Category Archive 'Watches'

16 Dec 2018

“The Secret Code of Watches”

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Panerai Radiomir.

Michael Brendan Dougherty explains why he wants a hideously expensive huge wristwatch, historically associated with the Italian Navy.

If my children someday ask me about a certain personal extravagance, I will blame the Axis Powers.

On December 18, 1941, Luigi Durand de la Penne and five of his comrades were ahead of schedule. They stopped to eat figs and drink cognac, when, to their great fortune, they saw two British battleships and a British destroyer entering the harbor of Alex­andria, Egypt. These men were part of Italy’s elite frogman unit, the Decima Flottiglia MAS. They had launched from the Italian submarine Scirè, driving their two-man sea chariots toward the British fleet. These chariots were manned torpedoes, with a maximum speed of 3 knots, and so unwieldy and unreliable that their riders referred to them as maiali, or pigs. The frogmen used rebreathing units invented for spear fishers during interwar years to operate undetected under the surface of the water. From there, they could navigate their explosives around nets and set up other forms of protection for their ships. That night, these six men would dramatically alter the balance of power in the Mediterranean.

Leaving behind figs and cognac, de la Penne and his crewmate approached the HMS Valiant. Their equipment began to fail — this was the Italian navy, after all — with de la Penne’s wetsuit and mask letting in water. He swallowed it to clear his vision. After a mighty struggle with his pig, he managed to place the limpet mine on the keel of the Valiant. But almost immediately afterward, he and his partner had to surface for air. They were spotted and captured.

Refusing to talk, de la Penne was placed below deck, right above his charge. Ten minutes before it was set to explode, he alerted the captain that in a few minutes the Valiant would sink and all he could do was evacuate his men. De la Penne reached the deck unscathed after the bomb went off, and he witnessed similar mines exploding beneath the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the HMS Jervis, and the oil tanker Sagona.

Six men had disabled the bulk of the British fleet in the Mediterranean. The world wouldn’t discover it for months, since the ships sank in shallow water on flat bottoms. Winston Churchill would praise the ingenuity and courage of the Italian frogmen when he relayed the news in a secret session of Parliament. After the war, the captain of the Valiant, Admiral Charles Morgan, even lobbied for a British decoration for de la Penne.

How did the frogmen know that they were ahead of schedule? Or determine that there were ten minutes left before the explosion? They had another piece of equipment, issued to them by the Italian navy: a hulking, 47-millimeter, plexiglass-domed, submersible wristwatch. Its guts were made by Rolex, but the Italian watch firm Panerai modified the cases, soldered on wire lugs, and added a sandwich-style dial. The bottom half was a disk painted with glowing radioactive material; the top half was a black disk with cutouts to make the indices. This was the Panerai Radiomir.

And I really want to spend an exorbitant amount of money to get a watch that looks like the ones that de la Penne and his comrades wore.

Well, not exactly like it. The modern versions are no longer made with radium, so they don’t give their makers and wearers cancer. Also they have better components and much shinier and more polished cases than the originals. You get them not from military contractors but from luxury boutiques, where the staff wear white gloves to handle them and speak to you in hushed tones.

It makes no sense, really. Cheapo battery-powered watches keep better time than expensive modern Panerai. An even more accurate time is available on my smartphone. But you can’t get better advertising than de la Penne’s physical courage and sportsmanlike conduct in one of the most daring feats of World War II. He wore it. It’s cool. And I want one so bad.

RTWT


Luigi Durand de la Penne.

18 Nov 2018

$65,100 Worth of Steampunk Watch

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I buy things at auction now and then, and I consequently get loads of auction spam mail.

The lead item is sometimes visually intriguing enough that I cannot resist clicking on the link out of mere curiosity.

What, I wondered, was this particular watch being sold by a Swiss Auction House all about?

Ineichen Zürich AG, Zurich, Switzerland

November 17, 2018 Sale, Lot 289: VIANNEY HALTER Antiqua

Description: Case: Rose gold case; Dial: Hours and minutes silver dial, date display, silver-coloured month and year dial, silver weekday display; Movement: Automatic movement, Mov. no.: 8R, Case no. 99.8R.132, Cal. VH198, 43mm, black leather strap with pin buckle.

Sold yesterday for: CHF 52,500 ($52,500) + 24% Buyer Premium = $65,100.

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Why would anybody spend so much money on such a weird watch? GaryG explains.

[A]t first I’d be tempted to characterize the Antiqua as a “patronage” piece: one purchased in recognition of and in support of the great work of one of the most skilled independent watchmakers.

Upon reflection, however, I’m going to classify it as a member of the “investment” category: a watch that, regardless of its prospects for future financial appreciation, can be a foundational element of a carefully curated collection. For me, the Antiqua merits a spot in the watch box of any serious collector of independent watches, and I know that I’m certainly not alone in my view.

The truth is that I fell for the Antiqua when I first saw one more than a dozen years ago; while many of my friends will freely confess that at the time they were at first put off by its looks, I was smitten from the start. It took me a number of years to save up the money and find the right piece, but for me buying an Antiqua was just a matter of time.

I’ll start with one word: steampunk.

The steampunk ethic really appeals to me, and I appreciate Halter’s use of something he calls the Futur Anterieur (roughly, “the future as seen from the past”) as a guiding design principle. Because we cannot truly see the future, at any point in time we envision it through the lens of present-day items and technologies. As seen from the 1860s’ vantage point of Jules Verne, building a submarine or spaceship with heavy, riveted windows would have made perfect sense; and for the occupants of those vessels as imagined by Halter, a matching watch would be just the thing to have.

I think that it’s also fair to say that the Antiqua began the modern design movement in watches. A leading independent watchmaking impresario once told me that he considers the Antiqua “the missing link between traditional and contemporary watchmaking.”

I’m of like mind, and for this reason alone, for me the Antiqua is one of the few most important independent watches ever made.

RTWT

02 Jun 2018

Cheaper Than a Rolex

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Bukowskis, June 7, 2018, 1:00 PM CET, Stockholm, Sweden, Important Spring Sale 609 – Day 1,

Lot 194: HENRI DE BARY, POCKET WATCH, SILVER, PROBABLY LATE 17TH CENTURY
HENRI DE BARY, POCKET WATCH, SILVER, PROBABLY LATE 17TH CENTURY
Est: kr30,000 – kr40,000 [$3666 – 4888]
Starting bid: kr24,000 [$2932.80]

Description: Verge escapement, keywound, three sub dials for time, date and lunar date and three windows showing moon phases, months and the zodiac, engraved signature and 265, 50 mm, outer case 57,5 mm

Condition Report: One hand missing

And more complications than a Patek Philippe!

29 Sep 2016

The Hermeneutics of the Expensive Watch

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rolex

Matt Meltzer wore expensive watches (rented from this company) on several different occasions, and found that people treated him “wayyy differently.”

Many long years ago, an art dealer friend from Yale asked me to accompany him to look at a collection, pretending to be a wealthy interested collector. (I forget exactly why bringing along a ringer was desirable.) Before we departed for the meeting, my fashion-plate art dealer friend looked me over, decided my contemptibly ordinary Tissot wristwatch would never do, and hurriedly lent me a solid-gold Corum to wear.

My poor old Tissot finally died of old age, I replaced it, and the next one died as well after about a year. I bought a Timex, but I didn’t much like it, and it died even quicker. Going to a watch dealer to get new batteries put in constantly seemed to be a nuisance, so I decided finally to buy a better, more durable watch. I was also really sick of scratching watch crystals and needing to get them replaced. An expensive watch commonly has a practically-indestructible artificial sapphire crystal.

My choice (pictured above) was perhaps boringly conventional. I bought the gold-and-steel version of the Rolex DateJust with the Jubilee band.

Rolexes are sport watches, which you can wear doing manual labor and outdoor sports. The gold raises the watch’s formality just enough that the same watch is also perfectly appropriate for formal evening wear. With this model, one only needs one watch.

Once I started wearing my Rolex, I began noticing covert wrist glances from other people at business meetings and social occasions, and before long I found myself also taking other peoples’ wristwatches as a strong clue to each individual’s professional and social level, overall affluence, and adult sophistication. Wear that Rolex or Girard Perregaux, and you will catch new acquaintances making small facial expressions of approval after that covert questioning glance at your left wrist.

When you reach a certain point of middle-age, not owning a real watch, i.e. an expensive name brand watch, tends to suggest that you have never at any one time had a whole bunch of free cash and/or that you are some kind of Puritanical hippy with an ideological thing about high-end consumerism.

Pari passu, wearing too complicated a watch tends to make your viewing audience suspect that you are a Walter-Mitty fighter pilot/racing driver wannabee. Wearing a truly hideously expensive watch avec complications tells people you are a deranged watch collector who probably has a hedge fund. A watch is a form of self-expression that requires some exercise of personal judgement and taste.

I must confess, though: Watch prices have gone up so much that I would never ever buy my Rolex today.

25 Aug 2015

Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 5175

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TheGrandmasterChime

Built to celebrate the company’s 175th anniversary, the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 5175 is so complicated that it is absolutely fascinating to watch it being designed and built.

Link to the 10:37 video is here.

Patek Philippe page

It is also so expensive ($2.6 million) that buying one would give Donald Trump pause.

I thought the end result is all-in-all a bit too much, but I still loved watching the video.

The video link came to me in an email from a fly rod building list.

22 Nov 2011

Hublot Building a Watch With Complications Based on the Antikythera Mechanism

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The Hodinkee blog recently reported that the Hublot watch company of Geneva is building a new ultra complication watch as a tribute to the Antikythera Mechanism.

The finished product, scheduled to be unveiled at a show in Basel next Spring, will combine a watch with the functions recently identified by archaeologists in the Antikythera device.

Past discussions of the Antikythera Mechanism.

Hat tip to Paul Ceruzzi.

06 Mar 2010

Conspicuous Timekeeping

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Karen forwarded from Gizmodo this expensive gadget, the Thomas Prescher Mysterious Double Axis Tourbillon (link).

This wristwatch, which its maker prefers to call “a mysterious kinetic sculpture,” has its escapement beating visibly in the center located between oscillating weights and the time and calendar faces. The works are artfully concealed within the frame, and the wearer can apparently read the time from either side or position. The effects of gravity are negated by a tourbillon design causing the carriage “to rotate around itself.”

The Prescher Double Axis Tourbillon costs a mere CHF 330,000.00 (a bit more than $300,000) in yellow or red gold, slightly more in white gold. What it costs in platinum, you probably don’t want to know.

Somebody must still have this kind of money.

Hat tip to Watchismo.


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