Best of BaselBy Wei Koh
What’s the problem? Simply put, on a global level the world is spending a lot less on watches than it used to. How much less? According to an inside source at Richemont Group: “At a group level the belief is that this crisis is more severe than the one of 2008.” The reason for this is simple. Even though the worldwide financial crisis, brought on by banks packaging super shady mortgages into instruments of financial mass destruction, annihilated huge amounts of wealth and savings around the world, there was one bright beacon for the Swiss watch industry: mainland China. Because, concurrent with the economic crisis in the West, the Chinese loosened restrictions on foreign travel and the Chinese mass excursion to the fabled luxury destinations around the world was a force like no other.
Flush with money, both the upper and newly-moneyed middle class hit the world on a shopping spree the likes of which it had never seen. Paris in 2008 was in many ways a ghost town, with barely a European or American in sight with a euro to spend. But in Galeries Lafayette, which paid Chinese tour group operators handsomely to be positioned as the Mecca of Parisian luxury, the party was in full swing. Droves of Chinese shoppers descended on the various concessions like the locusts in the eighth plague of Egypt, and it is rumored that a certain model of luxury monogramed handbag was being sold in numbers as high as 500 per day.
The scene was repeated in the Louis Vuitton and Hermès boutiques where the lines to buy leather goods and accessories reached unheard of levels. Same thing in watch boutiques throughout Rue de La Paix, Via Condotti, Bond Street, Orchard Road, Collins Street and Rue du Rhône. Both Lucerne and Interlaken were so replete with Asian tourists, all clutching fistfuls of cash or Union Pay debit cards, that the commonly told joke was: “There are more Chinese than Swiss on the streets.” Within a year there would be greater numbers of Chinese-speaking sales assistants than native speaking ones in many of these destinations. To meet the unprecedented levels of double-digit growth, many watch brands considerably expanded production, churning out more and more of what is euphemistically termed in the business, “product”.
But cut to 2016 and suddenly the Chinese have disappeared and the luxury watch industry has been left with a tremendous amount of unsold product, rumored to be worth billons of dollars.
The main problem is that over a period of many years, the watch industry has become accustomed to being able to sell whatever it produces. The stark realization brought about by these tough times is that manufacturers have grown complacent, imagining that whatever derivative, unimaginative, uninspired timepiece they issue into the world will, supported by glossy ad campaigns and shiny new boutiques, simply be accepted as desirable.
But to quote legendary financier Warren Buffett, “only when the tide goes out, do you discover who’s been swimming naked”. The hard truth is that the majority of watches out there are, simply speaking, mediocre on every level. They are mediocre in design, mediocre in function, mediocre in story-telling, and mediocre as a value proposition. And this has allowed a brand like Rolex, which has unparalleled brand equity, to launch its strongest watch in a decade – the new ceramic bezel, steel Daytona priced at SFr.11,800 – and totally dominate the competition in every way. My theory is that Rolex was ready with this watch in 2013 for the 50th anniversary of the Daytona but, correctly predicting the difficulties the industry would face in 2016, chose to launch it when the competition was at its very weakest.
What the watch industry has failed to do on a global level – with a few exceptions such as IWC, Audemars Piguet, Hublot, Panerai and Richard Mille – is captivate the imagination of the new generation and cultivate the interest of a highly affluent consumer who has not yet become interested in luxury watches. We have never lived in a time where there are more rich young people and they are spending unprecedented levels on homes, vacations, meals, and vehicles. But what has the watch industry done to cultivate them or reach out to them on their own level, in language of today? Essentially nothing. Case in point, Richemont Group used to own, and still has a financial interest in, the single most powerful e-commerce entity on the planet, a website that has revolutionized luxury retail: Net-a-Porter. But guess how many Richemont Group watches they have sold on this platform to date. Zero. I’m not making this up. It is actually zero.
But 2016 will be a wake-up call to those helming brands or sitting on boards of directors who still believe the watches they create for themselves – and those like them – have any relevance to the contemporary consumer If you are sitting on millions of dollars of inventory you are part of the problem not the solution. This year my best of Basel is not just a summary of the best watches of this fair, but an expression of a few of the brands in the watch industry that have made the critical steps to increase their relevance with the audience of today. Together these brands are forging the future of the watch industry in a time where many others are causing its demise.
Jean-Claude Biver should be considered the messiah of the Swiss watch industry. He is a man that has built his titanic success by defining the concept of “first mover advantage”. At Blancpain he correctly predicted and drove the return of complicated mechanical watchmaking. At Hublot he became the light-bringer for connecting watchmaking not just to the contemporary world, but also to a lifestyle user, which has provided a critical advantage over brands that appeal only to a more insular, watch-geek audience.
Now at the helm of TAG Heuer he is preaching the gospel of value. If the watch industry is smart and wants to weather the storm of commercial inclemency, it should listen carefully to every word he says. For example: “At TAG Heuer I want every one of my watches to have a perceived value two to four times that of its actual cost.” Which means to say he wants you to strap on one of his watches and then actually be shocked at what a comparative bargain it is. And this is certainly the case with his new 4 Hz automatic tourbillon chronograph.
First this watch is COSC-certified, making it only the third tourbillon after Patek Philippe’s and Chopard L.U.C’s to be officially recognized as a chronometer. This is obviously so naysayers can’t discredit its performance, and it also raises the question of why the world’s most accessibly priced tourbillon IS certified while most of the world’s others aren’t. Incidentally, it is also the world’s only COSC-certified tourbillon chronograph in production (Renaud and Papi made a few for Breitling back in the day) adding to its palmares.
Critics might point out that the hand black-polished Carrera-O2T has a movement that is largely industrialized, but that is a criticism that Biver and his right hand man Guy Semon have turned on it’s head. They simply point to the fact that with the right kind of construction techniques and materials they have created one of the world’s best-performing tourbillons on the market – and by far the most affordable. Not only that, but strap it on and you’ll see it is absolutely stunning.
Biver has also emphatically broadcast that the era of irrational price tags in any category is resoundingly over. If you want your watch to succeed today, first of all it has to be mind-blowingly cool. Second it needs to appeal not only to the diminishing watch geek market (all of whom are far more focused on vintage today) but more importantly to the ever-expanding lifestyle market (yes, all brands can take a page from TAG Heuer, Audemars Piguet and Hublot’s playbook and recognize that today’s tastemakers are Pharrell Williams and Kevin Hart, not some middle-aged white dude in a boardroom). And third, when someone looks at the price tag he has to be at least pleasantly surprised but preferably totally swayed by it as a value proposition. Because let’s face it between a wristwatch, a Ducati, a Porsche and a Ferrari, the watch is often the least attractive option in terms of value versus reward.
Biver has also continued in his quest to be the leader in the purveyor of luxury, connected watches. After quickly selling out of the first 20,000 timepieces, he re-ordered another 60,000, which are also now all but gone. Such is his confidence in this market that he and Semon have just committed to 200,000 connected watches. He explains: “We cannot have the arrogance of sitting around in our boardrooms and ignoring the culture and the consumer of today. We have seen the sale of our connected watches boost the sale of our mechanical watches by giving TAG Heuer is new relevance to an all-new consumer. Connected watches are giving us new buyers who have never before thought of a watch at all. By convincing them to buy a watch we are creating the next generation of luxury mechanical watch buyers to ensure the future survival of this industry.”
When Biver came up with the concept of Hublot, a lightning rod for all the influences of the modern world, he did not just make a new timepiece, he created a lifestyle brand. He, along with Hublot’s equally dynamic CEO Riccardo Guadalupe, has built the brand’s success by pushing it beyond the confines of a traditional horological maison to become a global luxury lifestyle brand. They have done this by demonstrating a limitless ability to become the emblem of new generation by connecting Hublot to the right musicians (Jay-Z), the right sporting events (the World Cup) the right athletes (Kobe Bryant) the right car company (Ferrari) and the right style icons (Lapo Elkann). And, if all of this is too confusing, then let me use a little Zen-reductionist magic to help you understand what Hublot has that other watch brands don’t: that all elusive quality of “cool”.
And one very major part of Hublot’s coolness, which is often overlooked, is just how amazing its designs are, perfectly embodied by the Big Bang Black Sapphire (which, at SFr.60, 000, is also a major bargain in comparison to the other sapphire watches in the industry) and the new camouflage texaliam Big Bangs made in collaboration with Lapo Elkann and his company Italia Independent.
In fact, the Hublot Italia Independent watches did the near impossible in uniting so many grizzled, gnarly veteran watch journalists and horological snobs who, on looking at them said: “I cannot help but love these watches”. At the same time having shown them to my new 22-year-old assistant – a total watch neophyte – her reply was: “These are the coolest, most bad-ass watches I’ve ever seen.” Laugh all you want, she’s the consumer of the future and now Hublot is totally on her radar.
Strong offers from Hublot in addition to the Italia Independent watches and the Big Bang Black Sapphire included the brand’s MECA-10 range, featuring an in-house 10-day power reserve, manual-wound watch, about which Guadalupe says: “This movement was designed to incorporate its indications into the movement. It features a horizontal rack that interacts with a differential surrounding the barrel to provide a reading for power reserve. In terms of its mechanical presence on the wrist, it far exceeds its perceived value.”
“Dark Side of the Moon was the single most important watch we have launched in recent years,” explains the very savvy Stephen Urquhart, the now-retired President of Omega. “Because for the first time we reached out to the lifestyle consumer, rather than just the watch connoisseur. We already have a good foothold with the more watch-centric collector, but Dark Side of the Moon, showed us how huge the lifestyle market can be. No brand can exist today without recognizing this.”
In the past few years Omega has launched an impressive litany of timepieces built around its iconic Speedmaster and Seamaster models, in particular the all-black ceramic Dark Side of the Moon and the 45th anniversary titanium and red-gold Apollo 11, as well as the retro-themed Seamaster 300, which featured in the latest James Bond film Spectre as an explosive device used against Ernst Stravro Blofeld.
This year Omega follows with a new version called Grey Side of the Moon, featuring a stunning dial sourced from a Gibeon meteor that crashed into earth in pre-historic times. The watch also features a grey ceramic case, not unlike the type found in Blancpain’s 50 Fathoms Bathyscaphe collection, which, thanks to its capacity to show different types of brushed and polished finishes, is actually quite hard to tell from a metal case. It benefits from being lighter than metal and has a Vickers hardness rating far in excess of steel. It is made more distinctive by the use of a Sedna gold bezel, indexes and hands.
Not content with just one strong offering this year, Omega’s Speedmaster Master Chronograph Moonphase has been executed in one of my favorite colour combinations – a British Racing Green ceramic bezel contrasted by a slate grey dial and stunning yellow-gold bezel, indexes and hands. While its iconic dive watch the Ploprof emerges this year in a featherweight titanium version – specifically a Grade-5 titanium case and dial and a Grade-2 titanium Milanese mesh strap.
To the pundits braying vapid protestations from the cheap seats that the Rolex Air King’s minute markers are too large, too brazenly lifestyle, the green logo and yellow crown too outré or even a little bit gauche, I say this: “Pull your heads out of your arses!” The Rolex Air King was created specifically to target the lifestyle market and the first-time watch buyer market. It precisely invoked the sort of daring lifestyle-orientated graphics that so many second party Rolex modifiers have adopted, but does it in a way that is all together classier. With its bright green signature and traffic-light yellow coronet it all but declares its identity with unabashed joie de vivre, in a way that both first-time Rolex buyers and the lifestyle crowd will find irresistible.
In the era of innumerable selfie-sticks propagating like giant fertility symbols in every touristic destination on the globe, in an era where it’s considered only polite for you to Instagram yourself in your newest smallest bikini, the dial of your watch needs to be similarly unabashed, unrestrained and larger than life and the green and yellow panjandrum that is the Rolex Air King is precisely the symbol of #livingthedream that embodies the culture of today. Add to this Rolex’s incomparable quality and the fact that it is one of the most accessibly priced Rolexes, at SFr.5, 900, and the meaning behind the Air King is clear. It is not just a watch. It is a warhorse, and for all you brands that have steadily raised your prices over the past decade to find yourself trespassing on the territory of the mighty green giant, the message is clear: Rolex is coming for you, it’s going to eat your breakfast, lunch and dinner for you and it’s going to destroy you.
On the subject of looking to gain ever-more market share let’s talk about one more watch. Probably the most buzzed about, most social media’d, most grammed and re-grammed, the most snapped and tweeted watch on the planet: the new ceramic bezel Rolex Daytona.
The beauty of this watch is so undeniable that here you have the horological equivalent of Charlize Theron, Maglosia Bela, Alicia Vikander and Isabeli Fontana all transmuted into a goddess of ultra-hotness sitting on your wrist. The point is if such a woman did exist, it wouldn’t matter if you were the most chaste man on earth, if you’ve ascended to some level of Gandhi-esque spiritual enlightenment by living in a cave and lifting rocks with your dick, if she so much as looks at you, you are done buddy.
The new Daytona is so unimaginably breathtaking, so extraordinarily seductive, invoking just the right touches of the acrylic bezel 6241 and 6263 Daytonas, while remaining so thoroughly and unapologetically modern that no man, woman or child with the ability to see and feel will be able to resist her. Apparently in the UK there is already a five-year waiting list for this watch. But the real insider theory related to this watch is the following. Flashback to 2013 when Rolex was preparing for the 50th anniversary of the Daytona and the brand was about to launch it’s own in-house magazine.
Rolex was kind enough to approach me to write the very first story in the first volume of this magazine, which I did on my love for the Daytona. Yet much like the rest of the world, I was a little puzzled when all that was launched for the model’s big “five o” was a platinum watch with a blue dial and a chocolate brown ceramic bezel.
As I said in my introduction, I am convinced that the new ceramic bezel Daytonas in steel were ready and waiting in the wings, but then Rolex forecasted that 2016 would be a very tough year for the majority of the watch industry. So what they did was wait until the shit hit the fan for the majority of other brands, to launch what may well prove to be one of the most successful models in Swiss watchmaking history.
In so doing Rolex has increased pressure on the already hyper-vulnerable competition, and together with the one-two salvo of the Air King, this will enable them to gain massive market share amid a teetering watch market. Says my friend and Swiss cycling hero Fabien Cancellara: “It’s like in cycling. You wait for your competitor to get into trouble, then you attack totally and relentlessly.” I have no doubt that upon the launch of the new Daytona, Rolex CEOs Jean-Frédéric Dufour and Gian Riccardo Marini surveyed their battleground with the satisfaction of Roman generals, nodding to each other while uttering the immortal words “Rolex Victor”.
The first two watches I ordered during Baselworld were shown to me by CEO Philippe Peverelli, Public Relations Manager Christophe Chevalier and Head Designer Ander Ugarte – otherwise known as the powers that be at Tudor watches – at an event at some kind of Swiss Coastguard boatyard. The fact that I have only a vague recollection of what kind of military facility I was in has everything to do with how fully mesmerizing the new Black Bay Bronze and Black Bay Dark are.
Back in the day, when you rocked up to Baselworld the first two brands you absolutely had to see were Rolex and Patek Philippe, even if that meant just pressing your nose on their glass windows to ogle the incredible finery they’d launched that year. But as of 2012 a third brand became part of that equation. Why? Because the Tudor Black Bay is one of the very few new sports watches launched in the past 20 years, along with Panerai’s Luminor Marina and Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Offshore that has become a true icon.
While the other two watches respectively channeled military cool and fused elegance with aggression in totally unique ways, the Black Bay did something else. It perfectly comprehended the zeitgeist of the vintage sports watch movement, which would become the defining trend of the past five years and used precisely the right vintage themed cues from snowflake hands and square markers, to a gilt minute track, to a big crown without guards, to beveled lugs, to create one of the most stunning modern sports watches.
The Black Bay was also one of the very first Swiss watches to redefine the concept of value, because you would look at it, be blown away by its design and quality, then be amazed that the price of the watch was far lower than expected. It is a watch that is so cool that it soon transcended its price category and became the type of watch everyone from a Patek complication collector, to a Richard Mille devotee, to a guy buying his first watch could relate to and desire.
This year Tudor beautifully demonstrates that the Black Bay has become so recognizable that it can be made using different materials and in different sizes, each time manifesting a different aspect of its seemingly infinite expressive potential. The Black Bay Bronze is bigger than its siblings, 43mm as opposed to 41mm, but its designer Ander Ugarte points out: “We tried it in many different sizes and decided that this was the one that worked the best. We also tried up to 50 different alloys of bronze before we settled on the one for the production model because it has just the perfect colour and will age with just the right amount of patina. We also used a beautiful brown dial inspired by the tropical dials that naturally occur in some vintage models.”
In contrast the Black Bay Dark one-ups the work of modifiers who for many years have made tremendous livings black coating Rolex and Tudor cases and crafting new “vintage inspired” dials for them. At 41mm it feels even smaller thanks to the PVD treatment on the case. As a demonstration of the expressive potential of the Black Bay this watch is all technical and modern in contrast to the Bronze’s nostalgic warmth. The gilt on the minute track is replaced by stark white print while a red depth-rating adds just that perfect louche touch of retro appeal. Both of these watches feature Tudor’s in-house, COSC-certified movement the MT5062. Finally at SFr.3, 800 and SFr.3, 950 (SFr.4, 250 on bracelet) respectively their value is unquestionable.
It may not be as stunning at the Black Bay Bronze, but you know what? The Oris Carl Brashear Bronze Diver 65, is first of all undeniably cool, second has an amazing story and third of all at SFr.2, 600 is such a strong value proposition that to not include it in my best of Basel would be an act of brazen irresponsibility.
Who’s Carl Brashear? He was the US Navy’s first African American Master Diver and, if this all sounds familiar, it’s because he was the subject of the film Men of Honor starring Cuba Gooding Jr. Brashear joined the navy at 17 in 1948, graduated from its diving program in 1958. In 1966 he lost the bottom of his left leg in an exercise to recover a hydrogen bomb off the coast of Spain but was such a bad ass that he came back and became the Navy’s first amputee diver in 1968.
Firstly, it is a great story, and the fact that Oris was able to create a strong and salient connection between Brashear and the vintage-inspired Diver 65 collection is brilliant. Secondly, the watch it came up with is truly excellent looking. And finally, its choice to price it so accessibly is an act of profound intelligence.
“We know we need to modernize our designs to appeal to a younger customer. And even our older more traditional customer will find these designs appealing, as they too would like something fresh and relevant,” says Thierry Stern. Last year the CEO of Patek Philippe made waves by launching a dual-time pilot’s watch, a timepiece clearly targeted at the younger more lifestyle-oriented customer. He explains: “It’s funny because every time I have someone who tells me I shouldn’t have made this watch they finish the conversation by asking, ‘but anyway, could you allocate me one?’”
Despite Patek Philippe being undeniably the gold standard in haute de gamme watchmaking, despite the fact that the brand’s name still possesses such evocative power and that its watches exude a mysterious power that causes grown men to regress into delighted children, and despite the fact that even Jean-Claude Biver is a huge Patek collector, Stern understands that there is an entire new generation out there that he needs to connect with.
As such it’s understandable that his latest timepiece the World Time Chronograph exudes a strong sense of youthful energy. Stern explains: “I was thinking of what complications are most relevant to the man of today. He’s a frequent traveller both for business and fun. He is interested in sports and in performance cars, so a chronograph is a useful function for him.” But the resulting watch ref. 5930 is, as they say, greater than the sum of its parts. Because rather than the union of two pragmatic functions it feels more like the new emblem of a certain affluent character – a sort of global vagabond, a rake following the social scene from Capri to Cap d’Antibes to Bali always perfectly attired and capable of tracking his movements across time zones while measuring the elapsed time it takes his tender to drop him off from the yacht.
It was at Stern’s insistence that the minute track lie between the city disc and the 24–hour ring as he felt it added the most pleasing visual identity to the dial. And though it is a complicated watch, what is highly intelligent about the 5930 is that it is precisely what Stern wants it to be: a Patek Philippe that is a symbol of a certain lifestyle and that will be adopted by the kind of customer that wears it as a sort of membership badge.
A few years ago, in conversation with Antoine Arnault, whose family owns and runs the brand with one of the most recognizable logos in the world – Louis Vuitton – he expressed: “In the upper end of men’s luxury we’ve experienced a shift away from logo-centric branded luxury toward discretion.” So in this environment of ultimate discretion can tremendous technical innovation still flourish?
The answer to this, as perfectly embodied by Bulgari’s new Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater, is a resounding: “Hell yes!” Especially if that watch happens to also be beautifully and discreetly designed, keeping its rich and amazing internal content a secret known only to its owners. The secret here is alluded to by the slide perfectly integrated into the side of the watchcase. Let me stop for a moment to bow to Fabrizio Buonamassa for creating such a beautiful watch and the slide, which echoes one of the Octo’s famous lugs is a masterful touch. Activate it and the strike train of this minute repeater will burst into song with perfectly timed strikes and a ravishing sonically arresting tone. While Bulgari’s absorption of the Gérald Genta brand into its own DNA provoked something of a controversy a few years ago, this minute repeater is a perfect example of how Genta’s specialization in striking watches has been intelligently adopted into the Bulgari brand.
But we are in the era of value, right? So how do you justify calling a €160,000 watch a strong value proposition? Because the watch in question is the world’s thinnest minute repeater, besting the world’s previous record holder in both movement height and overall watch height by a staggering 20 per cent. And you can when the watch in question is a work of staggering beauty, cementing the Octo’s position as the third Genta-derived contemporary icon along with Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak and Patek Philippe’s Nautilus.
The difference here is that the original Octo was not an ultra-slim watch. But Buglari’s watch guru Guido Terreni has somehow reduced, streamlined and captured the core essence of the original Octo, given it a sense of irrefutable elegance through its sleek profile, refined its 110 facets through a brilliant use of contrasting finishes, and injected it with surging contemporary relevance. He has essentially out Genta-ed Genta, creating a watch that he would have created were he alive and at the height of his creative powers today. Of all the Octo watches ever made, this particular timepiece with its Grade-5 titanium case and titanium dial featuring skeleton indexes that just hint at the complexity of the strike train inside, is the most sublime.
One of the most compelling reasons for visiting Baselworld is to witness the ingenious work of Marc Hayek, a man whose brilliance straddles four brands – Breguet, Blancpain, Jaquet Droz and Harry Winston – where he supports his mother Nyla’s dynamic leadership with his strong technical acumen. Hayek is a man with diverse passions. He’s a diver, a former BMX champion, a lover of great Burgundy, food and cigars, a highly competitive racecar driver and a man who loves sharing his passions with others – in particular his unending quest for technical innovation in watchmaking. And while the rest of the industry is content on replicating known technology, you could make the argument that the first three decades post the 1970s quartz crisis were dedicated to the miniaturization of existing pocket watch complications, Hayek is a man whose creativity is as much rooted in the future as it is in the past.
Much of his work in recent years has been focused around the use of magnetism in high watchmaking. He first used magnets to create a regulator in his Breguet Reveil watch. He’s used this again in his latest La Tradition Minute Repeater. But when he unveiled his use of magnetic pivots on the balance wheel to all but eliminate friction in contact with end stones, he may very well have solved the issue that was Breguet’s primary focus when he created the tourbillon. Because one of the primary reason for the poor results when watches are placed in a vertical position relates to the pivots experiencing increased friction in their end stones. It was for this reason Breguet created a cage to average the errors generated over one minute when watches were placed in this position. But by totally eliminating any friction by holding the pivots in place using a magnetic field, Hayek has resolved the core issue that plagued Breguet in his day.
This year at Basel, Hayek displayed two working prototypes of movements that write the next chapter in his use of magnetic technology. The first is a tourbillon featuring a balance wheel with magnetic pivots. In many ways this movement connects the most iconic invention from Breguet’s past – the tourbillon – with the brand’s most significant invention of modern times – the magnetic pivot – to unite two eras of Breguet’s brilliance in one movement. Hayek explained that it was not inconceivable to see this movement in a production watch one day in the future.
His work hasn’t stop there. Incredibly Hayek and his team have also created a fully magnetic, frictionless escapement. “The idea was essentially to eliminate friction but in working on this escapement we realized two other very important things,” says Hayek. “Firstly, since the escapement uses only the power of the magnets for its impulse phase, we have created a constant-force escapement as it is no longer dependent on the barrel and the quality of its power. Secondly, because the escapement is totally frictionless, the applications for high frequency escapements are very interesting.”
Finally, it might seem a little self-serving that I’ve listed a watch made for the 10th anniversary of this magazine as one of my highlights of Baselworld, but I have to say with total objectivity, purely from a design perspective that the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms Bathyscaphe Revolution Special Edition is one of my favorite timepieces of the year because of the way it perfectly integrates vintage and contemporary design codes.
For those of you who might be unaware, the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms was the very first ever purpose built diving watch. It was launched in 1953, a full year before the Rolex Submariner. From the very beginning it featured a uni-directional rotating bezel, something that Rolex would not incorporate until much later. It was rapidly adopted by numerous military units around the world, including the US Navy where it had to be rebranded under the name “Tornek Rayville” because of restrictions regarding foreign instruments in the American armed forces.
Because of the size of its rotating bezel, the first model was 42mm in diameter. But the inspiration for the collaboration between Blancpain and Revolution were the first civilian-issued Fifty Fathoms from 1960-1970 that were considerably smaller.
As such it was decided the watch would feature a sand-blasted 38mm steel case from the brand’s Bathyscaphe range. It would also use a domed sapphire crystal to add a sense of nostalgia, but a thoroughly modern anthracite dial. The 6, 9 and 12 luminous Arabic indexes are a nod to the very first Fifty Fathoms from 1953, (the number 3 is replaced by a date window). It features a decidedly contemporary uni-directional bezel with a ceramic insert and liquid metal markers.
When the brand’s product head – and friend of Revolution – Vincent Beccia asked how I wanted the movement decorated, my immediate thought was “a camouflage pattern”. For me camouflage has become a permanent part of the luxury lexicon, yet still possesses a sense of subversive, street culture and military cool. “Let me work on it,” replied Beccia with typical understatement. But when he unveiled the prototype, replete with a vintage-styled brown NATO strap, the result was breathtaking in every way including the extraordinary camouflage finish.
The point is that in this tremendous act of friendship, Marc Hayek has given us the creative freedom to bring all the design details we believe are the most relevant to modern culture to this unique timepiece. It is an incredible gesture of trust and faith, plus forward thinking on the part of Blancpain. Along with Hayek and Beccia I would like to also thank Alain Delamuraz and Marc Junot for their part in making this extraordinary project come to life.