Thursday, October 11, 2012

Jaw-dropping head turner: Wyler Titanium Carbon Fibre Chrono

Keen students of horology know that the enemy 'number one' of all mechanical watches is corrosion. The second deadly enemy is shock to finely engineered mechanism. Both are fatal and often cause irreversible damage to a watch, regardless of maker or price.

Here is a vignette about a man and a project which attempted to provide a solution to both problems.

Paul Wyler was a Swiss watchmaker born in 1896. At the age of 27, Wyler tackled one of the most challenging problems of his time: shock resistance of wrist watch movements. He was the inventor of Incaflex, a device designed to protect the balance wheel. The device was legendary at that time.

In 1937 Wyler created a stir amongst watchmakers with his water-resistant watch that was not fitted with the conventional soft gaskets. The mineral glass was pressed in between the edge of the case and a pressed or screwed bezel, the gap between the winding shaft and the watch case was sealed hydraulically by fitting the winding shaft and bushing together, in the same material, to 1/500 mm.

In 1956 Wyler became world famous: he dropped 3 of his watches from the top of Eiffel Tower in Paris to demonstrate the shock resistance of his watches. The story goes that while all 3 watch cases were destroyed, the watch mechanism survived intact, continuing to keep correct time !

Image source: Unknown

Ironically, despite the innovative design, practical improvements offered to watch owners and the large number of Wyler's watches manufactured and sold, the brand suffered the same fate as many other Swiss watch brands of the 1960s era: Wyler went out of business quietly.

In 2006 a group of Swiss watchmakers in Geneva, Switzerland, decided to resurrect both the Incaflex and the Wyler brand. The new modern Wyler appeared at the Basel watch show in limited production of only 3999 units in gold and titanium.

This was a very brave and ambitious project. The new Wyler was not just a head-turner, but a technically advanced concept featuring some rarely-seen solutions. The most prominent one was a case design where movement was suspended on 4 shock absorbers. A tourbillon version appeared the following year. A $300,000 baguette diamond-shaped piece premiered in 2008.

Reconstruction of what happened soon after is based more on speculation than facts.

Exactly why Wyler went out of business will remain a mystery. The 2008 global financial crisis was surely one of the factors. Another obvious reason was the exuberant recommended retail price. A $12,000 price tag for an unknown brand name base model was a huge gamble. While the Wyler was uber-cool, it was still an ETA-based time piece. One can imagine that most pieces were sold for significantly less than the asking price. Making a profit on a prototype is impossible, regardless of the industry.

Sadly for the brand owners (and even more so for the investors) the last examples of unsold Wyler timepieces were auctioned by Swiss auctioneer in 2011. Judging by the post-auction results, most bidders had no idea what they were bidding on. Same was the fate of machinery, brand name itself, designs, tools and spare parts - the Wyler project was buried for the second time.

Despite the crash landing, to this day, Wyler remains an uber-cool watch. Mint examples still do appear on the pre-owned market. It is important to remember that Wyler is one of the most copied concept-watches in recent horological history. Clearly, there is a huge demand for a watch which does not look like just another Swiss-made timepiece. Serious watch collectors are constantly looking for a watch 'with a twist' and this beauty is surely a conversation piece with story to tell.

The only remaining question is this one: what is the watch worth today?

In my books, $3,500- $4,000 for NOS example base model and few hundred dollars more for a chronograph is a very fair price. I doubt that even Wyler dealers and stockists paid any less than that 5 years ago. (More likely wholesale price was around $5,000). The stock list still available online and provides a fantastic insight into the brand's marketing policy: http://www.interwatches.com/wyler-pricelist

Would I wear Wyler? Probably not - but I am neither a cool 30-something nor a watch collector. Otherwise - yes, of course!

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