Musings, Watches

The 241 year old pendulum clock that’s more accurate than your watch

241 years ago today, John Harrison, one of Britain’s finest clockmakers died.  He left behind designs for a clock that makes the accuracy of that quartz watch on your wrist look pretty average.

Harrison

John Harrison (thanks to http://www.inverse.com)

Chances are, your quartz will be be reasonably sharp.  Probably just +/- 15 seconds a month.  Not shabby, given the low price of a mainstream quartz.  If you have a modern mechanical watch, +/- 15 seconds a day would be normal.  Still impressive, particularly with a balance wheel inside that has to revolve nearly 700,000 times each day.

But how about John Harrison’s pendulum clock built from a set of 241 year old plans? How long would it take to gain or lose a second?  Just to make the question more interesting, imagine it was designed by a man who’d started life as a rural carpenter who made his first clock out of wood.  Then imagine he’d decided not to lubricate the mechanism either.

How accurate would a clock like that be over 100 days?

This is Clock B, made by clockmaker Martin Burgess from John Harrison’s pendulum clock theory. Harrison was the eighteenth century English clockmaker who should have won the Admiralty’s Longitude Prize and pretty much invented the accurate marine timekeeper.  In January this year Clock B finally vindicated its designer’s 1774 claim that he could design a pendulum timepiece that was accurate to within a second over 100 days.

Harrison was living proof that you need more than talent to get on in life.  He endured knockback after knockback throughout his 63 year career.  The British Admiralty picked fault with each of his chronometers. Rivals criticised his work and publicly undermined him.  And his final assertions that his pendulum clock with his own grasshopper escapement could be accurate to a second in a hundred days were met with derision.

Harrison's H5 Chronometer

Harrison’s H5 marine chronometer

Little wonder that his snappily titled final work, “A description concerning such mechanism as will afford a nice, or True mensuration of time”, was so bitter. Later clockmakers referred to it as “…the ramblings of superannuated dotage.”

Two things in Harrison’s background seem to have combined to make him a remarkable and innovative clockmaker.  First, he was – in effect – a natural materials scientist.  He’s often portrayed as ‘just’ a rural carpenter, but that understates his affinity for, and experience with, the materials he used.

Rory McEvoy, Curator of Horology at Greenwich and a Harrison expert, explains, “Take the way he used metals in H3, his third marine chronometer.  The brass gear wheels in the movement are wide and very lightly made, yet they’re perfectly true. If you or I tried to produce wheels like that, with the inherent tensions within an untreated sheet of brass, we’d end up with something shaped like a crisp.”

Not only this, but Harrison instinctively understood the need to reduce – and even remove – lubricants from clock mechanisms.   As McEvoy explains, “Oil was the Achilles heel of any clock or watch. Harrison did away with lubrication altogether in his pendulum clocks and large timekeepers.”  Modern watchmakers are still trying to find ways to do this.

Second, he was self-taught.  That meant that he was able to think outside contemporary clockmaking practice.  As McEvoy explains it, “Harrison came at things from a different angle, almost from first principles.  He wasn’t indoctrinated with current watchmaking ideas.”

It was this fresh thinking that led to the plans for Clock A, an ultra-accurate pendulum clock, being realised by clockmaker Martin Burgess.

Burgess B clock

The escapement of Harrison’s B clock

Clock A was commissioned from Burgess in 1975 by the Gurney family, a Norwich banking family.  Completed in 1987 (proving you can’t rush good clockmaking) they gave the clock as a gift to the city of Norwich where it ticked happily in a local shopping centre, the Castle Mall, until it was removed in 2015.  Burgess had also started another Harrison pendulum clock, Clock B, but not finished it.  The parts for the clock gathered dust on a shelf in Burgess’ workshop until 1993.

In 1993, he delivered a paper at a Harvard horology symposium where he talked about the ‘scandalous neglect’ of Harrison’s work in pendulum clock innovation – and, crucially, mentioned Clock B.  Art historian and clock collector Donald Saff read the paper, tracked him down and persuaded him to sell him the unassembled and unfinished Clock B.  Saff then commissioned English clockmaker Charles Frodsham to complete the project.

Once the clock was completed in 2014, it attracted the sort of attention from horologists that premier league footballers would be familiar with.  They began studying the clock in March 2014 and how it worked…

It quickly became clear that Clock B was something very special indeed. McEvoy continues, “We looked at the behaviour of Clock B very deeply, and we found that any fluctuations in its timekeeping were cyclical.  In other words, they weren’t a problem because they were wholly predictable.”  So although the clock’s timekeeping varied by a few fractions of a second, in effect, it evened itself out.

Finally, to determine whether Harrison’s words were indeed “…the symptoms of insanity” as The London Review of English and Foreign Literature suggested, Clock B was sealed in a perspex case in January 2014 and trialled for 100 days.  

To ensure there was no horological tinkering, the National Physical Laboratory and Worshipful Company of Clockmakers oversaw the trials.  At the start, Harrison’s B clock was running a quarter second behind GMT.  After 100 days of running, it was a mere 5/8ths of a second behind.

Harrison B clock 1

Harrison’s B clock – thanks to http://www.rmg.co.uk

Guinness World Records have confirmed Clock B as the “most accurate mechanical clock with a pendulum swinging in free air.”  But that bald description understates the achievements of both Harrison and Burgess.  This is a clock that is so accurate, its curator was able to measure the impact of barometric pressure on its going. “As the barometer moved up, so the clock slowed down with air density,” explains Rory McEvoy. ‘When we adjusted the clock to take barometric pressure into account, it was 96% accurate.  On most clocks, you wouldn’t even notice the error, let alone be able to correct it.  We don’t see this sort of accuracy until at least 150 years after Harrison’s death.”

You’d think that with pin-sharp accuracy like this,  Clock B would be a horological prima donna, throwing timekeeping tantrums if it was stopped or started.  But not so, says McEvoy, “Once it’s adjusted, Clock B is remarkably stable.  You can stop and start it without any problems.”   

So why did Harrison do it?  Why did he persist until almost the day he died in developing, defending and promoting pendulum clocks?  He had a vision that, one day, every port would have a public pendulum clock, accurate to within fractions of a second, for mariners to set their marine chronometers by.  This would mean they were able to calculate their position at sea to within a few nautical miles, thus missing shoals, sandbanks and rocks.  Harrison realised that accurate timekeeping wasn’t just a theory, it was a lifesaving practice.

So, today, the 24th of March, raise a glass to Mr Harrison’s 241st anniversary.  A remarkable man very much ahead of his time.  This year, take a trip to Greenwich and take a look at Harrison’s other remarkable marine chronometers – it’s well worth the visit.

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Watches, Writing

Happy Birthday, M. Breguet

Today will pass in most people’s diaries with never a thought for the man behind so many elements of the watch on their wrist.  Abraham Louis Breguet was born 270 years ago today in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

Automatic winding, tourbillons, gong-repeaters, more accurate escapements, better hairsprings, shock-absorbing escapements, lubrication-free escapements… Breguet was responsible for either inventing or significantly improving them all.

Yet, for a man who brought such ordered beauty to watchmaking, he lived and worked through some of the most chaotic and ugly times in European history.

Imagine. It’s the 1780s, you’re a French watchmaker and your work is not only being bought by Marie Antoinette but the titled and wealthy glitterati of the day. Even better, the French Queen is – in modern parlance – your brand ambassador, telling anyone who’ll listen that you’re the finest watchmaker in France, if not the world.

Cut to May 5 1789 and the start of the French Revolution. Proof, if ever it was needed, that celebrity endorsement can end up being rather more of a burden than a boost.

Welcome to Breguet’s turbulent life. As watchmaker to the rich, royal and famous, hanging around in revolutionary France was likely to cut Breguet’s career short in more ways than one. Being both smart and commercial, he packed his tools and headed home to Switzerland.

And that’s where he conceived the idea of his single-handed Souscription watch. It was a perfect idea commercially, horologically and democratically. Anyone could make a down-payment (a souscription) for their watch which allowed Breguet to keep his cashflow running and start making it.

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Breguet’s Souscription No. 580 from 1800. Image from http://www.artcurial.com

The watches were simple (by Breguet’s standards), and were designed to be repaired by any watchmaker. You’d set the single hand with your finger or a sliver of wood and wind it through the hand’s centre. That’s because the barrel is in the middle of the watch with the balance and second wheel engineered symmetrically around it. No need for friction-generating motion work either. Genius.

You could even have your Souscription fitted with Breguet’s montre à tact system that allowed you to feel – rather than see – the time by touching tiny protrusions from the watch case.

62mm of simple, classical gorgeousness with so much history inside the case there’s barely room for that beautiful movement. The only thing better than owning one would be the chance to have met the man whose workshop made it.

Happy 270th birthday, M. Breguet.

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Watches

Rare vintage watch turns up in auction.

They always say ‘never meet your heroes’. The same often applies in Watchworld. That gorgeous IWC Portofino you thought was the pinnacle of refinement and gorgeousness turns out to look like an oversized Christmas chocolate coin on your wrist.

But sometimes it works out. Continue reading

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Watches

Seiko 7a28 – watchmaking history at pocket money prices

Fancy owning a little piece of horological history? Well, you could head over to Geneva’s Patek Philippe Museum museum with your jemmy, a striped shirt and a ‘swag’ bag and quietly remove their Rieussec Seconds Chronograph.  Feeling even braver?  How about the earliest chronograph yet discovered? The Louis Moinet, in St. Blaise in Switzerland?  Sadly, there are only two ways to get hold of watches like these – theft, – or complex midnight negotiations with a bloke with horns and a pitchfork at a remote rural crossroads.  Like nearly every other mile marker along the road of horological progress, neither the Rieussec nor the Moinet are for sale.

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There is, however, an easier way if you’re prepared to be a little less choosy.  You still get a timekeeping milestone, but not at the cost of time behind bars or eternity somewhere warm.

How about the very first analogue quartz chronograph?  You’d better get a move on though; prices are rising faster than a traffic-jammed Morris Marina’s temperature gauge.

Just think of the history…

It’s 1982.  The Commodore 64 8-bit home computer is launched in the USA.  Heuer are still making watches like the digital Chronosplit and the Swiss watch industry is being stabbed to death with pointy quartz crystals.  But, even though some people think it is acceptable to wear a watch that is also a calculator, a compass, a barometer and a TV combined, there is a sense that digital watches aren’t quite where it’s at anymore. And that’s where Seiko – as they so often do – come in.

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Now, I know some watchie people are sniffy about Seiko.  But it’s hard to be convincingly rude about a brand that makes one of the most accurate movements in the world (the 9F series – that’s +/- 10 sec pa) and that not only grows its own quartz crystals, but ages them for three months to maximise stability.  If that ain’t a manufacture movement, I don’t know what is.

Back in the early ‘80s, Seiko decided that all this LCD technology was splendid, but how about building an analogue quartz chronograph?  One that didn’t go ‘beep’ and flash a lot of scrolling numbers at you.  So, being Seiko, that’s what they did.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is the very first analogue quartz chronograph.

They weren’t shy either.  Contemporary ads proclaimed “Watch history being made” and with the watch photographed against the dashboards of Porsche 911s and Ur Quattros, it was clear Seiko were pitching it high.  And they didn’t mess about.  The 7a series does that wonderful Seiko thing of seeming simple but actually being eye-wateringly impressive.

Let’s start with the movement…

7a28 movement 2

Seiko planned to take on the Swiss at their own game.  So rather than a modular, disposable plastic movement, the 7a series had a proper, quasi-decorated 15 jewel metal movement that could be regulated, disassembled and repaired.  It even has a very traditional finger damper spring on the centre seconds pinion.  Seiko really threw investment, thinking and effort into this one.  This explains why, despite often impressive abuse, so many survive.

Notice those little rectangular plates over parts of the movement?  Each of those protects a tiny stepper motor – one for each of the chronograph functions. And that’s what this watch is all about.  Press the button at 2 o’clock and the chrono starts.  Instead of a blizzard of flickering digits, the centre seconds ticks off the seconds one at a time while the 1/10ths dial zips round. In fact, it’s moving at 1/20th second intervals.  The minutes total up over at the 9 o’clock subdial and there’s a running seconds at 6 o’clock.

7a28-1

Today, that’s all pretty unremarkable.  But back in the early 1980s, when most watches had little grey, digital screens, this was serious stuff.  And it got better.  Hit the button at 10 o’clock and the chrono keeps running, but the hands stop.  So not only do you have a chrono, you have a split timer.

If you enjoy fiddling, you’ll discover something else about the 7a series… if you push and hold the 4 o’clock pusher, the two chrono subdials and centre seconds whizz round and reset themselves. And all this for around $250 back in the early ‘80s – that’s a blinding amount of watch technology for a mere $650 in today’s money.

The movement even found its way into watches carrying rather more upmarket logos, including the Ferrari ‘Cal. 531’.

But the lovely thing with the 7a series watches is that they have something for everyone…

If you like your complications, you’ll find something in the 7a series that suits you.  There are tide timers, moon-phases, Sports Quartz, fishing models (the 7A48-7050 Fishing Master with a moon phase and tide indicator), military versions (as supplied to the RAF and the South African Airforce).  If you fancy a military 7a though, you’ll need deep pockets.  Even a couple of years ago, you’d see these for around £300.  Now, they’re being posted on auction sites at up to £995 (although this one from’83 cost rather less).

Seiko 7a28 RAF

Movie fan? You can go after the 7A28-7001 Giugiaro-designed chrono that pops up (along with a few nasty critters) in Alien. Even Bond got in on the action and wore a 7A28-7020 in View to a Kill.

Like horological mythology?  You can happily spend time chasing the ‘Vulcan Flightcrew’, yellow-faced variant, the 7A38-701B.  The story goes that RAF aircrews on the Vulcan long-range nuclear bomber were issued these.  The yellow dial apparently made them easier to read in the Vulcan’s darkened cockpit. One of these went for nearly £600 back in 2011 despite there being no good evidence for the whole Vulcan thing actually being, you know, true.  They may never have been issued watches (the casebacks certainly don’t carry military markings), but they’re still indisputably handsome.

RAF Seiko 7a28 (2)

And because there were so many made – and made well – there is still the chance of turning one up at a boot sale, in a junk shop or on an auction site for pocket money.  Even if it’s not running too well, the proper, metal movement is perfectly serviceable and you can still get parts.  There’s a dedicated (and excellent) forum for the 7a series over at http://www.seiko7a38.com with plenty of help and information.

So, a piece of real horological history, plenty of variation, movie and military cred and robust enough for a (thoroughly repairable) daily wearer.  And change – if you buy well – from £100.  That’s got to be a serious bargain.  And a whole lot cheaper than spending the next twenty years in a Swiss jail.

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In my view, the prices on these are headed just one way.  Get one while you still can.

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Watches

Tick, tock, hummmm…

Watches are all about oscillations and oscillators.  A watch needs to have something inside it that moves in a way that can mark time.  Since the fourteenth century, this has been a balance wheel, mounted on pivots and powered by a spring.  The ‘tick, tick, tick…’ you hear when you hold a watch to your ear is the balance wheel swinging round, getting caught by the escapement and swinging back.

The more oscillations the wheel can make in a second, the more accurate the watch, by and large.  As watchmakers and metallurgists have got cleverer, so balance wheels have got faster.  The fastest mechanical watches today usually beat at around 36,000 beats per hour – around 10 per second – with a few specialist movements going a whole lick quicker.

The Zenith El Primero, running a 36,000bph movement.

The Zenith El Primero, running a 36,000bph movement.

But there’s only so fast a wheel can rotate before physics gets in the way.  So watchmakers started looking for better, faster, oscillators.  And that’s how they arrived at watches with a tiny piece of quartz as their oscillator.

Today, if you have a quartz watch on your wrist, the tiny quartz crystal tuning fork sealed in a vacuum inside is beating at 32,768 times a second.  Get yourself a Grand Seiko quartz with a 9F movement and it’s so accurate you only need to set it when the clocks change.

But there was a stage between balance wheel and quartz that often gets forgotten – tuning fork watches.

In 1953, sixteen years before Seiko’s first quartz watch, Arde Bulova and Max Hetzel collaborated to file the patent on a movement that used a tuning fork.  This is the watch that became the Bulova Accutron.  When the tuning fork vibrates in an Accutron, it moves a tiny ruby-tipped escapement that allows a 2.4mm diameter wheel to rotate, tooth by minute tooth.  The second hand sweeps, rather than ticks, around the dial.  And, rather than ticking, an Accutron hums.

With just 12 moving parts and a battery for power, the Accutron not only never needed winding, it was as accurate as its name suggests.  A battery meant there was no decay in power each day as the spring lost tension.  The tuning fork was practically impervious to positional errors.

1964 Bulova Accutron – powered by a tuning fork

1964 Bulova Accutron – powered by a tuning fork

Although the watch was accurate to just two seconds a day, this wasn’t that remarkable.  There were already mechanical watches running at this sort of rate.  But accurate watches had always been expensive, maintenance-intensive and relatively fragile.  What marked the Accutron out as different was its price, its freedom from the need for regular maintenance and its ease of use.  Accuracy had become democratic.

The button on the left pulls out to set the watch.

The button on the left pulls out to set the watch.

Accutrons have bounced along the bottom of the watch market since they fell out of favour in the 1970s.   As quartz took over, the Accutron and its heirs, the Omega Megasonic cal. 1220 and 1230, the Swissonic and the HiSonic, became little more than curiosities.  Now, they’re starting to become collectable in the mainstream.  The skeleton Spaceview, the Astronaut and gold-cased models are beginning to fetch serious prices.  Best not hang around if you want something historic in the watchbox that hums.

 

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Watches

My guilty secret. Vintage digitals.

In theory, we should all love digis. Ask a digi-wearer the time and assuming he’s not an actuary, he’ll tell you, precise to the minute. It’ll be “five-forty-seven”; none of this vague and analogue “about quarter to six”. Digis are robust, never need servicing and are ready to go as soon as you drag them from the watchbox. But for most, they’re the watch equivalent of the slightly seedy uncle who insists that bri-nylon shirts are a good idea.

A G-Shock may still be as socially acceptable as a cartoon character tie, but that distant bleeping you can hear is the start of the vintage digi revolution. While most watchnerds have been busy drooling over the latest ultra-mech innovations, vintage digitals have been quietly lifted out of the musty charity shop glass cabinet into the auction catalogue.

There was even an LCD Speedie.

There was even an LCD Speedie.

It’s started with the earliest LED (light-emitting diode) glowing-digit Pulsars from the 1970s. To get a P2 under your paisley cuff in 1973 would have cost you $395. That’s $10 more than a Sub. Today, apart from being sufficiently well-built to double as a lump hammer, a decent early Pulsar P2, even in stainless steel, will set you back around £350. OK, that’s nowhere near the stratospheric rise of the Sub, but five years ago the ladies at your local Cats’ Protection League shop would have turned up their noses at it. For horological history at pocket-money prices, vintage digital can’t be beat. And, yes, it was the one Roger Moore wore in Live and Let Die… Making it the coolest digital ever made by default.

For example, an Omega TC1 – the Time Computer – Omega’s first venture into LED watches. Like the Pulsar (it shares much of the technology), its red LEDs peer out from an elegant case that feels as though it’s been hand-milled it from billet stainless. But you set the time, not with a button on the side or a crown, but by unclipping a tiny magnet from the strap’s clasp and placing it in special slots on the caseback. And you’ll find one of these – the first prestige digis – for under a thousand today.

But LED is for the truly dedicated; the digi-faithful who want a watch with a firm place in history. They are practical everyday timekeepers in the same way that an Aston Martin Lagonda would make a good daily driver. Move to LCD (liquid-crystal display) and more established brands and you’ll get a watch that will stand up to being used and where you don’t need to press a button to find out the time.

The early Seiko M series LCDs are a fine bet. They share the robustness of the Pulsars, but with rather more style and a less bulimic attitude to batteries. A chunk of 1970s cool for around £100. This M159 even has the address of its previous Californian owner’s ‘70s, ice-cold plateglass and concrete Capistrano Beach house engraved on the clasp.IMG_6853

Omega weren’t slow in developing their own movements. The cal. 1620 powered a series of new watches from the mid 1970s including this 1977 Constellation. Omega only produced the Constellation with the cal.1620 quartz LCD movement for 18 months. Typically for vintage digi, the movements are exceptionally well made – this one even has a tiny circuit jumper to change the display from 12 to 24 hours. But they weren’t around long. Back then, quartz was still wallet-meltingly expensive. One like this barely makes a dent today at around £500, but they’re going up fast. A '77 Omega Constellation. More functions than anyone had a right to in the '70s

And it’s a fascinating field. Who knew there was a digi version of the iconic Speedmaster and Seamaster, each sharing a calibre with the Constellation above? There’s the jam factor too – for most people, vintage digitals are just ‘old watches’, so there are still plenty of bargains around. The market has started to get smart though… you’ll be lucky to find an Omega or a Pulsar at the local jumble sale, but you can pick something remarkable up before most people get wise.

Omega LCD Constellation

Omega LCD Constellation

Significant mechanical history pieces are out of almost every watchlovers’ reach. Fancy an early Louis Moinet chronograph? Best take up burglary then. One of Rieussec’s? Time for the jemmy, stripey jumper and swag bag. But an example of the world’s first digi quartz chronograph? Get on the web, two clicks and it’s yours for under £500.

Digitals won’t be like this for ever. They’re unlikely to reach the stratospheric heights of vintage Patek or Rolex, but the signs are the better known brands are already on the up. Digis are engaging, a real piece of horological history and they won’t cost you a fortune. In fact, just sell your watchwinder and you could probably pick up a couple of good ‘uns.

This article originally appeared on the splendid, but now sadly deceased, Prodigal Guide. Now – even more splendidly – to be found on Medium: https://medium.com/the-prodigal-guide  

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Watches

How to start collecting watches.

Starting a watch collection is a dangerous thing.  Like most addictions (for it is just that) it sneaks up on you.  That first step – from having just one utility watch that tells the time to buying the second – seems simple.  “Just one,” you say, “I’ll get one good watch. I only need one. Just one. That’ll do me.”

That’s how everyone starts.  Soon, you’ll have Chrono24, Worn & Wound, Hodinkee and several watch dealers on bookmark.  You’ll have downloaded the WatchVille app to every device you own.  And you’ll be sneaking glances at the wrists of perfect strangers.  And, clearly, you’ll have burned a smoking, ragged hole in your chequebook.

This is normal.  At least, it is for a watch addict.  So, save some time.  Don’t kid yourself that ‘one watch is enough’.  It’s not.  The optimum number of watches is always n+1.  To save a little more time, here’s my list of the classics that every watchie should own at least once.

Rolex Submariner

1966 Rolex 5513 "metres first" Sub. From Oakleigh Watches.

1966 Rolex 5513 “metres first” Sub. From Oakleigh Watches.

 

Yes, I know it’s a cliche.  I know it’s the most faked watch in the known universe.  It’s also the second most splendid piece of form following function in watchworld.  Subs are lovely because they weren’t designed to be.  Before they ended up on the wrist of almost photocopier rep, they were proper diving tools.  So they’re instantly legible, hard to damage, waterproof (clearly) and never need winding up.

Mind you, given the life expectancy of a watch in most collections, perhaps their most endearing feature is their exceptional ease of re-sale.

Yours for anywhere between £2,500 and “HOW MUCH?! I could buy a house for that!”

Rolex Explorer I

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Rolex Explorer 1016, 1964, gilt dial.

 

If the Sub is the second most splendid piece of form following function, the Exp I is the first.  Designed to survive pretty much anything, the Exp is plain, clean and built like a safe.  Unlike the Sub, you won’t spend your life saying “Yes, it is real actually…” because no-one will ever spot it on your wrist. Except a fellow watchie.  And there are enough variants of the Exp 1, from gilt-dialed to modern, that you’ll never be bored.

Yours for anywhere between £2,400 and £20,000+

 

 

Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso

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JLC Reverso Classique, 2001

 

More refined but no less robust is the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso (that’s “Jayjay Lecootrer”).  So called because the entire body of the watch flips over to present its caseback to the world.  Handy to protect your watchface when you’re playing polo, apparently.  Again, plenty of variants to choose.  There’s the smaller Classique (handy if you don’t have wrists like Herman Munster) right the way through to the socking great Répétition Minutes à Rideau.  You’ll see rather fewer of these around than their Rolex brethren.

Yours for anywhere between £1,500 and £150,000+

Navitimer2

Breitling Navitimer 01, with many thanks to Patrick Carr.

Breitling Navitimer

Another unashamed choice of a watch that had a job to do – keep ‘planes in the air.  The Navitimer was intended as a navigational aid for airmen, hence the sliderule on the bezel and dial.  They’re not small watches, but they do seem a lot smaller on the wrist than they should.  There’s a lot of history to enjoy too; from the 1952 806 right up to the “is that a clock on your wrist?” 48mm GMT Navitimer 01.

Yours for anywhere between £600 (quartz) and £1,800 (mech) to £40,000

Omega Speedmaster

Speedie

Omega Speedmaster 175.0032, 1990.

 

If the Navi kept aircraft up there, the Speedmaster kept Apollo 11 on track and helped get Apollo 13 back down again.  That’s reason enough to own one.  But add in the range of variations from model to model and there’s enough interest to keep you engaged for years.  And the Speedie is another reliable, robust, no-babying sort of watch that you can happily put on your wrist every day.

Yours for anywhere between £1,200 and £60,000 (limited editions)

IWC Mk XII

MkXII

IWC MkXII. Year unknown.

 

Another aviation watch, the Mk XII holds one of the most beautifully made movements in a watch you don’t need to sell your soul for.  It’s IWC’s reworked Jaeger LeCoultre 889/2.  And that horological gem alone is worth putting your hand in your pocket for.  XII’s are far from common, so if you want to own almost the opposite of the Sub, this one’s for you.  A wonderful, classic piece of watchmaking.

Yours for anywhere between £1,800 (stainless steel) to £5,000 (gold)

Grand Seiko

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Grand Seiko SBGX083.

 

OK. Calm down.  GS are about as far removed from the £40 Seikos you see in H Samuel as a Mitsuoka Viewt is from a MkII Jag.  GS are, in fact, the watch world’s inside secret.  The quality of Grand Seiko makes a lot of other far, far more expensive makers look a little red and shuffly as they stare at the floor.  Take a proper look at a GS and you’ll wonder how some other makers charge so much for poorer quality.  And, at the risk of kicking off a controversy match, a GS will have a proper authentic in-house movement.

Yours for anywhere between £700 (eye-wateringly accurate quartz) to £22,000 (platinum)

The main thing with watches is ‘buy what you like and what interests you’. I have a thing for functional things, don’t like bling and don’t buy new (so the prices above are all for secondhand kit).  Someone who’s into bling will steer you towards makers like Hublot and some of the more, er, ornamented Breitlings.

Someone with rather deeper pockets will head towards the rarified horological wonders of Patek Philippe. Someone with bottomless ones will snare Richard Mille‘s creations or Roger Smith‘s works of genius.  Someone with shallower ones will look at vintage Longines or perhaps some Heuers.  But even trawling the charity shops and Fleabay for £5 tickers will turn up something interesting.

The only problem is stopping once you’ve started.

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