2017 Horological Highlights
Looking back to the highlights of the past year and forward to main watch shows in 2018
Article by John Galt
Now that the festive period is well and truly over and the New Year has kicked in with a bang, down in the office that is Calibre Times it’s that time of year where normality starts to kick in. I sit down with a laptop and glass or two of Scotch and ponder the horological delights that struck a chord with me over the last year and also ponder what magic the watch world will throw at me this year; so let’s first look back at the main time pieces that got the juices flowing from the past calendar year and the main disappointment from last year.
Let start with the highlights…
Seiko Prospex SRPA21 PADI Turtle
The Padi Turtle is actually a remake modelled on the Seiko 6309 divers of the mid-1970s to late 1980s, characterized by an ovoid case shaped like a turtle’s shell (how the nickname came about). Though it is faithfully shaped like the original, the Turtle remake is slightly larger at 45mm (versus 44mm) in diameter. Despite the size, on the wrist the Turtle wears like a much smaller watch because of its short lugs.
Unlike most Seiko dive watches that have a flat or semi-glossy dial finish, the PADI turtle has a lovely sun ray-brushed, metallic blue dial. Red accents are smartly distributed around the dial: namely the five-minute hashmarks and minute hand. Together with the metallic finish they give the watch a lively feel. The PADI diving logo is displayed on the dial, displacing the X-shaped Prospex logo to 12 o’clock. As with most divers the hands are broad. Inside is the calibre 4R36, the workhorse automatic found in many of Seiko’s mid-range automatic watches. It can be manually wound and features hack seconds. Whilst extremely robust, the 4R36 has a nice 41-hour power reserve. The PADI diver is a special, rather than limited, edition, meaning it will be made for a limited period of time. Priced at £495 it’s a total bargain for what you get and I’m sure they certainly won’t be around for long. I liked the above so much that I do own one in my collection and have swopped straps a couple of times
Best break through: The Zenith Defy Lab
Zenith impressed and knocked the industry and collectors for six this year with their hugely innovative Defy lab watch. First though please put to the back of your mind the very Hublot-esque looking case design and the somewhat special material used for the case. The piece de resistance of this watch is the movement and its new regulating organ that challenged the basic operating principles of mechanical watch regulation. The balance spring was first invented in 1675 by Christiaan Huygens, his invention has since got the whole watchmaking industry reliant on his Swiss lever escapement system (balance wheel, balance spring and the escapement combination).
With the Defy Lab, Zenith introduced a brand new system, with a monolithic oscillator made of silicon. The anchor is integrated within the oscillator (just like the anchor can be integrated to the pendulum for some clocks) and works in conjunction with a silicon escape wheel. The rest of the movement is conventional; the calibre combines high frequency (15Hz or 108,000 vibrations per hour) with low amplitude (+/- 6 degrees versus around 300 degrees for a standard balance wheel). The accuracy of the mechanism is extremely impressive. Zenith announces a daily rate precise to 0.3 seconds per day which is unheard of in mechanical watches. The monolithic structure of the oscillator with the use of silicon also makes the movement virtually insensitive to temperature changes, gravity and magnetic fields eliminating key weaknesses of traditional hairsprings. Most surprising is that this new system has been made relatively simple so as such shouldn’t be seen as just another concept movement but something that could be mass produced in the near future.
Now for my main disappointment for last year
Rolex Sea-Dweller 126600
The 50th anniversary of the Sea-Dweller was hotly anticipated, including by myself having owned one in the past, but when it finally arrived it was, quite simply, underwhelming.
Several changes were introduced on this model. Some of them have been applauded (even by me). Some of them a big let-down. First, the red line of text, in an nod to the inaugural 1967 edition Rolex decided to print the name “Sea-Dweller” in red on the dial; a vintage reference that most loved. Then, there is the addition of a new movement, the Calibre 3235, the next-gen calibre being more powerful, more precise and more advanced in terms of technology.
Now the disappointments or more controversial elements. In order to differentiate this new version from previous models but mainly from the Submariner (both shared the same 40mm diameter), Rolex have decided to make enlarge this 2017 version to 43mm. Everything has morphed in size; the bezel is larger, the bracelet is larger and thus heavier, the case is larger and hands and indexes have gone up in size.
Finally, the main talking point among collectors, and certainly one of the main reason apart from size for my disappointment, is it features a cyclops just like the Submariner. Historically, the Rolex Sea-Dweller never had a magnifier over the date. Never. The Rolex Sea-Dweller now realigns with the rest of the collection, where all Rolex watches with date window have a cyclops (with the exception of the Deep-Sea, which is technically impossible given its depth rating). Considering the resulting chatter, this addition is clearly not to everybody’s taste. This piece was a disappointment given it was released to commemorate the model’s 50th anniversary. Personally I was hoping for either an ode to older times or fresh new look but the changes are an unbalanced half way house and don’t suit the watch.
What’s to come in 2018
First up on the watch calendar is SIHH which starts the third week of January mostly the show is brands owned by the Richemont group so the likes of A. Lange & Söhne, Baume & Mercier, Cartier, IWC Schaffhausen and Officine Panerai will be showing off their latest models and conceptual ideas. Like last year, there is a quietly growing independents section slightly away from the main area with the likes of Christophe Claret, HYT, Urwerk and Romain Jerome and many other innovative niche brands.
The minute that SIHH finishes, Calibre Times’ mail box will start filling up with the many press releases that come thick and fast in the lead up to the world’s biggest watch show BaselWorld. And so the horological dance starts again…