Categorising, classifying and organising is always, fundamentally, a political act. It’s difficult to draw a line between what is (or what should be) a sports watch, and everything else. The sports watch provides fertile ground for tourbillons, chronographs and other mechanical exceptions. A sports watch might have all or none of those things, but it must fulfil certain other criteria: it must be demonstrably sturdy, it must have a strap and fastener suitable for playing sport, and more often than not it sports an admirably precise chronograph.
While some watches pass the test with flying colours, with others the connection is more tenuous, and the jury has a very challenging task. Their choice must be arrived at by consensus, but they also need to be sufficiently different that we don’t all die of boredom at the awards ceremony on 8 November.
This year’s jury, chaired by Aurel Bacs, has risen to the challenge, and has made a bold and eclectic selection. So we’re not really comparing apples with apples here, but there can only be one winner after all. Which of the two divers, the sailing watch, the two “unclassifiables” and the vintage will come out on top?
Below sea level
Two diving watches – indisputably part of the sports genre, and easily recognisable thanks to their rotating bezel – are sharing the limelight: the Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Professional 600 m, and the Tudor Pelagos LHD. While the Tudor is a picture of elegance and harmony, thanks to the beige accents on the dial, bezel, calendar display and hands, it has one very unusual feature: it is targeted squarely at the 15% of the population who are left-handed! The winding crown is on the left side of the caseband, where it is accessible to those who wear their watch on their right hand. Many hitherto overlooked customers will no doubt be delighted at this development, even though some of them will by now be used to wearing their watches on the left.
The Jury will also be looking closely at the Grand Seiko, which marks the first time the brand has offered its many avid collectors a mechanical diving watch. The result is stunning, with a 55-hour power reserve, precision of -3 to +5 seconds per day, high-intensity titanium for case and bracelet and, as a finishing touch, extended grooves on the rotating bezel, giving extra style points to a feature indelibly associated with diving.
Grand Seiko Hi-Beat 36000 Professionnal 600m Diver’s © Seiko
Ulysse Nardin has taken a different tack. The Le Locle watchmaker is competing with a sailing watch born of its partnership with Artemis Racing, the Swedish team that competed for the last America’s Cup. The result is on a par with the technological demands of the famous sailing race, which, incidentally, is the oldest sports competition of modern times. The most original feature of the watch is probably its countdown timer which, once it has reached zero, continues to count upwards. Thanks to a patented system, the sweep countdown timer marks off the decreasing seconds for a period of between 1 and 10 minutes, and then transforms into a standard stopwatch. The ocean blue of the dial paired with yellow indices are an unequivocal reference to the watch’s genesis and its partnership with the Swedish team.
Marine Regatta © Ulysse Nardin
Half classical, half modern
When is a vintage watch not a vintage watch? When it’s a Montblanc Timewalker Chronograph Rally Counter Limited Edition 100. Its faithful reproduction of all the features of old-time chronographs would almost convince you that you’re holding a 1930s pocket watch. Except that you aren’t! This is a completely new timepiece, a Montblanc original that can be converted into a wristwatch, a pocket watch, even a dashboard clock! Its monopusher at 12 o’clock and the red chronograph seconds hand that sweeps the peripheral tachymetric scale transport us instantly to the motor racing world. The 50 mm grade 2 titanium case ensures that the watch is as robust as a sports watch should be. The timepiece is water resistant to 30 metres and has been rigorously tested by an in-house team, simulating intensive real-life wear for over 500 hours.
TimeWalker Chronograph Rally Timer Counter Limited Edition 100 © Montblanc
The phrase “The Art of Fusion” springs to mind. Hublot, in keeping with its motto, is presenting an ingenious timepiece designed by Ferrari. The Hublot Techframe Ferrari Tourbillon Chronograph is the product of an exciting collaboration with the Italian auto manufacturer, which celebrates its 70th birthday this year, and which is keen to show off what’s under the hood. The observer, or the lucky owner, can feast his eyes on this tourbillon chronograph, driven by a manufacture movement designed and developed by Hublot, with a 5-day power reserve. A not insignificant detail for sports lovers is that the chronograph is activated via a single pusher, which performs start, stop and reset functions.
Techframe Ferrari Tourbillon Chronograph © Hublot
The center of the Ulysse Nardin Executive Skeleton Tourbillon is the manually wound UN 171 movement having an impressive 170 hours (7 days) of power reserve beating at 2.5Hz (18,000bph). The bridges and plates of this movement are just minimally existent. This leaves the motion and tourbillon together with the silicon escapement and balance spring that the brand is well known for, fully visible from the front and back of the watch.The view from the instance back mirrors the dial with the rectangular frame-like bridge behind the motion. From the front, regions of the movement look nearly as if suspended in air, and also the tiny gears are exposed and delicate-looking. Plates and bridges do include important structural stability to moves, therefore tourbillons and skeletonized movements such as this are indeed delicate and, needless to say, probably best stored for doing “executive things,” rather than rock climbing or off-road BMXing. With that said, water-resistance is 30m. All things considered – this is, in the context of the high-end watch sector – the cost of this Ulysse Nardin Executive Skeleton Tourbillon Blue isn’t outrageous. The Rotonde de Cartier Flying Tourbillon, for instance, is comparable in a few ways, but is more than double the price tag. To get a similarly daring, modern style of skeletonization and sporting experience from Roger Dubuis’ “entry” Excalibur Automatic Skeleton, again, the cost is a lot higher, and that is sans tourbillon. We have discovered that rolling out a ’60s-inspired dive watch in 2017 is a fairly surefire way to turn a few heads. But if Ulysse Nardin, a brand known for complicated regatta timers and Freakish innovations takes the plunge, you truly have to stop, think twice, and take a closer look. For 2017, they’ve introduced the Ulysse Nardin Diver Le Locle view, a simple diver with an in-house motion, silicone parts, and real vintage vibes. There is just one question: Can it sink or swim in a sea of dive watches positioned in an immensely competitive price bracket? Let’s see.
We’ve left the strangest for last. MB&F has entered a watch inspired by an octopus, which is also somewhat reminiscent of a nautical compass. The Horological Machine No. 7 Aquapod finds itself in the sports watch category, even though it doesn’t fit the traditional design canons of this category. Its eccentric styling, with three-dimensional spherical construction and central flying tourbillon, are sure to provoke discussion on 8 November.
Whether the aim is sports functionality, a sporty look or sporty inspiration, the idea of imposing categories is to continue to ask new questions, without necessarily having to supply an answer. And therein lies the fascination of the watchmaker’s art.
Watch the ceremony