The SJX Christmas Wishlist

More affordable than usual.

I rarely write “listicles” but the holidays are always a good excuse for one: a run through of the year’s wants. It’s a wish list of watches I desire, and in a handful of instance bought, and not about the most significant or notable watches (which will be published just before the year’s end).

Surprisingly the list is a pretty short one, and heavier on affordable watches than top of the line ones. That’s perhaps reflective of both the state of the industry – often saturated and occasionally unimaginative – and the fact that I’ve seen quite a lot. That being said, sometimes it’s the simple and affordable that surprises, like the Tudor P01, or something from an expected corner, like the Chanel Monsieur Edition Noire.

High hopes

Even for a price-is-no-object list there are barely any must-haves. The list of candidates was long, but most were crossed out for one reason or another. That also in part reflects the fact that the more expensive a watch is, the higher the standards it should be held to.

The Vacheron Constantin Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar, for instance, is exceptionally interesting and smartly conceived, in fact, it’s one of the year’s best watch in terms of mechanics, but the design is a bit of a let down.

Even in a more affordable tier of complicated watches, the wants come with caveats. The Hermes L’Heure de la Lune is unconventional and poetic, typically Hermes in style. Though its face is elegant, the case profile is less so; it is a bit thick, which is inevitable given the planetary moon phase, but thick nonetheless.

Priced quite similarly to the Hermes is the Moritz Grossmann Hamatic – unquestionably the most impressive and interesting self-winding movement of recent years. Not only is the movement construction novel, the finishing is also top class. But it is hindered by the brand’s uncertain future; though Moritz Grossmann has been amply funded by government grants, the brand’s confused strategy in positioning and products leaves its long term viability questionable.

The Hamatic with “hammer” winding

The Hamatic in detail

The one that does make the list isn’t a complicated but is priced like one: the Rolex Day-Date “Rainbow”. The most appealing version is the least “bling”, sans diamonds on the bezel and bracelet, meaning it just has diamonds on the dial and coloured sapphire hour markers. It’s as subtle as a rainbow gem-set watch for men gets.

The easy buys

At the affordable end of the spectrum, the choices weren’t tough. Tudor takes top place with two watches, the Black Bay P01 and Black Bay Chrono Dark, which are both tremendous value for money. In years past Seiko would inevitably feature here, but with its increasing prices and proliferating limited editions, its watches are less compelling than before.

The P01 is a bit over the top, too chunky and long to be worn easily, but it is something interesting and unusual, even peculiar, in a good way. Importantly, it is backed up by historical legitimacy, as the watch is based on a prototype that never entered production).

On the other hand, the Black Bay Chrono Dark is easy to wear, and conventional in both design and colour. Powered by a high-spec chronograph movement supplied by Breitling, it just offers simple, solid value – the retail is a bit over US$5000 – that is unmatched by any other maker in the same price segment.

Even more affordable is the G-Shock “Full Titanium”. It’s essentially a remake of the original 1983 G-Shock, but with the case and bracelet in black-coated titanium (another version features an engraved, camouflage pattern). The idea in itself is compelling, and the watch is even more compelling in the metal.

But it is let down by a slightly high price – retail is US$1,550 – and the fact that Casio has been relentlessly milking the high-end, “Full Metal” G-Shock, with almost a dozen variants launched since the first, gold-plated model last year, including a whopper in 18k yellow gold that is both preposterous and absolutely cool.

And it’s for that reason that the Panerai Radiomir 8 Days PAM 992 doesn’t make the list. Although it’s relatively well priced, and has the quintessential, old school Panerai look, the brand has done so many limited editions in sum that it substantially erodes the appeal of any single model.

The last of the affordable watches is the MIH Gaïa Watch. Created to raise funds for the Musée International d’Horlogerie (MIH), a timepiece museum in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the Gaïa Watch is in some ways the successor to the better-known MIH Watch of 2005 that was created for the same purpose.

The Gaïa Watch

While the first MIH timepiece was brilliantly conceived – centred on a simple but functional annual calendar devised by Ludwig Oechslin – it was too stark in its minimalism. The new Gaïa Watch is a little bit more finished – in particular, the frame-like lugs have polished, bevelled edges – although it lacks anything in terms of complication, being powered by a straightforward Sellita movement.

In the case of the Gaia it was both wishing for the watch, and also wishing the crowdfunded project would get off the ground. Just last week the MIH announced it had received enough deposits to get going, so the watch will be produced as planned.

Off the beaten path

The year also threw up two unexpected watches from establishment brands; one might even be mislabelled a fashion brand. The first is the Patek Philippe Calatrava Weekly Calendar ref. 5212A, a watch that is quirky in a manner not often seen at the Geneva brand. It features a calendar arranged concentrically around the dial, with the calendar indications being reproductions of a designer’s handwriting.

At the same time, the movement boasts some notable technical improvements, including patented teeth profiles for the calendar wheels, making it a compelling package, albeit one that’s slightly expensive for a steel calendar watch. But going by what insiders are whispering, the Weekly Calendar is merely the opening salvo in a gradual revamp of the entire Calatrava line, which is probably going to get a lot more interesting.

The Patek Philippe Calatrava Weekly Calendar ref. 5212A

And the other is the Chanel Monsieur Édition Noire, a sleek, monochromatic iteration on the wristwatch Romain Gauthier helped conceive. Dressed in matte black ceramic, it’s a stylish, pared back Romain Gauthier of sorts.

Though larger than the gold version of the same, the Edition Noire is slim and discreet on the wrist, being almost all black. It’s almost all black because the case middle is black ceramic, but the bezel and case back are steel; the screws in the back run through the case middle and screw into the bezel. Consequently, the bezel is not quite seamless, it is made up of a black ceramic insert framed by a steel border.

Only Watch

And although the offerings at Only Watch are all one-offs made for charity, they’re worth a mention. There were a couple of standouts at Only Watch, although only a few within reasonable means, at least in terms of the presale estimate.

One was the Akrivia Chronometre Contemporain with a hammered, enamelled dial, because it is more elaborate, richer version of a watch that is normally handsome but a bit plain. But it sold far, far over the estimate, making it a non-contender.

The hammered, enamelled dial of the Akrivia

The other was the Konstantin Chaykin Joker Selfie, a clever, thoughtful evolution of a whimsical watch. Though it retains the silly face that characterises the Joker, this version incorporates many tweaks and features – including a “secret” function  and a movement derived from an observatory chronometer calibre – that illustrate how far Konstantin went in building something unique for a good cause. It sold for 70,000 francs, which is still within the grasp of reason.

The Joker Selfie

The last was one that went under the radar, and sold only a bit above its retail price: the Singer Reimagined Track 1. It’s equipped with a movement that is little understood and under-appreciated, the innovative AgenGraphe chronograph movement developed by Jean-Marc Wiederrecht and his team at Agenhor. And the Only Watch version has a black-coated, Damascus-patterned steel case, giving it an unusual nuance and texture.

And…

I’m on the fence about the A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus. Quality and finishing is excellent, as one expects from Lange, but the styling and execution of the bracelet falls short; the bracelet is too wide where it meets the case, and the ratcheting clasp is too bulky.

The Odysseus

But in the realm of sport-luxury watches, the Odysseus is arguably the best value when measured by quality to price. So I’m not sure if I want one, but really wouldn’t turn one down.


 

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Interview: François-Henry Bennahmias, CEO of Audemars Piguet

On the Code 11.59 and something big in June 2020.

François-Henry Bennahmias is one of the most successful chief executives in Swiss watchmaking: since taking the top job at Audemars Piguet in 2012, revenues at the watchmaker have more than doubled, to well over a billion Swiss francs.

He took some flak earlier this year with the high profile launch of an entirely new line, the Code 11.59, which was widely panned at the time. But Mr Bennahmias appears to have been partially vindicated after the unique Code 11.59 skeleton tourbillon (which I was surprisingly drawn to) sold for a million francs – more than four times its presale high estimate.

But Mr Bennahmias does not seem to be the sort to look back reflectively, he is forging ahead full speed with rolling out new iterations of the Code 11.59, while also working on “huge” and “very cool” collaboration that will be announced in mid 2020.

During a recent visit to Singapore a month ago, Mr Bennahmias discussed the Code 11.59, while dropping a few hints about an upcoming vintage remake, as well as the upcoming partnership.

The interview was edited for clarity and length.


I really like what you have done recently with the Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar Skeleton in black ceramic. At the same time, I hear that there are some updates and extensions planned for the Code 11.59 in 2020. Can you talk anything about that?

No. [With a smile]

Can you say anything about the Code 11.59 for Only Watch, which is a two-tone skeleton of sorts? I saw the watch in Geneva; two-tone doesn’t always work but this one works very well.

First of all, we are still in launch mode [for the Code 11.59]. Now we have a clear vision of where we want to bring the line in the next three to five years.

We have new mechanisms and materials. It’s kind of cool to see the double materials mixed together [in the Only Watch piece]; it’s a new type of “bi-colour” and gives the watch a cool new feel. The Only Watch is just the beginning.

So basically bi-colour is part of the vision for the line.

Yes, and obviously I’ve already seen the prototypes. There are great things to come.

The Code 11.59 for Only Watch featured a two-tone case, and more unusually, a two-tone, skeletonised movement

Now you have the Royal Oak and the Code 11.59. For many of your competitors, a favourite theme now is the historical remake or reissue. Does AP plan to do anything there? You have a great archive, and a great museum.

We’ll see. [With a smile]

We’re going to open [the new] museum in April. There will be a watch created for the opening of the museum. That watch might look more like yesterday, rather than tomorrow.

So that will be just before SIHH next year.

Yes, the museum will be officially open then. We are very pleased with how it turned out; the watchmakers already working in the museum.

You mean the complications department?

Right. And they love it there. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture.

A rendering of the spiral-shaped Audemars Piguet Museum designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). Image – Audemars Piguet

Besides the museum and the hotel, you also built a new wing to produce the new movements for Code 11.59 automatic and chronograph. Do you plan to roll out these calibres in your other lines?

We’re working on it actually. We’ve never been so busy working on new mechanisms. We have more than nine new calibres in the pipeline.

And the eventual goal is to use in-house movement in all the model lines?

Yes, except if quartz remains [in the line-up]. As far as possible [with mechanical], yes.

How long do you think it will take for you to go entirely in-house for mechanical?

It really depends. Don’t forget, we were at 40,000 watches last year. We’re going to need to increase it for next year, because we’re short [in supply] everywhere. Stores have no inventory; [the shortage] got to a point where it’s too much.

We know that our capacity will not be able to bring us to 55,000 or 60,000 anytime soon. We will need seven years before being able to reach those numbers.

The next big threshold is 50,000. And it will still take us years to get there. If we assess what’s going on, the demand [for our watches] is really close to 46,000, 47,000 pieces. So the 50,000 mark is a no brainer, but we won’t be able to do it overnight.

So what you’re saying is that your goal is to have AP watches be desirable, but not impossible to get?

Not impossible to get, and you know what, we don’t play that game on purpose. We’ve increased our production; in the year 2000, we were at 16,000 watches.

We want to remain very exclusive, but also much more inclusive, in a sense that we do not want to tell customers, “See you in seven years”. We want to bring people to the brand, but they have to wait a little bit.

Amongst the initiatives rolled out by Mr Bennahmias is AP House, a series of boutiques around the world that are built to resemble homes rather than stores, and all located on the upper floors of buildings, instead of the traditional ground floor. Photo – Audemars Piguet

Pictured here is the most recent AP House in London, located on New Bond Street. Photo – Audemars Piguet

One of the most desirable watches is the Extra Thin Royal Oak. What else do you think a watch enthusiast should be looking at besides a steel sports watch and a ceramic perpetual? What do you think should be the next hot thing?

First of all, I do not like to put people in boxes. But I can tell you something: think about all the people who bought the [Royal Oak “Jumbo] 5402 in 1972. Let’s say for argument’s sake that these people now have the choice to do it all over again, knowing what’s going on now.

How many would say, “I don’t like the watch” or “That watch will never work”? So let’s see what’s going to happen with Code.

It’s very common to see people coming back to Audemars Piguet after buying their first watch, so it’s rarely a one-off purchase. Most of the time, it’s two or three watches; it depends on your emotion and what you like to see in your collection.

You mentioned Code and I realized that, increasingly, that Code 11.59s I see on both customers and AP employees have straps in unusual, bright colours, and not the black or blue straps in the catalogue. Is this part of the plan?

Sure, and funny enough, a year and a half ago, when we saw the white dial [Code 11.59 automatic], we thought it would be the watch that would sell the least. Now it’s our number-one bestseller, but it became more of a bestseller when we put bright, lighter-coloured straps on it.

When you have it in red like this, many more people love the watch. It makes it less ostentatious than with black alligator, and it’s a bit cooler.

Now the Code 11.59 has more exciting colours for the straps, but the cases are still only in gold, while your other lines use many other materials. Beyond two-tone gold combinations, do you plan to do Code in other materials?

We’ll see. [Big smile]

Okay, that’s a good hint.

The number one hint? We are going to play with a lot of bi-coloured materials.

The two-tone, red and white gold case of the Code 11.59 made for Only Watch

So less classical and a bit more modern. And, going forward, the focus is basically on the Royal Oak and Code, these will be the two…

And Millenary. We just launched the Millenary Philosophique, which is a really good-looking watch. We have already had great success with it; we have started to see people buying them, so I do believe we have something there. We are now working on the Millenary 4.0; we have good things in the pipeline.

And that will include men’s complication also?

No, Millenary is going to remain a ladies line.

You used to do some jewellery, like Royal Oak jewellery for ladies. Is that still part of the offering?

No, we don’t do it anymore, but it doesn’t mean that we will not come back to that field at some point.

We have a lot of things in the pipeline. And one other thing I’m going to tease you with.

In June next year, in New York, we will announce a huge partnership – huge – with a brand. And people will understand why [New York]. And people will say, “How in the world did they pull that off?” We are going to surprise the world in a very, very cool way.

I look forward to June.

And the story behind it will be a beautiful story to tell.

Because on paper, it should have never happened. Never.

But because of me getting to know someone from something completely different. And then becoming friends with the guy, who opened the door that let us get the deal done.

So I’ll hear from you in seven months?

Before that. We’ll be prepping.

Maybe I’ll speak to you at your event in April and you can tell me more.

Nope, I won’t. [Smiles]


 

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Hermès Introduces the Slim d’Hermès Cheval Ikat

Micro-threads anchored in pure gold.

The often quirky or abstract equestrian themes Hermès applies to its watches recently received an unusual twist: its newest pair of timepieces feature dials decorated in ikat, a traditional dyeing and weaving technique usually associated with Indonesian textiles.

Characterised by individually dyed yarns and slightly fuzzy motifs, ikat has been given a touch of gold – literally – in the Slim d’Hermès Cheval Ikat.

Combining the traditional art with modern technology, the dial is decorated with tiny threads, each the third the width of a human hair – some 1,165 of them in total. Each thread is secured on the dial at two points, creating a network of linear, perpendicular threads crisscrossing the dial that form a prancing horse.

The ends of each thread sit in a laser-cut divot on the dial that’s been filled with a drop of 24k gold, which secures the thread while giving the dial a metallic glint.

Offered in two variants – in white or rose gold with dark or light dials respectively – the Cheval Ikat is powered by the H1950, an extra-thin calibre with a micro-rotor made by Vaucher, a movement specialist part owned by Hermes that is probably best known for supplying movements to Richard Mille.


Key facts and price

Slim d’Hermès Cheval Ikat

Diameter: 39.5mm
Material: 18k white or rose gold
Water-resistance: 30m

Movement: H1950
Functions: Hours and minutes
Winding: Automatic
Frequency: 21,600 beats per hour (3Hz)
Power reserve: 42 hours

Strap: Alligator

Limited edition: 36 pieces in each colour
Availability: Only at Hermès boutiques
Price: US$35,100, or 45,400 Singapore dollars

For more information, visit Hermes.com.


 

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Welcome to the new Watches By SJX.

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