During SIHH week, I like to sit back, enjoy my coffee, and watch as our colleagues dredge through cocktail hours on the grueling streets of Geneve as they browse the luxury offerings of the Richemont portfolio, and a few others. Pumping out pieces on tourbillions, ultra-thins and the inevitable minute repeaters. Not the typical w&w fare, but extremely enjoyable for any watch nerd despite the size of their wallet.
With that said, I couldn’t help but find this year’s offerings a bit dull overall. Things felt tame, unadventurous. There were more iterative changes than anything else… now in white gold! a hair thinner! tourbillons everywhere!… you get the picture. Now sure, we don’t collect those watches and we don’t rub elbows with their CEOs, but still, was I the only one who was a touch bored?
With that said, of course some things caught my eye. Some for better, and others, not so much. So, here’s my opinionated look at a couple of pieces from SIHH 2016.
IWC remembers they make pilot’s watches
Fliegers. Pilot’s. Aviators… How many watches have we reviewed, written about, ogled over, bought, traded, tried on, lost, found, forgotten, and rediscovered fit into these categories? Many. Many a watch. It’s one of the most common varieties of watch, that despite the often-minimal amount of innovation or re-design, we see time and time again from brands new, old, and in-between. Sometimes we write about them, other times we don’t… there are just so many.
But, that’s not a bad thing, especially in the more affordable price point. At their simplest, a 3-hand with or without branding or date, a pilot’s watch is a great day-to-day tool watch. Clean and formal enough to be worn with ease at the office, rugged and sporty enough to be fun on the weekends. They can take a hit and keep ticking, looking better with some scarring, can be dressed up or down depending on the strap and many can even take a dip in water without issue.
More over, they don’t and shouldn’t cost and arm and a leg. To name a few, if you’re looking for something good, but cheap, you can try Techne or Maratac. For something authentic and affordable, Stowa, Archimede, and Laco have you covered. If you want something more modern and tough, Sinn, Damasko, and Oris are sure things. And let’s not forget Hanhart, C Ward, Hamilton, Citizen, Timex, Alpina, Timefactors/Smiths/Precista, AVI-8, some new Kickstarter every other week and probably more that I’m just forgetting. Yeah, if you’re looking for a flieger, pilot, or aviator, you’re pretty much covered.
Of course, anything can be dressed up, overly polished, and sold as a piece of luxury, and that certainly doesn’t skip the pilot’s watch. IWC is no stranger to the genre. Heck, they are one of the originals… but the IWC of today is a far cry from what it once was, and their newest pilot’s watches totally miss the mark in my eyes. And I say this knowing that it’s likely to displease many a fan, and apparently runs contrary to literally every other watch blog’s opinion of them.
Now, they actually released several new pilot’s watches… and while I don’t particularly think any of them are worth the praise they are receiving, it’s the Mark XVIII that irks me. At nearly $4k, it’s a generic pilot’s watch with a modified Sellita automatic and a terribly placed date. Information on the 30110 caliber is a bit sparse, but the gist is that it was a rebuilt ETA 2892, which has now been replaced with the Sellita SW-300 as a base. Sure, that could and should add some cost, but $4k is a stretch, especially as the additional features are nothing special. Soft-iron inner cases are nothing new (as even IWC points out, they were on fliegers from the early 20th century) and are available in watches at a far lesser price point. The steel appears to be nothing beyond 316L and the water resistance is 6bar, which is less than many cheaper options. In the end, it just looks too much like you’re paying 2-3K for 3 letters, I…W…C… I just don’t see the appeal, especially when it’s not going to out perform a watch that could be had for far less.
But features apart, I guess what’s most disappointing is just how uncreative it is. Many are hailing the watch as IWC coming back to form, but a look at the Mark XI, XII or XV (great breakdown of the Marks by Monochrome here) will show you how the watch has devolved from something unique, to something generic. Just look at the hands on those old models! Look at the balance of the layout! Look at those great oversized markers at 12, 3, 6 and 9, giving the watch a cross-hair feel! Those are what IWC fliegers are all about. The Mark XVIII could be made by anybody.
And at the price point of $4k, it’s also up against stiff competition. If you’re looking for name brand sport watches, just look at what Tudor is doing at $4k. In-house, 70-hr, silicon balance, chronometer grade automatic watches… the Mark XVIII pales in comparison (and for the record, I’m not a big North Flag fan either, but you can’t argue the value).
Admittedly, I have two caveats. One, getting rid of the altimeter date window was a good choice. Two, I haven’t seen the watch in person yet. There is an X-factor to every watch that can only be determined in person…and while I would fully expect the watch to be expertly made and finished, I just don’t see there being some sort of magic in the feel of something that’s so similar to thousands of other watches that it would totally change my mind… but who knows. I’m surely not about to trade in my Damasko DC66 for one.
Cartier: Give Your Designers a Raise
But, not everything is so negative…far from it. Cartier, a brand I don’t think we’ve ever written about on w&w, really made something special with their new Cartier Drive. When I think of Cartier, I really only think of Tanks… a timeless design that while too formal for my personal style, make a lot of sense for the right guy and are genuinely classic timepieces. That said, if I suddenly found myself with a lot of black tie occasions to go to (I really hope that never happens) I might consider one (well, assuming I could afford it).
Back to the point, the Cartier Drive is the first Cartier I’ve ever seen that really spoke to me. It’s still thoroughly Cartier in all respects. The use of Roman numerals, the crown, the hands the dial texture… you’ll see those same elements across most of their designs, but here, they feel different. They feel bold and touch aggressive while still luxurious and a bit decadent. Those massive Roman numerals that push out from the center of the watch look as though they are trying to break through the case, creating the bowing, cushion design. It has an energy to it I don’t see in their other pieces. As the name indicates, it’s a watch inspired by vintage automobiles, and in non-literal way, that totally makes sense.
The case shape is a nice departure for the brand as well, that lends to the overall success of the design. It’s a stout cushion shape with a 40mm width, and I imagine a fairly tame lug-to-lug. It’s an elegant shape that is emphasized by a thick bezel and wide lugs, giving it an undeniable masculinity. More over, it just looks like it will fit well on the wrist. Compact in some dimensions, bold in others. I particularly like how the dial and crystal echo the case shape, being rounded squares rather than circular. The way it all corresponds creates a design that is in balance, with all parts and components feeling sized and placed just right… well, except that date window (nothing’s perfect).
Beyond aesthetics, the Cartier Drive is also surprisingly well-priced with the 3-hand steel models (the ones we’re interested in anyway), which feature in-house automatic movements, starting at $6,250. Sure, that’s a lot more than what we typically discuss here, and I’m not running out to get it any day soon, but in the context of luxury watches it’s a good price (just see above). Going through Cartier’s watches, it’s actually in-line with their other 3-hand steel models, which surprised me (as I said, we don’t cover them often). The 5 – 10k range is an odd one where a lot of brands with fluffed up prices dwell. Considering the name “Cartier” is a house hold name internationally and nearly defines luxury, one would expect a high premium… so $6,250 seems oddly fair.