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Review: Baume et Mercier Riviera

Riddle me this: after Audemars Piguet’s landmark Royal Oak came out in 1972, which watchmaker was first to jump on the angular bandwagon and release a, hmm, homage? Patek Philippe, with the Nautilus? Nope, that was 1976. The IWC Ingenieur SL? Also 1976. 1977 was Vacheron Constantin’s 222. Well, how about this then, the Baume et Mercier Riviera. Never heard of it? Nope, me neither, but it first saw the light of day in 1973, just one year after the Royal Oak—and now it’s back.

The Original

You’d be forgiven for scratching your head and wondering what on Earth I was talking about when I mention the Baume et Mercier Riviera. It’s not the first time it’s been back since its 1973 inception, but this time I’ve got a feeling it might actually be noticed. Last time we saw it and promptly forgot about it was about a decade ago, when the Riviera had a decidedly more “Offshore” vibe to it, as was, I guess, appropriate for the time.

But now’s a bit different. The Royal Oak and Nautilus are hotter commodities than sand at a sandcastle convention, and so a revitalised Riviera was inevitably going to be on the cards. But far be it from Baume et Mercier to be taking a golden opportunity completely out of the blue—unlike previous reincarnations of the watch, this Riviera is actually an incredibly faithful nod to the 1973 original.

Funnily enough, just as the Royal Oak was a huge departure into the unknown for Audemars Piguet, the original Riviera was more so for Baume et Mercier, because the 1973 edition was not only styled for a new generation, but powered for one, too. These were quartz watches, like the Rolex Oysterquartz of the same era, and they were designed with the sole purpose of keeping the brand relevant in a very turbulent time. In fact, you might even notice the similarities in the original Riviera’s bracelet in comparison to the Oysterquartz, which debuted some five years later.

So, in terms of legitimacy, the modern Riviera has as much claim as any following in the footsteps of Audemars Piguet’s genre-busting watch. Given the brand’s quick reactions in the seventies, perhaps even more so than its slower-witted rivals. But really, this isn’t in competition with those watches anyway, as Baume et Mercier itself is keen to profess. If the Royal Oak is your last watch, the Riviera, then and now, could well be your first.

The New One

Okay, so what’s new for this 2021 Riviera then? Gone is the XXL nature of last decade’s version and back is the simple elegance of the era that inspired it. Never mind the eight-sided octagon of the Royal Oak—the Riviera follows the more is more principle when it comes to case sides for a total of twelve for the full dodecagon. That’s not new, however. What is new are the four bolts securing the bezel to the case. No prizes for guessing what well of inspiration that little nugget was pulled from. That’s right—the previous Riviera that none of us quite remember. That watch borrowed the cue from the Royal Oak.

Overall, there’s just a little more heft to the new Riviera over the old that just brings it into the realms of the modern day. With a 42mm case in steel, you would think it’s still more comfortable in the company of the Royal Oak Offshore, but a surprisingly svelte thickness of 10.66—oddly specific—millimetres reins it back more towards Royal Oak territory, especially in comparison to the 41mm version which stands at the same height, give or take a few tenths.

But like I said before, the point of this watch isn’t to compete with the Royal Oak, no matter how times I pointlessly mention it. Someone with the cash to burn on Audemars Piguet’s favourite child isn’t going to think, “No wait! What if I buy the Riviera instead and save myself an eye-watering amount of cash”—which, as unlikely as that scenarios is, is not untrue.

That’s because, with the Sellita SW200 inside, it’ll cost you just £2,250. Not bad. You’re in the ballpark of the similarly spec’d Tudor Royal there. And it gets better, because not only can you buy like a million of these instead of a Royal Oak—again, not that anyone would so I don’t know why I keep mentioning it—but you can actually use it more, too. I don’t mean that in the sense that the owner of a Royal Oak would be too scared to wear it, but because the Riviera gets double the water resistance at 100m. The blue rubber strap and wave motif dial—which is really quite lovely, by the way—are very much a promise Baume et Mercier can afford to cash.

The New One … But More

The people here paying attention—keep up at the back—will have raised an eyebrow at the sentiment, “with the Sellita SW200 inside”, because that implies there’s an alternative. As if to iterate Baume et Mercier’s position as the ground floor on your luxury watch journey, there’s a second option for those with a bit more cash who’d prefer to furnish their timekeepers with a movement that’s a little less ubiquitous.

For clarity’s sake, there’s nothing at all wrong with the Sellita SW200, not at all. Based on the ETA 2824—and produced very much legally since ETA’s patent ran out, in case you were wondering—it traces its roots right back to the golden years of wristwatch manufacture in 1961. It’s a workhorse, and will continue running long after we’ve all gone to the great watch fair in the sky.

These days, however, the notion of a workhorse doesn’t quite befit the feeling some people are looking for in their luxury watch. So, with that knowledge under its cap, Baume et Mercier has devised a second option for the 2021 Riviera, packing in the brand’s Baumatic calibre. With that you get 120 hours of power reserve—three times more than the SW200—a heap of rather nice decoration seen through the case back and a rather nifty view through the smoked sapphire dial too—all inside the same case with the same dimensions and same water resistance. Especially satisfying is the white-on-black date window blending into the dial. Some blue colouration around the crown reminds you that you paid a bit extra for a bit extra.

But how much extra? £920. The £3,170 price for this premium, shall we say, version would be too much on its own, but with the option to go Sellita and go cheaper, it feels more like an optional upgrade, which somehow makes it more palatable. Even more so is Baume et Mercier’s honesty regarding the Baumatic. This is a movement it transparently admits it developed with the group—a bit like Porsche does with some of its engines—and will also be found in other forms like the Panerai P.900.

You’ll notice the bracelet too, available on both models, equipped with a double deployant clasp. Of course, it integrates seamlessly, although the very two-dimensional profile of the original has been booted out for a more familiar approach. Collectively, the watch does exactly what Baume et Mercier promises, offering an entry into seventies chic with the option of a fancy movement for a budget that won’t leave you hungry. Can’t say fairer than that.

Comparing the Riviera to the Royal Oak is a bit of a weird thing to do—like using an integer of elephants to demonstrate the weight of a bridge, for example—but the fact that Baume et Mercier’s piece very legitimately shares a heritage with some of the finest and most desirable pieces on the planet puts it in a rather unique situation. It’s not a looky-likey wannabe, it really does have roots that go back to that revolutionary time of watch design. If that’s a piece of history pie you want a slice of, the Riviera is definitely worth a taste.

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