Latest incarnation of the Zenith El Primero retro editions is a serious piece of homage, and just released by Zenith for the new year. Here’s the press info;
A legend is born again: Zenith is bringing back one of the earliest and most emblematic El Primero-equipped chronographs from the earliest days of the revolutionary calibre in the form of a Chronomaster Revival model.
The A385 made headlines back in 1970, when it took part in Zenith’s “Operation Sky”. This extreme test consisted of strapping the watch to an Air France Boeing 707’s landing gear on a flight from Paris to New York to test its resistance to external aggressions such as drastic temperature fluctuations, wind force and changing air pressure. Upon landing, the watch was still functioning perfectly. This daring feat was a testament to the confidence those who had tirelessly worked on the El Primero calibre held, as well as tangible proof that a mechanical movement was superior to the nascent quartz movements of the time, which couldn’t have stood the temperature differences endured by the watch during the flight.
After over 50 years, the time has come for the A385 to make its return in the form of a Chronomaster Revival model. Far more than just a vintage-inspired creation, the Chronomaster Revival A385 is an actual reproduction of the original model from 1969 in an exercise of “reverse engineering” by the Manufacture. Using the original blueprints and production plans, each part of the A385’s 37mm tonneau-shaped stainless steel case, including the pump-style pushers, is faithful to the original 1969 model. The only differences, are the domed sapphire crystal instead of an acrylic glass and the display back instead of the closed solid steel case back, offering an unobstructed view of the El Primero 400 chronograph movement.
Verdict: At £7500 or so for the bracelet version, and about £7000 for the leather strap version, this is an expensive trip down memory lane. OK, you’ll never find a mint condition tropical fume dial El Primero now, 50 years later, with box n papers. But will a 37mm case sized watch really stand out on the wrist as a great statement for that hefty price tag?
Maybe the better option is to go old school and buy a genuine 1969-71 model? We found an original El Primero A385 with the brown fume dial – no box or papers – for £4600 on Chron24, plus a 1970 brown fume dial model from a German dealer at £7300. The channces are that the true originals will hold their value – or increase – when compared to the modern day revival.
Although you lose accurate timekeeping, and have no factory guarantee, you may just end up with a watch that makes a few grand over the next 5-10 years. Having said that your cash is probably safer in a nice Rolex Sub for the next decade. Oh and buy a safe. And a large dog.
Angles watches are doing something unique on Kickstarter and it seems popular with over £60,000 spent backing the Three Kings watch. Here’s the word on this wandering hours watch design;
At Angles, our watches are all about showcasing to the world that we bring to market more watch at higher quality and lower cost than competitors. Even a new watch enthusiast recognizes something special is strapped to their wrist when it is an Angles timepiece. Revealing time through novel and often exclusive-to-us complications is a central feature that sets Angles apart from others. Our creations are not the exclusive baubles of the ultra-rich, yet an Angles watch will impress at every price-point.
The Three Kings is our latest creation to live up to these ambitions: triple rotating hour minidials are in-house designed and constructed as a wandering hours module while using a premium Miyota 9039 automatic as the base movement. Only the right-hand hours dial presents the current time with a tip pointing to the minutes. As that dial spins clockwise past the minute scale, the dial behind it will cue up the correct number for the next hour. These constantly rotating hours dials are surprisingly easy to read yet will captivate those who have never seen such a watch.
Liberated from needless details, only the Three Kings offers such wandering hours with a clean elegance not to be found elsewhere. Three Kings owners benefit from Angles’ mature understanding of the interplay of complexity and simplicity. Free of distractions, the Three Kings bear an extremely accurate gift of time if you become one of its rare owners (only 100 examples in each colour will be manufactured for its first edition).
The Three Kings is powered by a Miyota 9039 automatic movement that registers at 28,800 beats per hour and has a power reserve of 36 hours. The Three Kings Dial comes in 6 incredible choices: Red, Green, Dark Blue, Light Blue, Light Brown and Black. These are really vivid, fume style dials by the way, with Superlume markers.
The Angles brand is based in Hong Kong, so the price is competitive at about £330 on the early bird offer, or £590 for two. Delivery expected in June 2021.
WHAT THE HECK IS A WANDERING HOURS WATCH?
The wandering hours complication is very old. Traditionally, it’s attributed to the Campani Brothers, who are thought to have made one as a commission from the Pope, in the mid-1600s. Despite its age and history, it is something of a rarity in modern watchmaking; if not all, cost more…a lot more. We prefer to trying to make extreme quality and special watches at less cost to our customers.
The Northern Watch Co would sum up wandering hours as a sort of contra-rotating balance shaft assembly, a bit like the inside of a car or motorcycle engine where weight is placed in an opposing orbit to something like a piston or crankshaft. In a Honda CBR1100 Blackbird that means vibration is smoothed out as the engine revs at high speeds, as a balance weight turns the other way. Obviously in a watch you don’t have that 11,000rpm problem, but the principle is the same. Ultimately all engines, including watch movements, are about a balance of power, so if you imagine one wheel turning a dial that tells the minutes, then another spins the other way to tell the hour, you have the gist of the Three Kings watch.
an Ordain are one of our fave brands here at The Nortern Watch Co magazine. Why? Well it isn’t often that you find any brand capable of producing hand-enamelled dials, it’s a very rare skill. Even more so to find that being applied in the UK, where employment laws, factory rents and overheads make life very expensive for anyone who wishes to manufacture stuff.
So here’s good news from an Ordain on their fume dial range;
The Model 1 is now available with our signature Fumé dial. Developed by our team over several years, this painstaking enamelling technique has now been further refined to exaggerate the smoked effect and add more depth to the outer perimeter. Available in a range of colours, each Fumé dial boasts a lustrous coloured centre and impressive smoked edge. While the Blue and Green Fumé provide the new Model 1 with a familiar and dazzling vibrance, they are accompanied by the addition of two new colours – Payne’s Grey and Plum. The latter of the two brings with it an irresistible and brooding warmth, and to us, the Payne’s Grey embodies the very definition of ‘fumé’ with its sultry smokiness.
They also make the watch hands in-house too, which is another set of old school skills we should all celebrate. Watch manufacturing was once a big deal in the UK, with places like Warrington, Prescot near Liverpool, London, Dundee, Cheltenham in Gloucester, Ystradglynais in South Wales and Edinburgh all hosting several makers and freelance suppliers.
Production is taking place in Scotland at an Ordain’s factory and delivery is expected in Feb 2021. Price is just under £1800, which isn’t cheap for an ETA 2824 powered watch, featuring a 38mm case and 50m depth resistance. But the price reflects the huge costs in producing something this beautiful in small numbers.
Zelos are one of our fave dive watch brands and the reason is simple; great spec for a very reasonable price. You cannot argue at paying around $400 for a 300m dive watch, with a bronze case, sapphire crystal and handsome dial options. Oh yes and super luminova markers and hands too.
The popular Mako V3 is making a comeback, with orders being taken later in September for this Miyota powered model. With a 40mm case the Mako is a watch that will suit mosts wrists, as some 44-45mm watches can feel too big for daily use.
There are special launch price discounts, so the range starts at $399. We love the teal dial models, and the green dial/bronze case combo. The early bird discounts end on the 15th October 2020 by the way. After that date, the entry model price shifts up to $499, plus customs charges/shipping.
Until today I’d never heard of anOrdain, a Scottish watchmaker that’s doing things the old way, using skilled people to actually manufacture watches. OK, spoiler alert, they are using Swiss movements, so this isn’t a totally in-house, soup-to-nuts operation like Patek Philipe, but Rome wasn’t built in a day so give me a chance to tell you more about what they are doing, and why it makes their watches worth the £1500 asking price.
The first wee detail is that they’re making their own hands for their handsome and devilishly elegamnt timepieces. That doesn’t impress you much, and yes I can feel the *sigh* online, but let me tell you something as a person who has learned the tricky knack of using a Bergeon dial protector and tools to tease three hands off many watches, then ease the dial plate away from the movement in order to replace a defunct quartz engine; none of this detailed work is easy.
Let me go further and relate the tale of when I tried to `clean’ some vintage hands that had decaying lume inlay – yep, the inlay dissolved and I had some utterly useless skeleton hands…on my hands.
I only mention such DIY workshop shame to demonstrate that even after five years of tinkering with watches, there are no easy fixes, no substitute for well-versed skills – at every level.
So to learn that anOrdain are painstakingly cutting, finishing and then blueing their hands the old way, the hard way, which is inevitably a journey of trial and error, really speaks to me as a watch enthusiast. Because if you’ve never taken a vintage Swiss watch apart and tried to make it go again using some tools, petroleum ether and a selection of spares from eBay, then really, you’re not a watch fan.
Just try taking damaged hands off an old Rotary or Lanco and straighten them by using your hand/eye and dragging tweezers along their spindly bones, as you hold them up to the light. Then, for the first time, try stacking those hands back onto the cannon pinion without marking the dial, plus checking each hand has sufficient clearance so the hands don’t snag on the one below/above. It’s basic watchmaking, not even that really, just watch repair – but it takes years to get the knack of handling such delicate, intricate parts.
So I can understand what it takes to make something from scratch – like a set of hands – in a workshop, and how immensely satisfying it must be to see those watches go out of the door to their new owners.
ENAMEL IS ART
OK, this is the next reason why an Ordain is worth your hard earned money.
Long ago English pocket watches nearly all had enamel dials and this work was usually outsourced to a local enameller and his apprentice. If you brush your fingertip across a 19th century Thomas Russell dial, you can feel an uncanny smoothness – and please don’t attempt to clean up vintage dials with any kind of solvent, it generally separates that beautifully fired coating from the dial plate in double quick time.
Mostly, that enamelling art has long since died out, which is why restoring a classic pocket watch is extremely difficult – easier to find a mint dial and fix it to the movement, assuming the dial feet haven’t solidified themselves in situ over a century of use of course.
Now Seiko love to do enamel dials, because that ancient craft is very much embedded into the Japanese tradition of achieving perfection within one discipline. Seiko are keeping that flame alive, if you’ll forgive the pun, and an Ordain are attempting the same thing with their wonderful fume dials, where vitrified glass and powder converge in fire to create a dazzling wave of colour on the watch face.
an Ordain discovered the marriage of enamelling and the fume effect by chance, and then set about making it a manufacturing USP – here’s the word from their blog;
`Fumé quite simply means smoked, and is used to describe a dial that gradates from a solid hue in the centre to a dark rim. The effect is striking, and suggestive of a fuliginous patina that evokes a sense of age. We appreciated the parallels between our fumé dial, which sprang from a mistake, and the phenomenon of tropical dials, so named for their years of UV exposure which lends a bleached appearance – of interest to us, as it proves how a moment of happenstance can establish itself as a meaningful and distinct artifact.
To recreate our fumé effect in a reliable way and without warping the underside, we started to design a metal blank on which to enamel. Designing it was fairly easy, finding someone willing and able to make it was not. Eventually we prevailed, and were off to Birmingham, as Struthers Watchmakers had provided us with a contact.’
As the Scottish factory notes, the fume effect is something that captures the eerie skies of the Northern Lights, the ripple of water, or odd mists that swirl and lift from the lochs on certain mornings. This is how art meets manufacturing process, and the world of watchmaking, from giants like Seiko to minnows like an Ordain is all the better for it imho. Why? Because we buy into a watch brand because it does more than just tell the time, don’t we?
Professor Neil Oliver was recently on Talk Radio, discussing how we need to celebrate – and appreciate – those who can do things with their hands, as much as we applaud those who gain degrees after three or four years at Uni. He’s right, because for all the inspiring creativity and glamour of our arts sector, or the Midas-like riches that celeb sports stars/actors/Instagram influencers people can win, Britain also needs to re-boot its manufacturing mojo, create 1000s of jobs, and then sell the end products of that highly skilled production around the world.
Whether it is an F1 engine, a new Dyson, 10-speed racing bicycle, or a bespoke wristwatch, it’s all about the craft. Always.