Louis Erard Makes Traditional, Hand-Executed Guilloche Affordable

With the Excellence Guilloché Main.

Although best known for its collaborations with independent watchmakers, Louis Erard is adept at introducing elements of high-end watchmaking in its accessibly-priced watches. The recent Excellence Email Grand Feu offered a grand feu enamel dial for less than 4,000 Swiss francs.

Now Louis Erard is moving on to traditional engine turning with the Excellence Guilloché Main. Limited to 99 pieces, the watch features a chequer guilloché dial with an M.C Escher vibe, and an eminently affordable 3,900 Swiss franc price tag.

Initial thoughts

Consistently offering affordable timepieces that punch way above their price point, Louis Erard is fast becoming one of my favourite watchmakers. The Excellence Guilloché Main affirms my thoughts about the brand.

It is an honest representation of a traditional decorative technique, but different. I find the chequer pattern to be even more striking than the standard guilloché patterns like hobnail or barleycorn. Executed to give it perspective, the pattern has a three-dimensional quality that endows the watch with a sense of depth uncommon on dials as wide and flat as this. And, the heat-blued hands add a welcome pop of colour to the otherwise monochrome palette.

The simple functions of just hours and minutes allow the chequer guilloché to be admired in its full glory. I particularly like how Louis Erard prints its brand name on the underside crystal instead of the dial, which further enhances the perceived depth of the watch. That admittedly is also a cost efficient solution, since creating a plaque on the dial would complicate the engine turning process.

Despite its traditional inspiration, the Excellence Guilloché Main will feel modern on the wrist due to its large 42 mm diameter. That also means the dial is wide, with more guilloche to be admired. The watch is a tad high at over 12 mm high, in part due to the thick automatic movement inside.

The dial is undoubtedly the most expensive components of the watch – the movement is a workhorse Sellita, and the case a simple form in steel. The smart focus of resources on the dial means that this, like the Excellence Email Grand Feu before it, is a terrific value proposition, though the small run might make it challenging to land one.

Priced at 3,900 Swiss francs, or about US$4,200, the Excellence Guilloché Main is extremely well-priced. Watches with comparable, traditional guilloché dials from higher end brands cost significantly more.

Checkered Guilloché

The dial is made by Fehr of La Chaux-de-Fonds, an established specialist that supplies dials to major names like Cartier, Vacheron Constantin, and Zenith. It’s engraved with an old-school, hand-operated straight-line engine lathe, an entirely traditional decorative technique that is familiar yet painstaking to execute.

The artisan relies on a manually-operated lathe to engrave the pattern

Because the pattern is simple and obvious, a single mistake means discarding the dial

Unusually, the dial is not monochrome as most guilloche dials are. The three-dimensional effect is reinforced by a layer of black varnish applied to the dial prior to engine turning, which removes the topmost surface of the pattern. The final step is rhodium plating that highlights the engraved portions with a bright, silvery finish, giving the chequer guilloché an eye-catching shimmer.

The chequer guilloché dial is more visually arresting than the grand feu enamel of the preceding edition

The large steel case is home to a Sellita SW261-1. Also found on the Excellence Email Grand Feu, the SW261-1 is the small seconds variation of the SW200-1, which is a clone of the ETA 2824.

It’s a notably robust movement, albeit one that’s getting old. Due to the dated architecture of the ETA 2824, the SW261-1 has a shortish power reserve of 38 hours. Furthermore, the movement is plain, which is understandable given the watch’s low price tag.


Key Facts and Price

Louis Erard Excellence Guilloché Main
Ref. 66237AA52

Diameter: 42 mm
Height: 12.25 mm
Material: Stainless steel
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 50 m

Movement: SW261-1
Functions: Hours and minutes
Winding: Automatic
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 38 hours

Strap: Calf leather

Limited edition: 99 pieces

Availability: Direct from Louis Erard online
Price
: 3,900 Swiss francs

For more, visit Louiserard.com


 

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Up Close: Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 18K

Golden value.

Unveiled just last week alongside its sterling-silver sibling, the Black Bay Fifty-Eight 18K is Tudor’s first solid-gold dive watch. A significant milestone for Tudor that perhaps reveals aspirations further up the price spectrum, the Fifty-Eight 18K lives up to its ambitions.

Initial thoughts

In late 2019 I was speaking with a senior Tudor executive and got an inkling that a solid-gold watch might be in the works. Being a fan of the brand (and fortunate enough to own a few of them), that was something I was very much looking forward to.

Now Tudor has finally done it, and I am impressed with the result. The Black Bay Fifty-Eight 18K is attractive, feels good in the hand, and is also well priced. The only disappointment is the lack of a matching gold bracelet. I know that would hike the price by at least 50%, but even then it would be a good buy – and it would be truly cool. Fingers crossed a bracelet is in the works.

But even sans bracelet the new Fifty-Eight feels good in the hand. It’s sized (almost) exactly the same as the steel Fifty-Eight, making it the perfect size for an easy-to-wear dive watch.

Naturally, the gold version is slightly heavier than the steel equivalent, but the weight is just enough to seem substantive, but not so much it’s unwieldy on the soft fabric strap (more on the weight reduction below).

The weight gives the Fifty-Eight 18k an appropriately expensive feel. But as is always the norm with Tudor watches, the quality of the watch lives up to the price, and then some.

Almost every aspect of the watch has the sharp details expected of Tudor. Both the dial and case have excellent fit and finish. The only aspect that doesn’t quite fit in is the view from the back. The movement looks a bit plain – I would have preferred a solid back – but the MT5400 within is a technically accomplished calibre and one of the best in its price range.

Notably, the quality execution extends to the straps. The Fifty-Eight 18k is delivered with a pair of them, one leather and the other fabric, each with its own 18k yellow gold buckle and hardware. That’s both convenient – no need to swap buckles when swapping straps – and to preserve the design, since Tudor’s fabric straps usually have a wider buckle and metal keepers. Given that watch brands typically charge at least US$1,000 for a solid-gold pin buckle, the inclusion of buckles for each strap is admirable.

In fact, the quality of the watch is good enough to make the watch comparable to far more expensive watches. The Omega Seamaster 300 in 18k yellow gold, for instance, costs 25% more. The Fifty-Eight 18K is pricier than the average Tudor by a large margin, but it is a genuine value buy.

Gold flakes

Green is common for watch dials this year, which makes the colour a bit meh – except for a few instances. The green-and-gold colour works well on the Fifty-Eight 18k.

At a distance the dial appears to be a dark olive, but up close the surface is spotted with gold flecks. It’s finished with finely-grained texture that has a variegated colour that appears almost organic up close, bringing to mind moss.

All of the print on the dial is done in powdered gold lacquer, giving the markers and minute track a granular, faintly metallic finish that matches the style of the watch perfectly. That, however, is also found on standard steel models so it is not unique to the Fifty-Eight 18k.

The hour hands and applied indices are unique – they are all made of solid 18k yellow gold. Though solid-gold hands and markers are standard on Rolex watches, they are being applied to a Tudor for a first time with the Fifty-Eight 18k. There’s no observable difference between the solid-gold hands as well as markers and the gold-plated equivalents in the steel models, but the little extra is certainly a good thing to have in a top-of-the-line watch.

Yellow gold

Having a matte, brushed finish on all surfaces, the gold case is finished identically to that of the Black Bay Bronze. This contrasts with the steel case of the standard Fifty-Eight, which has the traditional polished sides and bevel along the lugs.

The matte finish works well on the Fifty-Eight 18k, especially with the moss-green dial. The choice of case finish is a matter of house style. Tudor only employs brushed gold in its sports watches, including on the two-tone Black Bay Chrono S&G, driven by the desire for a more muted, discreet look, according to the brand.

I am impressed by the quality of machining finishing on the case. Everything is sharply defined and carefully shaped.

The wide bevel on the top edge of each lug, for instance, is finished with a brushing that flows perfectly into the grain of the top of the lugs. And the crown is notably precise, with a relief Tudor rose on its top and crop fluting on its sides.

Strategic opening

The precious-metal case means that two features of the Fifty-Eight 18k stand out. One is the display back – the first ever in Tudor’s history – and the other is the new calibre with an enlarged base plate. Both features are also found on the Fifty-Eight 925, the sterling-silver dive watch launched alongside the gold version.

The obvious impetus behind the two is weight reduction. Sterling silver is about 40% denser than steel, while 18k gold is about twice the density. Removing the centre of the case back and hollowing out the interior of the case no doubt help to keep the weights of the the solid-gold (and silver) Fifty-Eight manageable.

Granted, there might be some cost savings as well for the gold model (silver is inexpensive), since the quantity of gold required for each case is trimmed. That said, given my knowledge of Tudor’s philosophy – quality is paramount – and the fact that the Fifty-Eight 18k is delivered with two straps, each with its own 18k gold hardware, I doubt minimising production cost was a goal in itself. My educated guess would be it was pursued in order to keep the price of the watch as affordable as possible.

The economics aside, the open back means the movement is visible. [Editor’s note: The movement of the silver version is pictured below, but it is identical to that in the gold model.]

A variant of the MT5402 found in the steel Fifty-Eight, the MT5400 in the Fifty-Eight 18k is essentially identical, save for the larger base plate. It shares all of the qualities of Tudor’s other in-house movements, including a lengthy 70-hour power reserve and non-magnetic silicon hairspring. Put simply, it’s a high-spec movement at a low-spec price.

While the technical accomplishments of the movement are undeniable, it isn’t very interesting visually. All the bridges sport a clean, frosted finish, while the rotor is radially grained. Everything is finished neatly, but the look is a bit sterile.

I would have wished for something special on the movement to set the Fifty-Eight 18k (and also the silver version) apart from the steel models. The most obvious is a solid-gold rotor to match the case, or failing that, a gilded rotor.

Concluding thoughts

As solid-gold sports watches go, the Fifty-Eight 18k is certainly the best value proposition out there.

And when Tudor does finally debut a matching gold bracelet – leading to an US$10,000 in the retail price – the Fifty-Eight 18k will still be the best value in its class.


Key facts and price

Tudor Black Bay Fifty-Eight 18K
Ref. 79018V

Diameter: 39 mm
Height: 12.7 mm
Material: 18k yellow gold
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 200m

Movement: Cal. MT5400
Functions: Hours, minutes, and seconds
Winding: Automatic
Frequency: 28,800 vibrations per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 70 hours

Strap: Both alligator leather and fabric, each with a pin buckle in yellow gold

Availability: Only at Tudor boutiques starting now, available at retailers subsequently
Price: US$16,800; or 23,040 Singapore dollars

For more, visit Tudorwatch.com.


 

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Bell & Ross Introduces the BR V2-94 Full Lum

Entirely glow-in-the-dark.

Though best known for its square, aviation-instrument watches, Bell & Ross actually offers a varied lineup of conventional, round watches that nonetheless remain military inspired, such as the BR V2-94. The brand now gives its vintage-inspired chronograph a fully luminescent makeover to create the BR V2-94 Full Lum.

Initial thoughts

Bell & Ross implemented the fully-luminescent dial on BR 03-92 Full Lum (which even had a luminous strap), so the dial treatment is not novel. However, it’s a first for one of the brand’s round watches. If you are a fan of the “Full Lum” concept but dislike large square watches, then the “lumed-out” BR V2-94 is right up your alley.

And while its full-luminous dial is undoubtedly the watch’s biggest selling point, it isn’t a gimmick that appears merely after sundown. The BR V2-94 is eye-catching even in daylight. The luminous dial is a pale, mint green that’s akin to that in the new Breitling Premier Heritage Chronograph in steel.

Furthermore, the BR V2-94 is perhaps the best-looking round watch in Bell & Ross’ current catalogue, good enough that I almost pulled the trigger on the BR V2-94 Bellytanker Bronze a while back. The BR V2-94 is a design that successfully fuses the brand’s military-issue heritage with a contemporary look.

My only knock is the lack of luminous paint on the bezel as well as the date, which feel like odd exceptions for a “Full Lum” watch. The non-luminous date leaves a dark spot on the glowing dial.

Priced at US$5,100, the BR V2-94 Full Lum costs roughly 10% more than the standard model. Given that the watch is limited to 250 pieces, the premium is justified for a relatively uncommon and intriguing chronograph – I can imagine the watch being a conversation starter.

However, unless you’re attracted to the full-lume dial, there are a handful of better value propositions (that are admittedly less fun in terms of design), such as the newly-launched Tudor Black Bay Chrono “Panda”, which has a technically superior movement.

Full Lume

The dial of the BR V2-94 Full Lum is covered in green Super-Luminova C5, while the indices, numerals and hands are painted with yellow Super-Luminova C3, giving a slight but obvious distinction in colour between the two. But in the dark, both glow a fluorescent green, except for the chronograph sub-dial.

The 30-minute register glows in an icy blue, creating a sharp contrast to the green-glowing dial. It’s a smart detail that creates easily recognisable differentiation between the totaliser on the left and the running seconds on the right.

Aside from its luminescent dial, the watch retains most attributes of the standard BR V2-94, such as the screw-down pushers, the domed sapphire crystal, bi-directional bezel, and wearable proportions at just 41 mm wide and 13.55 mm thick.

The BR V2-94 Full Lum is powered by the BR-CAL.301, which is essentially an ETA 2892 with a Dubois-Depraz chronograph module on top.


Key facts and price

Bell & Ross BR V2-94 Full Lum
Ref. BRV294-LUM-ST/SRB

Diameter: 41 mm
Height: 13.55 mm
Material: Steel
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 100 m

Movement: BR-CAL.301
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, date, and chronograph
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 42 hours

Strap: Rubber

Limited edition: 250 pieces
Availability: Now at Bell & Ross’ online shop, boutiques, and authorised retailers
Price: 
US$5,100; or 7000 Singapore dollars

For more, visit bellross.com.

This was brought to you in partnership with Bell & Ross.


 

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