Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Rolex Yacht-Master 40 Everose Oysterflex
Gary Smith

Is the new Rolex Yacht-Master the most radical Rolex in years?

So long the awkward child of the Rolex collection, the Yacht-Master is reborn in 2015 as one of the coolest kids on the block, and the Crown’s first ever watch on a synthetic strap.

To the readers of QP, Eric Clapton is as well known for his watch collecting as for his musical skills or his troubled personal life; yet it is difficult to realise that he only rose to prominence as a collector a dozen years ago. It was in June 2003 that Christie’s NYC held a sale which featured 25 watches from his collection which he sold to benefit the Crossroads foundation, a drugs rehabilitation charity which he had founded.

The most unusual piece was lot 181, a steel Cosmograph 6239 from 1965, with a most unusual dial, a strange combination of a “Paul Newman” dial and a conventional one. Whilst the running seconds and hour totaliser dials were like other Paul Newman dials, the 30 minute register lacked the square block indices at the five minute marks. At the very bottom of this register was a tricolour sector just outside the area between the 15 and 20 minute marks, a bizarre location for what was supposed to be a regatta timer; it would have made much more sense between the 0 and 5 minute marks.
Rolex Yacht Master
The original Yacht Master, as owned by Eric Clapton
Rolex Yacht Master

This wasn’t the only unusual feature of the dial; the outer red seconds track was much further from the bezel than normal. But the strangest thing about the watch was that the expected name of “Daytona” was nowhere to be seen; in its place was the anachronistic model name of “Yacht Master”.

Rolex Yacht Master

The first "proper" Yacht-Master (with hyphen!) from 1992
Rolex Yacht Master

In many ways, the watch was a perfect example of Rolex during the Patrick Heiniger years: subdued ostentation. And it was during the Heiniger years that Rolex began to sponsor major yachting competitions, including the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup (for seagoing leviathans which can cost between $5m and $100m to build) held in plutocrats playgrounds such as Newport, Rhode Island, Nice, Monaco and Porto Cuervo, further identifying the brand with money & privilege.

Rolex Yacht Master
Alain Costa

Hermes Slim d'Hermes Perpetual Calendar
Claude Joray

Slimmer than the average: why Hermes' perpetual calendar is the most important watch it has made

With the Slim d’Hermès, the luxury maison has drawn on a network of horological resources to create one of the outstanding watches of 2015

A few years ago, I remember chatting with Guillaume de Seynes, a member of the Hermès family and of the company’s board, about the recent acquisitions of a dial company, a case manufacturer and a 25 per cent stake in a movement supplier, Vaucher Manufacture Fleurier. When I asked him why, he didn’t mention watches in his reply; rather he told me about Hermès’ famed silk scarves. In the 1940s, the firm was as famous for its scarves as now, but then there were 30-plus suppliers: various companies imported the silk yarn, other firms wove the silk, others printed the scarves while someone else did the hand rolling of the edges. Now, Hermès owns and operates every facet of its scarf production; he told me that in the luxury industry the one thing your clients demand is consistency, and you can only obtain that via complete control – and with that control also comes the flexibility to do interesting things.

In the watch world, one of the most interesting “things” of the past year has been the Slim d’Hermès: a hit at Baselworld and, in its exceptional perpetual calendar guise, a winner in its category at November’s Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve. A relaxed dress watch that comes both in women’s and men’s sizes, it’s notable in particular for its airy dial aesthetic, with an exclusive stencil-style font for the numerals, designed by Parisian graphic designer Philippe Apeloig.
Hermes
Hermes

Hermes
Hermes

Wiederrecht and his team have built movements and modules for clients as varied as Harry Winston, Van Cleef & Arpels, Fabérgé, Romain Jerome and MB&F. What marks it out from most other firms – including Vaucher, for instance – is its method of operation: it doesn’t actually make anything. Rather, it designs everything in-house, using the most modern CAD facility I’ve ever seen. A small army of specialist sub-contractors then manufactures each part and delivers it to Agenhor’s modern plant in Meyrin, where its watchmakers do the assembly.

Hermes
Hermes

What Wiederrecht and co have come up with for the Slim d’Hermès is truly special. The perpetual calendar is the most useful of complications, the original “wear it and forget it” watch – until, that is, you want to travel with one. The problem is you can’t turn them back a day, which you regularly need to if you travel west across the International Date Line. But that isn’t a problem with the Slim d’Hermès perpetual calendar, as it includes a second time zone dial along with all the expected indicators, and it manages this in a module which is only 1.4mm thick. When the module is stacked on top of the H1950, it’s 4mm thick – a supremely skinny engine for a self-winding perpetual calendar with the addition of a second time zone and day/night indicator.
But this is a watch in which lightness of touch is the defining factor across the different parts of its design, as Delhotal explained. “The important thing is the balance between the different aspects of the watch. It isn’t just the case or the dial colour or the typography – it is how all of them go together in harmony that makes the watch.”

Hermes
Hermes

The case and the typography were in fact worked on at the same time, Apeloig, who has worked with Hermes on previous projects but not on watches, coming up with the unique typeface. What makes this work perfectly is the use of white space breaking up the forms of the numbers. There is enough of the outline visible for the eye to quickly read and understand the numbers, but they are broken up in such a way as to appear playful on the dial. It makes what is otherwise a very simple dial in the three-hand versions, and a very traditional one in the perpetual calendar, seem not in the least austere.

“It’s like music and an orchestra”, says Delhotal. “The best results come when all the players work together.” The collective efforts from a broad group of collaborators have produced one of the most accomplished new watches of 2015, and one that richly deserved its victory at the GPHG as the best calendar watch of the year.
Frodsham Chronometer
Courtesy of Frodsham

The full story of the Charles Frodsham Double Impulse Chronometer

The first new English watch in nearly half a century has been in development for 25 years. One man has been following the story since the early years; now he charts the various paths that led to the first wristwatch ever to bear the name of Charles Frodsham

There hasn't been a mechanical wristwatch made in England since Smith’s closed its factory half a century ago (geographical pedants know that the Isle of Man is not in England) so when Charles Frodsham introduced its new Double Impulse Chronometer watch in 2018, it marked the return of watchmaking to the country which played the most important part in its development.

I have known the guys behind Frodsham for over a quarter-century, but that is a mere blink of an eye compared to the 184 years since Charles Frodsham founded the firm and 175 years since they became England’s premier maker of chronometers after purchasing the firm of John Roger Arnold. The Victorian era was one of consolidation among the great English watch and clock makers and by the end of the 19th century, there were just two great firms trading in London – Dent and Frodsham. Dent built the clock in the tower of Pugin’s new Houses of Parliament, while Frodsham built chronometers for the Royal Navy and regulators for astronomical observatories around the world.

Frodsham Double Chronometer Prototype Watch
The first Frodsham prototype watch
Courtesy of Frodsham

Through two world wars (including being bombed out of their premises in 1941) and the austerity following them, the firm continued production, but in the mid 1990s it was purchased by Philip Whyte, one of London’s leading dealers in marine chronometers and precision timekeeping.
He brought in as a partner Richard Stenning, who had previously worked for seven years in the watch and clock department at Sotheby’s. Prior to this he had studied horology at Hackney, under Peter Roberts. By then, the Frodsham business specialised in buying and selling timepieces from their premises in St James and servicing & repairing them from their workshop in Heathfield, Sussex.
The firm came swiftly to the conclusion that they needed to get back into manufacturing, but whether to make chronometer desk clocks or a watch?
Although Frodsham’s history had been based on chronometer clocks and precision regulators, by the end of the 19th century it had been regularly winning awards for its watches, one of its tourbillons achieving the highest marks ever attained by an English watch at Kew observatory, in 1906. So, it was an easy decision to go ahead with a watch.
Frodsham Double Chronometer Steel Roman Dial
Courtesy of Frodsham

Frodsham Detent Lever
The Detent itself
Martin W Dorsch

Breguet filed a patent for one in 2003, while Christophe Claret unveiled his Maestoso watch in 2014, but the first company to actually introduce a detent wristwatch was Urban Jurgensen in 2011. I was present at the launch of the watch and listened as Jean-Francois Mojon & Kari Voutilainen explained the procedures and modifications needed to make this delicate mechanism work in such a hostile environment. They told how the project had begun when the firm was under the ownership of Peter Baumberger and that the initial research had been done by the firm’s technical director, Derek Pratt. Neither of whom, unfortunately, lived to see the launch of the Urban Jurgensen detent watch.

Frodsham Double Chronometer Winding Work
The beautifully finished winding works of the production movement
Courtesy of Frodsham

Frodsham Double Chronometer Proof Of Concept
The proof-of-concept movement
Courtesy of Frodsham

Frodsham Double Chronometer Final Movement Prototype
The final prototype movement
Martin W Dorsch

One of the three prototypes was left exactly as it was when produced, for comparison with the other two which underwent a huge number of iterations. Initially, the escapement geometries were made to George Daniels’ original designs for a pocket watch, but subtle changes were incorporated into the wristwatch version, for example a change in the roller diameter and the position of the secondary locking jewels. They experimented with different materials for the escape wheels; many were tried and rejected before they finally decided on titanium. The dynamic workings of the escapement are very different to any theoretical modelling. The variables measured included wear, lubricity, how quickly the escape wheel released, how quickly it accelerated, and its terminal velocity at the point of impulse.
Frodsham Double Chronometer Escapement
The Double Chronometer escapement
Colin Crisford

One of the most beautiful aspects of the movement is the asymmetric three-armed balance bridge, which combines exceptional stability with an almost unhindered view of the balance assembly. It was not always this way. Over the development period, the bridge was tried with two arms and also as a simple balance cock. It takes an astonishing 11 hours of hand polishing to achieve the desired finish.

Frodsham Double Chronometer Steel Arabic Dial
Martin W Dorsch

Rolex Oyster 1926
Christopher Beccan

The watch that changed everything: the 90th anniversary of the Rolex Oyster

A unique 90-year-old Rolex gives us cause to look back at the invention that cemented not just the reputation of watchmaking’s most famous house, but the very viability of the wristwatch itself.


Rolex did something truly astonishing in 1927: it released a genuinely waterproof wristwatch that, unlike earlier efforts from other firms, neither looked nor felt unusual, and could be worn on a daily basis. The seasoned Rolex enthusiast may well recognise the model above as an early example of that historic game-changer: a first generation Rolex Oyster.
That would make it 89 years old. But its markings tell us that it is, in fact, one year older than that. While the first models dodate from 1927 – famously, the English swimmer Mercedes Gleitze was given one to wear as she swum across the Channel that October – it was in 1926 that the Oyster was conceived and prototyped; and indeed, the one pictured here is just such a 90-year-old prototype. On such an anniversary, the details of how and why the Oyster came to be are worth examining. 

Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex, was never a watchmaker. In all his legal documents he gave his profession as “merchant” – someone who buys and sells. This is important to understand, because for the five decades and more that he ran the firm, Rolex didn’t make watches from scratch as it does now; rather, it assembled them. Movements were bought from one firm and cases from another, as were dials, bracelets and all the other components. Rolex was able to take commonly made items and assemble them into something special, thanks in particular to Wilsdorf’s talent for spotting a hole in the market. Nowadays we would call him a marketing genius, and nothing exemplifies this skill more than the story of the Rolex Oyster.

The trench warfare of WWI had demonstrated the advantages of the wristwatch over the pocket watch, and Rolex had been one of the first watch manufacturers to capitalise on this shift. But in the following years civilian users of wristwatches had two complaints: they weren’t as accurate as their pocket watches of old, and they had a tendency to need servicing much more often than pocket watches, since the oils got clogged with dust and detritus or the movements succumbed to water ingress.


Rolex Oyster
Christopher Beccan

The first attempts at making a water-resistant wristwatch came with “hermetic” cased watches from the early 1920s. Here, the watch was completely encased in a second outer case, and could be wound and set by unscrewing the bezel and flipping the watch out on its hinge. This design had two major problems, due to the use of gold or silver for the cases. Both being very soft metals, the daily unscrewing of the bezel caused the screw threads and bezel knurling to wear out, the former meaning that the watch was no longer waterproof and the latter meaning it became difficult to unscrew the bezel anyway.

Christopher Beccan

Wilsdorf would have made it a habit to scour the entries in the Swiss patent register for anything he thought that he could use, and patent 114948 certainly fitted that description. It was filed by two gentlemen from La Chaux-de-Fonds, Paul Perregaux and Georges Peret, and proposed a system for a winding crown that screwed down on to a threaded tube protruding from the case. As the crown was in the normal position and unencumbered by a cap or an extra case, it was much easier to use and therefore much more likely to achieve sales success; Wilsdorf lost no time in acquiring the patent from its owners, and within months the Rolex Oyster was on the market.

Or so the accepted history has it, though recent research refines the story. In a 2010 article in the US National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors (NAWCC) Bulletin, watch historian David Boettcher showed that the patent was in fact transferred to one Charles Rodolphe Spillmann, who owned a casemaking firm in La Chaux-de-Fonds, on July 19, 1926. Then, five days later, it was transferred from Spillmann to Wilsdorf himself – interestingly, not to Rolex directly. After a further five days, on July 29, Mr. Wilsdorf registered the trademark “Oyster” and the package was complete: case, crown and name were all in place.


Rolex Oyster
Christopher Beccan
Rolex Oyster
Christopher Beccan


Rolex Oyster
Rolex

Rolex Oyster
Christopher Beccan

In the mid-1930s Rolex moved from the complex three-part Oyster case to a simpler two piece design which integrated the bezel into the case body and did away with the movement holder, and Spillmann seems to have vanished from the Oyster story – but not, in fact, permanently. In the 1960s the initials “C.R.S.” are to be seen inside the casebacks of Rolex chronographs, and this relationship continued for almost two decades. Neither was it the end of the cushion case, of course: in the late 1930s Rolex produced an oversized version of this case for an obscure Italian instrument maker, Officine Panerai. The rest, on that front at least, is the stuff of watchmaking legend.