Editorial: The Battle for Entry-Level Luxury Heats Up – Introducing the Baume and Mercier Clifton Baumatic 5-day Automatic

Well, the day has finally come—Baume and Mercier have released a watch that we have to cover. Sure, they have released various watches in the last several years that technically were in Worn & Wound’s price bracket, but they never felt like a good fit for the site. Not a comment on quality, of course; they are, after all, the entry into Richemont’s impressive portfolio of luxury brands (JLC, IWC, Panerai, Montblanc, A. Lange & Sohne and more), but the value just wasn’t there.

Take their Clifton diver for example. It’s just around $2,000, a respectable price for a Swiss-made dive watch from a luxury brand at retail. But, it’s a modern diver with only 100 meters of water resistance (something Oris got flack for on their decidedly vintage 65 line), it’s bland looking at best (in my humble opinion) and it’s heavily branded. For about half the money, Mido offers the Ocean Star, another broad-appeal modern diver, but with 200 meters of water resistance and an 80-hour power reserve. And Farer has their Swiss-made, 300-meter-rated Aqua Compressors, which are wholly unique in the market and built to a very high level of fit and finish. And that’s not to mention the huge amount of sub-$1,000 divers from the micro-brands we all know and love.

But today, Baume and Mercier changed the equation with the new Clifton Baumatic. The watch itself is nothing special in appearance, though it’s not unappealing either. Featuring a 40mm steel case with a thinnish 10.3mm height, it’s clearly designed to be an everyday watch that can survive in both casual and formal occasions. It’s good to see them come down from 42mm, which seemed to be the standard for the Clifton line, always putting them a touch into the big-for-big’s-sake category.

The render suggests a high level of finishing and a slim profile.

The dial is then a departure from the typically more elaborate Clifton’s, featuring a sparse mix of applied, nail-shaped markers with restrained printing for other elements; a date at three; and a set of alpha hands. It’s simple and unpretentious. There appear to then be two versions, one with cross-hairs for a chronometer rated model (more on that below) and one without. The former has a definite Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic feel to it, though it isn’t a one-for-one by any means.

Overall, it’s a nice looking watch. It’s not the most exciting or original design, but it is tasteful and inoffensive. The cross-hair model in particular has a nice balance to it and would likely make for a good business-casual watch. But what makes these watches special and worth writing about isn’t their looks; it’s the movement inside and the price tag that comes with it.

Inside is the new “in-house” BM12-1975A movement, manufactured by Richemont (the quotes are there because that’s a bit like calling a proprietary ETA movement in a Swatch Group watch in-house). This automatic movement features 21 jewels, a frequency of 28,800 bph, a “Twinspir” silicon balance spring, a “Powerscape” silicon escape wheel and lever, and a whopping five-day power reserve on a single barrel. To sum up, what you have here is a movement manufactured by one of the most trusted luxury groups. It features a nice mix of silicon technology, which lends to better anti-magnetic properties and longer service intervals, and it has a great power reserve. It’s also available with a COSC rating. Not bad, but probably expensive, right?

Logic would suggest this watch to be at least $5,000, and likely much more. After all, their 7750 chronographs are around $4,000 (often more) and previous versions of the Clifton with special movements were often north of $10,000, though admittedly featured gold cases. And it’s Richemont, after all, so the expectation is more expensive, not less.

It’s not as elaborate as a JLC caliber, but it’s not pedestrian either featuring snailing and prominent perlage.

Starting price (MSRP) for the Baume and Mercier Clifton Baumatic is $2,590 for the non-COSC version and $2,790 for the COSC reference. That is remarkable. For a quick comparison, Tudor’s in-house movement with a silicon balance, a 70-hour power reserve and COSC rating can be found for $3,450 (MSRP) in the Black Bay. Omega’s Co-Axial Master Chronometers start around $5,000 in the Aqua Terra Railmaster. Even the Nomos Neomatic start at over $3,000 in the Club model and those, while very thin, feature neither silicon nor are they chronometer rated.

Oddly, the closest thing on the market is the Christopher Ward SH21 movement. It’s the only other automatic, five-day chronometer in the group. That said, and while I am a huge fan of the movement and what the brand is trying to do with it, Christopher Ward are direct-to-consumer only, so their pricing is much lower, and they aren’t mass market or really a competitor of Baume and Mercier.

The non-COSC editions have  more space on the dial, which gives them a more conservative feel.

Taking a quick look at the movement in photos, it’s clearly not the elegantly finished caliber you’ll find in Baume and Mercier’s sister brands. It looks to be more in line with an elaboré-grade ETA, but this speaks to its purpose and pricing. This is clearly a new platform for the brand—a base, workhorse caliber for them to build on. It’s not about the looks; it’s about carving a new, (hopefully) entirely in-house niche for themselves. From our perspective, a Baume and Mercier with an in-house movement for under $5,000 would make them the entry-level luxury brand that they aim to be, rather than a questionably priced mall brand.

All in all, this is a huge development for Baume and Mercier, Richemont and frankly the watch industry. Not that long ago, anything “in-house” (speaking of Swiss and German watchmaking) was likely over $5,000. Only a few brands broke that mold and stood out. Now, more and more familiar names are making rather interesting movements under that threshold. This not only increases the expectations of what a watch in the $2,500 – $5,000 range can be, but also what watches priced above that can be. Additionally, it’s a sign that value is becoming a key strategy for brands that were largely marketing-driven before. As the way we learn about and buy watches changes, companies need to do more to make sales. In the end, consumers will hopefully be the winner.

For more on the Clifton Baumatic: Baume-et-Mercier.com

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Zach is the Co-Founder and Executive Editor of Worn & Wound. Before diving headfirst into the world of watches, he spent his days as a product and graphic designer. Zach views watches as the perfect synergy of 2D and 3D design: the place where form, function, fashion and mechanical wonderment come together.
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