Hands-On with the TACS Vintage Lens Automatic, a Quirky, Rangefinder-Inspired Wristwatch

Affordable and designed like a rangefinder camera, the Vintage Lens Automatic is quirky and novel.

A maker of unusually styled quartz watches that cost under US$200, TACS is the brainchild of Japanese designer Yoshiaki Motegi. TACS’ latest is a modest step up the price spectrum, the Vintage Lens Automatic. Priced at just over US$400, the Vintage Lens Automatic is a chunky wristwatch modelled on a rangefinder camera – fitted with an impressive fisheye sapphire crystal – and powered by an automatic Miyota movement.

Almost kitschy but fortunately not, thanks to well put-together external components, the Vintage Lens Automatic wants to feel like a camera and manages it, especially with the freely rotating bezel that’s akin to a focusing ring. But its best feature is the fisheye lens sapphire crystal that sits over a black dial that ably mimics the look of a camera lens.

TACS Vintage Lens Automatic watch 1

The sapphire crystal is arguably the best technical aspect of the watch, because sapphire crystals on less expensive watches are typically plain and flat since the material is tough to machine, being second only to diamond in hardness.

In contrast, the sapphire on the Vintage Lens Automatic is thick enough it sounds dull when you tap it with a fingernail, domed on top and machined out on the underside for the fisheye effect. This feels like it came out of a more expensive watch, especially since fancily shaped crystals are often a selling point on pricier watches.

TACS Vintage Lens Automatic watch 10

TACS Vintage Lens Automatic watch 11

Rectangular in form and painted black in sections to match the dial, the hands are functional but obviously less important.

The camera-esque feel is complete by the the dial, which is matte black with a small aperture in the centre. The aperture reveals the Miyota movement, which has a skeletonised main plate on the front.

TACS Vintage Lens Automatic watch 5

TACS Vintage Lens Automatic watch 6

Low cost but robust, the Miyota movement is also visible from the back. Miyota movements are mass produced by Citizen in China, but effort has been taken to dress this one up, with gilded parts and stamped Geneva stripes for instance.

While rudimentary, the movement decoration is more than adequate at this price point, especially since makers of more expensive watches are also resorting to similar styles of finishing to lower prices.

TACS Vintage Lens Automatic watch 4

TACS Vintage Lens Automatic watch 8

TACS Vintage Lens Automatic watch 7

The case is large, measuring 47mm wide and 16mm high. Stamped into shape and then brushed, the case is stainless steel, but plated with gold and fitted with a black plastic insert on the front. Of all the parts that make up the Vintage Lens Automatic, the case is the one that is clearly of its price bracket.

While the look of the case suits the watch, it  is heavy, a bit too heavy, almost as if it’s trying to compensate for being affordable.

TACS Vintage Lens Automatic watch 9

The leather strap is appropriately thick for the watch case, but more notably is made from Horween leather. One of America’s oldest tanneries, Horween is a well reputed leather supplier best known for its shell cordovan, and recently a favourite of sorts for hipster-artisanal leather products.

TACS Vintage Lens Automatic watch 2

The Vintage Lens Automatic is packaged in a wood box with accessories befitting a camera, namely a leather cover for the watch, and most amusingly, a pouch that holds six SD memory cards.

Price and availability 

The  TACS Vintage Lens Automatic is a limited edition of 500 pieces, available only via crowdfunding site Kickstarter. For the earliest backers it is priced at HK$3299, about US$425, rising to HK$3499 (about US$450) subsequently.

TACS Vintage Lens Automatic watch 12

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SIHH 2017: Vacheron Constantin Introduces Minute Repeater Tourbillon and Patrimony Retrograde Date & Moon

The Geneva watchmakers reveals two upcoming new models at extreme ends of the price spectrum.

Vacheron Constantin is the first of the exhibitors at SIHH 2017 to offer a sneak peek at its wares, announcing the Traditionnelle Minute Repeater Tourbillon and Patrimony Moon Phase and Retrograde Date. Now larger and open to the public, SIHH takes places in January 2017 with Vacheron Constantin one of the 17 exhibiting brands.

The first new launch is the Traditionnelle Minute Repeater Tourbillon, a top of the line complication that’s a brave statement given market conditions.

While the movement is impressively constructed and carefully finished, the calibre 2755 TMR is based on an existing movement. It’s a variation of the calibre found in various Patrimony grand complications (including the custom-made Maître Cabinotier Astronomica), the calibre 2755 TMR here is reduced to just two complications, a one-minute tourbillon and minute repeater.

Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Minute Repeater Tourbillon 3

Available in pink gold or platinum, the Traditionnelle Minute Repeater Tourbillon is unusual for its engine-turned, 18k gold dial. Guilloche dials are reserved only for watches exclusive to Vacheron Constantin boutiques and rarely found on the brand’s complications. While the motif is unusual, the dial design sticks to the house style, with an off-centre minute track, baton indices and dauphine hands. The platinum version is offered with a silver or dark grey dial, while the pink gold version is paired with a silver dial.

Vacheron Constantin Traditionnelle Minute Repeater Tourbillon 1

Typical of Vacheron Constantin complications, the Traditionnelle Minute Repeater Tourbillon is a large 44mm in diameter, though relatively slim at just 12.2mm high. Sold only in boutiques, the Traditionnelle Minute Repeater Tourbillon is priced at S$751,700 in pink gold and S$837,100 in platinum. That’s about US$553,000 and US$616,000 respectively.

More affordable is the Patrimony Moon Phase and Retrograde Date. This is a modest variation on an existing model, the Patrimony Retrograde Day-Date. On the new model a moon phase display replaces the day indicator, giving the dial a bit of colour and romance. And the moon disc is 18k gold in the same alloy of gold as the case.

Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Moon Phase and Retrograde Date 2

But the Patrimony Moon Phase and Retrograde Date features one key improvement over its day and date counterpart: all the displays on the new model can be set via the crown, doing away with the inconvenience of a stylus or toothpick to set the calendar.

Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Moon Phase and Retrograde Date 1

The case is 42.5mm in diameter, and available in white or pink gold. Inside is the calibre 2460 R31L, an in-house, self-winding movement with a 40-hour power reserve, as well as a 22k gold rotor.

Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Moon Phase and Retrograde Date 3

This is priced at S$61,500, equivalent to US$45,200.

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Phillips Reveals Highlights from Upcoming Geneva Watch Auction

The auctioneer's upcoming Geneva sale features historically important watches, including a trio of Patek Philippe 1518s, as well as timepieces with intriguing backstories.

The star attraction of PhillipsThe Geneva Watch Auction: Four that takes place in mid November is undoubtedly the Patek Philippe ref. 1518 in stainless steel, one of just four made – it might just become the most expensive wristwatch ever sold when the hammer comes down.

But alongside the steel 1518 Phillips has also lined up two more ref. 1518s, in pink and yellow gold. That’s three 1518s in one auction, out of just 281 made.

Dial detail of the ref. 1518 in steel

Ref. 1518 in yellow gold

Less expensive but with an arguably more compelling tale to tell is the Patek Philippe ref. 565 “The Night Watchman”, a stainless steel, time-only wristwatch that once belonged to Patek Philippe’s night watchman. The watch was a gift from the firm for his service. Fitted with a black dial featuring luminescent radium numbers and hands, this is likely a one of a kind watch, giving it an estimate of SFr200,000 to SFr400,000.

Phillips GWA4 Patek 565 Night Watchman

Phillips GWA4 Patek 565 Night Watchman dial

Another watch with a story behind it is the Breguet Type XX owned by Sir Jack Brabham. Sold in 1960, this wristwatch was a gift from Esso to the British Formula One racing champion after he appeared in the American oil company’s advertising. A dedication on the back attests to that. The estimate is SFr20,000 to SFr40,000.

Phillips GWA4 Breguet Type XX Jack Brabham

Phillips GWA4 Breguet Type XX Jack Brabham back

One of the most historically important watches in the sale is the Omega Speedmaster Professional “Alaska II”, one of just three experimental prototypes made in 1970 for NASA’s study into living in extreme environments. It’s essentially a Speedmaster with a removable, extra-large outer case made of red aluminium, intended to protect the watch from the elements. This carries an estimate of SFr100,000 to SFr200,000.

Phillips GWA4 Omega Alaska 2 Project

Phillips GWA4 Omega Alaska 2 Project cert

No high profile watch auction is complete without valuable vintage Rolex and Phillips continue to deliver amply in this regard. The Rolex ref. 6085 “The Dragon” is one of the top lots of the auction, estimated at SFr500,000 to SFr1m. Made in 1951 and fitted with a cloisonné enamel dial featuring a dragon motif, this is just one of five Rolex watches with a dragon dial. Each of these five, however, have a different model reference, meaning every one is most likely unique.

Phillips GWA4 Rolex 6085 Dragon

Phillips GWA4 Rolex 6085 Dragon dial

Naturally the auction also includes the requisite Cosmograph Paul Newmans. One of the key Daytonas in the sale is the Rolex ref. 6263 “Panda” with a Tiffany & Co. signed dial. Never sold before at auction and according to Phillips, the only Paul Newman signed by the American jeweller, this is estimated at SFr250,000 to SFr500,000.

Phillips GWA4 Rolex Panda Paul Newman Tiffany

Phillips GWA4 Rolex Panda Paul Newman Tiffany dial

Preview and sale information

The full catalogue for the sale will be published in early October 2016.

Sale highlights will be on show in Hong Kong from October 1 to 5, then New York from October 13 to 17, and finally London from October 22 to 24.

The auction exhibition takes place November 10 to 13 at Hôtel La Reserve in Geneva, and the auction itself happens over two days on November 12 and 13 at the same venue.

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