Top 5 Extreme Expedition Watches
In our internet-driven world, trends and fads come and go quicker than ever. Anyone remember “Damn Daniel?” No? Maybe it’s time you stopped reading books and started spending more time on social media. Every day sees the birth of a new viral hashtag while several thousand others fade into obscurity, only to be revived 6 months later by parents trying to “do this social thing.” We’re producing and consuming things at such a rate that it’s almost impossible to truly enjoy them. This mentality has filtered down into almost every consumer-driven business. There are a few key exceptions, though. Some people and brands still strive to create truly beautiful products without worrying about how long it takes. They don’t care about our short attention spans. They know that if they produce something worth waiting for, people will wait.
Perhaps one of the best modern-day examples of this is Haute Horlogerie. Brands like Patek Philippe, A. Lange & Söhne, and F.P. Journe, among others, spend years developing complex new models. Even once all the research and development is done and the timepiece is ready to go into regular production, assembly times often run into the days, weeks, or even months in some instances. Consequently, annual production volumes are extremely low and waiting lists at authorized retailers can stretch years into the future. And yet, collectors will wait. In fact, they are happy to do so. Why? Because they understand that fine things take time.
With that in mind, here are three examples of exceptional pieces of haute horlogerie that are well worth the wait.
Having debuted at Baselworld 2018, the Patek Philippe Ref. 5531R World Time Minute Repeater is a timepiece of exceptional technological brilliance. However, let’s set aside its remarkable mechanical complexity for a moment and give our full attention to the magnificent dial. Occupying its center is a cloisonné enamel depiction of the Lavaux winegrowing region – a UNESCO World Heritage site in Switzerland’s canton of Vaud – complete with a lateen-rigged boat that has set sail. It takes a highly skilled enameler almost two weeks to create this exquisite yet tiny piece of art, which is only 17.1 mm in diameter.
First, the individual compartments (cloisons) of the motif must be shaped by hand with fine flattened gold wire strips that are affixed via their edges to the gold substrate. The cloisons are then filled with enamel paint and fired in a special kiln to about 850°C (1,562°F). This process is repeated multiple times. Each time, the artist has to anticipate how the high temperatures will affect the enamel’s color. Thus, opaque, translucent, and transparent enamel mixtures are applied and fired coat after coat until the miniature work of art is finished. All of that comes before we’ve even looked at the rest of the dial, the construction of the case, or the mind-blowing mechanical movement inside, complete with a minute repeater complication that is capable of chiming the time to within the second!
Everyone knows A. Lange & Söhne creates complicated watches with an almost manic attention to detail. Think the Datograph, the Double Split, etc. Where the brand really excels (beyond its exquisite movement construction and finishing, of course!) is in making the complicated seem relatively simple. Take the Richard Lange Perpetual Calendar “Terraluna” for example. Launched in 2014, it combines a perpetual calendar with a regulator display and a graphic orbital moon phase complication. All that, plus it boasts an incredible 14-day power reserve and a constant force escapement. There’re too many details to cover in a few short paragraphs, so we’ll just focus on the stunning moon phase display.
Built right onto the movement’s base plate, this display is actually composed of three discs, representing the Earth, sky, and Moon. (The golden balance serves as the Sun.) This is because, in addition to displaying the moon phase, it also shows the position of the Sun and the position of the Moon relative to the Earth. The Moon is visible through a round aperture on the celestial disc and follows a counterclockwise orbit around the Earth. It completes a full journey once every lunar month (29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, 3 seconds).
Meanwhile, the central Earth disc rotates on its axis once every 24 hours. It’s daytime in the half facing the Sun (the balance) and nighttime in the other half. The 24-hour scale around the edge of the movement plate allows for a rudimentary reading of the time in the northern hemisphere. Incredibly, 1,058 years will pass before this mechanism needs adjusting by just one day! The three discs are made of solid white gold and have undergone a special coating process that absorbs all the non-blue color spectra. The result is very deep blues and high contrast stars that really pop.
Although it’s not a limited edition per se, only a few examples can be produced each year due to the extreme complexity of its construction and assembly. If you have the money though, we think it’s totally worth the wait!
F.P. Journe is a living legend in most watch-collecting circles. Instantly recognizable by their distinctive aesthetic and intricacy, his creations are sought after by collectors the world over. His small studio in Geneva only produces around 800 to 900 watches a year, and most (if not all) of those are sold a year or more in advance. The reality is, if you want a watch from the master, you have to be prepared to wait. One look at the Sonnerie Souveraine and its incredible Calibre 1505, however, and you know it’s worth being patient.
The result of six years of research and development, the Calibre 1505 is protected by no fewer than 10 patents. The fundamental idea behind it, according to Journe himself, was to create a chiming watch that even an 8-year-old could operate without fear of breaking it. This is, without a doubt, an unusual challenge, and Journe says it was the toughest of his career. The fact is, due to their inherent complexity, chiming watches are susceptible to damage if not set correctly. Journe’s other main focus was on saving energy by maximizing the mechanical efficiency of the movement. As you can imagine, chiming watches require an awful lot of energy in addition to the standard energy required to keep time accurately.
Despite being mind-blowingly complex, the Sonnerie Souveraine is almost laughably easy to use (the pusher at 2 o’clock activates the minute repeater, while the pusher at 4 o’clock allows you to change between Sonnerie modes, from Grande to Petite to Silent.) It is not so easy, however, to put together. In fact, it takes a single watchmaker over three months to assemble all 582 components. That’s why only 4 pieces are made each year. We can’t even imagine what the waiting list must look like!