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De Bethune & Urwerk Introduce the Moon Satellite for Only Watch 2019

Pretty cool.

When Urwerk cofounder Felix Baumgartner was in town recently to launch the UR-100 SpaceTime, I quizzed him on the De Bethune and Urwerk collaboration for Only Watch 2019. While the other brands taking part in the charity auction had already unveiled photos or renderings of their respective creations, Urwerk and De Bethune only offered a pen drawing.

Felix replied that the movement had been completed and delivered to De Bethune some weeks ago, and Denis Flageollet, De Bethune’s resident technical genius, was working on building the one-off titanium case. And now Mr Flageollet has completed the watch, and this is it.

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The initial drawing

The meeting of minds

Named the Moon Satellite, the watch is essentially an Urwerk wandering hours time display module – with the time indicated on satellites – mounted on top of a hand-wound De Bethune movement, resulting in the cal. DBUR2105.

Visually the movement is trademark De Bethune. The calibre has a delta-shaped barrel bridge that is entirely mirror polished, as is the base plate, one of the most distinctive movement treatments of De Bethune. And in striking contrast against the polished surfaces, the balance and shock absorber bridges are in blued steel.

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The base movement cal. DB2105 boasts several of De Bethune’s patented innovations, including a spider-like titanium balance wheel, the triple pare-chute shock absorber for the balance, as well as the De Bethune hairspring and silicon escape wheel. And it also incorporates De Bethune’s trademark spherical moon phase, hence the Moon Satellite moniker.

But the time display is vintage Urwerk, especially since it is shown in a U-shaped window that harks back to the UR-103 watches of the early 2000s, the foundational models of Urwerk.

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The combined calibre is housed inside De Bethune’s signature DB28 watch case with airy, spring-loaded lugs. Made entirely of mirror-polished titanium, the case is 43mm and 13.3mm high, making it comparable in size to the standard De Bethune DB28.

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Key facts

Diameter: 45mm
Height: 13mm
Material: Titanium
Water-resistance: 30m

Movement: URDB01
Functions: Hours, minutes, moon phase
Winding: Hand-wound

Frequency: 28,800bph, or 4Hz
Power reserve: Four days

Strap: Crocodile with titanium buckle

Price and Availability

The Moon Satellite has an estimate of 120,000-150,000 Swiss francs, and will be sold to benefit medical research at Only Watch 2019 on November 9, 2019, at Christie’s in Geneva. For more, visit Onlywatch.com.


 

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The Mysterious Rolex Daytona Zenith “Luna Rossa” at Sotheby’s

A unique red dial.

The most talked-about watch at Sotheby’s upcoming Important Watches auction in Hong Kong is lot 2300, a Rolex Cosmograph Daytona powered by a Zenith El Primero movement that’s described as “a possibly unique… chronograph wristwatch with a red dial”. And as with all high-profile watches, the auctioneers have given the watch an Italian nickname, “Luna Rossa”, which translates as “red moon”.

The reason the “Luna Rossa” is controversial is because such a red dial has never ever been seen before. Usually unicorns are known and whispered about, even if seldom seen, but the “Luna Rossa” has surprised everyone.

Experts and insiders I approached have neither encountered nor heard of such a dial, which makes it quite a revelation. But they all agree it is correct – in the sense that all elements are identical to known Rolex dials of the period – though of unknown origin.

Sotheby’s itself hasn’t provided much background about the watch, either officially or unofficially. Unlike the unique platinum Daytona “Zenith” that Sotheby’s sold last year, setting a record price for a modern Daytona, which had a backstory that was I managed to uncover, the “Luna Rossa” remains a mystery.

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The dial is glossy red lacquer, with gold indices and sub-dials

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When such unusual dials emerge, the immediate question is one of authenticity. The “Luna Rossa” passes the test – the dial is correct in its details. The element usually regarded as crucial, the typography of the letters and numbers, is the same as that on the standard dials of the period. And the back of the dial is also stamped with the hallmark of dial maker Jean Singer & Cie, which produced the Daytona dials at the time.

In short, the dial was made by the Rolex dial supplier, and subsequently installed in an E-series Daytona ref. 16528 in 18k yellow gold, albeit one that is well-worn. The dial certainly did not leave the Rolex factory in this case as a complete watch, but that is not a revelation as there exist other well-document examples of similar dials.

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The next question is how the dial came about. Here it gets a bit more hazy. This unique dial could have come about in two ways.

The first is that it was produced by Singer as a sample that was shown to the powers at be at Rolex and then rejected. Or perhaps produced as an experiment – with the same equipment used to manufacture production dials – and never even revealed to Rolex. Such dials (made for Rolex and other brands) are widely known, but exceedingly rare, and have been installed in watches that sold for generous six-figure sums.

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The other is that it was produced by Singer for Rolex, which perhaps wanted a more lively dial colour but then decided not to go ahead with the red-dial Daytona. This is what happened with the metallic blue dials installed on a handful of Daytonas that have been nicknamed “The Big Blue” or “Chairman”.

As the story goes, a small number of such dials were produced by Singer at the request of Rolex but never put into serial production. The loose dials were then given away as corporate gifts and found their way into watches, which are now extremely valuable.

Importantly, this latter scenario gives the watch an official seal of approval, since the dials entered and exited Rolex, though not in finished watches.

The “Chairman” at Phillips in 2017

The last “Chairman” to sell publicly went for 552,500 Swiss francs, or about US$550,000, at Phillips in 2017 – essentially half a million dollars just for the dial. The fact that the dials are believed to be official, or at least as official as loose dials can be, no doubt added to the value.

In contrast, the origins of the red dial are unknown. Its price will be an indication of what the would-be bidders believe.

The Rolex Daytona “Luna Rossa” has an estimate of HK$1.6-3.0m, or US$200,000-380,000. For more, visit Sotheby’s.

Update October 10, 2019: The Daytona “Luna Rossa” sold for above the high estimate, finishing at 4.25m Hong Kong dollars, or about US$541,000, all fees included. This puts it in the ballpark of the Daytona “Chairman”, but well below the value of the one-off “Zenith” Daytona in platinum.


Edit September 23, 2019: Minor corrections for grammar and expression.

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Hands-On: A. Lange & Söhne Little Lange 1 “25th Anniversary”

Simple, blue, and compact.

A. Lange & Söhne is marking the 25th year since it first unveiled its modern line-up of wristwatches – led by the iconic Lange 1 – in 1994 with a 10-piece set of special Lange 1 models. The Little Lange 1 “25th Anniversary” is the third watch of the set, which has been progressively unveiled each month, with the last (presumably a Lange 1 Tourbillon) slated to be announced in October.

The Little Lange 1 was first conceived in 1998 as a scaled down version of the Lange 1, with the case shrunk to 36mm. But it was originally a men’s watch, catered to markers like Japan and Singapore that wanted a smaller size.

So the earlier versions had plain dials, essentially the same dials as found on the full-size Lange 1, but the Little Lange 1 has since evolved into a watch for ladies, so the current versions are only offered with ornate guilloche dials in purple or brown, with the option of a diamond-set bezel.

But the Little Lange 1 “25th Anniversary” returns to the original concept of the model, with all frills removed and once again suitable for men.

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The standard Little Lange 1 with a brown guilloche dial

Modern blue

The “25th Anniversary” model of the Little Lange 1 pays tribute to the original design with a standard silver dial. In fact, the dial is identical to first generation Little Lange 1 dials, with the exception of the colours and printed indices; the originals had applied markers. As a recurring theme found in the other commemorative pieces, the dial markings are printed in blue instead of the standard black – including the Roman numerals and hour markers.

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The signature big date, also with blue numerals

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Blue hands, blue fonts, blue indices

Measuring a diminutive 36.8mm, the white gold case has a tripartite construction – bezel, middle and back – and is 9.5mm thick. In comparison, the regular Lange 1 is 38.5mm in diameter and 9.8mm high. The smaller size of the Little Lange 1 is further emphasized by the date corrector being a recessed pusher instead of the standard button, which streamlines the case sides.

Also, the Little Lange 1 has the case middle polished – an exception rather than the norm, as Lange’s current watches all have brushed case bands. Until a few years ago, only the rose gold cases in Lange’s regular production watches have polished middle sections, though those eventually transitioned to brushed sides as well, making polished case bands an unusual feature. The case thus feels more like a piece of jewelry, and is less muted in appearance with its reflective surfaces.

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Recessed pusher for the big date

Meanwhile, the reverse side is more typical. Inside is the Lange cal. L121.1, introduced in 2015 as the second generation Lange 1 movement. It was redesigned as a technical upgrade to the original movement, while retaining the classic Lange 1 dial layout exactly. The most notable added feature being the instantaneous jumping date around midnight, while still maintaining its power reserve of 72 hours.

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Also, a free-sprung balance wheel was integrated, curiously located right next to the crown – this was done out of necessity to create a more efficient gear train by aligning the pivots with the position of the seconds hand on the dial.

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A detail unique to the anniversary editions is the specially engraved balance cock. In contrast to the floral engraving found in regular Lange movements, here the balance cock is engraved with a “25” framed inside a date window, a nod to the anniversary date. The engraving is also highlighted with a blue coating reminiscent of those used in Lange moon phase discs.

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The blue-coated engraving

The rest of the movement is identical to the L121.1 in regular production models. As typically associated with German watchmaking, majority of the movement view is of the three-quarter plate made of German silver, or maillechort, with gold chatons for the ruby bearings. Meanwhile, the escapement wheel is supported by a black-polished steel cap as a finishing touch.

As typical with Lange movements, the finishing is superb overall. However, in comparison to the first generation Lange 1 movement that had “island” bridges on the three-quarter plate (for easier access to the wheel train below), the modern L121.1 may appear a little too plain as the plate is an unbroken mass, but that’s just a personal nitpick.

And though identical to the movement in the larger Lange 1, the movement is arguably presented better in the Little Lange 1 than its larger brother, as the calibre fills up the case back much more, reducing the back to the bare minimum.

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Gold chatons, and a polished steel cap for the escape wheel

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The gold chatons trace out the movement going train, while the polished steel shafts in the middle are for the keyless works

The price of simplicity

In comparison with the two earlier “25th Anniversary” releases – the Lange 1 with a hunter back and the Grand Lange 1 Moon Phase – the Little Lange 1 offers the least flourishes over the regular production model.

This also means that value-wise, it has a smaller premium over a regular Lange 1, in short it’s a special execution of a classic for not much more. Anyone looking for a modestly-sized case and straightforward dial with an alternative blue colour scheme would find the Little Lange 1 ideal. Be quick, however, as only 25 pieces have been produced.

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Key facts

Diameter: 36.8mm
Height: 9.5mm
Material: 18k white gold
Water-resistance: 30m

Movement: Cal. L121.1
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds; power reserve indicator; outsize date
Winding: Hand-wound

Frequency: 25,200bph, or 3.5Hz
Power reserve: 72 hours

Strap: Crocodile with white gold pin buckle

Price and Availability

The Little Lange 1 “25th Anniversary” (ref. 181.066) is limited to 25 pieces and priced at €35,500 including German VAT, or about 54,200 Singapore dollars. Though it is officially part of the 10-piece anniversary set, most boutiques are offering the watches from the set individually.


 

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