Feature: The Dream Watch Collection: Part 3
Perhaps it’s self-indulgent on my part, but I’m sure we can all identify with the dream of owning a collection of the most impressive and desirable watches in the world. As far as getting to experience and enjoy such delights, if only for a while, it’s a good enough excuse for me for another instalment of the dream watch collection.
Rolex Submariner 5513
Such is its fame and popularity, there are amoeba living undiscovered in caves deep under the Earth’s crust that have heard of the Rolex Submariner. It’s the Tom Hanks of watchmaking; no matter what you pair it with, it’s perfect. As it gracefully ages, as the time between now and its original purpose widens, it somehow becomes more relevant than ever before.
It’s between those times that we find this, the 5513. An evolved form of the 1953 original, it had grown crown guards, increased its ability to plunder the depths by one hundred metres, matured with the activity for which it was designed. Yet it remains pure, simple, bound by the technology of the period. Compared to its modern progeny, it could be considered unsophisticated, crude even, lacking the polish and detail of a ceramic bezel and a solid clasp—but that’s not why we’re here.
We’re here for the same reason we visit historic cities, watch black-and-white films, shuffle through ancient palaces and monuments, mouths agape. The past is an experience in itself, a chance to see just how disparate our lives are to our forebears. It’s a moment of reflection every time the dial is glanced upon, to realise that this object tells a story over half a century old.
We see and hear about what came before us in films and on television, but this is to actually own and wear a moment of it, like it was worn when it was new, by people who are in their twilight years now but had their whole lives ahead of them back then. It’s hard to believe that this tinny, rattly collection of gears and wheels housed in a case sturdy enough to last all this time was once held by its first owner for the first time, their eyes studying the sparse dial and their fingers feeling the cool steel.
And our minds turn to the future also; if this watch has survived intact for fifty years, where will it be in another fifty? Will the person who owns and wears it then look back at us now, imagine our lives with the same nostalgic wonder as we do the lives before ours? And what will their existences be like? Should we imagine it with an optimism equal to that with which we look back? Or will the watch, like those who might wear it, be forgotten?
A wristwatch keeps a record of time as it passes, but a watch like this does so with more than just hands and a dial; every faded marker, every discoloured hand is another chapter in its story, like lines on the wall to mark the growth of a child. It most likely came into existence before you, and it will continue on after you, carrying your story on into the future, whatever that may be.
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 15202IP.OO.1240IP.01
If there’s one thing humans have evolved brilliantly to cope with, it’s change. Whilst it may seem that the slightest tweak to whatever social media app is most popular at the moment may cause outrage, the reality is that change over time slips by unnoticed as we shift and adapt with it. Despite being individually fragile, we are as a collective resilient, and our prolonged existence on this planet continues to prove that. We have faced change before and we will again, and we will continue to adapt and flourish.
This phenomenon is no more evident than in times of great struggle. War binds communities, tragedy breeds selflessness, disaster provokes invention. When the Swiss watchmaking industry lay in tatters, manufacturers crumbling under the might of the future of quartz technology, Audemars Piguet had two choices: fall with them, or rise and change.
Imagine the outlook; this is a company steeped in the tradition of the ancient ritual of marking the passage of the sun, and it was faced with a decision that could spell the end of it forever. Every fibre of the company’s soul was interwoven with the science of measuring time, and the art of telling it beautifully—and that was dead. It was the most important moment of the company’s existence thus far, and the balance hung on the acceptance of change.
And change the company did. In a stroke of near-psychic genius, Audemars Piguet took an enormous risk in predicting the path Swiss watchmaking would take over the next half-century. It would be the first through the breach, to be followed en masse—once it had made it through unscathed, of course.
The idea was incredible, and without hindsight, incredibly stupid: create a niche market for ultra-luxury watches that wasn’t dictated by the material worth of gold or diamonds, but by the distinction of the appearance. A watch, in steel, with no complication, became the most expensive in the company’s line-up, a symbol of wealth and extravagance personified by something deceptively simple.
A uniquely original design that would go on to be copied time and time again was the calling card, the stand-out feature that set the watch apart from its less expensive—much less expensive—brethren. Something like this had never been seen before, the angular, alien shape the most distinguishing ever seen in a wristwatch. The gamble was huge, and the reaction of the media was poor—but nevertheless it paid off. The Royal Oak, as it was called, named after the ship that inspired the design, became not just the change the company needed, but also its bestselling watch of all time.
A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk 140.029
When it comes to classically designed watches, A. Lange & Söhne has created something of a niche of its own. Its designs appear timeless, yet contemporary, free of the stuffiness of tradition yet not overburdened with modern austerity.
And nowhere is this more effectively communicated than with the A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk. It’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen before, yet its purity makes it feel as familiar as an old friend. A digital display, reading left to right, hours on the left, minutes on the right, is bisected by an analogue power reserve and a running seconds display, two technologies dividing one another, yet operating in complete harmony.
It’s so simple and so effective. It’s clear, one of A. Lange & Söhne’s most comprehensible—and that’s saying something. Reading an A. Lange & Söhne watch is like wearing corrective glasses for the first time; everything comes to focus, without strain. The experience is only made better by the instant change of the digital readout, a detail that seems so unassuming, yet requires such incredible dedication to watchmaking.
It’s within the calibre L043.1 that the mammoth task of shifting the digital disks occurs. Understand that the mechanical movement in its most common form has been developed to drive lightweight, slender hands around the dial at a constant rate; here, three disks, each bigger than the last, are required to accelerate, reach peak velocity and decelerate almost instantaneously without slack or backlash, to give the impression of magic.
To achieve this extraordinary feat requires extraordinary engineering. Rather than draw power from the mainspring directly, a secondary system saps energy into a smaller, locked spring, which builds until its capacity is met. Then, when the moment comes, when the time ticks over, that power is released, all in an instant. This huge kick of torque explodes through the movement, sending the stationary display around the dial at a speed almost imperceptible to the eye.
But what to do with this release of power when it is no longer needed? As the next number slides in place, the enormous speed must be contained. On the scale of the movement, this is like stopping a runaway truck in an instant; a solid wall would do the trick, but the resultant damage would render the vehicle useless. Controlled deceleration is required to prevent the destruction of the movement, and it’s to the very oxygen within the case that A. Lange & Söhne seeks its solution. Using a damped flywheel fitted with blades that drag against the air as it spins, the mechanism comes to a stop gently, saving it for many, many more actuations to come.
It’s clear that this collection of watches is the stuff of dreams; what might not be so clear is the theme under which they all sit. Well, I’ll tell you: these are all extraordinary timekeepers, watches that surprised us then and still surprise us now. The Rolex Submariner offered a level of simplicity and functionality that had never been seen before; the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak changed the perception of Swiss watchmaking in the face of its destruction; and the A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk presents a way of reading the time that’s never before been achieved. I think you’ll all agree: these three watches are, indeed, extraordinary.
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