like what a former Vacheron skeptic said,
amongst the best and because the skills needed in this           “Vacheron Constantin can only get better”.
area are still not fully understood by most. This high end
complication has the highest barrier to break.
         What the 25-year-old JLC constructeur David
Candaux did was truly a result of thinking out of the box.
He studied carefully the shape and length of the hammers
and gongs, the ideal time the hammers should be in contact
with the gongs, and the precise spot where the gong should
be struck before producing the great improvements in the
chiming mechanism.
         Traditional repeater gongs are fastened to the watch
case. But when the case is in platinum, the metal is unable
to transmit the vibrations faster than the gong and hence
often resulting in muffling and impure sounding chimes.
For the Master Minute Repeater, David is creative enough
to attach one end of the gong to the inner surface of the
sapphire crystal, hence ensuring that the vibration can be
transmitted outside the case via the sapphire in not only
louder, but purer tones.
         David Cadaux understands that sapphire crystal is
used in some of the very high end loudspeakers, and only
a few materials (sapphire crystal, quartz, beryllium and
diamond) have the ability to transmit and release audio
vibration efficiently and very quickly. Although the platinum
case is not eliminated totally as a sound quality factor, its
significance is much reduced.
         JLC labs also studied volume, duration, richness and
exactitute of the repeater and gained much valuable
experience as they tried to make the best sounding minute
repeater in the world. The result is astonishing. The watch
produces a tone of unprecedented quality and at a volume
of 55 to 58 decibels, duration of around 700ms and a
richness of seven partials. In combination, these were never
before achieved by any wristwatch repeaters, based on
internal lab studies.
         Although volume is not the only criteria in judging
a repeater, I always find it comical and silly for a repeater
owner to demonstrate it by placing the watch right next to
the listener’s ear. Worse, some repeaters are hardly audible
even at that lack of distance. I once heard the Master Minute
Repeater chime in the SIHH 2005 JLC booth clearly while
standing and chatting in their Southeast Asian product room.
The watch was being demonstrated inside the press room
cramped full of journalists, almost eight metres away!
Patek Philippe and Rolex reign over the technical collectors            As for Patek Philippe, the Stern brilliance is again
and the mass luxury market respectively. In a year very much   noted; one model almost buried amongst the range of 2005
caught up with new complications, and bolder and louder        commercial products, the Ref 5959P comes as quite a shocker.
designs, what are the two giants thinking?                     A two-button split seconds chronograph only 5.25mm thick
        Certainly, Rolex has thrived with few calibres and     and in a case diameter of only 27.3mm. One single button
very selective models, visible in the Rolex Sports segment     at the crown starts, stops and resets the Chrono and it has
but making most of their business in the high volume Oyster    a split push-piece at 2 o’clock. (Think of it as a single button
Day-Date products. For years, the nearly one-product-only      chrono with a split function, a worthy achievement.)
brand is untouchable in its segment of mass produced luxury.            The new movement CH R 27-525 PS is the thinnest
        The Rolex Cellini, in contrast, is a poor cousin and   split seconds column-wheel chronograph ever built, and is
sales of the Cellini have been dismal in comparison with the   a welcome addition as the first Patek Philippe in-house
more popular collections. First launched in 1928, the Prince   chronograph movement. The accomplishment was only
was popular amongst doctors in the 1920s and has in recent     possible thanks to the establishment of an haute horlogerie
times, been of interest to some vintage collectors.            department somewhat more than a year ago. It consists of
        Admittedly the 2005 Rolex Cellini Prince comes at      small ateliers each staffed by five to six master watchmakers
a time when collector interest in the Rolex Prince has waned   who focus on a SINGLE complication and work hand in
somewhat. However, a new shaped Rolex with heavily             hand, as did the artisans of bygone times.
machined guilloche dials, and a similar elaborately machined            If we take last year’s bigger Ref 5970 perpetual
guilloche movement plates comes as quite a shock for           chrono, based on the Nouvelle Lemania ebauche, as a signal
industry observers. One can’t help suspecting that Rolex is    that a basic in-house chronograph movement is not imminent,
issuing a warning that there is a possibility it might be      the limited production (not more than 10 a year) of an
competing for the fine watch market. After all, adding a       impressive two-button split chrono Ref 5959P, may be
moon-phase, power reserve, calendar, and perpetual function    confirmation that Patek is not too unhappy to continue
cannot be too difficult for a giant like Rolex. The bigger     using Nouvelle Lemania movements for most of their
challenge, perhaps, is to convince Rolex fans to accept a      lesser complications.
non-Oyster case.                                                        Perhaps the king is issuing an encrypted statement;
                                                               that Patek is above all and should not be too bothered with
                                                               the rest of the industry. The big watches (including some
                                                               Pateks like 5070, 5970, 5111, 5074 & 5079) can dominate;
                                                               the bold, contemporary and beautiful can be prevalent; and
                                                               the technical innovations may be charming but Patek isn’t
                                                               above quietly release a good, clean, traditional high end
                                                               complication. Small and thin it may be, but it still impresses
                                                               and maybe they are saying “We still rule!”

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