Best of the Best 2002: Style: Best Watches

  • James D. Malcolmson

Youth Movement
Girard-Perregaux is a classic manufacture that is prized among the cognoscenti for its distinct, under-stated way with mechanical masterpieces. It is therefore a little surprising that the fastest-growing market for Girard-Perregaux is men and women in their early 40s who are buying their first serious watches.

What’s responsible for the growth spurt? The watches, of course. Specifically, it’s the Vintage 1945 and Lady Chronograph collections, which offer impressive, yet approachable, models that are attracting a following among those who are just becoming acquainted with the highest level of watchmaking. Vintage 1945, since its inception, has captured that subtle retro flavor that so many people find compelling about mechanical watches in general. The latest in the series is a chronograph with power reserve, date, and sweep-second hand. The ladies’ chronograph collection, which expanded with a diamond-enhanced model last year, is simply handsome and—unabashedly—mechanical.

Girard-Perregaux, 717.581.8387, www.girard-perregaux-usa.com

Remaking a Classic
Just a few short years ago, Jaeger-LeCoultre was a venerable Swiss watch company whose flagship model Reverso was, well, venerable. Despite its status as a genuine classic, Reverso could not shake its somewhat arcane image, particularly in the United States. The situation was disconcerting to anyone familiar with the brand. As one of the last true Swiss manufactures, a house that makes virtually all its own components and movements, Jaeger-LeCoultre is a card-carrying member of the most exclusive club in the industry.

Today, the Reverso again stands as the symbol of everything that is great about Jaeger-LeCoultre. Gradually through the 1990s, the classic rectangular case has been transformed incrementally into something just about anyone can love. For serious collectors, the company has packed nearly every major complication into its own square (and orig- inal, of course) movement. At the same time, Reverso’s characteristic convertibility has been translated into the ultimate ladies’ day-into-evening piece. Compelling specialties such as Reverso Sun Moon and exclusive limited editions in platinum are evidence that the company has hit its stride. Welcome back.

Jaeger-LeCoultre, 800.JLCTIME, 212.308.2525, www.jaeger-lecoultre.com

Super Freak
When Rolf Schnyder bought ailing watch company Ulysse Nardin in the early 1980s, he could never have suspected that his fortune would so drastically change because of one man: Dr. Ludwig Oechslin. Ulysse Nardin has invented a number of attractive and interesting models since Schnyder purchased the company, but the stars of the collection are the highly innovative complications conceived by Oechslin.

Unlike the stereotypical watch-maker whose gaze rarely stretches farther than the range of his loupe, Oechslin is a conceptual thinker—a man who earned doctorates in philosophy, astronomy, and applied sciences before his watchmaking certification. Among his achievements are a trio of singular astronomical timepieces, and the first perpetual calendar that won’t require service adjustment until the year 2100—the Perpetual Ludwig.

Now, the good doctor has done it again. Last year, Ulysse Nardin unveiled an eight-day tourbillon carrousel, known irreverently as The Freak by growing legions of Ludwig fans. Instead of hands, the rotating movement, with a new lubrication-free escapement, marks the time, and adjustments are made by twisting the bezel instead of a crown. If only they could make Ludwig himself perpetual.

Ulysse Nardin, 561.988.8600, www.ulysse-nardin.com

Small-Time Genius
François-Paul Journe
has just about everything an artisan watchmaker could ask for. He has realized his vision of creating outstandingly individual timepieces while garnering almost unprecedented acclaim in the process. Today, top-tier collectors are banging down the doors trying to get their hands on an F.P. Journe of their very own.

Accomplished independent watchmakers may be hanging up their shingles in record numbers, but it takes more than a tourbillon to impress a truly sophisticated client. F.P. Journe succeeds by making the unusual the star attraction. His use of resonance, in which two side-by-side balance mechanisms correct each other for greater accuracy, is already being hailed as one of the most significant advances in mechanical watchmaking of the last 100 years.

This year, Journe’s workshop released the first chronograph and power reserve models of the firm’s new Octa collection. Journe’s elaborate touches, such as a meter-long mainspring with a 120-hour power reserve and an oversize balance wheel for enhanced accuracy, make even simple models significant. Just as important, the new calibres underscore the brand’s authenticity—something serious collectors demand. A firm the size of F.P. Journe cannot make all its own parts, but it does design movements like Octa from the ground up, as well as make its own base plates in-house. For a small company, F.P. Journe is getting a very big name.

F.P. Journe, +41.22.922.09.09, www.fpjourne.com

Rebirthday Celebration
As any hardened watch buff can tell you, 2001 marked the 200th anniversary of the invention of the tourbillon. The anniversary may be easily overlooked, but not the invention, nor its inventor. Abraham-Louis Breguet is generally recognized as the prototypical genius watchmaker, and the tourbillon is one of the great acmes of the craft. But unfortunately, the modern Breguet has been dogged by quality issues and a sometimes flourishing gray market.

Breguet aficionados can now take heart. The tourbillon’s bicentennial is looking like the year Breguet turns the corner. Having been purchased by Swatch Group two years ago, Breguet has become the pet project of Chairman Nicholas Hayek, who, as acting CEO of the brand, has vowed to permanently lodge Breguet at the very highest echelons of the industry. “My philosophy is that everyone associated with the brand should love the brand,” he says. And Hayak is putting his money where his mouth is. Millions of dollars have been invested in creating a true manufacture, in conjunction with movement specialist Lemania, which will be devoted to producing exclusive Breguet calibres. New advertising and a new Breguet museum will tie the revamped timepieces to one of the most valuable and underutilized assets in watchmaking: the Breguet heritage. Fine pieces, such as the celebratory Classique 1801 tourbillon, are the strongest signs yet that Breguet is finally on the verge of filling its own oversize shoes.

Breguet, 888.273.4838, www.breguet.com

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