Baselworld 2014: Explaining the Syloxi Hairspring Inside the Datejust Pearlmaster 34, the First Rolex Equipped with a Silicon Balance Spring

Rolex has finally unveiled its first timepiece equipped with a silicon hairspring, the Datejust Pearlmaster. Developed in-house, the Syloxi hairspring is the first commercial use of the material after several decades of research.

Rolex, along with the Swatch Group and Patek Philippe, was one of the backers of the research into silicon’s use in watchmaking conducted by Centre Suisse d’Electronique et Microtechnique (CSEM), the cantonal research and development lab in Neuchâtel. Both the Swatch Group and Patek Philippe have embraced silicon, with Omega using it on a large scale, and Patek Philippe easing into it. Rolex has stayed away – until now. At Baselworld 2014 it unveiled the diamond-set Datejust Pearlmaster, equipped with the cal. 2236 which features a Syloxi silicon hairspring. This otherwise ordinary looking jewelled timepiece might be the most important watch Rolex presented at the fair.

Thought watches like the Sea-Dweller 4000 and blue Milgauss will be the critical hits of the fair amongst collectors, the Datejust Pearlmaster is significant because it marks Rolex’s first foray into silicon-equipped movements. Putting the new hairspring into an expensive, precious metal ladies timepiece since it will not be sold in enormous volumes, unlike the steel or two-tone Datejust for instance.

Made from silicon and silicon oxide, hence the name Syloxi, the new hairspring is flat and made in-house by Rolex using a process known as deep reactive ion etching (DRIE), which was developed by CSEM and used by other brands for their silicon components. Because pure silicon is affected by changes in temperature, the material is silicon covered by an oxide layer, rendering it thermo-compensating. It is also non-magnetic and shock-resistant. But these are properties common to the silicon hairsprings used by other brands.

What makes Syloxi unique is its shape and geometry. Though it is flat, the hairspring breathes constantly in all positions, compensating for gravitational errors, due to the varying pitch and thickness along the length of the hairspring. Additionally, the ends of the hairspring are pinned in a patented manner, which further improves its concentricity. The inner coil of the hairspring is flexible, allowing it to be fixed without glue. The other end of the hairspring is rigid and crescent shaped, allowing it to be fixed to the balance bridge at two points on either side of the balance staff.

This patented hairspring geometry ensures it remains perpendicular to the balance staff while being self-centring. The Syloxi hairspring is fitted to the traditional Rolex balance wheel with adjustable Microstella weights. And the rest of the cal. 2236, which runs at 28,000 bph, is likewise conventional.

The Datejust Pearlmaster featuring the Syloxi hairspring is 34 mm, and available in white, yellow or rose gold, with various options for precious stone settings including diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies.

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Baselworld 2014: Introducing the gorgeous Jaquet Droz Paillonnée Enamel, Including a Pocket Watch (with specs and pricing)

Paillonnée enamelling on a trio of limited edition timepieces.

Paillonnée enamelling is a technique of applying layers of translucent enamel over tiny pieces of gold or silver, known as paillons. Jaquet Droz has used this technique to create incredibly beautiful timepieces on past occasions, with the claim that the nineteenth gold paillons used were extremely rare and almost entirely gone.

Nonetheless there are apparently enough paillons remaining for the trio of Paillonnée Enamel watches just presented at Baselworld 2014, comprising a Grande Seconde, Petite Heure Minute as well as a pocket watch.

Each dial is made by hand, with the paillons carefully set by hand, and multiple firings in an oven to achieve the spectacular final result. The translucent blue grand feu enamel dial has a radial, sunburst guilloche, over which the floral gold paillons are applied. Though similar at first glance, the new Paillonnée have subtly different motifs from the earlier editions. All of the Paillonnée watches have red gold cases, as well as matching red gold chapter rings on the dial.

The first of the trio is the Grande Seconde – which gets its name from the oversized seconds sub-dial – has a 43 mm case with an automatic movement based on the Frederic Piguet 1153 inside.

With the same movement but a slightly different time display is the 39 mm Petite Heure Minute.

The last watch in the series is the Pocket Watch Paillonnée. This has a 50 mm case with the ultra-thin Frederic Piguet cal. 15 pocket watch movement inside.

All three models are limited to eight numbered pieces each.

The retail price of the Grande Seconde Paillonnée is 67,000 Singapore dollars with 7% tax, or about US$53,000. That’s in the same ballpark as the earlier edition of the Paillonné wristwatch, which retailed for just under US$50,000.


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Baselworld 2014: Introducing the Chopard L.U.C 1963 Chronograph Featuring a New, In-House Movement with Geneva Seal (with specs and pricing)

Chopard has finally revealed its first, in-house and manual L.U.C 1963 Chronograph, equipped with the newly developed L.U.C 03.07-L movement which boasts a flyback function, column wheel and Geneva Seal.

Last month we brought you an exclusive scoop, revealing the new L.U.C 03.07-L, the first hand-wound chronograph movement from Chopard. Now at Baselworld 2014 Chopard has finally revealed the first watch to be equipped with this movement, the L.U.C 1963 Chronograph. Like the recently unveiled L.U.C 1963 Chronometer, the new chronograph is also to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Scheufele family’s ownership of Chopard. Like the 1963 Chronometer, the 1963 Chronograph has a 42 mm red gold case, silvered dial with Roman numerals and dauphine hands. 

And red chronograph hands and pump-style pushers give it a slightly vintage look. But as is the case with nearly all of the L.U.C range, this has a beautifully constructed and finished movement – really outstanding – paired with a dial and case that is uninspiring at best. Like most modern chronograph movements, the L.U.C 03.07-L has a column wheel as well as vertical clutch. The former gives the start-stop-reset buttons a crisper feel, while the latter allows the chronograph to be run without affect amplitude and thus timekeeping.

In fact, the L.U.C 03.07-L movement is based on the automatic Chrono One calibre launched in 2006. It retains all the key features, but leaves out the automatic winding, revealing the chronograph mechanism. That means it has has a flyback function, as well as a hacking, zero-reset seconds hand. That means when the crown is pulled to set the time, the seconds hand at six o’clock resets to 12 and stops, allowing for precise time setting. The movement has a striking two-tone finish also found on other recent L.U.C calibres. All the bridges are made of untreated German silver, with a gilded finished on the bevels as well as base plate.  This movement is Geneva Seal certified, with wonderfully executed decoration on all the components. Notably the bridges have been designed to increase the number of curves, corners and sharp points, which are much more difficult to finish on their edges.

The  L.U.C 1963 Chronograph is limited to 50 pieces and will retail for  56,650 Singapore dollars, which is about US$44,800.

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Baselworld 2014: Introducing the Girard-Perregaux Neo-Tourbillon with Three Bridges in Skeletonised, PVD-Coated Titanium (with specs and pricing)

Girard-Perregaux has taken its iconic Tourbillon with Three Gold Bridges and given it a radical makeover, both visually and mechanically.

One of the most distinctive tourbillon wristwatches ever made, the Girard-Perregaux Tourbillon with Three Gold Bridges is an icon. Just unveiled at Baselworld 2014, the Neo-Tourbillon with Three Bridges sticks to the same formula, with several key tweaks and improvements.

The most obvious evolution is the form and material of the signature triple bridges. Machined from titanium and then skeletonised, the bridges are curved, sleeking arching over the movement. Each bridge is sandblasted and then PVD treated with a black coating. They are open-worked to give each bridge an oval aperture on each side, a form that is echoed in the skeleton hands.

The bridges are secured on each side to the base plate which is gently inclined towards the middle, giving the movement a sense of depth and framing the movement which runs down the centre of the watch. Coated in ruthenium and frosted, the base plate is a dark grey, which contrasts with the black bridges.

Symmetrical in its layout, the movement has the barrel at the top, the gear train in the centre, followed by the tourbillon at six o’clock.

Shaped like a lyre – the trademark form of Girard-Perregaux tourbillons – the tourbillon cage is a large 14.44 mm wide. It is made of titanium, giving the entire tourbillon a weight of just 0.25 g.

Running at 3 Hz or 21,600 bph, the GP09400 movement is self-winding. Unlike earlier automatic versions of the tourbillon, the Neo Tourbillon has the micro-rotor under the barrel at 12 o’clock, instead of around it. A larger barrel and longer mainspring gives this a 72 hour power reserve. These sit under the domed, box-shaped that extends all the way to the edge of the case, which has no bezel. This reveals the movement in all its glory, making it visible from the top as well as the side. 45 mm in diameter, the case is in pink gold with a brushed finish.

The case back is sapphire, an uncommon feature amongst Girard-Perregaux’s tourbillons, which mostly have solid backs. A large, arrow-shaped bridge, inspired by the bridges in the brand’s early pocket watch tourbillons, sits across the movement. The ratchet wheel at 12 o’clock has lyre-shaped spokes, and to its side sits a grand sonnerie style winding click. The Neo Tourbillon will retail for 145,000 Swiss francs before taxes, equivalent to about US$163,800.

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Baselworld 2014: Introducing the Patek Philippe Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph Ref. 5990/1A (with specs and price)

Patek Philippe has just unveiled the second generation of the Nautilus chronograph, the Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph Ref. 5990/1A, featuring both dual time zone function, day and night indicators, as well as a chronograph.

A combination of the outgoing Nautilus chronograph and Aquanaut Travel Time, the new Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph Ref. 5990/1A combines both a stopwatch and a dual time zone display. The second new chronograph model Patek Philippe introduced at Baselworld 2014 (the first being the steel ref. 5960/1A), the Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph replaces the current steel Nautilus chronograph ref. 5960/1A, which was introduced in 2007.  Powered by the same base CH28 automatic movement as the first generation, but modified to accommodate the new functions, the ref. 5990/1A has a skeleton second time zone hand which can be adjusted in one hour steps via the two buttons integrated into the case at nine o’clock. 

When not in use the second time zone hand can be hidden underneath the hour hand. And two tiny windows on at three and nine o’clock indicate day or night for home and local time respectively.

The date is positioned at 12 o’clock, on a circular sub-dial, which is balanced by the 60 minute counter at six o’clock. The layout of the dial gives it a very tidy symmetry. Notably, though the Nautilus case remains visually identical as past generations, the case construction has changed. Earlier Nautilus cases had a unique case construction that was the reason for the signature protruding “ears” on both sides of the case.  They were actually part of the bezel, which that protruded downwards on each side of the case, forming the twin flanks that interlocked with the case sides, which were then secured by lateral screws. In contrast, the new Nautilus has a conventional three part case with a bezel, case middle and back, a necessity stemming from the pushers for the travel time. Water resistance remains 120 m, as has been the case (no pun intended) for successive generations of Nautilus watches.

Exploded view of the Nautilus Ref. 5990/1A

The new Caliber CH 28-520 C FUS movement has a 55 hour power reserve, and is equipped with the adjustable mas Gyromax balance, as well as the Spiromax silicon hairspring.

Only in steel for now, with a 40.5 mm case, the Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph is available with a graduated black dial decorated with horizontal guilloche. The retail price will be 47,000 Swiss francs, about US$53,100. In Singapore the retail price will be S$70,500.

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Baselworld 2014: Introducing the Tudor Heritage Black Bay in Dark Blue (with specs and price)

Tudor has just unveiled the second Heritage Black Bay in dark, muted colours, in stark contrast to the original model. The new Black Bay features a midnight blue bezel and black dial with silver indices.

While the original Tudor Heritage Black Bay was all gilt and faux patina, the Black Bay in blue (ref. 79220B) is the complete opposite. While keeping the exact same design, Tudor has taken most of the colours out, giving the new Black Bay a nearly monochromatic look. The result is a serious-looking and understated dive watch.

Instead of striking red, the latest Black Bay has a midnight blue bezel with a matching dark blue ring on the crown tube. Blue is not a new colour for Tudor dive watches, its Submariners were once offered in blue, including the so-called Mil-subs issued to the Marine Nationale Française (French Navy).

The dial design is the same as before, just in different colours. Instead of a dark brown hue, it is deep, pure black, with silvered indices and white text instead of the gold-toned dial of the original. And the creamy ivory luminous material of the first Black Bay has been replaced with stark white Luminova. Though it still has a vintage style, the new Black Bay feels fresher and more contemporary than the original.

Just as before, the steel case is 41 mm in diameter, with an ETA 2824 automatic inside. It’s fitted with a domed sapphire crystal, and rated to 200 m.

Available on either a steel bracelet or a dark blue distressed leather strap, the Black Bay is also supplied with an additional blue fabric NATO-style band.

It will retail for the same as the original Black Bay, at 2950 Swiss francs (~US$3330) on the strap and 3250 Swiss francs (~US$3670) on the steel bracelet.


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Baselworld 2014: Introducing the Longines Heritage 1935, a Remake of its Iconic Czech Air Force Watch

A remake of a watch Longines made for the Czech Air Force in the thirties, the Heritage 1935 retains all the signature elements of the original, including the distinctive cushion case and cathedral hands.

Starting in 1935, until the mid-forties, Longines supplied distinctive, carré-shaped watches for the Czech Air Force. Though Longines was not the only supplier of these oversized wristwatches to the Czech Air Force – Eterna and Lemania were two others – Longines produced the best known, and arguably the most attractive, version of the timepiece. Just unveiled at Baselworld 2014, the Longines Heritage 1935 is a reissue of the Czech Air Force wristwatch. It joins the string of vintage military-inspired timepieces Longines has launched in recent years.

‘The brand has covered many significant vintage military timepieces with its reissues, ranging from the British WWW-inspired Military 1938 to the Avigation Oversize Crown which take after the German airforce watches of the twenties. Notably, many of the original military timepieces were actually made by Longines, reflecting its deep roots in instrument watches, especially during the early decades of the twentieth century.

At 42 mm in diameter, the Czech Air Force reissue is slightly larger than the 41 mm original. But the cushion-shaped case retains the same form and details, including the bevelled edges and wide lugs.

While the original had a rotating, fluted bezel with a triangular marker, the remake has a fixed, fluted bezel, which nonetheless retains the original aesthetic. The crystal is sapphire with an anti-reflective coating.

The dial is matte black with poire squelette (pear-skeleton) hands, more commonly known as cathedral hands. A date window sits at six o’clock, a practical feature but it looks deeply out of place on the dial.

Inside is an ETA 2895 automatic with a 42 hour power reserve. Pricing has yet to be announced, but it will be approximately similar to the similarly spec’ed Avigation Oversize Crown which retails for US$2400.

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Baselworld 2014: Rolex Brings Back the “Pepsi” GMT-Master II, Exclusively in White Gold (with specs and price)

After years of anticipation Rolex has finally revealed the GMT-Master II with a Cerachrom bezel in red and blue, with a white gold case and bracelet, returning the classic “Pepsi” GMT-Master to the fold.

Red and blue has long been the quintessential bezel for the Rolex GMT-Master, especially since the 1955 original was in those colours. With the discontinuation of the aluminium insert bezel models in 2005, the two-tone GMT bezel was gone.  But last year’s blue and black GMT-Master II in steel – the first ever two-colour ceramic bezel – raised hopes that the “Pepsi” bezel would be revived, and those hopes have been fulfilled with the premiere of the new GMT-Master II (Ref. 116719 BLRO) in white gold at Baselworld 2014. Bright colours are difficult to achieve in ceramic, which is why most ceramic in watchmaking is black. The new GMT-Master II has a single-piece ceramic bezel insert in red and blue, which actually starts out entirely red.

The bezel blank is first injection moulded, then baked, leaving a red bezel. A chemical agent is then applied to half the bezel, which absorbs it since the ceramic is still porous at this stage. This chemical compound causes the treated half of the bezel to turn blue during the next step, which is sintering, or baking at 1600 °C. Sintering hardens the bezel, shrinking it by a quarter.

Next the bezel is machined to give it the necessary shape and engraved numerals. That is followed with coating the bezel with a thin layer of platinum via physical vapour deposition (PVD). The final step is polishing off the excess platinum coating, leaving only the platinum inside the numerals, which gives them their silvery tone.

The new GMT-Master II has a 40 mm white gold case and matching white gold bracelet, all of which are identical in form and function to the existing GMT-Master models. Inside is the cal. 3186 movement, which has an independently adjustable second time zone hand which moves in one hour increments. The GMT-Master II “Pepsi” will retail for 36,500 Swiss francs, which is about US$41,200.

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