Feature: 3 Chronographs That Will Shock You
There’s not a whole lot that watchmaking has to throw at us that we would be surprised by these days. Tudor’s P01, for example, that was close—but it really was only a matter of time before that unusual prototype was dusted off and wheeled out. What with whole watches being made from sapphire and dials with spiders in them, it’s come to the point where we’ve seen practically everything—and that makes the secrets of the three chronographs we’ve got coming up all the more surprising.
Girard Perregaux 4945
If you want to talk about watchmaking—and I mean proper watchmaking—you can’t let the conversation go by without mentioning Girard-Perregaux. It’s a brand that’s slipped through the cracks a bit, lost in amongst the big-hitters like Patek Philippe and the new challengers like F.P. Journe, yet it’s contributed and keeps contributing game-changing developments like the ultra-thin, high-beat Gyromatic movement, the first quartz watch produced in Switzerland—which set the standard for quartz frequency—and more recently, the silicon blade Constant Escapement.
If that’s not enough, Girard-Perregaux was founded over two centuries ago in 1791, making it older than both Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet, had elite customers like Queen Victoria, has over one hundred patents to its name, and has won more medals than Michael Phelps. Seriously, Girard-Perragaux cleaned up. From the Paris World’s Fair to the coveted Aiguille d’Or, to the dominance of the high-beat chronometer awards in the 1960s—70% of which were award to Girard-Perregaux in 1967—this is a watchmaker that deserves attention.
Take this 4945, for example. It’s a classic chronograph in rose gold, with a nicely balanced black dial dressed with elegant rose gold dial furniture. There’re three recessed sub-dials, one for the running seconds and the other two for the chronograph, a traditional tachymeter scale bordering the lot, all protected by a box sapphire crystal. It’s controlled by a pleasingly chunky crown and nice, rounded pushers.
Okay, so the movement won’t blow your socks off being a base ETA, but the chronograph module that cleverly lifts the date up to the dial is made by the same company that furnishes Audemars Piguet with its Royal Oak Offshore chronograph modules, Dubois Dépraz, so it’s a solid movement.
So, where’s the shock? I’ll start by asking what you’d pay for this watch, made by Girard-Perregaux, in solid rose gold, with a timeless design and a chronograph no less. A few examples to set the benchmark: a rose gold Speedmaster will set you back £12,000, a rose gold Daytona, £22,150. The 4945? These can be had for just over £4,000. Shocked? You should be.
Roger Dubuis Hommage RDDBHO0567
Lamborghinis, a collaboration with tyre manufacturer Pirelli and the hashtag ‘Daretorace’ rather neatly sum up the outrageous watchmaker Roger Dubuis. Like the aforementioned supercar manufacturer, a Roger Dubuis is a thing that assaults the senses with a battery of excess. Why have one tourbillon when you can have two? Why have a 40mm case when you can have forty-seven? Why have one colour when you can have all of them? You get the idea.
A Roger Dubuis is an occasion, a carnival, a head-turning explosion of mechanical technology. It is the antithesis of Swiss tradition, a reserved, quiet industry that prides itself on not saying too much about anything. A splash of rose gold is pushing the boat out for the Swiss traditionalist—and Roger Dubuis sinks that boat with missiles painted with flames down the sides.
Even the more reserved Roger Dubuis models, like this chronograph from the Hommage collection here, don’t do things by halves. White gold, 42mm, iridescent dial with more layers than a crepe cake and enough going on to keep your eyes busy for months, the Hommage is surprisingly one of Roger Dubuis’ simplest watches.
But that’s not the shock, this is: turn the watch over, and beneath the fanfare, behind the glitzy façade is one of the most impressive chronograph movements ever made. And I really mean ‘ever’. The calibre RD680 is, for a start, a micro rotor movement, one of the very few micro rotor-powered chronographs since the 1969 Chronomatic—but where the Chronomatic was built in modules for ease of construction, the RD680 is crafted for maximum beauty.
Typically, an automatic chronograph has its complicated bits obscured by the winding mechanism, and the usual solution is to ditch all that completely and make you wind the watch up yourself—but Roger Dubuis has found another solution, shrinking the rotor weight and tucking it to one side to leave the deliciously intricate chronograph workings bare to admire.
And you’ll definitely want to admire them, because they are world-class. Don’t take my word for it—take the state of Geneva’s. The Poinçon de Genève—the Geneva Seal—was established by law to protect the future of watchmaking in Geneva by upholding almost impossibly high standards.
Only watches that meet an incredibly stringent set of criteria are branded with the hallmark—and I really mean stringent. They are not messing around. Everything from the type of polishing used to the shapes of the jewels and how they’re formed—even the dimensions of the balance—are scrutinised and regulated. If you even think about just nicking a corner, let alone cutting one, you’ll fail. For the calibre RD680, it’s the cherry on an already irresistible cake. I think this might be an appropriate moment to mention books, covers, and not judging them.
Richard Mille Felipe Massa RM 011
The Bugatti Veyron was a car of firsts. Speed, luxury, engineering—every single aspect grabbed headlines, but none more so than the price. Before the Bugatti Veyron, the most expensive cars from the likes of Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren cost around £300,000. Then the Veyron happened, and manufacturers realised that they could charge over a million, and car buyers decided that that’s what they’d be happy to pay.
The same story can be told of Richard Mille Richard Mille. Back in the 90s, an expensive watch was several tens of thousands, maybe even one hundred thousand, and for that you’d get pretty much any complication you wanted. But then 2001 came, and so did Richard Mille, a company willing to sell a time-only watch in a non-precious metal for over £100,000.
And that’s just the beginning. Thought a million was expensive for a car? Richard Mille will let you spend that on a watch. Think about what Audemars Piguet did to the luxury sports watch industry in 1972, by pricing the steel Royal Oak above its gold complications, and this is what we have with Richard Mille, but turned up so high the needle’s no longer on the dial. That’s not the shocking part; we’ve still got that to come.
Like the Royal Oak, it’s all about statement. There’s no mistaking a Richard Mille for anything else, the motorsport inspired details like throttle pedal pushers and clutch pressure plate crown-—not to mention the engine bay-esque skeletonisation—borrowed straight from the circuit.
All this has earned Richard Mille some criticism. The outlandish prices—this RM011 retails at well over £100,000—and the outrageous styling are certainly polarising. There’s no denying that, in watchmaking terms, there’s more to be had for less.
But is it as clear cut as all that? Is Richard Mille really a brand with all show and no go, a thoroughbred donkey? The RM011—and here’s the shocking part—begs to differ. Pop the hood, and what do you see? A flyback chronograph with twin hour and minute counter, pretty decent. Big date, with skeletonised numerals, not bad. Variable geometry rotor weight—eh, probably a bit gimmicky, I’ve never seen one in any other setting but default. Not looking good.
But yet there’s something that Richard Mille has left off the spec sheet, a little feature that’s given away by a tiny number in the bottom right-hand corner. You see, when the date ticks over from thirty on a month with just thirty days, the big date hops right to the first of the next month.
That’s right—Richard Mille has hidden an annual calendar in this watch and didn’t bother telling anyone. Fans of Patek Philippe will know that an annual calendar can—strangely—be more complex than even a perpetual calendar, so that’s no meant feat. Yes, there are cheaper annual calendars than this, but this little surprise makes it that bit harder to say that Richard Mille can’t do watchmaking.
Three chronographs, three pleasant surprises. Sometimes it pays to look a little closer at what may seem ordinary or not to your liking, because there’s always something to be learned by giving a little more attention. To have two ears and one mouth may before more about stereoscopic hearing than listening more than we talk, but there’s something in the idea of being more aware and inclusive that can only lead to being a more well-rounded human being. Who knew a Richard Mille could be so philosophical? Perhaps that’s the biggest surprise of all.
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