continued from Salon QP 2015: The Two Salon QPs part 1
Autodromo’s new Group B
One doesn’t have to manage a hedge fund to afford interesting watches though. Look at Autodromo. Founder Bradley Price is clearly a fellow with petrol in his veins. He’s always worth meeting and chatting with, mostly because he’s one of the most decent blokes you’ll meet but also because he’s just gone public with his new Group B watch.
$925 (£690 in the UK) nets you a watch that reeks of 1980s rallycar interiors. Based on a speedo from a Lancia 037 Group B car, it’s classic Autodromo. The thinking is all about the way Group B cars went like hell, weighed nothing and were made from exotic materials. So the lightweight NATO strap runs straight through the integrated lugs of the stainless steel outer case. The Myota 9015 auto movement sits in a titanium inner case – the whole lot weighing just a smidge over 50g.
That NATO isn’t your everyday faux military strap either. It’s designed to resemble a rally seat harness, but instead of the stitched-on ‘Willans’ or ‘Sparco’ panel it says ‘Autodromo’. The name panel also has the neat effect of holding the strap more securely to the case lugs. The 50m waterproof caseback is screwed on – a feature echoed by the two screw heads on the dial.
From the rally course to the diving platform
Also as guests of Page & Cooper (their MD Jonathan in his now trademark Timothy Everest tweed suit – he must have some sort of cooling system running under the waistcoat) were Squale. Andrea Maggi was showing one of his two (yes, just two) engraved bronze Professional Master diving watches. The hand-engraving of fish, Neptune and dolphins on these wouldn’t look out of place on shotgun lockwork. That’s not really surprising as each is hand engraved by Mario Terzi, probably the world’s foremost shotgun engraver.
Non bank-breaking moonphase from Christopher Ward
Johannes Janke, CW’s watchmaker, was showing his new moonphase complication. OK, as we’ve already established, moonphases aren’t the most useful of complications but they might be one of the most attractive. You’ll see a lot of moonphases shoehorned in with other complications. On the CW, though, it’s the – er – star of the show. And that makes it work rather well.
The engine is based on ETA’s 2836-2 with some of Johannes’ watchmaking cleverness added. Basically, two new gearwheels mean the movement’s complication moves smoothly (not with the usual moonphase flicky jumps) and accurately. Perhaps not to 2 million years, but pretty damned accurate all the same. And pretty too, with its guilloché dial and orbiting silvered foilblocked moon – complete with craters.
From complications to (deceptive) simplicity: Seiko’s watchmaker-in-residence
Grand Seiko had turned out in force and had brought watchmaker Mr Satoshi Hiraga from his Shizukuishi watch studio. But Hiraga-san is no ordinary watchmaker. He’s head watchmaker for Grand Seiko’s cal. 9S – their high-beat movement. That’s like being Chief Engineer on the Senna Honda-McClaren project. If you don’t ‘get’ Grand Seiko, just a few minutes with Hiraga-san should convert you to a nailed-on GS fan.
The GS team had put up a huge TV monitor, wired to a micro-camera showing him at work. Quickly, a 9S movement took shape from tiny, perfect bridges, wheels and gears as he worked without a loupe, just the naked eye. The only time he used a microscope was to poise the balance and hairspring. The bridges are so perfectly finished and striped that, at times, it’s hard to see their edges where they butt together. Even the escapement wheel’s teeth have tiny ridges cut into them to hold lubricant.
The same obsessional thinking goes into the materials that make up key components. For example, take a conventional hairspring and stretch it out over a few centimetres and it’s scrap. Take a GS ‘spron’ alloy hairspring and pull the same stunt. It snaps back into perfect shape – as demonstrated by Hiraga-San. OK, so you’re never going to haul on the hairspring of your GS, but it gives you an idea of the quality of the metal that goes into it.
The movement assembled, Hiraga-san calmly rose, bowed, smiled and shook hands with everyone who’d watched. It was only later that the Seiko team mentioned he’d just been honoured for his services to watchmaking by the Japanese government. One got the idea he’d not have mentioned it himself.
And, with him, there were some examples of the earliest Grand Seikos. There was a 3180, the first ever chronometer grade watch made in Japan. The gorgeous 57GS ’64 Grand Seiko Self-Dater put in an appearance too, along with its modern brother the SBGV009. To handle these was a privilege indeed.
It’s not everyday you see…
It wasn’t just new watches at Salon. There were plenty of vintage classics worth pressing one’s nose to the glass to see. How about a Comex Submariner in the care of Watches of Knightsbridge Auctions, complete with its original diving logbook straight from the chap who’d used it in the Gulf? Paul Newman Daytona fan? You’d have the pick of two, one with Phillips, the other with Bonhams.
Too much of a good thing
You simply can’t see everything in one evening at Salon – even if you eschew the temptations of the various bars and cocktails handed to you. There’s just too much; not that that’s a bad thing. What about Roger Smith’s unveiling of his Series 3 and Series 4 complicated watches? We’ve missed out the Hoptroff atomic (yes, really) wristwatch too. And the Schofield Signalman Silvertop (the perfect name – any Englishman over 30 will get it) as well as the completely crackers but wonderful Harry Winston Opus 14. And so many other wonderful pieces.
But Salon’s as much about the people as the watches they make. Which is probably why, post-show, my pals James, Alex and I ended up in the bar of the Chelsea Potter pub with a few pints of Hook Norton and playing Vintage Watch Top Trumps like three eight year olds, courtesy of Fellows auctioneers.
We’ll be back next year. Assuming they’ll let us in, of course.