A custom shop best known for its extensively reworking of popular sports watches – occasionally created in collaboration with celebrity sportsmen – Artisans de Genève has a diverse portfolio of work that range from the intriguing to the mystifying. Certainly one of its more intriguing timepieces is the Sea Shepherd Challenge, a Submariner with a moon phase display surrounded by much aventurine glass that was commissioned by the founder of the eponymous marine conservation group.
Aftermarket customisation of fashionable watches is common. It can often be merely opportunistic, with customisers taking advantage of the watchmaker’s well-established brand and design. Rarely are customised watches interesting in a technical sense.
The Sea Shepherd Challenge is interesting, being a mechanical customisation rather than the change of colours that’s the usual formula applied to such watches.
It incorporates an oversized moon phase display (driven by a mechanically simple, but elaborately-constructed mechanism going by this animation), along with an aventurine-glass dial and bezel insert. Add to that the added decoration to the movement, and the watch does have its appeal.
The customisation alone costs about US$35,000 (and the client either provides the watch or purchases one), which is probably too much for the work done, but within reason given the benchmark prices of such customised watches.
A mariner’s watch
This customised Submariner was a request by Paul Watson, the sometimes controversial founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an environmental NGO known for its often confrontational approach to marine preservation.
In a nod to the importance of the moon to sailors, Mr Watson wanted a moon phase added to his Rolex Submariner ref. 116610. As a result, the basic specs of the watch are identical to that of the Submariner, meaning a 40 mm steel case and the Rolex cal. 3135 inside, but the watch has been substantially reworked, inside and out.
Both the bezel insert and dial are covered in aventurine glass, a form of glass with metallic inclusions that creates its characteristic sparkly appearance. And the moon phase disc is fired enamel, with twin moons made of silver that are hand engraved with craters to resemble the actual lunar surface.
The case retains its recognisable form, but its flanks have been milled to create a wide recess with a laser-etched sandblasted finish, while polished bevels have been added to the edge of each lug.
A sapphire window was installed on the case back to reveal the decorated cal. 3135 within. Most of the movement components were refinished by hand, with circular brushing and polished bevels applied to the bridges. A handful of parts were even more extensively refinished: the barrel ratchet wheel, for instance, has been open worked to create five spokes, all of which have polished bevels on their inner edges.
And the rotor was replaced with a solid-gold oscillating weight with an aventurine-glass insert.
The moon phase mechanism relies on the date mechanism to function – it advances by one step a day just like a date display – but it has been executed in a stylish manner. An elongated finger pushes the moon phase disc forward once a day at midnight, with all of the components of the moon phase mechanism finished with straight graining and polished bevels.
Lastly, Artisans de Genève makes clear that it is an independent company not affiliated with Rolex, nor an official retailer of Rolex watches.
Key Facts and Price
Artisans de Genève Sea Shepherd Challenge
Diameter: 40 mm
Material: Steel, bezel with aventurine-glass insert
Dial: Aventurine glass
Water resistance: 300 m
Movement: Cal. 3135 with white gold rotor
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, and moon phase
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Power reserve: 48 hours
Strap: Steel bracelet
Limited edition: Unique piece
Availability: Similar customisation available direct from Artisans de Geneve
Price: 32,520 Swiss francs for comparable customisation, excluding the price of the watch
For more information, visit Artisansdegeneve.com.
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