Peter Henlein, a German locksmith, creates the Pomander watch - a small portable spring powered brass clock which was, in effect, the first watch.
The captivating story of the art of luxury watchmaking has a wealth of twists, turns and fascinating subplots. However, contributions of three pioneering characters are crucial to setting the scene.
Scour the tomes of watchmaking history and you’ll alight on the name of Peter Henlein (1480–1542), a German locksmith widely regarded as the first person to produce timekeepers small enough to be portable. His watches were the size of tuna cans (with comparable elegance) and their mechanics were so agricultural as to require regular readjustment by sundial.
The well-crafted, reliable and above all desirable timepiece – the ‘proper’ pocket watches – began to hit their stride in the 17th century, their respective technologies and styles all evolving in parallel in pockets of western Europe, from Glashütte near Dresden, to Besançon in southeast France.
On our shores it was a Yorkshireman, one John Harrison, who proved that a precision timekeeper, rather than celestial observation, was the way forward in determining longitude at sea – establishing the humble watch as an infinitely more portable (and crucially, personal) alternative to clocks. Simply by comparing midday at sea to the time back at port per your on-board ‘chronometer,’ the difference would give you how far east or west you had sailed.
Harrison’s pioneering efforts paved the way for London’s world-leading watch industry, headed by Arnold & Son and Thomas Earnshaw. The underlying mechanical principle of mainspring, geartrain and ticking balance-wheel escapement was more-or-less shared around the world (the same system still used in today’s luxury creations).
It was goldsmith Daniel Jeanrichard (1665-1741) who in a moment of genius was the first to formalise a division of labour, with his system of ‘établissage’ - independent workshops, a horizontal cottage industry structure, which still survives today in the folds of the Jura Mountains, right on the French border.
In fact, many of the workshops dotting the Jura were run by local dairy farmers who, come the winter snow, would round up their livestock and turn to their workshop. Come the thaw, they’d then traipse down to Geneva to sell their wares to the “établisseur” brands who assembled the components into branded watches.
The Jura’s La Chaux-de-Fonds is considered the true ‘cradle’ of Swiss watchmaking – the highest city in Europe at 1,000 metres above sea level. The local iron and brass workers diversified into watchmaking in the 18th century and then a devastating fire in 1793 proved to be a blessing in disguise, as the ramshackle, unsanitary wooden village was replaced with a gridded street plan of stone Art Nouveau buildings. Local production mushroomed as a result.
Notable pioneers included Georges Favre-Jacot, who built Switzerland’s first ‘manufacture’ factory down the road in Le Locle, bringing most of watchmaking’s crafts under one roof for the first time. His brand Zenith is still breaking moulds in the exact same building.
Indeed, even now most of the big Swiss brands can be found in the remote villages whose ground they originally broke. Audemars Piguet, Piaget, Girard-Perregaux, Jaeger-LeCoultre… all are still proudly and painstakingly handcrafting miniature masterpieces of kinetic sculpture in their snowy Jura backwaters.
As for the British watchmakers? Well, a stubborn refusal to modernise with industrial techniques and machinery like the Swiss (themselves borrowing from America’s own pioneering methods back in the 19th century), combined with the devastating impact of WWII meant that the heyday of Clerkenwell and Coventry’s fine chronometer makers were all but gone by the Fifties.
Peter Henlein, a German locksmith, creates the Pomander watch - a small portable spring powered brass clock which was, in effect, the first watch.
The Swiss watch industry is born as a result of a ban on jewellery introduced by Protestant reformer John Calvin - forcing jewellers to learn another craft to stay in business.
Daniel Jeanrichard opens a watch workshop near Le Locle in the Jura Mountains. He revolutionises the industry by introducing établissage, where existing components are assembled rather than manufactured from raw materials.
The tourbillon escapement is patented by Abraham-Louis Breguet - arguably the most prestigious complication in a watch. Designed to even out the effects of gravity on the timepiece, they are ultimately useless in modern wristwatches but they still serve as a mark of a manufacturer's skill and prestige.
The first documented wristwatch is said to have been created by Breguet for Caroline Murat, the Queen of Naples.
The first modern wristwatch is created for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary by Patek Philippe & Co. Set with diamonds, it was designed to be more costume jewellery than timepiece.
Girard-Perregaux become the first to commercially produce a watch to be worn on the wrist, as 2,000 of their designs were ordered by Kaiser Wilhelm I for his German naval officers.
Soldiers in the trenches begin soldering wire strap attachments to their issued pocket watches, planting the seed for wide spread wrist-wearing of watches.
Gaston Breitling creates the first chronograph with a central seconds hand and a 30-minute counter.
The first wristwatch to display the day and date is introduced by Rolex.
Seiko launches Astron, the first quartz wristwatch which kickstarted the Quartz Crisis. It came five years after Seiko timed the Tokyo Olympics with a quartz timer the size of a shoebox.
The first automatic chronograph is launched - Zenith’s El Primero.
Casio launched the iconic G-Shock, which passed the 10/10/10 test - surviving being dropped from 10 meters, water resistant to 10-bar and having a 10 year battery life.
The first self winding tourbillon is developed by Audemars Piguet.
The first automatic movement created entirely using computer aided design is unveiled by Zenith.
The Duality is invented by Philippe Dufour. This wristwatch has a double regulator; a complication considered even more complex than the tourbillon.
Zenith unveil the Defy Lab containing a single piece oscillator that replaces the the traditional hairspring or balance wheel assembly. The frequency at which it oscillates is five times greater than a standard mechanical timepiece, leading to claims of it being the most accurate mechanical watch ever made....for now.
On Christmas Day 1969, Seiko launched onto the market the world’s very first wrist worn timekeeper regulated not by spring-driven mechanics tick-tocking at a clunky 4Hz, but by a tiny, electrically charged quartz crystal vibrating precisely at 8,192Hz. The “Astron” watch was produced in a limited edition of only 100 pieces and sold for 450,000 yen – then, about the same price as a Toyota Corolla.
The tiny crystal tends to vibrate four times faster these days, battery life is vastly improved and the pricetag is much, much lower, but what Seiko pioneered almost half a century ago has barely changed since. What has changed massively is the traditional, mechanical Swiss way of things - first at the mercy of Seiko’s game changing technology and the ensuing flood of cheap tickers (a period not-so-fondly referred to as the “Quartz Crisis”) and second, in stubborn defiance; the purple patch of beautifully crafted, luxurious anachronism we’re enjoying now.
The Quartz Crisis of the late Seventies was a near-death experience for the traditional Swiss watch, with the entire workforce reduced by a third. It wasn’t until engineering consultant Nicholas Hayek Snr arrived in the early Eighties that things started to recover. Having consolidated several old names like Omega and Longines, Hayek masterminded the Swatch watch as a Swiss foil to Asia's quartz fodder, launched to wild (and continuing) success in 1983.
Swatch profits shored-up the venerable old brands, and the fun, mix-and-match concept (the name is a portmanteau of ‘second watch’, rather than ‘Swiss watch’) got people wearing watches for the sake of wearing watches, rather than just to tell the time. In a wonderful twist of irony therefore, the high-end Swiss wristwatch owes its survival partly to a plastic, quartz-powered watch, mass-produced by robots - as does the perception of mechanical watches as a luxury purchase.
Of course mechanical watches have always been expensive, and have always been luxury items. The sheer amount of effort required to precision-machine, finish and hand-assemble so many tiny parts into an object of such fine-tuned complexity makes sure of that. But up until quartz, they had always been a necessary purchase, not an indulgent one. Sure, some had more expensively or elaborately crafted movements than others, but this was usually to guarantee better functionality for people who really did need to tell the time better, rather than one-upmanship.
Unsurprisingly, trendsetters of the modern luxury watch era have been those that have successfully embodied all that is rarefied and desirable in Swiss watchmaking, despite being cased in stainless steel. Even less surprisingly, the leader in this field is Rolex, whose stock in trade today is less gold retirement gift and more sporty statement (not to mention investment) piece. Look no further than the iconic 1965 print ad for the Submariner – a close-up of its professional-spec steel diving watch, being worn not with a wetsuit, but a dinner suit, caressed by perfectly manicured female fingers.
Even in 1972, with industrial doom imminent, Audemars Piguet was bold enough to launch a stainless-steel watch that cost more than its gold clad equivalent, rendered in stark octagonal facets with exposed screws on the dial side. Nowadays, the Royal Oak is considered the world’s first ‘luxury sports watch’, and is AP’s bestseller. More recently Richard Mille and his stripped-back, high-tech ‘racing machines on the wrist’ have turned perceptions of horological luxury on their head with watches that are barely noticeable on the wrist at all. Proving once and for all that luxury watches need not share the heft and bling of brocade curtains or Regency soup tureens, Mille singlehandedly kickstarted the trend for sci-fi-worthy lightweight materials, successfully marketing carbon and ceramic watches worth hundreds of thousands.
In this disposable, digital age, a fine wristwatch will never need to have obsolete hardware or software upgraded - if properly maintained it will potentially live on and on, its ticking escapement heart beating forever. It hasn’t been made by robots, but by passionate men and women whose peerless skills are secured for generations by these tiny objects.
The H4 looked like a large pocket watch, housed in silver pair cases measuring 5.2 inches in diameter. Featuring a complex movement (for that period) which allowed it to tick at 5 times a second, it was Harrison's fourth in a series of sea clocks designed with a view to winning the Longitude Prize (an incentive introduced by the British Government in order to be able to determine a ship’s location at sea).
On its second test, a voyage to Barbados in 1764, the watch was accurate to within 39.2 seconds or 10 miles. Despite solving the latitude problem (to within said 10 miles) the Board of Longitude were not immediately satisfied, though they did eventually change their mind and award Harrison the prize.
Adam Louis Breguet was granted a patent in June 1801 for a tourbillon that he had developed some 6 years before.
The tourbillon (French for whirlwind) is a mechanism that rotates the balance wheel, balance spring and escapement of a watch and cancels the effect of gravity on its timekeeping. At the time it was considered a significant advance in watch making.Breguet placed the tourbillon into a movement made in 1774 by London based watchmaker John Arnold for his No.169 model, making it the first watch to include one. The watch was later gifted to Arnold’s son in 1809.
Born in Brazil, Alberto Santos-Dumont was an aviation pioneer. While celebrating in a Parisian restaurant having been awarded the Deutsch-Archdeacon prize for achieving flight, Santos-Dumont complained to his friend Louis Cartier about how difficult it was to check his pocket watch while flying.
Cartier responded by creating a wristwatch for his friend, who would go on to wear it every time he flew. Given Santos-Dumont’s fame this watch was not only the first pilot’s watch, but was also instrumental in starting to change the opinion at the time that wristwatches were just for women.
Cartier would then go on to collaborate with Edmond Jaeger to mass produce the Santos watch, which first went on sale in 1911.
Inspired by both Cubism and the Renault tanks that Louis Cartier had seen in use on the Western Front during WWI, Cartier created the Tank watch, the prototype of which was presented to General John Pershing of the American Army.
The Tank has gone on to become one of the most copied styles of all time and therefore, its aesthetic qualities can be considered to have changed watchmaking history. While a variety of subsequent Tank ranges have since been launched, the Tank style is characterised by a square or rectangular face containing bold Roman numerals, with a chemin de fer chapter ring, sword-shaped blue steel hands, and a sapphire cabochon surmounted crown.
Cartier’s Tank watches have adorned the wrists of countless style icons over the years including Princess Diana, Yves Saint Laurent, Angelina Jolie and many more.
Created in 1926, the Rolex Oyster was the first waterproof (and dustproof) watch. This was achieved with a hermetically sealed case – a patented system of screwing the bezel, case back and winding crown down against the middle case.
The following year, Mercedes Gleitze became the twelfth person and first woman to swim the English Channel. She did so wearing a Rolex Oyster, which still worked perfectly at the end of her 10 hour swim.
On March 23rd 1916, Officine Panerai filed a patent for Radiomir. The patent was granted for a radium-based powder that was used to give dials of high-precision instruments a luminous quality.
The reason for this development was that Panerai was supplying watches to the Royal Italian Navy and this luminosity allowed divers to read their watch while underwater. Following cosmetic changes, which were introduced on the 1938 model, the Panerai Radiomir (alongside IWC's Portugieser) popularised the trend for ‘oversize’ watches.
It was a game changing moment when Rolex celebrated their 40th anniversary by launching the Datejust in 1945 at the Hotel de Bergues in Geneva.
Housed in an Oyster case, the Datejust was the first automatic wristwatch that included an automatically changing date window. Initially it was only available in 18 carat yellow gold with their jubilee bracelet. The Datejust was worn during WWII by Winston Churchill, bearing a legacy that is still influencing luxury watchmaking today.
The International Watch Company’s Mark II changed the history of watches by consolidating the quintessential style of a military watch.
Produced in relatively small numbers, the Mark II was used by RAF navigators in conjunction with a bubble sextant to calculate the latitude and longitude of an aircraft. They were designed to withstand harsh environments, hence the stainless style casing, and were the subject of a strict military maintenance schedule.
The Rolex Submariner was the company’s first diver’s watch and the first watch that was waterproof to a depth of 100 meters. However, that alone isn’t the reason why it’s considered to be a watch that changed history.
The Submariner changed history by virtue of the fact that it was the first sports watch to also be a symbol of luxury. It launched at an ideal time, given that the aqua lung was making diving more accessible and consumers wanted to forget about the atrocities of the war that they’d lived through and focus on the finer things in life. Therefore the watch provided prestige to the wearer, be they a diver or simply someone wanting a reassuringly high quality timepiece.
Not the first watch in Omega’s Speedmaster range, but certainly the first to use what is now the signature black bezel, 1959’s CK2988 was a part of an iconic moment in global history.
Although not the first watch in space, it was the first Omega to achieve that feat, occurring when Wally Schirra wore a Speedmaster ref. CK2998 in October 1962 on his Mercury flight. It was also the first watch on the Moon - worn by Buzz Aldrin on the 21st of July 1969.
Le Locle based Zenith won the race to create the first automatic chronograph with the El Primero in 1969.
This feat of craftsmanship saw Zenith utilise a column wheel as part of the watch’s complication. The El Primero movement ticked at 10 beats per second (or 36,000 vph) enabling an impressive level of accuracy and making it the first high-beat chronograph with a self-winding movement.
Following ten years of research, the Seiko Astron was unveiled on Christmas Day 1969. Now registered on the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers list of milestones, this watch changed history as the first watch to use a Quartz crystal oscillator.
This had a huge impact, threatening the entire Swiss watchmaking industry in what is now referred to as the Quartz Crisis.
On the eve of the Basel Fair (now Baselworld) in 1971, watch designer Gerald Genta received a call from the Managing Director of Audemars Piguet. The call was a request for a design for a stainless steel luxury watch, ready for the following morning. This request was based on feedback from the Italian market and the requirement for a disruptive change to address the company’s declining fortunes.
The result was the Royal Oak, which was fully unveiled the following year. Although not the first stainless steel watch on this list, it was the first to be positioned as a luxury watch.
The introduction of the Swatch in 1983 was in response to the Quartz Crisis and it changed the luxury watch landscape by saving the Swiss watchmaking industry.
The Swatch allowed the Swiss to recapture entry level market share by challenging Japanese manufacturers Seiko and Citizen, helping to make analogue watches more popular at a time when sales of digital watches continued to grow.
The Co-Axial escapement was actually invented in the mid 1970s and patented in 1980 by leading English watchmaker George Daniels. It was considered by many to be one of the most significant advancements in watchmaking since the invention of the lever escapement, reducing friction and eliminating the need for lubrication.
Omega’s Co-Axial Calibre 2500 was the first watch to commercialise this new innovation with what they claimed to be the “first practical new mechanical watch escapement to be launched in 250 years”.
Ulysse Nardin’s aptly named Freak changed luxury watchmaking history by doing away with the crown, hands and dial of the watch.
This model claimed an industry first by using silicon parts in a mechanical movement. This departure from traditional materials was initially met with scepticism, but silicon has since grown in popularity among both manufacturers and consumers. The avant-garde style also premiered another new feature for luxury watches – the movement itself formed the minute hand of the watch.
Richard Millie SA was founded in 1999 in collaboration with Audemars Piguet. The first product, the RM001, had a profound impact on the watchmaking industry.
The RM001 created a revolution by kickstarting a trend for an overtly 21st century techno style. With a non-compromising approach to engineering and use of lightweight materials, the RM001 hugely influenced the new millennium's luxury watch aesthetic and approach to manufacturing.
When Swiss watching making legend, Jean-Claude Biver was helicoptered into ailing Hublot in 2004, he embraced the collision of traditional watchmaking with the future, “fusing” high-tech materials with mechanical timepieces, distinguishing Hublot in its own right as the ultimate contemporary watchmaker.
Hublot’s iconic Big Bang delivered on the “Art of Fusion” by combining ceramic, Kevlar, stainless steel and rubber - materials that had never been seen together on a luxury watch before.
For watches to embody the art of luxury, artists blessed with the required talents must work tirelessly to craft such objects of outstanding beauty. The fruits of their labour are lauded and many of those that acquire their products are praised for their excellent taste.
While the dedication to the creation of each individual part of a watch using specialist skills is reflected in the price tag, the artisans that use traditional techniques to produce them can be less celebrated. Those that have dedicated their lives to mastering their craft are often little known outside their pockets of industry in the Swiss mountains, although some of the independent manufacturers who produce timepieces or elements of them are better known.
Here we shine a light on some of the best luxury watch craftsmen and women in the world today.
Their names may be concealed as they focus on their craft rather than seeking the adulation it deserves, but their work should still be celebrated:
As the first luxury watch made from steel rather than gold, the distinctive, pristine aesthetics of the Royal Oak have always played a huge role in attracting buyers.
The genius who polishes the octagonal 41mm cases consistently delivers the perfect finish. Since its inception as an iconic steel watch, the Royal Oak is now available in a variety of well-polished metals, each featuring the customary radiant shine. It is through an arduous eight step process that the finish is delivered, affording Audemars Piguet their reputation as a market leader in case finishing.
The process begins with cutting the octagonal bezel and the round opening of the midcase - it is followed by sandblasting the midcase on all sides. A lapping, or polishing paste will then be applied to bring out the facets of the case. The octagonal bezel is polished to bring out the playful shine that has collectors fawning over the Royal Oak, and varnish is applied to each facet to protect against wear before the bezel is satin brushed. The angles of the bezel are then matched before they are screwed together using the trademark hexagonal screws.
John Arnold is suitably celebrated for his role in horological advancement and his legacy is preserved in his company’s reputation for blending the best of its rich British history with quality Swiss craftsmanship. Indeed, this reputation for quality craftsmanship is evident in the bridges that are used in Arnold & Son’s watches, particularly their finish. Of course, with bridge plates allowing more of the gear train to be visible, being able to see the impressive complications of these watches assists with showcasing not just a sublime finish but also a mechanical masterpiece.
Sebastien Chaulmontet, the designer at Arnold & Son, utilises symmetry in designing stunning timepieces. However, it’s the finishing that makes the watches truly remarkable. Take their Constant Force Tourbillon watch, for example, which uses bridges that are treated with palladium, hand chamfered and feature polished edges and brushed surfaces.
The application of such a finish relies on an inordinate amount of skill, immense precision and an eye for detail beyond reproach. Therefore, the individuals that produce this work are at the pinnacle of their field.
Hublot’s brand is based on the art of fusion; their ability to create watches that combine tradition with innovation. Their thirst for pushing the boundaries of contemporary watchmaking requires the harnessing of the skill and imagination of some of the industry’s leading craftsmen and women.
Prior to Baselworld 2016, Hublot released their latest incarnation of the Big Bang - The Big Bang Unico Sapphire. The Unico movement itself took four years to develop and as impressive as it is, the crowning glory of the watch is the sapphire case.
The properties of sapphire make it challenging to machine, which is why its use in watchmaking had been limited until this point. However, the engineer or engineers behind this watch met the challenge head on and created another first for the brand. By using sapphire for the case middle, back and bezel for the 500 limited edition watches, they achieved the feat of being the first to cut sapphire on such a large scale.
They're not household names per se, but their work is rightly eulogised by watch collectors and aficionados:Click each IMAGE
The underlying principles of crafting Richard Mille watches are to use the sharpest cutting-edge technology, three-dimensional constructions shot through with pure mechanics, and hand-finishing. The brand is at the forefront of innovation when it comes to luxury watches, as evidenced by the RM004, which took over five years to develop and eliminated the jumping of the second hand (achieved through work on the split seconds arms).
The RM004 was one of the most complicated timepieces ever released and yet, the RM008 builds on it. It uses an added a tourbillon carriage consisting of 85 parts and weighing just a third of a gram. There is only one watchmaker in the entire world who can make the RM008, Fernand Simao.
Fresh RM008 kits are delivered direct to Simao’s home, where he spends 6 to 8 weeks piecing together, adjusting, taking apart again, re-assembling, re-adjusting just 1 kit at a time. Simao partially attributes his talents to his mental strength:
“I am a former Thai kickboxing champion of France which helps, in fact. In this sport, you develop a real ability to concentrate and focus your energy with endurance. One second of lost attention can cost you a championship. With the RM008 it is the same: as the watch nears completion, it requires ever more concentration; with all those parts in a small space, one moment is all it takes to wreck it.”
Mario Cancellara is the quiet genius behind the cases of the iconic Bulagari Octo. He is based at the Roman jeweller’s case making factory in Saignelégier, deep in the Swiss Jura mountains.
Cancellara is responsible for the incredibly complex process which produces these amazing cases for the various incarnations of the Octo. The process requires days of programming the 5-axis CNC machines before the production can even begin. The output though, is a joy to behold.
All milled from a single piece of metal, the cases are an arrangement of 110 different facets interfaced by 45-degree angles, overlapping surfaces and awkward cut-aways. With eighteen operations going into the milling of of the bezel alone, they truly are a labour of love. However, for a craftsman as skilled as Cancellara they still push incredible talent to their very limits; he’s reported to have stated “When they first proposed the Finissimo I thought we may as well just go home.”
Despite the challenges faced in the production of the ultra-thin Octo Finissimo range, they have led the field in being the thinnest luxury watches on the planet. The self-winding movement of 2017’s Octo Finissimo Automatique is just 2.23mm thick and 36.60mm in diameter. To create such a complex, yet stunning, case on such a thin watch really is testament to the level of craftsmanship that Cancellara provides.
Anita Porchet is a Swiss artist who is widely regarded as one of the world’s preeminent enamellers. This is signified by the recognition her work has received, with awards that include the 2015 Gaia Prize in the Craftsmanship-Creation section for the role she has played in revitalising the craft of enamelling, and the Foundation of Haute Horlogerie’s 2016 Hommage au Talent award.
She works from her own studio in Lausanne and so far has resisted approaches from big brands looking to recruit her in favour of retaining her independence. She has collaborated with some of the most luxurious brands on watches, like Fabergé, Chanel and Hermès. She was also commissioned by Patek Philippe to work on their Aube on the Lake pocket watch to celebrate their 175th anniversary.
Porchet has an incredible gift for the delicate enamel painting that is used to decorate watches and helps set them apart. It’s not a particularly quick production process either (which in part, contributes to the price tag of the watches featuring her work). She is also known to use the champlevé technique, which requires an engraving to be filled with vitreous enamel. Post firing and cooling the surface of the object must then be polished.
There’s a mental resilience required to complement the creativity that she possesses in abundance, as she previously revealed when she stated: “Enamel requires great patience. One must have a certain character to accept that after fifteen successive fires, all the work is damaged!”
Born in Le Sentier in The Vallée de Joux, Philippe Dufour is frequently considered to be one of the greatest contemporary watchmakers. His career began at Jaeger-LeCoultre, who are headquartered in the village of his birth, and he proceeded to work for Audemars Piguet and Gerald Genta.
Now based again in his birth village after striking out as an independent in 1978, his small studio is located in a former schoolhouse (the one in which his children were educated). Within this studio he makes between 15 and 18 watches each year, adhering to his belief that each watch should be built by hand and on direct commission.
His dedication to producing watches with such a high quality finish is what he is most revered for, taking the time and effort to craft something of remarkable beauty. That said, he is also no stranger to innovation. His Grande et Petite Sonnerie wristwatch won the gold medal for technical innovations at Baselworld in 1992. He was the first to incorporate this complication to a wristwatch and the model consisted of 420 handmade components and took 2,000 hours to make. Another of his innovative creations is the Duality, which was first produced in 1996 and was the first ever wristwatch to have twin escapements.
Dufour now prefers to work alone, citing a lack of motivation from others after they have learnt from him and him growing tired of training them as reasons for this. His daughter also spent a time working for him, although the arrangement didn’t really work out. However, along with Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey he set up Le Garde Temps – Naissance d’Une Montre in 2007. The project aimed to preserve the artisanal skills used in Swiss watchmaking and saw the trio impart their skills and techniques to one recipient who would then transmit them forward. The chosen recipient was Michel Boulanger, whose prototype of a watch made using traditional methods, the Naissance d’une Montre School Watch, sold at auction in Hong Kong for $1.4 million.
Born in Finland in 1962 and a graduate of the Tapiola watchmaking school, Kari Voutilainen is an independent watch maker based in Motiers, Switzerland. Like Dufour he is committed to creating handmade watches, but he has also reinvested his knowledge and skills, ensuring that the art of craftsmanship is not left to die out.
Arriving in Switzerland in 1989 to study at the International Watchmaking School, he completed the WOSTEP complicated watch course and a postgraduate course focusing on the restoration of complicated, quality, rare watches. He then worked for over a decade at Parmigiani Mesure et Art du Temps restoring some of the world’s rarest timepieces and creating new, original one-off pieces. This was followed by a three year stint teaching at the WOSTEP School of Watchmaking, heading the department of complicated watchmaking.
In 2002 he set up an independent watchmaking business, where all the creations are entirely handmade and combine Voutilainen’s pursuit of perfection with his deep understanding of complicated watches.
His uncompromising attention to detail, painstaking quest for the perfect finish and offer of numerous customisation options means that his studio doesn’t often produce many more than 50 pieces a year.
In 2005 he introduced the first decimal repeater wristwatch, the elegant Masterpiece 8. Not only an innovative piece, the Voutilainen hallmarks of a pristine finish were also apparent. The attention to detail and quest for perfection are evident, both in the beveled edge of the balance cock which gradually decreases as it proceeds towards the balance shaft, and in the transitions on the hammer. These transitions go from the flat black polished upper surface to a curved bevel and then to the vertical sides of the hammer.
They say there’s no such thing as a surefire investment, and that goes for watches as much as stocks, bonds, art or wine. But there are always exceptions, which in this case come in the form of straight-talking, Mayfair-based vintage dealer David Duggan – a man willing to stick his neck out where others would never dare.
“I’ve been thinking of all the types of watches I’ve sold, dating from the early Nineties,” he said thoughtfully, standing in his boutique on Mayfair’s ritzy Burlington Arcade, “and the number-one, surefire rule seems to be the following: buy high-quality, vintage understatement from one of the key Swiss brands. Then wait 20 years – that will nearly always yield profit.”
If anyone should know, it’s Duggan, having started his business in 1983 and forged something of a specialism in Patek Philippe – not to mention gaining membership of the British Horological Institute and the increasingly rare status of Approved Rolex Service Centre.
Duggan is a particular fan of Rolex, something that came across rather strongly when asked to recommend how to build a rock solid ‘watch wardrobe’, covering whichever sartorial situation you may find yourself in.
“If you’re buying new, a steel Rolex Submariner is a must,” says Duggan without hesitation, “it’s a great banker. You can dive with it, but it still looks great with a suit.”
“Then there’s the steel Cosmograph,” Duggan continues, referring to the iconic ‘Daytona’ chronograph, for which the waiting time is close to a year for a steel example. “It’s the perfect sporty watch for a younger, more versatile look.”
These new watches will always dip in resale value for a few years but wait a few years and the line may well start to go up, especially for these solid classics in steel.
“Once a watch has suffered its initial hit of depreciation, the follow-on is very minor,” says pre-owned retailer Watchfinder’s co-founder Lloyd Amsdon. “In fact, after five to ten years, the rising prices of new pieces bring the second-hand market up too, overcoming the gentle depreciation that comes with age.”
As for a smarter, dressier look, Duggan reckons you can’t go wrong with Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso. A classic bit of horological Art Deco, its slender rectangular case flips over to protect the dial – a function famously requested by the mallet-toting polo players of colonial India in the 1930s.
However, risking a broken sapphire crystal in the third chukka, it’s actually the double-faced Duoface that Duggan rates the most.
“Stick to the classic pieces that people will always want,” advises Kyron Keogh of cutting-edge jewellers ROX, “and you’ll have a watch that, 10 years down the line, will recoup the majority of your initial outlay. Tudor’s recent phoenix-from-the-ashes revival was spearheaded by the gorgeously but not slavishly retro-styled Black Bay. Now it’s fitted with an in-house movement and always in steel, rather than precious metal (flamboyance is inversely proportional to successful investment!) It’s already a classic that feels like it’s always been around.”
“Rolex’s steel sports watches are a surefire investment,” says watch and auction expert Simon de Burton, “you never see examples older than two or three years selling for any less than what they originally cost. That’s because Rolex is the ultimate luxury watch brand, their Submariner was the pioneering diving watch of the 1950s and you can wear it every day with everything. If you only want one watch, this is it.”
People talk about steel classics being solid horological bankers. Well, this is the daddy of them all – the first high-luxe watch that dared to be made of the quotidian metal and, shock, gasp, called itself a ‘sports’ watch in an age when you were nothing without something in garish yellow-gold glinting from beneath your contrast-colour cuff. “The Royal Oak has barely changed since 1972,” says Keogh,“and for good reason – its designer Gérald Genta’s octagonal case and integrated bracelet was spot-on from inception. That sort of integrity will come to bear in a lifetime’s value, both sentimental and monetary.”
Buy into James Bond’s model of choice and you’ll be buying into a brand that’s increasing in resale value faster than anyone else. “What’s more,” says Amsdon, “if you look hard enough you’ll still be able to find the quartz version of the Seamaster, which is being phased out very soon. Discontinued watches are very collectable and you will undoubtedly reap more on the vintage market than what you sowed at retail.”
Panerai’s chunky, cushion-shaped watches are a modern cult phenomenon, and one of the best investments you’ll make reckons Simon Sutton, Expert and Director at London auction house Watches of Knightsbridge. “Panerai has a fantastic collector base,” he says, “and even if it’s just to make a slight change, every model is limited, so whatever Panerai you buy, it will become a collectable soon enough.”
Do your research and have a look at what equivalent watches are being sold for elsewhere, whether it’s via online retailers or auctioneers like Watches of Knightsbridge and Bonhams.
Most retailers will offer a trade-in price for your pre-owned timepiece. Or you can sell it at auction or on e-bay.
If you’re selling privately without a warranty, you need to account for that in your price, advises Matt Bowling from Watchfinder.
Never get it serviced beforehand, even if it isn’t working, Sutton warns, the repair bill could be more than the watch is worth.
Always find the watch’s original box and papers - it could make a difference of hundreds of pounds, says Sutton.
If you do get your watch serviced, Sutton adds, never let them change original parts like the dial or hands. This could slash its resale value by up to half.
Covered in a variety of rare diamonds in various cuts and finishes. Easily the most expensive timepiece created.
153 Carat bracelet, center diamond is 33 carats and can be removed to be worn as a ring. Madness.
Created by Breguet himself for the Queen. Completed after both their deaths. Stolen in 1983 but discovered in 2007. The original is not sold but Breguet unveiled an exact replica in 2008.
Made in 2000. As the name suggests has a grand total of 201 carats worth of diamonds.
Commissioned for $15,000 in 1933, inflation brings that to $202,000. Sold for $24 million at an auction in 2014 to an unknown bidder.
Covered in crystal clear baguette diamonds. Totes a skeleton movement.
Only four of its kind, this was issue no. 1.
"I know about this watch since 1989, I dream of this watch, I want to touch it, and have it, and sell it – this dream, nearly a quarter century later comes true." Eric Clapton.
The only perpetual calendar chronograph made in steel.
Originally retailed for $2,265 ($38,000 inflation).
Encrusted with 1,282 diamonds and gifted to Jay-Z by Beyonce on his 43rd Birthday.
4 Variations each containing different space rock, (Moon, Mars, Rosetta stone, Asteroid.). Limited series of 12.
18K gold. Made with 2 complete movements. Sold in August 1814 for 5000 francs.
The most complicated wristwatch in the world. 36 complications, 1483 components. Wholly manufactured in house and featuring a 1000 year perpetual calendar that is renewable to eternity.
Announced in 2013. Features a moonphase, chronometer with flying second hand, and grand and petit sonnerie (chimes).
Perpetual calendar requires no manual adjustment until the year 2100. Comes with two other watches and a safe to put them in.
Constructed mainly from pure sapphire. The entire movement is suspended on cables. The entire case, bezels, and caseband are cut and milled from solid blocks of sapphire. Creating the case took over 1000 hours of milling.
Houses both a Greubel Forsey 30 degree double-tourbillion and a Wigan microsculpture that you can admire through a magnifier in the crown at 9 o'clock.
Was the most complicated wristwatch on its release in 2005. Total of 7 pieces made to celebrate Vacheron’s 250th birthday.
Diamond stones total 66 Carats. Carved and set in white gold to look like ice cubes.
322 diamonds on the case, 179 on the bezel, and 30 on the clasp. Valued at $1 million, the Hublot Black Caviar Bang is a limited edition run of only one piece.
Unveiled this year. Takes 37 weeks to produce all the sapphire case components. 1,300 hours to make a single piece. 288 facet diamond spheres act as the sun and the moon on this fascinating movement.
The silicon watch takes 2,400 man-hours to build, is made from 590 distinct parts, and features four sprung balances that have been set at a 45 degree angle to take both gravity and the wearer's movements into account, providing unprecedented accuracy.
Cara Delevingne and TAG Heuer, Daniel Craig and OMEGA, Dustin Johnson and Hublot - the world of superstar luxury watch endorsements is vast and lucrative.
Every luxury watch brand wants to be regarded as aspirational and one surefire way to ensure that’s how you’re viewed in the public eye is to be spotted on the wrist of an enviable celebrity.
That’s not to say that these ambassadors are picked at random. They’re always chosen to reflect a deeper meaning that the brand want to convey, whether that’s for a particular watch or collection of watches, or for the brand itself.
Take Breitling and John Travolta for example - Breitling are known as pilots’ watches and John Travolta is famously passionate about aviation, he has his own plane and is a licensed pilot. Or there’s the always sophisticated and classy Kate Winslet, who was chosen to be Longines’ ‘Ambassador of Elegance’ for emulating their motto that ‘elegance is an attitude’.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that these celebrities are personally choosing one brand’s watches over another for personal reasons though - these celebrity endorsements might be based on personal characteristics but they’re still very much a business deal.
Take Charlize Theron for instance, who had to settle a $20 million lawsuit from Raymond Weil for wearing a Dior watch when she had already signed a contract to exclusively endorse their timepieces.
From athletes to actors, models to singers - we’ve created a gallery showcasing some of the most recognisable luxury watch ambassadors, as well as digging into what it is about each celebrity that makes them so perfect for the brand they’re now associated with.
In 2010, Usain Bolt, the fastest sprinter in the world, was announced as Hublot’s new ambassador - he even had his own watch named after him. According to Hublot, Bolt is a great match for their brand as he smashes records and surpasses all limits. If you’re a fan of Hublot watches, you’ll also spot their clever wordplay in their description of him, that “since the famous ‘Big Bang’, since the creation of our planet, no man has run so far in such a short time!” Clever!
According to Audemars Piguet, Serena Williams was chosen to become a ‘friend to the brand’ because, as an astounding athlete with multitudes of medals and trophies under her belt, she perfectly embodies their philosophy of ‘to break the rules, you must first master them.’
On a visit to the Audemars Piguet headquarters in Le Brassus, French actor Omar Sy was intrigued by the brand’s heritage and the fact it’s still owned and run by the founding families. The star of The Intouchables and winner of the Le Journal Du Dimanche’s 2012 French personality of the year vote also spent a full hour successfully assembling a movement with a reported unbelievable concentration and determination! He wears a Royal Oak openworked in steel.
Chosen as the first female brand ambassador for Tudor, which previously had traditionally focused on men’s watches, Lady Gaga seems like an obvious choice to front a campaign titled ‘Born to Dare.’ The campaign is all about pushing boundaries and breaking the status quo, and who better to embody that than the woman who once wore a dress made entirely from meat to an awards ceremony?
While perhaps not instantly recognisable to those not already fans of the hit historical drama Vikings, where she plays fierce shield maiden Queen Lagertha, Katheryn Winnick was the perfect choice to front Raymond Weil’s ladies collection. According to the actress, her decision to work with Raymond Weil stemmed from their shared passion in celebrating the Arts and strength and beauty in women.
Kimi “The Ice Man” Raikkonen entertained guests of Hublot ahead of 2017’s Montreal Grand Prix. It was a fitting partnership given the watch manufacturer’s long-standing association with Ferrari and Raikkonen having had two spells driving for them. The 2007 world champion is renowned for his cool temperament when under pressure, not that Hublot need much to elevate their status as a cool brand.
In 1996 Alan Shearer became the world’s most expensive footballer when he signed for his hometown club, Newcastle United. He remains the English Premier League’s record goal scorer and is a leading pundit for the BBC. Rox and Hublot partnered with Shearer to launch the Limited Edition King Power Alan Shearer watch in 2016. Only two were ever made, one going to Shearer himself and the other auctioned off, with proceeds going to the Alan Shearer Foundation.
Former Los Angeles Lakers Shooting Guard, Kobe Bryant is one of the most famous and decorated players to ever grace the NBA. The basketball legend was first announced as a Hublot ambassador in March 2013. To commemorate the partnership the limited edition King Power Black Mamba was launched. Hublot CEO Ricardo Guadalupe commented, “Bryant was the perfect choice for Hublot – a brand known for its precision and excellence, traits that have characterised the basketball icon’s celebrated career.”
Graham Bell represented Great Britain at the Winter Olympics five times. This skier turned presenter may not be the most well known ambassador for a watch company, but he is a familiar face to many. As one the greatest down-hill skier’s the UK has produced and presenter of BBC’s Ski Sunday, he demands watch that can stand the rigours of the Alpine environment.
Hublot have twice partnered with undefeated five-division World Champion, Floyd Mayweather Jr. The first time it was for his bout with Manny Pacquiao in 2015, billed as the fight of the century. The second time was for his 2017 fight with UFC Lightweight Champion, Conor McGregor. Hublot believed their partnership epitomised their ‘First, Different, Unique’ ethos as, prior to the 2015 fight, Mayweather had never had a brand adorn his boxing shorts.
One of the world’s most well known supermodels, Bar Refaeli was announced as the first female face of Hublot watches in 2015. Her appointment signified that Hublot were serious about embracing the female watch fanatic demographic. The stunning watch that was released in Bar’s name - the Big Bang Broderie, introduced delicate and traditional Swiss embroidery into the mix, creating a design that managed to be both elegant and daring.
English pro golfer Ian Poulter is a longstanding member of the ranks of Audemars Piguet’s golf ambassadors. According to AP, both golfing and luxury watchmaking share a number of similarities such as: self-control, time management, a love of perfection, precision, elegance and ‘the beauty of both the gesture and the performance’.
Freida Pinto shot to fame in Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire in 2008. She’s known as much for her impeccable style as she is her acting and humanitarian work. It’s little wonder then, that Audemars Piguet identified her as an ideal candidate to represent their brand. She’s said to have been amazed by the passion, dedication and attention to detail of the craftsmen at their Le Brassus workshop. She can be seen here wearing an Audemars Piguet Millenary in white gold.
Although not as well known as others on this list, Charley Boorman’s fame came initially as an actor. Bremont, however, consider him to be a modern day adventurer having participated in the 2006 Paris-Dakar Rally and partnered Ewan McGregor for the epic Long Way Down and Long Way Round motorcycle journeys. It is through his rugged exploits that Charley is able to showcase the quality of his Bremont S2000.
If you were aiming for widespread recognition, there aren’t many faces more recognisable than David Beckham, who was announced as the new ambassador for Tudor in 2017. When asked why he chose to front the new Tudor Born to Dare campaign, the ex-footballer replied: “I was attracted to Tudor by the attention to detail I could see in their watches. I then learned about the history of the brand. One of adventure, pioneer diving and daring expeditions. I was instantly hooked.”
She’s been cited by many publications as the world’s most beautiful woman. The readers of other publications have voted her the sexiest woman on the planet. For a woman with such a revered appearance, it’s only fitting that she wears a watch of equal elegance and beauty. Her choice of the Cartier Tank is undoubtedly the perfect fit
If it’s not enough that Usain Bolt, Pelé, Maradona, Jay-Z and every Juventus and Chelsea player all wear Hublot proudly, nor that the brand boasts over 750 points of sale (including 70 of its own boutiques), then all it takes is a simple nose around the watchmaker’s multi-storey pavilion at spring’s Baselworld trade fair. Rolex and Bulgari may count among its next-door neighbours, but it’s here that the crowds truly throng, eager to discover whatever fresh, disruptive fireworks have been unleashed this time round. For unlike its venerable neighbours, leaning on heritage and repute, Hublot has nothing but chutzpah and free reign to experiment, unshackled by the past.
“The Art of Fusion’ is our motto,” goes the passionate mantra of CEO Ricardo Guadalupe, “as without innovation there is no future. We want all our teams to be creative, to push the boundaries in order for our brand to be first, unique, different.”
For such a coherent enterprise, it’s amazing to remember that Hublot is a very recent rags-to-riches tale. Despite being one of Switzerland’s youngest brands, founded in 1983 at the height of Switzerland’s moribund ‘Quartz Crisis’, it had found itself stuck in a rut, still trading solely on its odd combo of vanilla-scented rubber strap and porthole design. To inject new life, legendary industry maven Jean-Claude Biver was parachuted in, and revolution was instant. Being too clever to engineer a false or borrowed heritage (as so many revived old brands have done) he instead embraced the collision of traditional watchmaking with the future, “fusing” high-tech materials with mechanical timepieces, thereby distinguishing Hublot in its own right as the ultimate contemporary watchmaker.
Its ingenious, modular jigsaw puzzle of interchangeable case parts allowed an almost infinite spectrum of limited-edition permutations, fuelling Biver’s marketing genius and yielding the highest-profile partnerships imaginable, from Ferrari to Paris Saint-Germain.
But it’s not all fur coat and no knickers – the purpose-built factory’s R&D team spent two years on a proprietary chronograph movement, and the result, the ‘UNICO’ calibre looks set to be a classic, rock solid workhorse of the modern era. The finely engineered mechanics look great through a skeletonised dial too – a particular speciality that favours the brand’s blossoming high-complications range too, ranging from minute repeaters to tourbillons to the far-out ‘MP’ range originally inspired by the engine block of the Ferrari LaFerrari hypercar.
What’s more, Hublot’s reputation for materials science has also been fired by the Big Bang’s success – literally in the case of ‘Magic Gold’, a virtually scratchproof, ceramic-infused 18-carat metal, forged in-house, guaranteed to stay pristine, despite the inevitable knocks and scrapes.
“Magic Gold offered me a great opportunity,” enthuses Senad Hasanovic, the engineer from Lausanne’s École Polytechnique Fédérale now heading up Hublot’s newly forged (pun intended) Metallurgy & Materials department. “After all, Hublot is THE watchmaker for materials. We’re now doing some crazy things with red ceramics, aluminium, carbon fibre.”
“Why do we go to these lengths?” he asks rhetorically. “It’s because, as a young brand, we can’t talk about heritage. Materials are the thing that differentiates us. Now we have the foundry in-house, the cool thing is that we can continue to experiment.”
Long may it continue.
The Big Bang was launched in 2005 as part of the flagship collection of the new CEO of Hublot – Jean-Claude Biver. The watch was a total brand game changer, becoming an immediate success and tripling orders in the space of one year. In 2015 the Big Bang range of watches celebrated their 10th anniversary.
When the Big Bang chronograph was first launched later that year it was awarded internationally – receiving accolades like the 2005 Design Prize in the Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix.
Designed to show off the beauty of the watch’s record breaking supercar inspired movement, the case of the MP-05 LaFerrari Sapphire is carved from sapphire – creating the illusion that the inner workings are somehow suspended in mid-air.
At £450,000+ you could buy a car from Ferrari for less than this watch costs, though you wouldn’t quite be able to stretch to its namesake, which costs upwards of £1 million. However, the watch is rarer – with just 20 in total being made compared to the 499 LaFerrari cars available to buy.
This watch was the first made by Hublot using their own revolutionary metal ‘Magic Gold’ – the world’s first scratch resistant 18 carat alloy of gold and ceramic.
Alongside the Big Bang Ferrari in Titanium, this was the first watch released following Hublot’s appointment as official watchmaking partner of the supercar brand. The Magic Gold version is rarer, with 500 being made compared to 1,000 of the titanium.
Perched high above Lake Geneva, nestled in the verdant folds of the Jura Mountains, the Vallée de Joux has always been a bit special. Unlike the cradle of ‘industrialised’ luxury watchmaking that is Watch Valley, an hour of tortuous switchback roads away, it has been a hotspot for highly complicated horology since the 18th century. And in the best of Swiss tradition, it still is – though not quite as reliant on local dairy farmers leading a double life as winter watchmakers, as the cottage industry first manifested.
Both Breguet and Blancpain re-established themselves in the valley when revived by Swatch Group, taking over the venerable Lémania and Frédéric Piguet factories respectively. Jaeger-LeCoultre is still where it’s always been, on the banks of the Lac de Joux. And, of course, there’s the Vallée’s most famous resident, Audemars Piguet, whose historic museum building and newly built cutting-edge facilities are all dotted about Le Brassus.
This sleepy enclave is more AP than town, it seems. Just as you might say that AP itself is more Royal Oak than anything else. But remember that that classic octagonal sports watch has only been going since 1972. Before, the manufacture had always been most closely linked to the Joux Valley’s repute for ‘grande complication’. Still in the hands of the founding family, unlike any other Swiss maison, the Le Brassus factory is also the only one in Switzerland to have been creating complicated, multi-functional timepieces since 1882, when it released a gorgeous pocket watch boasting a perpetual calendar, moonphase, split-seconds chronograph and chiming minute repeater.
It was a readjustment that took some years, but it’s now one of watchmaking’s most iconic models, barely a millimetre different in its purest form, and prevalent in its chunky “Offshore” guise on the wrists (and lyrics) of every other US hip-hop star out there, not to mention, by some contrast, virtually every champion golfer of the modern age.
“When the Royal Oak launched 44 years ago,” explains the family firm’s chief administrator, Olivier Audemars, “the technology didn’t exist to work the Royal Oak’s complex shapes in steel. It was more expensive to machine the case and bezel in steel than gold. In fact, the very first prototype was made from white gold.
“The Royal Oak broke the rules of the industry, at a critical time, but at AP it seemed the logical thing to do.”
Since then, its 3D ensemble of laboriously hand-polished sweeping, swooping and spiky facets has contained all manner of horological adventures – most recently and most prominently, the groundbreaking Supersonnerie, which chimes out the hours, minutes and quarters with astonishing resonance. A single function on top of the time display itself, but a grande complication nonetheless and a signpost to Audemars Piguet’s future: traditionally respectful, but fearlessly thrusting into the 21st century.
With this watch, Audemars Piguet debuted the first ever self-winding tourbillon as well as the thinnest. A particularly unique aspect of the watch was the lack of crown on the side, instead a flat crown was integrated into the case back.
Even more than three decades later, the watch is arguably still the thinnest and lightest automatic tourbillon wristwatch to ever be made.
At the time that the Royal Oak was launched, the watch was considered revolutionary for its design – featuring an octagonal face, sharp angles and visible screws compared to the norm of luxury watches of the time which were all round, slim and gold.
The Royal Oak was conceived overnight by watch designer Gérald Genta, after receiving a phone call from AP’s managing director of the time asking for ‘an unprecedented steel watch’.
What makes it special? Compared to traditionally subtle, understated and ‘demure’ ladies watches, the pieces from the Audemars Piguet Haute Joaillerie collection are bold, unusual and attention grabbing – disrupting the status quo when it comes to gem set timepieces. The Diamond Fury in particular is visually and structurally spectacular.
Each watch contains a clever hinged or sliding mechanism to enable the wearer to hide and reveal the sparkling watch face as they wish. It’s also the only watch on our list with a quartz movement.
They may seem a million miles apart, but the jewels you see gleaming on the red carpets of the Cannes Film Festival and the watches adorning the wrists of the Mille Miglia rally drivers all come from Chopard – a fully independent luxury firm that began in 1860, in the small village of Sonvillier. Here, Louis-Ulysse Chopard, a talented young craftsman, established his workshop. By virtue of their precision and reliability his watches quickly gained a solid reputation among enthusiasts and found buyers as far aﬁeld as Eastern Europe, Russia and Scandinavia.
In 1937, the founder’s son, Paul Louis Chopard moved the firm to Geneva, the capital of ‘haute horlogerie’, thereby bringing it closer to its cosmopolitan clientele and guaranteeing the skills of the local artisans. It was 1963 when the Chopard as we know it really stepped up a gear, however. With familial ambitions on the wane, a descendant of a dynasty of watchmakers and jewellers from Pforzheim in Germany stepped in. From then on, under the impetus of Karl Scheufele and his own particularly ambitious family, Chopard became one of the leading names in the high-end watch and jewellery industry.
Today, it’s all down to his two children, the firm’s current co-presidents. Caroline Scheufele is responsible for the ladies’ collections and high jewellery, using Cannes’ red carpets and their A-list guests as her annual catwalk show. Meanwhile, her brother Karl-Friedrich Scheufele manages the gents' collections and the Chopard Manufacture in Fleurier, where he has successfully masterminded the top-end L.U.C. division for the past 20 years (needless to say, named after the brand’s founder).
As impressive as L.U.C. and its purist horology has proved, however, it’s arguable that Karl-Friedrich’s greatest masterstroke has been the aforementioned Mille Miglia. Chopard has been synonymous with this extraordinary vintage rally, threading through 1,000 miles of Italian countryside from Brescia to Rome and back, since 1988, making it the longest-ever automotive association in a watch industry rife with automotive associations. Longer than Breitling and Bentley, Oris and Williams, even Rolex’s sponsorship of the 24 Hours of Daytona.
It has everything to do with Scheufele’s petrol-blooded passion for classic cars, his garage near Geneva boasting around 30 automotive masterpieces. He has competed himself almost every year since, living and breathing the brand partnership, usually aboard his gorgeous silver Porsche 550 A Spyder, and usually alongside racing legend Jacky Ickx. And every year, each of their fellow competitors receives a special-edition Chopard chronograph in their race pack.
At $25 million, for a time this was the most expensive watch in the world. More bracelet than timepiece, it consists of a 15 carat pink diamond, a 12 carat blue diamond, an 11 carat white diamond and a further 163 carats of white and yellow diamonds. The watch has a spring-loaded mechanism which, when pressed, causes the three heart shaped diamonds to open up to reveal the watch face.
The watch was made in 2000 in complete secrecy and it’s so valuable that the name of the owner has never been released.
At the time of its launch, this timepiece was the first hand-wound movement comprising four barrels composed of two sets of stacked barrels. Why is this so impressive? Well, it means that the watch has a power reserve of over a week.
The exceptional power reserve of this timepiece is displayed on the dial with an indicator at the 12 o’clock point.
Chopard created this stunning watch to showcase their role as official timekeeper of the world’s most famous regularity race for classic cars. The design of the watch itself is inspired by said classic cars, featuring a dial reminiscent of a vintage dashboard.
The existence of these watches can be put down to Chopard co-president Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, who is fascinated by classic cars and actually takes part each year in the race that Chopard remains the official timekeeper for.
In 1976, Ronald Kurowski, a talented Chopard designer, became fascinated with the sparkle of unset diamonds. A dream was born: that of creating a watch where diamonds could enjoy total freedom of movement. The dream was to become reality in the shape of ‘Happy Diamonds’ an innovative feature allowing diamonds to move freely thanks to a dial inserted between two sapphire watch crystals.
Originally the first ‘Happy Diamonds’ was a model for men but it then opened up the way for a new watch collection designed for women.
It’s now been over 150 years since a 22-year-old Georges Favre-Jacot founded Zenith in the sleepy village of Le Locle – and it’s still there in the original building, its Beaux-Arts façade adorned with G.F.J. motifs. Despite his youth, Favre-Jacot was a revolutionary – his was the only factory in the Swiss Jura mountains to be fitted with electric lighting and the only one to bring all of watchmaking’s key skills beneath one roof, rather than rely on the sprawling cottage industry of component makers dotted throughout the surrounding valleys.
Yet still, after 300 patents, 600 movement variations and 2,333 prizes in the field of chronometry, the company finds itself firmly rooted in El Primero. This was the world’s first self-winding chronograph in 1969, with a balance beating at 5Hz rather than the usual 4Hz to guarantee an accuracy within a tenth of a second. This triumph of industrialised complicated watchmaking was released on the threshold of the so-called Quartz Crisis, however, and if it wasn’t for the heroic actions of workshop manager Charlie Vermot back in 1975, the tooling and plans would have been relegated to the scrapheap.
Instead, Vermot assiduously catalogued everything and stashed it all in an attic – ready for Zenith’s phoenix-from-ashes revival in the mid-Eighties. Based around the core Chronomaster range, we now have a split-seconds rattrapante version of the El Primero, as well as this year’s gorgeously pared-back and colourful Heritage 146, the sleekly metallic new Range Rover editions, and even a whirring, merry-go-round tourbillon variation.
Unlike the steady success of LVMH stablemate TAG Heuer, the more luxurious proposition of Zenith has been trickier to define. Thankfully though, new CEO Julien Tornare and that Swiss genius of brand turnarounds, Jean-Claude Biver (CV: Blancpain, Omega, Hublot, TAG Heuer) are bringing Zenith into a new purple patch, positioning LVMH’s most storied watch brand as a high-tech think tank of mechanical innovation. Innovation that, on consideration, is exactly what Zenith was all about in the first place.
First up for Zenith v3.0, in a reassertion of El Primero’s importance at the core of the brand, the stopwatch function of 2017’s ‘Defy El Primero 21’ is in fact powered by a totally separate, high-frequency geartrain ticking at the breakneck speed of 360,000 vibrations per hour (or 50Hz), keeping time to a hundredth of a second, rather than a tenth. Even more extreme is the brand-new Defy Lab, which manages to pare-back the 30-part tick-tick-ticking regulator assembly to a single, bizarrely stencilled wafer of silicon.
Rather than a small balance wheel oscillating back and forth on a tiny spring at the rate of 5Hz, the wafer ‘twitches’ at 15Hz bringing the whole, openworked dial display to life. It’s not just for show, though. This single blow of engineering simplicity results in unrivalled accuracy, measuring an error of just one second across 70 hours’ autonomy. Nothing else mechanical comes close to that.
As a first move from Zenith’s new management, it’s tantamount to leapfrogging your pawns with a knight. But you can be sure this is no bluff. The legend of El Primero is secured for future generations and new legends are in the pipeline.
Stemming from five years of intense development, this complication represents one of the major landmarks in 21st century watchmaking: the gyroscopic module named ‘Gravity Control’, a revolutionary system patented by Zenith.
In 2011, the watch won the ‘Best Complicated Watch’ prize – the star category in the Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix and a highly coveted international award.
The watch is so called (meaning ‘the first’) because it launched as the world’s first automatic (and most accurate) chronograph. El Primero is still the only one capable of measuring short times to the nearest tenth of a second.
In 1970 the El Primero was flown from Paris to New York, fixed to the landing gear of a Boeing 707. After being exposed to temperatures of -62°, an altitude of 10,000 metres and atmospheric pressure that was four times lower than usual, it was discovered upon landing that the watch had remained accurate to the nearest second.
Introduced at Baselworld, this notable oversized watch was modelled on Zenith’s original and pioneering aircraft cockpit clocks of the 1930s. Originally released as a limited edition timepiece with only 250 watches available, it sold out two months before it was even officially introduced.
This watch, and indeed the entire Pilot range, are a perfect mix of nostalgia and up to the minute technology. Every aspect evokes Zenith’s rich history in the field of aviation – did you know the first pilot to ever cross the English Channel wore a Zenith?