Time Honoured: Every Luxury Watch Is A Conversation Between Past, Present And Future
In time-honoured fashion. That is to say, the way things have always been done. This might as well be a mission statement – or a mantra – for the luxury watch industry. To make mechanical watches in this day and age is to be in constant conversation with the past, with tradition and with established norms. Yet that conversation does not have to be predictable, or repetitive: the watch industry is driven forward by the impulse to refine, to improve, to evolve.
With our Time Honoured collection, we present watches that represent the best fruits of that conversation. Watches that adhere to traditional concepts, but also watches that stretch them into new forms. The latest launches from Cartier and NOMOS Glashütte show how 20th-century aesthetics are being updated. Bell & Ross and Gerald Charles speak to the confluence of classic styles with contemporary, casual norms. Some, like Ressence, even establish new traditions.
Take first the Pasha de Cartier. Introduced in 1985, it appears to us to bear all the hallmarks of that era in watch design – bold, brash, opulent and maximalist, especially in its calendar and chronograph configurations. But even then, it was the product of a dialogue between the Cartier of the 1980s and the brand’s 1930s heyday, when a one-off commission for the Pasha of Marrakech, Mr Thami El Glaoui, provided the original inspiration. This watch, never fully confirmed by today’s archivists, may have been lost to the sands of time or it may represent more of an idea of a watch, but what matters is what it brings to the conversation.
The Pashas of the 1980s drew on that decade’s capacity for excess and pushed the envelope of what a Cartier could look like, with features like the chain-attached crown and grille-cover dial. Now, its modern-day rebirth frames it as an elegant, left-field choice. It will always be an unusual silhouette, but within today’s horological universe, a world of outlandish high-tech designs and experimental materials, it has acquired a certain establishment sensibility, laced with knowing, retro chic.
Also looking back across the decades, with very different influences, are Bell & Ross and NOMOS Glashütte. Bell & Ross, and particularly the BR 03, exists in the grand tradition of aviation watches. This technically began with Cartier, in 1904, but was really codified in the late 1930s and 1940s as Europe went to war in the skies, and today the pilot’s watch stands alongside the trench coat and bomber jacket as everyday civilian icons born out of conflict.
The BR 03 in its simplest form – black case, black dial, rubber strap and clear, large white hands and hour markers – is a direct translation of cockpit instrumentation and an undiluted military aesthetic. But Bell & Ross’ success has always been rooted in taking that simple proposition and iterating on it in ways that engage with watchmaking’s wider culture. So, it is here, where the BR 03 takes on a softer, more relaxed feel thanks to the dial, a gleaming shade between salmon pink and bright metallic copper, and the playful pop of bright blue for the hands.
“This watch, never fully confirmed by today’s archivists, may have been lost to the sands of time or it may represent more of an idea of a watch, but what matters is what it brings to the conversation”
NOMOS Glashütte is no stranger to a pop of colour, in the best traditions of the Bauhaus school, but the Club Sport Neomatik you see here takes the familiar NOMOS approach – whimsical, colourful, delicate design – and splices it into one of watchmaking’s least experimental subgenres: the stainless-steel sports watch.
The robust metal bracelet, a relatively new feature for the German watchmaker, brings a substantial wrist presence that’s backed up by the watch’s specs: 200m water resistance and a reliable, accurate movement within. Yet the case remains a mid-sized 37mm wide and only 8.3mm thick, meaning the watch as a whole combines the best features of an everyday automatic from, say, the 1950s and a dive watch or explorer’s watch from the 1960s. Wearability and durability in equal parts, all brought together with build quality of the 2020s, naturally.
Watches that work within the most established tropes – be that aviation or dress watch elegance – will always have the advantage of a foothold in the customer’s mind, no matter how far from the source material the conversation has taken things. That dialogue between those familiar origins and their unique interpretation of them is what makes the likes of Cartier and Bell & Ross so interesting. But what about when the conversation begins in unusual places and moves on from there?
“That dialogue between those familiar origins and their unique interpretation of them is what makes the likes of Cartier and Bell & Ross so interesting”
Take Gerald Charles, the brand founded in 2000 by legendary designer Mr Gérald Genta (Charles being his middle name). By this point, the designs that made Genta’s name – the Royal Oak, the Nautilus and others – were far in the rear view mirror and hadn’t yet come back around for their victory laps. He had moved onto more baroque shapes, and installed Gerald Charles with a basic case shape – the Maestro – that owed more to Genta’s own-brand creations of the late 1980s, with its stepped bezel and curved surfaces.
Upon this canvas – itself already a design that spoke to a very particular period in the life of a very particular designer – the brand has created avant-garde watches that belong in the 2010s and 2020s (with the help of Mr Octavio Garcia, who gained ample experience of adapting Genta’s work during his time at Audemars Piguet in the early 2000s). It has also travelled to the other end of the horological spectrum, as with this Maestro Tourbillon, which brings the kind of traditional haute horlogerie that would be recognisable to a visitor from the 1800s into the frame. The tourbillon calibre was designed exclusively for Gerald Charles by Vaucher Fleurier, one of the most prestigious independent movement manufacturers.
Speaking of watches that span the ages, it would be impossible not to mention Ressence. The young brand burst onto the scene in 2010 and wasted no time in tearing down every aesthetic and mechanical preconception we had of a luxury watch, before building them back up into something that interprets traditional watchmaking from a futuristic perspective. The slender curves of the brand’s titanium cases would not have been out of place in early sci-fi illustrations, but there is nothing retro about the dial design or the mechanical underpinnings that make it possible. A freely rotating layout that does away with established ideas of displaying the time, yet remains utterly intuitive once you spend any time with it.
New for 2023 is this Type 1N Night Blue, an evolution of Ressence’s original disruptive design. Like every watch here, it builds on what has gone before, but presents something that could only exist in the here and now.