Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Curious Shapes of Watches

***From Apprentice Corner: Week in Review

Today I’m talking about watches of the non-circular kind and why I think they’re the coolest of all. This is not a book review, but some of the pictures used come from the “The Classic Watch” by Michael Balfour which is filled with many beautiful examples of oddly shaped watches. It’s a fantastic book that chronicles the history of a range of brands and the classic pieces that were to define them early on.

The days of a watch being an absolute necessity to stay organised throughout the day have long since sailed (though if you’re anything like me, you feel lost without one). But a wristwatch has importance far beyond its ability to tell the time (preaching to the choir here, I know).
Though we’re now constantly surrounded by devices that tell us the time, it’s with this shift away from necessity that watches are becoming an ever more important way for people to make a statement and show off their personality.
In recent years, there has been an explosion in the variety of watches that attempt to satisfy a certain aesthetic, with crowdfunding campaigns abound trying to make the most minimal watch possible. There are literally watches out there with completely blank dials and no hands, while others attempt to produce a watch so bulky they make the Omega PloProf look like a woman’s evening dress piece.
One trend that has yet to catch on is watches with asymmetrical and square/rectangular designs. The flourishing art deco scene in the 1920’s and 1930’s was the first time that many watch brands tried to break away from the traditionally circular case design. Designers experimented with lines and curves with no clear purpose in mind. Watches begun to emerge that were decidedly different from their predecessors.

Photo from “The Classic Watch”

The entire watch became the focus, the strap itself considered an integral part of the design. Cases were shaped so as to accentuate the lines of the strap and merge it as part of the whole. No longer were watches simply utilitarian objects strapped to the wrist by any means necessary.
The odd shapes and smaller case sizes also posed a great engineering challenge. Not made simply for design’s sake, they were an opportunity for the top companies to showcase their technical prowess; movements had to be redesigned so as to fit in a completely different housing while the individual parts had to be machined with more precision than ever before.
The rectangular Rolex Prince, my favourite watch of all, was to emerge in this period and was something of a sensation in its day.

Photo from “The Classic Watch”

Many of the early Rolex Princes were certified chronometers and had a power reserve of over 2 days. How were such incredibly small, accurate and durable mechanisms produced in a time far before computer measuring equipment and CNC machines? I haven’t a clue. It is in this question that lays the secret as to why collectors in the know really, really like them. They’re undercover marvels. While the Prince and its ilk may look relatively simple in comparison to some of today’s more complex pieces, I’d argue it’s the equal of any of them. Seriously, as some of you might know, getting Nick to admit liking a watch is no easy task, but I was able to pry an admission from him when I pressed him on his opinion of the Prince!
(It’s worth noting that the movements used in the early Prince were actually made by Aegler and Alpina Gruen, not Rolex. Long since defunct, they were two pioneering companies that produced calibres used by many companies, similar to ETA today, just much better.)
After World War II the popularity of the style began to wane with non-circular watches being few and far between. Patek Philippe, always unafraid of the avant-garde, was one of the few manufacture’s to continue producing them, with the Reference 3412 designed by famed Swiss jeweller Gilbert Albert in 1961 being an amazing example.

Patek Philippe 3412 - image courtesy of davideparmegiani.com

The watch is just so very different. The unusual shape and rose-coloured dial might lead one to think it’s a woman’s piece. Not so. It’s a watch that exudes class to the highest degree. In my opinion, anyway.
An enormous amount of forethought and care usually goes into every watch purchase. It is part of what makes them so very special and treasured when received as a gift or inheritance. Not that I speak from experience, but I imagine that if one were to purchase a watch like the Rolex Prince or Patek 3412 it’d require a lot more consideration than usual. It’s not a safe bet. A bold one, for sure, but are the chances it’ll go well with one’s getup? What will others think of it?
Or you might simply not give a flying what others think - the most admirable quality a watch collector can possibly possess, and something I try to emphasise every time I’m asked “what do you think of…?”. On a purely anecdotal level, the most interesting collections I’ve seen have belonged to those that own such watches, the collectors indeed displaying an air of nonchalance towards the opinions of others.
Asymmetrical and rectangular watches are already popular amongst top collectors, but I’m still holding out for the day when they become prevalent amongst every day collectors.
Here’s hoping more people start to think outside the circle.

Now today we would like to highlight two non-circular watches from our collection:
The Franck Muller is an impressive example of fine case making where Genta Mickey Mouse would push the boundaries of even the most flamboyant watch collector. 

For more information on the Franck Muller, please see www.clockmaker.com.au/w/k3995.html 

For more information on the Genta, please see www.clockmaker.com.au/w/k4250.html 

Until next time,

For Nicholas Hacko Fine Watches
Suite 403, Level 4, Culwulla Chambers
67 Castlereagh St. Sydney 2000 NSW
Phone: (02) 9232 0500 | Fax: (02) 9233 2273
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