Thursday, 31 October 2013

#13 Royal Oak - The Screws

I have come across many instances where people have thought that the screws on the bezel are there purely for design purposes. This 'misconception' generally is sparked because the hexagonal holes on the bezel would not allow the screws to rotate - so quite naturally, it may lead one to think that they're just fixed there with no mechanical functionality. On top of that, what makes this 'mystery' even more convincing is that, yes, the screws are polished 18 carat white gold, which do add to the Royal Oak's beauty by displaying contrasting finish and shine with the brushed bezel - but I am about to tell you that in fact, those eight hexagonal screws serve more than cosmetic duties. 

Besides adding the looks, the screws play a key role in the architecture of the Royal Oak, such that the whole design is in fact patented. 

The screws on the bezel does actually sit in fixed positions and here comes the genious part - the screws on the back of the case are in fact nuts (shown on the top part of the image right below). 

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Once the bezel screws (#11 in the diagram) are placed in fixed positions where #5 represents the bezel, the nuts (#9) that are placed on the back are screwed down the thread (#10). This 'screw & nut' system is in fact also employed for holding straps and bracelets on Royal Oaks.

So the screw & nut mechanism not only holds the bezel and the back but also holds the metal support ring, the rubber seal ring, the gaskets and the sapphire crystal in place.
This mechanism as illustrated, play a critical role in keeping this extraordinarily intelligent design intact and thus, almost perfectly isolating the movement from its archenemy - moisture.

The iconic hexagonal screws on the bezel can arguably be regarded as the key that led to the birth and the success of Royal Oak. What's more certain is that Mr. Genta, the genius behind this double-tap solution to design and practicality well deserves a place in the history of industrial design and watchmaking.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

#11 A. Lange & Söhne Saxonia & Langematik

A. Lange & Söhne  are one of the few brands that are outside this 'Swiss ring of watchmaking' and in fact the only few non-Swiss makers that are in the high-end watch industry. With a rich history that dates back to 1845, they continue to create some of the finest, most sophisticated timepieces around. Although this is a purely subjective matter, some connoisseurs regard Lange as the only true rival to Patek Philippe and they do indeed have a legitimate reason for having such opinion. Lange pieces are embedded with this romanticism that not every brand can express - classic yet unique designs with warm dials make them subtly stand out. 

And of course, it's not just the looks that makes Lange such a power house. Their mechanical finesse and that extra love and care for the movements is also what makes them tick - believe it or not, every movement is assembled twice for quality checks which ensures durability and functionality. Moreover, unlike most brands in the industry, Lange use 'German Silver',  a copper-nickel alloy as opposed to brass, which gives the unique aesthetics.

The two pieces here are: 
Saxonia Annual Calender in white gold ref.330.026 (left) and Langematik Perpetual in platinum ref.310.025 (right). 


The Saxonia Annual Calender features the Lange's trademark double-square date window; day & month dials and moon-phases. This reference comes with beautiful blue hands - not many can get the blue hands right. It can either look really tacky or too casual but Lange really hammered this one.

It is powered by the in-house L085.1 SAX-0-MAT automatic movement with 46 hour power reserve and employs the patented Zero-Reset handsetting mechanism. It consists of 476 parts and 43 jewels and beats at 21,600 vph or 3 Hz.

As aforementioned, the movement is constructed from German Silver, giving this unusual look - I personally think Lange make some of the best looking movements alongside Patek Philippe, Philippe Dufour, Audemars Piguet and F.P. Journe. The lust and the layout of this calibre is simply breathtaking.

You may have noticed already but this movement features a micro-rotor. Patek Philippe and Lange are two of the very few haute-horlogerie houses that employ the micro-rotor system (yes, there are makers like Laurent Ferrier but...) and the only two who has the know-how to really pull this off in terms of mechanics and aesthetics in my humble opinion. A special architecture is required to utilised these micro-rotors - since they are physically smaller than standard rotors, any miscalculation will inevitably lead to inefficiency in winding - and we all know that when it comes to engineering, miscalculations are simply not tolerated by Germans!

So, how does it feel when worn?

This piece measures 38.5mm and 9.8mm in size and height respectively. It certainly isn't the smallest dress watches of all but also not the biggest. This piece certainly represents that Lange have kept up with time and perhaps this is something that differentiates the German maker from Patek Philippe - I am certainly not suggesting that Patek are not keeping up with time but they tend to be a little bit conservative when it comes to sizing. 

It sits very comfortably on your wrist with the hand stitched croc strap with white gold tang buckle. The blue hands with a decently sized white gold case gives this young yet classy look. 

The Langematic Perpetual, as the name suggests features perpetual calender with moon phases powered by the in-house Cal. L922.1 SAX-0-MAT with 46-hour power reserve made up with 478 parts and 43 jewels, beating at 21,600 or 3 Hz, employing patented Zero-Reset handsetting mechanism.
This piece is the world's first mechanical watch that combines a perpetual calender with an outsize date.

The back looks remarkably similar, if not the same as the Saxonia Annual Calender, featuring German silver plates and a micro-rotor. 

 The overall layout of the dial is also quite similar to that of the Saxonia Annual Calender but the Langematik Perpetual displays roman numeral hour markers and luminous silver hands.

Measuring at 38.5mm in diameter and 10.2mm in thickness, it sits marginally higher than the Saxonia annual calender but still provides the same comfort. This application of roman numeral markers and silver hands gives a very different feeling by giving off a more mature look than the blue hands. This piece also has an added depth of sophistication by employing perpetual calender, thus unconsciously giving that extra depth of class. 

Both the Saxonia Annual Calender and the Langematik Perpetual are true connoisseurs' pieces. They are embedded with horological excellence and elegance, capturing what Lange as a brand stand for. Either one of these would make a good candidate for any watch collector's grail piece. 

Friday, 25 October 2013

#10 George Daniels' "Watchmaking"

George Daniels, a British Horologist and one of the greatest masters of watchmaking art, commonly known for being an avid "fan" of the French maker, Breguet and developing the famous Co-axial escapement that is featured in most of the modern Omega  watches has published the Horologist's bible. His student and the one and only apprentice Roger Smith not only attended George Daniels' lessons, but also known to have extensively utilised this book.

George Daniels had several purposes in writing this book. According to Daniels himself, he wrote it “to inspire and encourage the art of watchmaking, especially among a new generation of enthusiasts” and that “great care has been taken to ensure the text is easy to follow and to avoid complicated technical descriptions.” Helping and encouraging people (even those with little to no academic knowledge regarding watchmaking) in understanding the specified issues is the primary objective. Since George Daniels built watches all with his hands without the aid of CNC machines (he even manufactured the entire escapement, something that several of the greatest brands outsource for the special difficulties involved in their manufacturing processes), quite literally ALL operational aspects of watchmaking are covered. Everything that one always wanted but did not know where to ask is thoroughly covered in fantastic details with coloured images and easy-to-understand diagrams.
These are the main things that he discusses: Workshop and equipment; Hand tools; Finishing steel and brass; Turning, Wheels and Pinions; Making small components; Jewelling; Escapements; Mainsprings and accessories; Movement design; The balance and spring; Casemaking; Engine-turned cases and dials. He takes a close look at all technicalities, often unfolding mathematical calculations, machining techniques and requirements of parts of a movement that one may have never even heard of - but don't worry, everything is clearly explained and demonstrated.

If you are true aficionado or someone who wants to learn about watchmaking, this should be the bible for you. This tremendous piece of work essentially covers all aspects of watchmaking in detail in a reader-friendly manner. George Daniels' passion for Horology is clearly reflected in this book and upon reading, one will immediately concur with the fact that he truly deserves a place in history as one of the greatest and most influential artisans.

#9 Bergeon Ergonomic Screwdrivers

The Swiss based Bergeon, are the makers of some of the finest watchmakers' tools. The ergonomic stainless steel screwdriver series come in all sizes. They are extremely well machined and finished and as the name suggests, they are extremely comfortable to use. The difference between the ergonomic set and the standard set is the colour coded swivel heads. The size of the heads make them more visible and gives you better grip, thus easier to handle. The hexagonal head comes in self-lubricating, synthetic POM (Derlin) material, which adds to the ergonomics of these. 

I have used other brands like Horotec before, but when it comes to screwdrivers, in terms of quality and ergonomics, I think Bergeon leads the line.

#8 Richard Mille RM-035

Richard Mille is a brand renown for its unique approach to watchmaking. Albeit its youth, the use of highly sophisticated materials, eccentric design and innovative movements fuelled its breakthrough to the industry that is very monopolistic in nature. 

I once read an interview where Mr. Richard Mille describes his journey and his philosophy behind watchmaking. I recall him saying "I hate the idea of a watch you put in a safe... A watch has to be worn, and if it has to be worn, it must be comfotable on the wrist" - and he has a point. 
Hence this is the reason why you see Richard Mille use such light materials even though they are "a nightmare to work with". They were the first house to use titanium base plates -  I say "nightmare" because quite literally, they are so hard to work with. Apparently, 70% of their productions end up in the bin whilst the other 30% turnout to be something quite special.
This use of unusual materials not only makes their pieces so practical but also niches themselves in the market - there simply isn't a viable substitute for an RM as of yet.

Richard Mille proudly sponsors one of the greatest tennis players of the current generation - namely, Rafael Nadal. There are currently 3 models produced under his name: RM027, RM27-1 and RM035.

Unsurprisingly, exceptionally strong and light materials are used for RM035 (pictured below). To be a little bit more precise, an alloy of aluminum and copper, known as aluminum 2000.  is used for the casing for extreme ruggedness and lightness. It is a material that is quite often used in F1 machines to make pistons - you get the sense of how tough it is, right? 
And the electro-plasma oxidation treatment is given for extra toughness, which coats the case with cristalline oxide ceramic and it is finished with 12 grade 5 titanium screws and 316L stainless steel washers.

image source:

The chronofiable certified skeleton manuel winding movement with 55 hour power reserve is jointly developed and produced by APRP (Audemars Piguet Renaud Papi. and if you didn't know, Audemars Piguet owns a substantial chunk of Richard Mille) and weighs at staggering 4.3g. 
The movement adopts the double barrel system which helps torque stability through utilising more turns of the barrel, reducing pressure and wear on the teeth, pivots and bearings. As for the complication, this movement provides hour, minute and second and it beats at 28,800 vph or 4 Hz.

So moving aside from all the techy aspects, how does it wear?

The whole thing, including the PU strap and the titanium folding clasp, weighs only 50g - it literally feels as though you are wearing nothing. That's how light this thing feels. The PU strap is extremely soft with ventilation holes and thus provides extra comfort. 

All in all, I have to admit this is one special piece. It has got an unusual design combined with extreme wearability - but some people ask me, "is it really worth that much money?" and my answer is "well... depends". At such a high price range, one might expect more complications and features and sure, quite rightly so... but, that's not the point with RM. The philosophy behind this brand, as aforementioned is ergonomics, not mechanical complexity as such (I am saying this very carefully!). Mr. Richard Mille himself once said "A watch needs to be easy to wind and easy to read the time and have useful functions. That's why I will never do a minute repeater...". 
So coming back to the question, "is it worth the money?". For those who are inline with RM's philosophy, it would be a definite "yes" but others may form completely opposing opinions - and this is what I love about Richard Mille. They are a pioneer and a rebel in the horological society - that's what gets them the tick and what gives them their competitive edge and the platform to innovate and produce something very unusual. 

#7 Talking watches - J.J. Redick & John Mayer

Benjamine Clymer of Hodinkee talks watches with a L.A. Clipper, J.J. Redick & Singer-songwriter, John Mayer

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Thursday, 24 October 2013

#6 The living legend - Philippe Dufour

Benjamin Clymer of Hodinkee with the legendary Philippe Dufour

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#5 Panerai PAM392

Officine Panerai with its unique heritage has came to become one of the iconic brands of modern horological society. The Italian-born house has its own DNA that no other brands dare to copy - astonishingly large yet beautifully crafted cases with luminous sandwich dials and the iconic (patented) crown guards. These features give PAMs their simple yet sophisticated look, which make them immediately recognisable even from a fair bit of distance. The reason why I said "large yet beautiful" is because so many brands actually get this wrong - most of them just get them large and ugly but Panerai certainly knows how to play the size game.

Most PAMs are/always have been +44mm in terms of the case size. But in 2012 at SIHH, Panerai introduced a 42mm 1950 Luminor model - PAM 392. Some say this move was made to satisfy the demands from the Asian market, but let me tell you, you don't have to be an Asian to enjoy and appreciate this fabulous piece.

Just like PAM312 and other PAMs with the same complications, PAM392 is equipped with the hallmark in-house P.9000 automatic calibre, which beats at 28,800 alternations/hour or 4Hz with 3-day power reserve.

Since PAM392 is essentially a reduced version of PAM312, to get the balance of the dial right, Panerai had to take out 9 'o clock hour indicator - I personally think that the dial looks overall more balanced without the '9' since there was no '3' in the first place. 
It is not just the diameter that has changed in size, but also the thickness. Quite a number of Paneristis and myself have found PAM312 to be unusually chunky even for a 44mm PAM - which was probably due to the 1950 shape case. Hence, I personally found it to be somewhat uncomfortable at times but I think Panerai came up with a solution to this problem with PAM392. Since it's thinner and smaller, it definitely feels way more comfy. 
If you have ever owned a 312 or other 1950 cased PAMs in 44mm, upon wrapping this piece around your wrist, you will immediately recognise how different it feels and how different it looks. In terms of wearability - If you ever felt your PAM was too big to wear with a suit, this piece will give you the option to either dress up and go casual.

Although some 'purists' say that this piece breaks the tradition of Luminor models since it's smaller, non-44mm model, it still definitely embraces all the qualities and characters of a PAM. What's better is that it is a very wearable piece that is not only comfy and versatile but also overall more balanced. 

Friday, 11 October 2013

#4 Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore "Panda"

Ever since its birth in 1972, the Royal Oak has soared in its popularity for its unique attitude and horological excellence, which consequently positioned the Le Brassus based watchmaker as the "master" of high-end sports watches and opened a whole new market within the horological industry. As time moved on, so did people's lifestyle. To meet the demand of 'brutal' ("active" is perhaps a more suitable adjective but yes...) lifestyle of modern generation, Audemars Piguet came up with a matching brutal solution in 1993 - the Royal Oak Offshore.

As the name suggests, it's a more 'practical' adaptation of the traditional Royal Oak with larger cases, chronograph complication, use of materials like rubber, ceramic and forged carbon, which gives a more sporty look.

Let's take a look at the one particular Offshore model, the "Panda" reference (26170ST.OO.DD101CR.02).

Before some of you might think "hmm... that's unusual", one thing to note is that, the "Panda" reference usually comes in 2 variations: in Black Hornback strap with a deployment clasp or metal bracelet, which comes in either Stainless Steel or Titanium.

The one pictured is obviously not in black hornback nor in metal bracelet, that is because I have replaced the black hornback with a tan one with white stitching (which usually comes with the "Safari" reference). Hence the reason why I call this baby "Panda in Safari".

I generally prefer brown leather straps over black ones, so I came to replace it and in all honesty, I think it actually looks better (but again, this is just personal preference!):

It has some similar features to that of the standard Royal Oak: the iconic octagonal bezel with 8 white gold screws, plots that link with the strap and the Tapisserie dial (although this is the 'Mega' sized version). Unlike the Royal Oak, it has Arabic Numeral hour markers and tachymeter around the dial.
It also has black counters at 12, 9 and 6 o' clock positions, counters at 9 and 6 indicating minutes and hours respectively used for the chronograph function.

The case comes relatively thick at 14.30mm and the diameter at 42mm. The pushers and the crown are rubber clad. These exterior specifications allow 100m water-resistance.

Unlike some of the Royal Oaks and Offshores, this particular reference does not come with sapphire crystal back but instead comes with iron back with anti-magnetic protection inside, which I suppose adds to its practicality.

Upon close inspection, you may realise that there is a small magnifying glass for the date dial - That is because of the architecture of the In-house movement Cal. 3126/2840, which powers most of the Offshore references:


Cal. 3126/2840 is a 'sandwich' movement that consists of the 'standard' movement (a modified version of Cal.3120 ) with the chronograph module sitting on top. For this reason, the date dial sits at the bottom, thus a need for magnification. 

It's a shame that you cannot appreciate the heart that beats inside on this particular reference but the fascinating exterior and added practicality through soft iron core inner casing certainly compensates for this loss.

Some people consider Offshore ranges to be too big even for today's standards and yes, it is definitely not the lightest or the most comfy watches of all but quite frankly, I think the boldness alongside its sharp design is what makes the Offshore range instantaneously recognisable and gives them their cult status.

#3 Boy's toys