Creating an iconic product requires many things: a willingness to be innovative, cunning, commitment, a tolerance for failure and at least a little bit of luck. It goes without saying that it is even more difficult for a brand to do justice to that icon when releasing a new version forty years later, but Audemars Piguet (one of the few remaining family owned independent high-end watchmakers in the world) can feel secure in knowing that it has done both with the Royal Oak. In 1972, at the hands of respected designer Gérald Genta, Audemars created a luxury sports watch and named it for the “British Royal Navy battleships, themselves christened for the tree where King Charles II hid from his enemies,” a watch that has since gone on to become an icon. The revolutionary design of the octagonal bezel, which resembles the porthole of ship, has helped the Royal Oak easily become Audemars Piguet’s most famous timepiece.
Today the good people of the International Watch Company unveiled their new range of pilots watches at the SIHH (Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie) watch trade fair in Geneva, Switzerland. As it so happens, I’m in attendance at the show and got a chance to check these guys out first hand. The Schaffhausen-based watchmaker released the Top Gun Miramar Chronograph Automatic (named for the location of the Top Gun USMC training base) in advance of the show, but today the company unveiled the full Pilot’s Watch collection — much to my enjoyment.
A few weeks back I got an invite to meet the new Breitling USA President, Thierry Prissert at the watchmaker’s new boutique on 57th Street. Me being someone with a fairly shallow knowledge of Breitling, it seemed like a good opportunity to learn about a very historic brand straight from the head of the company.
Honestly, what I had been expecting to see at Breitling was a lot of very very large brutish watches that don’t appeal to me. Upon visiting the shop and seeing the collection, my preconceived opinion was partially confirmed. But more surprisingly, Breitling also has some very classic looking timepieces that I would definitely want to own.
During my most recent jaunt out to Los Angeles my work schedule only permitted time for one or two ACL oriented diversions. Since I have been concentrating on getting the hang of my newish Fujifilm X100 Camera, I figured the IWC boutique in Beverly Hills would be as good as place as any to explore during my free time and take some photographs. While I’m still getting the hang of the camera, the sharpness of the X100 is really something to marvel at — especially when capturing the precise and good looking IWC watches.
The IWC shop space is small and bright with specific displays for each of the different watch families. The main wall in the back center of the shop featured the new Portofino collection, which I like more and more and more each time I see them. To me the Portofino pieces are a more refined answer to the Portuguese group. Not sure I can pull off the Milanese bracelet, but I’m sure that there are many guys (especially in Beverly Hills) who can. Of course, if I was on the Italian Rivera maybe I would reconsider my position on the metal bracelet. All that said, I think I have my eye on a Big Pilot more than anything else.
The major spring sales of ‘important timepieces’ are taking place in Geneva this weekend with some eye-popping offerings on the vintage Rolex front. Pick any of the auctions at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Antiquorum and you’ll find rarities you can lust after, if not actually afford. An ultra-exclusive chronograph from 1942 is likely to fetch over a million bucks at Christie’s on May 15 and break the world record, while there are dozens of rare “Paul Newman” Daytonas of every description. Some of the oldest examples show some wear and patina that might “devalue” them but only adds to their appeal in our eyes.
While out in Vegas I was chatting with a designer friend and his watch happened to catch my eye. It was pretty classic looking, and upon further inspection, I noticed a red star and a few Chinese characters on its face. Intrigued, I needed to know more and inquired as to it. “It’s a reproduction Chinese pilot’s watch from the ’60s.” my friend said. I took a few photos and when I got home did a little investigating on the internets. Sure enough the watch is called the Seagull 1963 and it has been recently reissued. Seems like the heritage trend has even extended all the way to China.
After the SIHH watch fair, we took the train from Geneva to the German speaking side of Switzerland to visit the offices and factory of watchmaker IWC. Located about an hour outside of Zurich, the town of Schaffhausen is a small enclave on the Rhine river that has become famous for high end watch manufacturing. The IWC headquarters look almost exactly as you would expect. The older part of the building was at one point merged with a perfectly modern, clean and stylish building expansion. The resulting structure is classic and modern all together in one piece. The interiors of the office are outfitted almost exclusively with USM Modular furniture, which made me feel like I was in a Star Destroyer, or at least a Nebulon-B frigate. What I’m trying to say is the place is pretty space aged and cool.