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Recommended Watching: Roger W. Smith Explains History of the Mechanical Watch

Watch and learn.

Just over two weeks ago the annual George Daniels lecture took place at the City University of London, an institution supported by the late watchmaker’s charitable trust. This year’s speaker at the sold-out event was none other than Roger W. Smith, protege and successor to Daniels.

Just over an hour long, including questions, the lecture is erudite, accessible and packed with nerdy trivia, like the fact that a movement running at 28,800 beats per hour will make 252,288,000 vibrations per year.

Roger explained the history and rationale behind the mechanical watch, and how watchmakers are working to improve it even today. That naturally led into the lubrication-free co-axial escapement invented by Daniels (pictured above), which Roger delves into in a satisfyingly detailed manner, like comparing the sliding friction of a lever escapement against the tangential impulse of the co-axial.

Fortunately, the entire proceedings were recorded and are now available online:


 

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Editorial: The Meaning of Quality in Vintage Watches

Significance.

There are endless ways to collect in any category of art and collectibles, including watches. The easiest way is to buy whatever strikes ones fancy, as a hobbyists pastime. Carried on over an extended period of time, one is bound to possess a sizeable collection, a mixed bag consisting of nice and, more likely than not, middling objects.

But is this the best way?

The alternative – and far more meaningful – way to collect, is the focus on quality. But just what, one may ask, is quality? In this day and age, it is a word thrown around a lot, by laymen, dealers, and collectors alike.

To me, quality, first and foremost, refers to the significance of a given object. For the most serious collectors of timepieces made by Rolex and Patek Philippe – the two most important manufactures in watchmaking due to their continuous histories of producing illustrious craft – it entails the pursuit of models that are the most significant both aesthetically and technically

At the pinnacle of Rolex collecting lies the ref. 6062. Debuted at the Basel fair in 1950, the 6062 was the world’s first waterproof, self-winding wristwatch with complete calendar and moon phase (pictured at top, a steel Rolex ref. 6062 from 1953).

One of only two original Rolex models with moon phase – the other being the non-waterproof ref. 8171 with snap-back case – the 6062 represented the epitome of postwar Rolex watchmaking: a complicated yet robust and accurate automatic movement sealed in the iconic Oyster case, fitted with perfectly balanced dials. Along with the Datocompax, or “Jean-Claude Killy”, a chronograph with triple calendar introduced a few years prior, the two complicated Oysters are the greatest models ever made by the crowned firm. 

Rolex ref. 6062 “Stelline” in yellow gold, c. 1952. Photo – the author

Produced for only four years, a total of approximately one thousand examples of the Oyster moon phase reference were made in yellow gold, pink gold, and stainless steel. Examples in gold with so-called star dials were nicknamed Stelline” (“starlet” in Italian) – an estimated 250 of which were made, yellow and pink gold combined – becoming arguably the most iconic and beautiful complicated Rolex.

The steel 6062, of which no more than 200 examples were produced with embossed dials featuring either silvered or gilt indices, has long been the most sought-after white” calendar moon phase along with the first generation Patek Philippe self-winding perpetual calendar – ref. 3448 – in white gold. 

Bona fide connoisseurship in the history of timepieces, including their highest refinement and craft, cannot but arrive at the most important reference ever made by Patek Philippe, the 1518.

Debuting in 1941, ref. 1518 marked the birth of the legendary lineage. It was the worlds first wristwatch incorporating both perpetual calendar and chronograph – this very combination of complications soon became the great emblem of the Geneva marque.

The movement was based on a Patek-modified Valjoux 23 chronograph calibre with perpetual calendar module developed by famed complications specialist Victorin Piguet. Hand finished to incredible standards, the calibre surprised with details such as capped column wheel, a feature traditionally associated with Geneva watchmaking and since found on all Patek Philippe chronograph movements.

The cases were made by Emile Vichet and measured 35mm, with gently sloped lugs harmoniously integrated into the cases, reflecting elegant pre-war aesthetics. The dials, perfectly proportioned, are works of art, with fully hand engraved hard enamel scales and signatures.

Pink gold Patek Philippe ref. 1518, retailed by Guillermin of Paris, c. 1951. Photo – the author

According to scholarship, a total of 281 examples were produced from 1941 to 1954: 215 in yellow gold, 58 in pink gold, and 8 in stainless steel. Outside the realm of perpetual calendar chronographs and self-winding perpetual calendars, the most significant complicated models made by Patek Philippe were the Louis Cottier world time and travel time watches – the subject of a future article.

All encompassing, Quality pertains to significance, beauty, rarity, and condition. “Quality over quantity– a hackneyed catchphrase often uttered nonchalantly by self-righteous collectors. Yet few possess the grit and tenacity to see it through, to breathe and live it through time. To me, this inherent challenge in the persistent pursuit of quality makes collecting vintage watches worthwhile, and defines me as a collector.


The author was born in one country and lives in another, but his collecting style is best described as a distillation of the finest international taste in timepieces. Noted collector and scholar Auro Montanari describes the author as “a collector with incredible eyes for details”. You can follow the author on Instagram.

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Hands-On: Panerai Radiomir 8 Days 45mm PAM 992

A blend of vintage details.

Panerai has gently eased itself towards a focus on more civilian sports watches, as opposed to retro-navy diver instrument remakes, since chief executive Jean-Marc Pontroué took the helm in 2018. So its most recent releases this year include the extra-thin Luminor Due in titanium, along with commemorative editions for the America’s Cup yacht race.

But Panerai is still keeping one eye on its Marina Militare heritage, exemplified by the pair of Radiomir watches unveiled last month, the most interesting of which is the Radiomir 8 Days 45mm (PAM00992). It has a vintage-esque style – not really a one for one remake – combined with an in-house, eight-day movement and a relatively accessible price of US$8,500. Most unusually, the steel case has a faux aged finish that Panerai is trying for the first time.

Marina Militare

The new Radiomir is not a remake of a vintage Panerai, but rather it’s a mix-and-match of various elements, including the engraved logo and “8 Giorni” emblem at three. Traditionalists might find it impure, but that was essentially the founding formula for the modern Panerai company.

The result is a good-looking watch that approximates the look of a vintage Panerai while offering modern conveniences like a long power reserve.

Even though it’s a large watch – the case is 45mm – it’s smallish by Panerai standards, since the military-style Panerai watches are usually 47mm. But it is big enough to look like a Panerai, and it wears well for a 45mm watch, since the wire-style lugs are short, though it is slightly top heavy, as large watches with short lugs tend to be.

The P.5000 movement

As is often the case for a Panerai, the form of the watch is simple – essentially a big cushion with a black dial – but the dial has a couple of interesting details.

To start with the dial has a “sandwich” construction, made up of a lower plate painted with Super-Luminova markings and an upper plate with corresponding cut-outs.

Vintage Panerai dials were constructed in the same way out of necessity; today the sandwich dial a bit of an affectation, but welcome nonetheless. Similarly, the use of parchment-coloured Super-Luminova is yet another affectation, but it works with the design.

The markings at the four quarters of the seconds are “sandwich”, while the five-minute hashmarks in between are printed

Another vintage-inspired detail is the logo at 12 o’clock, which is engraved and then filled with off-white lacquer

The coolest detail of all – but arguably the most out of place since it wasn’t found on any vintage originals remotely resembling this watch- is the emblem at three o’clock. Translating as “8 Days Patented”, the logo boosts the retro feel of the watch, while also giving the dial a bit of symmetry.

And vintage vibes are completed by the highly domed sapphire crystal that mimics the PlexiGlas found on vintage Panerai. Importantly, the sapphire crystal passes the test: it is sufficiently domed that is slightly distorts the edge of the dial when viewed from an angle.

Patina

The case is steel, but finished in an unusual manner. At a distance it is matte but also vaguely glossy, depending on how you look at it.

Panerai refers to this as a “patina” treatment, and while initially peculiar looking, it actually works well with the retro-military styling of the watch. The treatment removes the shiny, brand-new look of a, well, brand-new watch, without leaving it looking aggressively old, as some other surface finishes tend to, like an aged gunmetal coating for instance.

The process of creating the “patina” surface is a three-step process. According to Panerai, the case finish starts out just like any ordinary Radiomir case, entirely mirror polished on all surfaces. But while the finishing stops there for an ordinary case, here it continues with a quick sandblasting with “micro granules”.

The beads used for the blasting process are finer than average, resulting in a surface with the individual divots more widely spaced – almost like a fine sandpaper was gently run over the case – instead of the more common, densely granular surface applied to watch cases.

After that, the case is then polished once again, which removes some of the granularity of the sandblasted surface, further accentuating its smoothness and creating a “semi-matt” finish.

The P.5000

As with all Panerai in-house movements, the P.5000 is cleanly designed and plainly finished. While the front of the watch is made up of cleverly assembled retro elements, the back doesn’t hide the fact that it’s modern and industrial.

All of the decoration is simple and done by machine, while the construction is streamlined. As a result, the look is mechanical and fuss-free, but appropriate for the style and price of the watch.

Importantly, the movement is built for good timekeeping, especially this specific version. It is a second generation P.5000, which has one primary improvement over the earlier version – the addition of a free-sprung, adjustable mass balance wheel.

The other obvious changes appear to be geared towards easier production and finishing; one example is the smaller and simpler aperture that reveals the third wheel of the gear train. As a result, this version of the P.5000 is especially plain, because almost everything is covered by a full bridge that leaves only the small balance wheel and the third wheel exposed.

Concluding thoughts

Despite being a mish-mash of vintage elements, the PAM992 ticks all the right boxes in terms of looks; it conveys the style of a vintage Panerai without actually being a remake. And it’s the right size, being large enough to look the part, but not too large as to be impractical.

The only downside is the robustly industrial movement that stands in stark contrast to the front, having zero vintage feel.

But given the relatively accessible price of US$8,500, the PAM 992 is probably the most compelling proposition in the large Panerai catalogue.


Radiomir 8 Days 45 mm
Ref. PAM00992

Diameter: 45mm
Height: 14.25mm
Material: Stainless steel with patina treatment
Water resistance: 100m

Movement: P.5000
Functions: Hours, minutes and seconds
Winding: Hand-wind

Frequency: 21,600 beats per hour (3Hz)
Power reserve: 8 days

Strap: Calfskin

Limited edition: 1,000 pieces
Availability:
 At Panerai boutiques
Price: US$8,500, or 12,200 Singapore dollars

For more information, visit Panerai.com


 

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