Monthly Archives: January 2017

Montblanc launches smart watch

Montblanc has become the first multi-product luxury brand to launch a smart watch, with its Android-based Montblanc Summit timepiece to arrive in Australia in May.

Vintage looks and premium materials give the feel of a real watch on the wrist and the timepiece’s display is covered by a slightly curved sapphire glass, a world first in smart watches.

The announcement follows the launch early this week of Tag Heuer’s upgraded Connected watch, an Android device whose first iteration released last year exceeded sales expectations by a factor of three. The new Tag Connected costs $2300; the Montblanc Summit starting price will be €890, which with GST would translate to about $1500. No official price has yet been determined for Australia.

Montblanc’s move is sure to cause a ripple in the tradition-bound watch industry and comes as sales of mechanical watches have been declining month-on-month for more than a year.

Montblanc, founded in Germany in 1906, makes writing instruments, watches and leather goods. The Summit is a 46mm model that brings together the company’s upper-end watchmaking expertise with Google’s latest operating system, Android 2, and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor.

“Nothing compares to the sensation of traditional fine Swiss watchmaking, but in a fast-moving world being able to access all kinds of information digitally has become essential,” said Montblanc International chief executive Jérôme Lambert. “The Summit bridges these two worlds with a simple and highly functional product that gives its owners the freedom to have it all.”

Underscoring Montblanc’s discovery of the digital age, the watch will be sold exclusively online at Mr Porter for two weeks before being available via the Montblanc website and retail outlets.
The Summit borrows features from the Montblanc 1858.

Montblanc’s stated aim was to bring a one-of-a-kind vintage design to the category and inspire a younger generation who appreciate high quality materials and finishes, and who like the feeling of a mechanical watch on the wrist.

The brand turned to its 1858 collection as the inspiration for the case as well as the dials, which are digitally reproduced on a high-contrast AMOLED​ display.

The case comes in a choice of four different materials and styles —black PVD coated stainless steel, a bi-colour stainless steel case with a black PVD coated stainless steel bezel, stainless steel case with satinated finish and a grade 5 titanium case also with satinated finish.

Each is fitted with a pusher in the design of the crown from the 1858 collection.

There is a choice of eight straps, from a sporty, water-resistant rubber NATO in black, blue, green or red, to leather numbers from the MontblancPelletteria in Florence – all easily swapped thanks to quick-release spring bars.

Meet the Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45

The new Android-based device, designated the TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45, takes the form of a regular watch but one whose lugs, case, strap, and buckle are interchangeable. Uniquely, though, it can accommodate a mechanical movement if the buyer chooses.

Yes, that includes the brand’s COSC-certified 02-T tourbillon if that’s your fancy.

Tag predicts it will sell about 150,000 of the new units, priced in Australia at $2300. It had hoped to sell 20,000 of the launch model but reported sales had reached triple that – about 56,000 – at the end of last year.

The Connected 45 is a distinct step up from the original Tag Connected. Made from satin or polished titanium with additional finishes in gold or ceramic, it comes in 56 different versions, 11 standard models offered instore, 45 others on request.

Jean-Claude Biver, chief executive and president of the watch division of Tag’s parent company LVMH, described the watch as “at the forefront of the latest technologies available in Silicon Valley and, at the same time, a genuine Swiss watch, bearing the Swiss Made label.”

Whether or not it’s the best of both worlds, few watches – if any – are as customisable. The exterior of the watch can be configured to taste as can the dials and displays, while 18 varieties of straps are available, in rubber, natural or grey leather, titanium or ceramic.
Regarding the AMOLED dials, despite being mere displays, some dip convincingly into traditional watch territory referencing historical Heuer designs such as the panda-dialed Carrera, all interchangeable with a single swipe of the finger.

Not satisfied with that?  You can proceed to play across the colour spectrum, changing the look of the metals on the indices down to the tips of the hands – even use a Tag Heuer Studio configurator to co-ordinate your watch to match whatever you’re wearing.

That of course is in addition to the usual smart-watch multi-function displays accessible via a new Android app with a fresh version coming too for Apple’s IOS. That said, Android Wear is the watch’s natural environment.

As to connectivity, there’s Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS and NFC, and the module is water-resistant to 50 metres. There’s 4 GB of storage memory and latest-generation lithium battery technology provides more than 29 hours of power.

For all that Silicon Valley input, the motherboard, the brain and body of the watch are produced in Switzerland, with assembly at Tag’s La Chaux-de-Fonds manufacture. Hence, unlike it’s predecessor, it qualifies for the prized “Swiss Made” certification.

Baselworld goes big on vintage watches

Attendees at the just completed Baselworld watch fair in Switzerland would have been forgiven for mistaking the year for 1957 or even 1917, given the predominance of new models harking back to the past.

Baselworld, as it’s called, is possibly the greatest tease a timepiece tragic can experience. Here, packed into one-and-a-half million square metres of lavishly bedecked exhibition space, are hundreds of watch brands showcasing the thousands of new models they hope to tempt you with in the coming months.

The tease? Despite being open to the public – and attracting some 130,000 visitors – this is about the only spot in Switzerland you can’t actually buy a watch unless you’re a distributor or retailer, in which case it’s here that you place your order.

That means the real interest lies in seeing what’s in the pipeline, and what trends the industry is relying on to fix the predicament of flagging sales. That’s right, watch sales have been falling for months on end, with the latest figures revealing yet another 10 per cent drop in February.

Despite the usual surface energy at Baselworld, pessimism in the industry is palpable, and confusion about how to get things back on track reigns. Well, almost. As far as the product goes, the hounds were running firmly in one direction, and that’s vintage.

If winding back the clock is hardly new for watch companies – they love re-editions – it’s unusual to find the past getting a raking over in so many quarters. Still, what else to do? Embrace the smart watch?

Reprising earlier models is also not the most difficult or expensive route to take. There are no nasty research and development costs, and few industries have retained past records, drawings and archived so assiduously; this is a business that feeds off an image of authenticity and history. In reality, and despite the impressive hands-on aspects, watch companies are modern-day mass-manufacturing concerns, many of which built massive new facilities to meet a rising demand that stalled seemingly overnight sometime around 2014.

Vintage tactics

Can vintage save the day and, indeed, what exactly classifies as vintage when it comes to a watch? Regarding the latter it’s a watch that looks like the one your father or grandfather abandoned, a now nostalgic ticker with a domed glass called a crystal, in watch-speak, a case size that doesn’t dwarf the wrist, and a mellow look to the dial.

Regarding the likely success of the trend, it’s certainly resulting in some handsome watches of a wearable size, and while you wouldn’t expect it to save the industry, it chimes with current tastes and contrasts wonderfully with the techno-brittleness of smart watches, that new competitor for wrist real estate.

Not that watch lovers necessarily see it that way; for them only a mechanical timepiece does the trick, both as an accessory and an object of delight.

To them vintage watches are independent little souls while smart watches spend half their lives tethered to chargers. Then there’s the different vista and experience mechanical pieces offer when you glance at your wrist.

With a smart watch the reward is the content it delivers. With a mechanical watch the reward is the machine itself, and vintage looks – with their modesty and warmth compared with show-off pieces – seem to be the flavour of the moment, at least in these post watch-boom times.

As to who did 2017 retro most effectively, it depends which decade you’d like to return to, but here are 10 we liked that go back as far as 100 years, yet might just be the thing for today.

7 of the best new golden oldies

1. Omega Trilogy

Omega hardly has to send out a search party to find old favourites – the Speedmaster is 60 years old this year, ditto the Seamaster and the Railmaster. To mark the occasion the brand has released a trio – we’ll count them as one – replicating the originals down to the tiniest detail. None spans more than 39mm and only the movements have been upgraded. You can buy them as a limited-edition set or individually, each priced under $10,000.

2. Tag Heuer Autavia

Tag might have launched a smart watch (the Connected) but hasn’t been foolish enough to abandon the purists. The Autavia was the watch enthusiasts told Tag they wanted to see again. It began life in the 1930s as a dashboard clock, morphed into a sports chronograph in the 1960s and now returns in much the same guise. Differences? The case is up from 39mm to 42mm, the bezel is a bit wider and it’s water resistant to 100 metres. The movement is upgraded and now features a date display. The price is $6600.

3. Oris Big Crown 1917

Until recently Oris believed its first pilot’s watch appeared in 1938 but deeper digging revealed it was in fact in 1917 that a 40mm brass-cased number, essentially a pocket watch with wire lugs soldered on, carried the Oris name. A century on you can have the look for about $3000 with this limited-edition replica that even has a similar pin-lever movement.

4. Oris Chronoris

A shallower excavation at Oris revealed another plum ripe for the picking, the 1970s Chronoris, which boasted the company’s first in-house movement. The internals now come courtesy of the Sellita manufacturer, but those ’70s disco looks are there, framed in a cushy period case spanning 39mm. Yours for around $2300.

5. Blancpain Tribute to Fifty Fathoms MIL-SPEC

That orange and white sub-dial is a moisture-alert (and collector alert) indicator as found on early interpretations of the 1950s dive favourite. Back then it spanned 38mm, now it’s 40mm and has an impressive two-barrel mechanism. The doughnut bezel is a vintage Blancpain trademark, the price a more modern $17,650.

6. Longines Heritage 1945

Longines does heritage pieces every year and this salmon-hued recreation of a 1945 model is a winner. Now 40mm rather than 38mm and with a self-winding movement, it retains the curvaceous design of the era, with subtlety and proportion the order of the day. Around $3000.

7. Seiko ‘First Grand Seiko’

With the high-end Grand Seiko about to become a stand-alone brand, 2017 sees a recreation of the very first watch to carry the mantle. The new model comes in platinum, gold or steel and uses the exact case and dial design as the 1960 original, now resized to 38mm. It houses a modern hand-wind movement.

EVOLUTION OF THE OMEGA SPEEDMASTER

3,000 tonnes of Saturn 5 rocket, consuming fuel at 15 tonnes per second, travelling 240,000 miles away from Earth, at a cost equivalent today of £25 billion, is perhaps one of the most ludicrous ideas to ever dawn upon mankind. But as is well documented (and sometimes disputed) that is exactly what happened in 1969. And then it happened again, and several more times too. This is the quest for Earth’s nearest neighbour, it’s only natural satellite, the bleak but beautiful Luna.

The decision to pursue the Moon was announced in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, four years after the fourth Apollo 11 crewmember was born—the Omega Speedmaster. Between then and its first official NASA mission into space on board Gemini 3 in 1965 (it had already flown unofficially during Project Mercury), the Speedmaster suffered a raft of gruelling tests at the hands of NASA’s cruellest product evaluators. The testing was extensive beyond belief – ridiculous even—but nevertheless the Speedmaster passed. Amongst the worst punishment it received was 48 hours at 71°C followed by half an hour at 93°C, and then four hours at -18°C; six shocks in different directions at 40 Gs each; vibration in three cycles of thirty minutes at 2,000 cycles per second with each cycle imparting at least 8.8 Gs; and 130 db (the volume of a jet take-off) over a frequency range of 40 to 10,000 Hz for thirty minutes.

At NASA’s request, the handset was changed for high-contrast baton hands so as not to obscure the chronograph and crown guards were added to prevent knocking the crown. The applied ‘O’ logo was replaced for a painted one, and the ‘Professional’ script was added to the dial. The Speedmaster was now the only watch flight qualified by NASA for all manned space missions.

Before project Apollo could begin, NASA had to determine whether or not certain aspects of the mission to the Moon were actually feasible, so Gemini acted as the dress rehearsal for the main event, trialling techniques that focussed mainly around vehicle rendezvous and docking. In less than two years ten Gemini missions were performed, including the first American extra-vehicular activity (spacewalk) undertaken by Ed White, accompanied by his Omega Speedmaster.

The Apollo program that followed was the first time humans had ever ventured beyond low Earth orbit, and the twelve astronauts that walked the Moon between Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 are the only men to have ever set foot on a celestial body. The Speedmaster accompanied many of these men on their journeys, although it didn’t quite make it onto the wrist of Neil Armstrong as he took his—and mankind’s—first steps on the Moon. The story goes that he left it on board the Lunar Module after its on-board electronic timer broke down, and so the job was left to Buzz Aldrin to give the Omega the title of ‘first watch worn on the Moon.’

Following Apollo and the quest for distance, NASA then experimented with duration. The United States’ first space station, Skylab, was sent into space in 1973 and was home for the astronauts of all three Skylab missions for a total of 171 days. The three missions were long, each longer than the last, with the final mission taking 84 days (although the current record far surpasses that at 437 days). The occupants wore their NASA issue Speedmasters during this highly experimental era.

Over half a century after it first came to be, the Omega Speedmaster had its first real makeover in the form of the Speedmaster Co-Axial Chronograph. The Professional 3570.50.00 remained alongside this new recruit, presumably to teach it a thing or two about being a real, hard-working watch. As is to be expected, the Speedmaster Co-Axial Chronograph is bigger both in diameter and in thickness (44mm vs 42mm; 16mm vs 13mm) in order to fit the Co-Axial calibre 9300, but overall the same elegant case shape remains untouched. The most obvious change comes courtesy of the calibre 9300’s layout, namely its twin-dial chronograph register. Running seconds remain at nine o’clock, but the hour and minute chronograph hands have been merged into one sub-dial, a change consistent with other Co-Axial Omega chronographs.

The hand-wound, Lemania-based chronograph movement that has graced the Speedmaster Professional in it’s 321, 861 and 1861 forms has (when paired with a sapphire case back) been an absolute pleasure to look at, and comparatively, the 9300 has lost some of the three-dimensionality only achievable with hand-wound complication movements. That said, the finishing is exquisite—as it is across the whole watch—particularly with the sunburst array of Geneva waves.

The Speedmaster Co-Axial Chronograph will never be able to hold a candle to its legendary ancestor, but that’s not what it’s about. It doesn’t pretend to be the new Professional—Omega has left that particular word off the dial in fact—and it doesn’t have to because it isn’t; it’s a new Speedmaster, and that is something it does very well.