This article was originally a series of hastily-composed posts in "The Watch Appreciation Thread", in August 2013. My apologies, then, for any curse words, in-jokes, references to specific members' tastes, and typos!
I am very much a non-expert in this field, but I'd like to think that is rather the point: this is me, Joe ordinary, discovering things I like and don't, while I had the opportunity to see an unusually broad selection under one roof.
All comments are appreciated, and I hope you find something to enjoy.
The Tyre-Kicker's Diary
As I mentioned above, I spent the last two days in Dubai for administrative reasons, without an awful lot useful to do. I did catch up with an old friend or two, but rather than sit in my hotel room on the computer and do something productive, I basically spent most of my time in the Dubai Mall. Aside from a few shoe shops and a movie, my time was dedicated pretty much entirely to wasting the time of salespeople in watch boutiques.
That perhaps came out a little meaner than I meant it. During the day time, mid week, these places are very quiet. Sales assistants are standing around to attention, mostly a bit bored, and more than happy to chat about their collections, comparisons and competitors, with someone who now has (thanks to you guys), at least the basic knowledge of a new sales assistant! And my tyre-kicking wasn't entirely insincere, of course. I might be broke right now, and the tiny acquisition I have in mind over the next few weeks might be laughable compared to the wonders that I saw this week. But as others have mentioned, anyone who's interested in a watch is a potential customer. Business has good years and bad years. And for my next good year, someone's going to benefit, at least in some small way. And it's likely to be one of them.
From my point of view, I got to hang out in some very well decorated and pleasant surroundings, drink some surprisingly decent free coffee, and chat to some pleasant and knowledgeable people about things in which I have developed an interest. I was able, like a small boy sitting on a fire engine, to have the fantasy experience of putting insanely complicated and expensive things on my wrist. And perhaps more importantly, to establish from among those things I think I might be able to buy one day, which would actually work for me, and which wouldn't. From the sales assistants' point of view, they got to be seen to be busy by the boss, with someone who was polite, friendly and I hope stimulating company, and who they could reasonably hope will be a customer some day. That is, of course, if they care: companies in this region pay zero or terrible commission, so it's often just a wage game. In which case, I think they just enjoyed having a visitor to talk to.
I'm conscious in all this that our friend Nuke has had a terrible experience of being (mis) assessed by sales assistants and ignored. I, as someone with small change in my pocket and less in the bank, was treated well everywhere. It helps being forty-one, of a certain physical presence, and the confidence born of age and experience to wander into such a place like I'm expecting a round of applause. Good shoes and a recently tailored Canali sports jacket also helped, I imagine. That I'd thrifted the latter (first time in my life!) for ten bucks the week before was known only to me, but the adjustments worked well, and as I was probably the only man in the entire "World's Largest" mall wearing a jacket, certainly by choice, I suppose I would have made an impression. I only hope that a shorts-wearing Chinese billionaire wasn't ignored at some stage because I was taking my time!
There were a couple of things I said that got me taken seriously as well, I think: asking about specific models and what's new, gave the sales assistants somewhere to start and showed I had at least a passing interest in the brand. Wearing a watch with a story (my 43 year old Omega) was a nice ice breaker too. Also, I asked about the reasonably priced pieces and only admired the great wonders in their cases. Until we had a rapport, after which I'd say quite clearly that I would probably never be able to buy such a thing, and then ask to have a look anyway just for fun. That is not a concept alien to shop assistants, and perfectly acceptable once they've found you to be a pleasant person and showing a genuine interest - even in their entry level models.
Anyway, tyre-kicking tips over. Time to talk about some specific watches. I'll do each boutique as a separate post, but spoiler the content so I don't stuff up the whole page with my ramblings. Also because the pictures might be large - my Blackberry camera is useless, for which I apologise in advance. I'll therefore upload full size to compensate for the blur and poor quality!
And to close this introduction, a repeat of yesterday's: I didn't see anything I actually thought I'd ever buy in Blancpain, so flat out asked to see the minute repeater just for my own amusement. I only went in because I saw it in the window. As the place was entirely empty, they were only too happy. Here's a rotated pic for better viewing. I have to say, it is a remarkable looking beast:
Now, onward: first stop Cartier.
1. Cartier (Click to show)
To be honest, Cartier was kind of ticking a box because it was there. I've tried on a couple in my local AD that were sort of fun, but nothing that set my heart on fire. I like that their style is distinctive, but it's not really me. What I really liked in there was more in mind as potential gift for Mrs mimo. And who cares about that, eh? She wasn't even there.
So I went in anyway, looked at some of the exotic stuff but didn't trouble them (there were some customers in and I didn't want to waste the time), but I was intrigued by just one thing: the Santos. For more than one reason. It's funny that Ms "Weirdgums" Upton appears to be wearing one; that's why it was on my mind - I was just looking at them. The reasons were firstly, that it was one of the few manly-sized steel watches in the boutique (I did like the Tank Solo I tried a few months ago though), and that I'd always thought of the Santos as a tiny watch. This is a chunk of steel:
It's kind of cool, but it's not me. Too big for formal wear, and I'm just not quite buying the look as a casual piece. I like it, but it could never be love.
Here's the second reason for my intrigue, though, going back to the conversation about Tommy Hilfiger's dispute: take a look at that octagonal crown, and those screws in the bezel. I can't help but wonder why Audemars Piguet aren't suing Cartier
Not much going on there. It gets better though, I promise:
2. Audemars Piguet
Thanks largely to Dino's most eloquent and informative evangelism, I had to see a Royal Oak in person. My local AD has a couple of APs, but the only ROs are either ladies', or freakish Offshore models - the kind of thing that Derek S would buy if he won the lottery, and wear to the beach with mink-lined budgie-smugglers and a tiara.
But in pictures at least, the one that I like most is the RO chronograph. I like the standard one too, but the simple date (sorry, "day counter"!) irritates. In the chrono, it is neatly pushed into the background by the subdials and location. So, simple question: do you have a steel RO, please sir? And they did. Two.
So this is it. I like the white dial because it really shows up the "tapisserie" and makes the subdials stand out nicely. Also, everything Dino said about the quality of this thing is serious. The first thing I noticed was that the edge of every link in the bracelet felt sharp and neat against my hand when I picked it up. The case, obscured here slightly by the plastic cover, is just perfect. It's an extraordinary piece of manufacturing.
There's a problem, though. It's big. This is the current standard RO, and at 41mm, it's not what I wanted it to be. What I love about the RO, like the Nautilus or Daytona, is that it works as a sporty, distinctive dress watch. You can wear it with a polo and jeans or a suit for a meeting just as easily. Except now you can't because it's too big. It doesn't slide under the sleeve easily, and with the shiny multiplier effect of the integrated bracelet it shouts pretty loud from your wrist. That's what the ROO does, and why I don't like them. Disappointment. BUT there's a smaller one. The "unisex" 37mm model. Not in the chrono, but same case to try and here it is:
Now, I wear a 35mm dress watch quite a lot, so I'm used to smaller watches. And this 37mm RO was once upon a time the standard, I think. It's pretty good. Almost. Because somehow, maybe it's just the size inflation in modern watches, but it's not big enough. Now it's subtle under the sleeve, it feels nice enough. But it's somehow lost its manly sportiness. What I'm asking myself is whether I want the one that no longer exists: the single size of yesteryear, the 39mm they don't make any more.
They do make it in gold, though. So I tried the one they had, on a strap, but I think the point is made:
That's the size! Apart from the strap's being too tight, it was perfect. Also, I might be swaying to the blue dial having seen this. It's pleasingly warm and loses none of the texture. I'm told it's the colour of the original RO too. So this, in steel, on a bracelet? Now only available used? But for about $12k. That's cheaper than a new Daytona. Actually, it's about the same as a nearly-new Daytona. I have learned something new here. I know the size that looks and feels right, and it's not what I expected. And I know that I no longer automatically want a Daytona if and when I look for a watch in this category - and there's a choice for the same price.
3. Richard Mille
Now this really piqued my curiosity. I know very little about this maker, and this is the only boutique in the Middle East, recently opened. Again, I had to tell the (desperately bored) sales assistant that I'd just come in out of curiosity. But we had a very pleasant chat. What I ended up trying was the cheapest thing in the room. But it was the only one I could imagine wearing. Given the price, I'll be imagining for quite a long time. Recognise it?
Full frontals (Click to show)
4. Jaeger LeCoultre
There are some JLCs I like the look of. The Master Home Time, the Master Reserve, the Geographic (especially the platinum one with the flip cover on the case back), and several more. Maybe the most obvious would be the MUT Moon, which is beautiful in person, but the simple date annoys me. Also the Grand Ultra Thin. But the latter was a disappointment to me: perhaps if it had something going on on that huge dial in terms of texture. Perhaps if the hands were blued or the hour markers were interesting (they look a tiny bit like a Seamaster's, but flat). Perhaps a lot of things, but in the flesh, I didn't love it. It needs more personality, and as Nuke said, some JLCs are just boring. What I've found is that there are a lot I like, but I struggle to love one. Make the GUT a mm or two smaller, blue just the hand on the seconds subdial...give the dial some tone or texture. And I'll love it, maybe.
There are two that I find very lovable. The Duometre, which is usually gold and I didn't take a closer look. And the Reverso. With the Reverso, I have an issue though: I like the quintessential solid caseback for its original purpose, of protecting the watch when turned. It's also a nice idea to engrave for a family heirloom or similar. But in general, it's a dress watch, which means I'm generally liking stick markers, and a bit of interest on the dial. Enter the Grande Taille or "big size". Lovely guilloche, traditional style, small seconds that I love, and blued hands. Perfect. Except that the "big size" isn't, really. Bigger than the original, bigger than the girls' one. But smaller than the others. I put it on, and it just wasn't right. I was so disappointed I didn't even take a pic. Stitchy mentioned this before. As we're about the same size, I should have listened to him: I just figured as a Squadra and Panerai owner he liked big watches. But Stitchy spoke truth: the "Grande Taille" is a little modest.
But there are dozens of Reversos, and two that I like. Basically, we're into the 1931:
I absolutely loved the way this sat against my wrist. OK, the Arabic numbers wouldn't have been my choice, but given the style they actually look pretty good. The blued hands and guilloche are lovely. I really, really liked this watch when I didn't expect to. I kind of expected then to like its slender and evil twin, and I did:
Isn't that lovely? They're pretty hard to choose between. There's also the Rouge, although I didn't bother with that. I know it would lose out to the others in a head to head for wearability, and I have another red-dialed plan at some point anyway. So it's between the neat, clean, stick markers and slimness on the cool black dial. And the rich guilloche, blued hands and satisfying wrist presence of its sister. Maybe one of each for day and night? After all, should they really be separated?
And talking of day and night, a couple of other sisters came to visit....
Not that either of those are for me. It has to be the solid caseback I think, unless it's something really unusual. But I've learned a good lesson from having these in hand: the one I wanted, isn't the one I actually want. That's the 1931. Or two. I have some time to think about it...
In the mean time, a brief interlude, dedicated to "Fanboi" Stitchy:
5. Glashütte Original
I like this maker. I seem to be a fan of most things German, and some of GO's designs are very individual and unusual, but still tasteful somehow. My local AD has all of two GO watches, so to see a boutique full of them was an opportunity I didn't miss. What I was hoping to see was a Panograph - something truly different, and to me the watch that I always think of first when I hear the name. Alas, they didn't have one. But a couple of other things did catch my eye - within my "no gold" restriction, my first attraction was to this:
The similarities with the Lange 1 are obvious, although in some ways I like this more than most of those (even though I love Lange more than any other - we'll come to that too!). The reason is the asymmetry of the dial, whereas most Lange 1s are very symmetrically asymmetric. GO's own iconic version of the big date (is "iconic" used a little too much about watches?) really pops, and is a "day counter" worth its salt in aesthetics and engineering alone. And I love the power reserve. In general, it's a most useful function on a manual wind, and it looks great. Small seconds always appeal to me, and this slate grey dial is pretty cool too.
One thing I forgot to mention: the GO boutique was one of the most interesting in itself. They have some unusual art about the place, and jazz as the background music. I checked with the sales assistant, and it was definitely company policy and not his choice! I speculated as to whether they'd done some market research and found that a certain demographic liked straight ahead jazz and certain styles of watches. Perhaps. Or perhaps someone at GO just associates the two. Either way, the black/white/grey theme, wall art and music all reinforced the feel I had for the brand as a whole, and made visiting them more memorable.
Now, back to the Pano reserve. It's big for a dress watch (I seem to be saying that a lot), but it's a bold design and I suppose that works. It feels wearable though, and being steel, is a lot more accessible than its cousins from ALS. One extra bonus is the incredible strap. A couple of months ago I mentioned a visit to my new local Panerai boutique, and one thing that left a lasting impression was the "Jules Verne" sueded croc strap on the 343. This is something similar - fat, padded, sueded croc that feels totally luxurious. The bluish grey colour here is original and distinctive too. It certainly gives an added feel of value and specialness about the whole package.
Edit: how could I forget the rear end? Glashuette stripes, unique hand-engraved balance cocks...not bad at all.
So the Pano Reserve is definitely one that I won't forget quickly. I did say "a couple" of watches caught my eye, the other being the PR's tourbillon-toting case sister. Well out of my league, and I forgot to take a picture. But here's some blurry video, just because I love you:
There are two reasons I went into the Breguet boutique. The first is that I wanted to see the Transatlantique. As sports watches go, I suppose it's not really unique, but ever since I saw a version in platinum with a salmon dial, I've had a mental image of myself cruising on some luxurious liner, sitting in a deck chair with my feet up, and checking how long until lunch on one of these. Well, everything has its place.
What I knew immediately was that the most recent models are too big. I know I keep saying this, but a pure sports watch in 40-42mm case is fine by me, and beyond that it goes into caricature. For a watch that's supposed to be more versatile and wearable in smarter circumstances, 40mm seems to be a sensible limit, and 38-39 my personal sweet spot. Sure, I get a 47mm Panerai and I'd even have one. But that's supposed to be caricature of itself, it's part of the image. It seems wrong on a Breguet.
But the one I'd originally liked the look of was a Type XX, and those are also still available. They had a few in the case, and this was my first pick:
Given the choice, I might lose the date and go with the "Aeronavale" version (below), but I'm nit-picking. This is well under $10k for a premium brand chrono, and I like it on a strap. It certainly fits my privileged deckchair daydream perfectly reasonably. The strap is nice, I like the very sporty hands and the odd sized subdials. This watch has personality. Loafers, linen shirt, dusk and dinner al fresco...yep, it would work for me.
As a sporty watch, I wanted to try it on a bracelet too, and here it is:
The one on a bracelet was the Aeronavale, and as far as the dial goes, it's great. BUT that bracelet just doesn't work for me. The convex links are cool, the quality felt great and the overall feel was very pleasing. But damn, it's shiny. Now I'm not pretending that this is some tool watch that needs to look utilitarian, it's a Breguet. But it's also a stainless steel chronograph, and this is just a little too much gleaming show. So, this version, with the strap above. I know what I like.
In the mean time, I said there was a second reason for going into Breguet, and it was something I saw in the window. I was admiring it online recently and recognised it immediately as I walked past. At first glance it's not as showy as an exposed tourbillon or a lump of rose gold. But when you already know what it is, it stops you in your tracks:
Being platinum and a serious complication, it's thick and heavy, but also quite a restrained diameter overall. And I hope you'll admit, it looks absolutely great on me! Then again, it would probably look great on most people, because it is great. The guilloche on the dial, the gold relief symbols on the moonphase, the varied shapes of the blued hands to make them more distinct...every tiny detail..it's just stunning to me. Fundamentally, like any watch in this price range, I suppose it's inherently foolish. But it's the kind of foolish that, having handled it and looked at it closely with the naked eye, I can fully understand. This is the kind of watch that makes successful men Frillyvolous.
Now, I apologise in advance that this is almost inaudible, missed the first part, and is blurry and wobbly. But, unlike the Blancpain, I did at least try to take a vid. I hope that even this imperfect look will give you a feel for how special it was to play with a toy like this.
7. Rolex and Tudor
The Rolex (and Tudor) boutique is in some ways the least exciting. I knew what to expect, in large part - my local AD has a reasonable selection, and most of the Rolexes I like, I've tried at some point either locally or in an airport, or are already owned by my friends. Also, there aren't really any exotic pieces to share - just an array of garish sparkly golden things that I don't personally think have much creative merit, or real interest to men of taste and stature like yourselves.
There were, however, a couple of little itches to be scratched. First was a Daytona, where I was disappointed. Like the Nautilus at Patek, the steel Daytona arrives and leaves just as quickly, and never have I found one just sitting in stock. This was no exception. Not such a big deal as a good friend has one, and I know how it looks and feels. I'd just have liked to see the new one, and preferably with the white dial that (I think) I like best: good to check in person, as I am learning more and more.
I would have been intrigued to see the oddly-coloured new platinum Daytona too, just to see how it looks in person. But none of those either. Nor did they have in stock the much-discussed blue and black GMT. But on the latter, I was fortunate. The sales assistant, a very sincere and chatty Chinese lady, told me that she had pages of orders for various watches and this one in particular. Luckily, one of them had just arrived for a customer and was sitting in the drawer. She probably shouldn't, as it now belonged to someone, but nevertheless she agreed to get it out and let me see. So thank you to whoever took delivery of a blue and black GMT the other day in Dubai - I didn't hurt it! Now you know why the plastic is still over the bezel and crystal below:
As you can see, it's a very charismatic piece in person. The question I (and I think many of us) had is how the blue would look in reality compared to the pictures. I couldn't take it out into daylight (in that place, "outside" was about half a mile away!), but in the light of the shop it looked great. This is difficult to explain, but I'll try: it's not that the blue is darker than it looks in the picture. It's just that it's quite soft somehow. Not shiny or plasticky, but a smooth, even tone that looks very touchable and pleasant. I don't think I can put it better than that.
There are several Rolexes I like - the Daytona, although more expensive of course, the no-date Sub (a lot for its no-datedness), the Explorer I, and this are probably my top picks. If I were to have the money in hand and choose one, I'm not sure it would be that easy: the Daytona now competes in my mind with a used 39mm Royal Oak chrono at the price point, or even the Breguet XX I mentioned earlier, for quite a lot less. And when holding various things in my hand, the one that actually called to me loudest was the Sub. But this is totally a contender. It's a little more money than the Sub, but it is rather special. And when I say a little more, a touch less than I expected: my new friend offered me a discount if I'd like to order, with my barely having to ask. The net price was $8300. Not small change to most of us, but at least a few hundred short of what I'd expected, and well in range of many other steel Rolexes to compete for your love.
There wasn't a no-date plain black Sub in the shop, and that I've flirted with before anyway, but something else caught my eye:
Now here's where I really start showing some (more!) ignorance. But I've never known anything much about Tudor, except that it's a poor man's Rolex. Something incomplete, not quite real. Ersatz. A hollow substitute.
This made me think again. The post about the Pelagos a few pages back both confirmed and confounded my prejudices. It is, quite clearly, an ETA-powered Submariner clone. With different hands. And yet, although I don't actually like the hands, it looks good. Different enough to have its own identity, be a watch in its own right. Now I hear that this one has been raved about on forums just a little too much. But having bumped into it, I can see why. The Tudor Heritage Black Bay is a very, very nice looking watch.
I can't think I'd ever have chosen a red bezel, and I'm not entirely sure how I'd want to wear this. But I'm pretty sure that I'd want to find a reason to wear it nonetheless. Especially in this guise:
In general I dislike contrived ageing or wear on a product e.g. those awful half-fucked shoes you see from fashion brands these days. (Then again, when I was seventeen I used to wear out the knees on my jeans with a razor blade, whatever). But the roughness and the colour tone of this strap really bring out the off-white lume, and succeed completely with the design brief of making the watch look like an old friend. It's trendy and fake...but...I have to admit I was won over. I really, really liked this watch, and it's half the price of a Sub.
Another thing I liked about this is that it's a little bigger, just a touch. That might seem perverse as I was complaining about other watches getting too big, but as I said, 42mm is perfectly reasonably for a watch that is definitely casual and sporty. On the strap, it's a real jeans watch. On the bracelet, I can see it equally happy on a boat or a bar. And the bracelet is where I really notice some extra manliness: the lugs are 2mm wider than those on the Sub or GMT, and the Tudor version of the Oyster bracelet commensurately larger to match. It makes a big difference to the feel of the watch. A while back, we were talking about the bracelet on the Sea Dweller looking disproportionately small. And now I've seen this, I can't help but wish the GMT and Sub had just a little more chunk on the bracelet too. Take a look:
Perhaps the picture doesn't really communicate it, but that little difference makes a geometric rise in the weight of every link in the bracelet. It feels good. I've complained that the new DateJust is just fat and silly (takes one to know one..), but this body-building Tudor now has me thinking that perhaps the Rolex sports lines could have gone to the gym. Two millimetres on the case, and two on the lugs, mean that the gap between the lugs grows proportionally more than the case, and the weight of the bracelet significantly. I think I might like it. It would, for me, take away a bit of the Submariner's desk-diving versatility to put on that extra weight. But it wouldn't half feel nice. Anyway, maybe leave each to their place. But a Black Bay would be welcome in my house for sure. As would a Pelagos - though perhaps with a different bezel: one thing I like a lot about the Black Bay is that although it borrows so heavily from the Sub, the bezel and strap give it a very distinct personality, and take it well beyond Submariner substitute.
I came in looking for a Daytona and the new GMT while holding love for a Submariner firmly in my heart. And left thinking about a Tudor. Sometimes, thinking about watches is weird.
I have an Omega. It's two years older than I am, watch people seem to like that it's been around so long and had its stories, and I was wearing it throughout my tyre-kicking process. Three dollar watch kiosk strap and all (well, I saw it and it was right...). You've all seen it before, but here it is one more time:
In some ways, I only went into Omega out of duty. It was the end of the day, I had half an hour before meeting a dinner date, and the Omega boutique is large and prominent. I might as well, but I wasn't really looking for anything. I asked about one model I pretty much knew they wouldn't have. I also tried on my nemesis, the stupidest watch I can't help but like:
45.5mm of titanium excess, housing a movement identical to the one that sits in the perfectly excellent 42mm version. But this is...bigger. I don't know, I can't fathom it. It's against everything I stand for. But maybe it's that blue liquid metal thing..although that's also available smaller..I just can't work it out, but I desire it foolishly. Only one thing made it look sensible: I did try on the preposterous Seamaster XXL. Which I forgot to photograph. But it's like a dinner plate. Perfectly nice, and perfectly unwearable. It did make this seem like a reasonable and modest sports accessory in the mean time.
Anyway, the reason I knew the visit to Omega was useless to me, was that I had already found what I wanted. Unexpectedly, in a place I wouldn't normally visit, a couple of weeks ago in England. In Portsmouth, of all places (you have to go there to know). I was there a short while and wandering about waiting for younger daughter to buy some crap. My son and I wandered into a jeweller's shop to look at their modest watches (he had just got his new Tissot - first mechanical watch - and so was interested too). And there I saw it. An Omega. Of all the watches I dream of, and with the occasional guilty exception of that above, I don't really want another Omega. I have an Omega dress watch that's special to me, and even the titanium juggernaut above has competitors that deep down I know would make me happier - Rolex Sub, all kinds of chronos, and many more in the same price range. I kind of like the Speedmaster, the DeVilles are nice enough, but nothing every grabbed me. Except this:
A boring old Seamaster. That touched me in way that, for example the JLC Grand Ultra Thin, couldn't. It has small seconds, blued hands, lovely proportions, a satisfying weight on the wrist, and I love it. It's not as dressy as the JLC, but it would be the perfect everyday, every use rotation with my existing Omega. It is, inherently, what I like.
It doesn't have a display caseback, which I would usually like. But that's because it has a gold London 2012 Olympics logo on it instead. It's the special edition 1948 Seamaster for last year's Olympics. A fact to which I am entirely indifferent. Alas, I didn't have the money and still don't, but it just goes to show: forget the labels, the special editions, even the specifications on paper. It either works for you or it doesn't, and when they're on the wrist, the most surprising things can press your buttons. This certainly pressed mine, and weeks later, even with the dozens of things I've tried over the last few days, it remains up there at the top of the list of things I'd like to have.
9. A. Lange & Söhne
A year ago I knew nothing at all about this maker. Several years back I knew a guy who collected watches, and now recall that Lange was a favourite of his. At the time I didn't really have much of an interest, and just thought he was rich and bored. Which might well be true. Anyway, having stumbled across SF while trying to sell a pair of shoes (did anyone buy a wide pair of blue Allen Edmonds double monks on eBay last summer?!), I in turn stumbled across TWAT, posted a pic of my Dad's old watch that I'd just fixed up, everyone was very welcoming, and now here I am. Completely hooked. And one thing that really hooked me is A Lange & Soehne.
It's far from the only watch I like. Off the top of my head I can think of a dozen makers and fifty watches I would be delighted to have, and none of them Lange's. But if I were to pick one maker that touches me deeply, one that I see as a special pinnacle of class and distinction, one holy grail for my dream watches, it's Lange. Explaining why is difficult. I've not seen or handled that many, and bar that former colleague whom I've not seen in years, I don't even know anyone who owns one. Lange's most iconic and TWAT-friendly design, the Lange 1 is something I like, but most models appeal to me less than other makers' pieces, So it's not a blind love. Some I love, some I don't, like any maker. But those I love I really love. Why? I can't say they are always more beautiful than a Patek Philippe, or more original than a Vacheron Constantin (another maker that touches my heart for some reason). So of all the unofficial "big five" and beyond, why this one?
I admire a lot of things German, and in the watch world definitely. From Stowa to Nomos to Glashuette Original to Lange, there are design elements, standards and in my mind, relative good value, that stand out. There's also something about Germans that makes you feel a watch made there will not have cut any corners. It will be thoughtfully designed, perfectly engineered, carefully finished. And it will work. That's what I imagine when I think of German products, and that the designs of the watches are so distinctively German just reinforces this positive prejudice in my subconscious. So maybe that's part of it: Lange is the best of the Germans, therefore it must be excellent.
There are a few other endearing themes that I can identify: the beauty of the movements, and that they are invariably on display, makes Lange's watches feel complete - perfectly finished in exquisite detail, entirely in-house, and even though the technical distinctions might still be beyond my comprehension, I believe that many are very original. From whichever angle, I can see that nothing has been missed or skipped over, back or front, in or out. I love that feeling of comprehensive perfection. Also, I do think they feel different to their Swiss cousins - fonts, proportions, whole dial layouts, are quintessentially Glashuette, quintessentially Lange. It's nice to feel unique. Finally, they seem to be somehow immune to fashion: they have always been a little heavier than their Patek counterparts, but like that most famous of Swiss, have not felt the insecure need to inflate their cases further, or make a carbon fibre special forces black ops ninja edition in rose gold and stingray. True, they did make a larger Lange 1, but that's not entirely inconsistent with the original design. And Patek made that hideous "sports watch". Every business feels pressure to deliver what its customers want. But the best know that, in general, the customers they want, will always want what they make.
On the matter of following trends, we all like to think that we plough our own furrow, indifferent to the whims and caprices of others. I'd like to think I'm very much an individual, and the older I get, ever more enormous and irresistible grows the gravity of the fuck I simply don't give. Yet that's only partially true: especially as the neophyte, the parvenue among my new TWAT friends, I am not indifferent to the trends and implicit peer pressure that run through the discussion: many things I have grown to like simply be seeing them many times here. The Royal Oak is a good example - I didn't especially like it when I first saw it, but it's grown on me immensely - all the more so since handling a few in person. That is solely a function of exposure. Funnily enough, I share things I like often with my beloved, and she also didn't like the RO to start with. As of yesterday, she's picking out the one she prefers. We are all susceptible to a little influence.
Am I then, following a herd into Lange-love: certainly I've heard a few things about the maker and their creations on TWAT, and what comments there are on Lange tend to be very positive. But actually, it is not much discussed here, and I don't read other forums like many of you. Kai bought that gorgeous Lange 1 Time Zone (probably the Lange 1 I like the most, along with the Moonphase), fairly recently. Someone else had a Richard Lange or an 1815, I forget, a while back. But in general, most of the regular contributors who I read regularly have little special connection with Lange, and none of their watches.
My favourite Lange 1 (Click to show)
If peer group influence were the main driver of aspiration, I would be talking all day about Patek Philippe having been inspired by Frilly. And a Nautilus or a 3970p would be extraordinary and wonderful things, I like them very much. Yet ask me to pick one, and it's got to be a Lange, and not TWAT-approved either: Dino flat out does't like it (and in general, a policy of agreeing with Dino on most things watch-related, is pretty safe). Or rather, he said "it does nothing for him". Which I can even understand - it's not unique in its function, unusual in size or shape, and the style is a matter of personal taste. But it does plenty for me. Actually, several of them do I've posted picture before, and until this week, pictures are all I had. On Tuesday, however, I discovered that for once, everything I had imagined was true. They really are the ones for me.
So back to the A Lange und Soehne boutique. I went in there with a little trepidation, if truth be told. Of all the boutiques, it was somehow the most intimidating. Bright white, cool, and laid out in a way that was almost unfriendly - a pillar of shelves in the centre in front of the door, breaking up the room from a raised section at the rear that housed the top pieces, giving a psychological barrier that says "no entry without invitation". The other reason for a twinge of self doubt was my high expectations. This was the one I had been saving, looking forward to, and would it live up to my imagination?
Two of my favourites were on display and I noticed them quickly. And I didn't ask for them. I asked instead about one I thought I'd like that is relatively more attainable (not for me yet, but potentially at least!): the 1815 up/down. They didn't have it. So I looked for another starting point, and saw this:
As you can see, it was certainly worth trying on. It's a solid 40mm piece of platinum, so certainly a dress watch with confidence. It's heavy, and although it's comfortable it has real presence. You know you're wearing this watch. I liked it a lot. I chatted about it with the first of my new friends at Lange, a lovely lady called Svetlana (you might note that all the boutiques in Dubai seem to have at least one Russian and one Mandarin speaker on staff, as well as Arabic and English). And despite her considerable charms, mostly I stared at this. Platinum is certainly special, and so is a Lange.
From a cynical point of view, this is a watch with a price heading up to $40k, that does nothing but tell the time. There is no complication, no extraordinary concept to show your friends. But this again takes me back to a reason I love this maker: unless you tell them, or unless they happen to know a thing or two about watches, nobody you meet will know that this is an expensive watch. They might, if observant, see that it's very nice. The finish and detail are perfect - the care, the microscopic fineness of the lettering, and the almost imperceptible detail of the red numbers at 6 and 12 - not so you'd notice, yet somehow they lift the black and white dial and make it alive without your noticing how. But this is not a watch for show-offs. It's a watch to make you feel that YOU know. That's a powerful feeling.
I looked at it, cradled it, cherished it for a while. I enjoyed my conversation with Svetlana, gave my details for the mailing list, left the other watched unmolested, and departed with yet another Lange on my mind. But that was Monday.
Tuesday I had more time and did the bulk of my tyre-kicking. I had unfinished business with Lange, and towards the end of the day, went back. This time, Russia was out and China was in, and thank you to Ms Shen Shen (I hope I remembered that right) for making me just as welcome, even though this time, I was aiming even further beyond my means. I explained how I'd been looking at the Richard Lange and how I'd liked it. But it wasn't the one. Although I was sure they were beyond me for the forseeable future, there were two watches I wanted to handle to know the truth: to know if my adoration from afar was justified. My new friend did not disappoint, and in the silent boutique, chatted with me happily for half an hour, openly appreciating the conversation with a Lange fan who knew a little about the maker, cheerfully taking pictures, sharing thoughts and passing the time. And here's the one I had to see first, the one I'd pick for reasons of my own that I don't entirely understand. Here's my number one:
This is the Langematik Perpetual. It is an automatic, when the purists would say hand-wound is top. It has incomplete roman indices when I generally prefer sticks. It's not, empirically, the most interesting or spectacular watch in the world. Or even in this price range. Or even that I'd handled that day. But it's the one for me. The size is right, the proportions are right, the way it sits on my writs, the weight, the intricacy, that micro rotor, the hand-engraved details of the movement, the very deliberate, functional elements of the complication manifested on the dial. I just love it. And it looks absolutely perfect on me. Whether you think so or not. :)
What else can I say about that watch? It's just how I feel!
And here's another. Perhaps a more difficult choice in that there are similar styles that I also love from other makers i.e. the Vacheron Constantin Les Historiques Chronograph. We compared them a few weeks back, along with the Patek equivalent. The former is considerably cheaper, too, and easily found used. But both the VC and PP use the same movement they've adapted, and although the PP in particular is beautifully decorated, this Lange is original. A rarity in that it's a new chronograph movement (or was when it was launched) rather than a development of someone else's old standard.
The original Datograph had a jumble of indices that left Dino discombobulated. That I can understand. But this one is very tidy. It also has that power reserve indicator at the bottom of the dial that for some reason I adore. Again, like the Langematik, it's a great size and weight, a little more chunky but not self-consciously so. The contrasting subdials make it almost loud for a Lange, and definitely a little sporty. Not too much, just enough to tell you there's power on the inside. And just take a look at the back. I would contest that none of its peers from other makers have a movement that looks this good.
I think it's fantastic. It's my second love. Maybe logically it should be first, given its engineering and design purity. But that's not how it works, is it? I would love to wear this watch. But I'd love to live with the Langematik always. Ideally of course, the standard TWAT refrain is "have both". Certainly, given the means, that would be a serious temptation.
They do make a lovely couple, don't they?
Essentially, that was me satisfied, bar one thing: I'd noticed one more watch in pride of place. Not in any way the most exotic thing I'd seen that day, and honestly, priced half as much again as the Datograph Up/Down, really one that you'd have to be obsessive about to think of buying, even if you were very wealthy. Gentlemen, the Datograph Double Split Flyback Chronograph enters the room. I know that this is supposed to be one of the most difficult complications to engineer, and admire that. But what really makes me understand this obsession is, like with many other Langes, the way it looks from behind. Front and back, I will let the pictures speak for themselves. I'm sorry for the limitations of my phone camera, but I've done what I can to show the sheer depth and intricacy of this machine. You get the picture, I'm sure.
I'm not sure there's much commentary I need to add after that. Just a final shot of the three beauties together: forgive the perspective distortion, the double split is 43mm, not 73 as it appears - it's just resting on its deployant clasp; the others stay traditional on a tang, allegedly to make viewing of the movements easier. I guess with this one, they thought you'd make the effort to view from any angle and sideways is best. And given the weight and intricacy, you'd best not drop it while putting it on. I'm sold.
All that's left to say is that I still love Lange, I just feel more justified in it! Next time I must visit VC too, but for now at least this is certainly my number one. And I'm one of few men who can say the words "Svetlana, Shen-Shen, thank you for a great time in Dubai", with a clear conscience. Pure in mind and body, my love will be consummated another day!
It might appear that I've written these posts in rather an odd order: perhaps the logical way would have been to start with the more accessible names and work my way up to Lange or AP or Breguet as the pinnacle. But there is at least a little method in this madness: I just wanted to spread the minute repeaters and exotica out a bit to keep it interestig, and there were some things I wanted to save for the end: one was Lange, as it's my favourite and had lots of pictures. One is Panerai, to be last for a rather trivial reason that I hope you'll understand, and before it, IWC, because of the watch I'm about to show you - the climax of my tyre-kicking in cost terms at least, with my Panerai silliness a little post-script to come.
10. International Watch Company
So here is comes, IWC. First off, I'm aware that there's a certain amount of ambivalence about this maker among the watch cogniscenti. It has a long and interesting history, but the question of whether its movements are "in house", as often described, or mere ETA uniformity, seems to be an eternal source of conflict: as I understand it, ETA provides ebauche i.e. semi complete movements, and IWC do the rest. Correct me if I'm wrong. But as I see it, I'm not sure I really care - some stuff comes ready made, some stuff is made in house. Understood, and the terminology is not that important to me.
What is more important, and relevant, is that there are one or two I really rather like, at least in the pictures. So I went in to see if I could see one. The design that has always appealed to me is the Portuguese, specifically the chronograph. I asked, they obliged:
Fine, isn't it? I do love blued hands. But this isn't exactly the one I was after. You see, I forgot to mention that when I went into the IWC boutique, I was greeted for the first time that day by a native Arabic speaker (as opposed to Russian-speaking central Asian, Indian or Chinese). As is my habit, I engaged the attentive Syrian gentleman in his own language. But I have to admit, it was the first time I'd ever considered the question of watch vocabulary in Arabic. And I didn't really have any. All the salesmen in the local ADs are Indians, so we speak English. I can talk about most subjects in my adopted tongue, but considering how much I think about this one, it's ironic that here I was rather limited! Anyway, confusion was eventually overcome, and I got to see the one I wanted, the one I've been looking at in pictures for months:
Sorry, the picture of the second PC is rather inferior, but you understand: what I wanted was not the one with all blued hands and numbers, but the one with just the second hands blued. When I said "no gold", meaning no gold cases, I'd confused him, as this has a steel case but gold numbers. I'm sure you will all understand how fussy one can get about little details around this subject. It seems to be an important habit to acquire, actually. Anyway, I've decided that I like blued second hands, subsidiary seconds preferably, but not necessarily blued everything. That's just the way it is. And I like this watch.
There is a tinge of disappointment about it, though, on two counts. When I've seen the pictures, the gold indices have blended more into the dial - I actually thought they were steel or silver or similar the first time I saw it. The blued hands stood out more than the rest. The reality, in this well-lit location (this, and Panerai next, were the only ones with natural light), is that the gold numbers and main hands pop out a little more than I'd hoped. But that's not a show-stopper. The other little niggle is that at 40mm, with such a large, flat-looking dial, I'd imagined the case quite slim. In fact, although it's not a deep case, something about the shape makes it stand up just a little. Just enough that it doesn't slide easily under the shirt cuff.
In conclusion, I still like it quite a lot. I might even still want one. But I can't quite evangelise about it like some of the others I've seen. Just one of those things. Still, a slight adjustment to my shirt cuff buttons and I'm sure we'll get along fine!
Now, while Mr Mohsin was finding the correct Portuguese Chronograph for me, and plying me with coffee and chocolates (the latter refused, I've been on a health kick recently...), I'd noticed something special winking out of a case in the separate raised area at the back by the window. Here she is, winking at you...
I admit, I didn't know what this was. But I did want to see it. It's called the Portuguese Siderale Scafusia. And I'm told it costs about three quarters of a million bucks. Which might even make Frilly gulp.
Foolishly, I forgot to ask if anyone had actually ordered this, or if the AD had ordered it himself in the hope of selling it to a high rolling client. The thing is, this is important: each one is hand painted with about 500 stars on the "astrolabe", with the positions depending on the customer's chosen geographical location. I couldn't help but wonder if this had been made with Dubai at the centre of the universe, or Shanghai or Moscow in anticipation of a certain type of customer. I'd still like to know. Perhaps if you're an astronomer, you can work it out from this:
There it is. The most expensive watch I've ever held in my hand. Come to think of it, the most expensive anything: I once spent two days in Iraq, rather uncomfortably, carrying several hundred thousand dollars around in a bag until I could get it safely signed into the recipient's legitimate hands. But the price tag of this extraordinary thing trumps even that. So imagine having it actually tied to my body. I mean, me, mimo the shitheel, with this (literally) unique and invaluable object on my wrist! Ha!
And what's more, the coffee was quite nice too!
So that's it, the Tyre-Kicker's Diary almost complete. Just one Panerai-flavoured little postscript to add later (no, I didn't even buy one). And as a high point, the highest price I encountered on the day. Roll the closing credits...
Postscript: Panerai, and Me
I mentioned in the previous post that only IWC and Panerai had natural light. The Panerai boutique in particular was a delightful and airy place to be. The Chinese sales assistants were very knowledgeable, helpful and friendly. I didn't really have much to do there, as the new Panerai boutique in my city of residence has a dozen or so models at a time (not bad for this town, believe me), and I've already been in and tried a few things I liked. If I had the dough, I'd probably get a base Luminor. If I had a lot, I'd get a 423 - when I say a lot, it's because in that price bracket of about $10k, there are a lot of other choices, and frankly a Panerai is not going to be my one-off watch treat. More like a gap to be filled in a rotation if I ever get to that stage.
Anyway, I asked about a couple of more special items - anything in platinum, or the elusive bronze 507. All are sought-after, and I was disappointed. So I just enjoyed a chat, tried on a basic model, and the 423 they also happened to have in stock. I still really like it.
The 423: I like the asymmetric thing, while the power reserve also balances the small seconds. And both are features I like in general, especially on a manual wind. 44mm = proper Panerai.
Less is more? Nothing wrong with this simpler Luminor. And I like the hands. Sandwich dial is an essential ingredient too, I think.
One more: another attempt to be artistic with a show of the Burj Khalifa/Downtown area outside the window, and the cheerfully choking Dubai sunshine. Panerai Boutique at Dubai Mall is a happy place.
And finally, why did I save the Panerai until last? Nothing much about the watches really, although the pictures are nicer, which brings me to the real point: I don't normally put pictures of myself on the internet, and certainly not in public. I will probably delete this one again soon. But as we're all friends, I thought I'd show a human face for a minute, and introduce myself. As it happens, the pics at Panerai came out best. So, er...hello.
Warning: Actual mimo pic (Click to show)