Collecting anything can sometimes feel like it’s more about what you don’t have than what you do. Philatelists out there will obsess over an 1856 British Guiana 1-Cent Magenta, while ignoring the beautiful 1851 2-cent Hawaiian Missionaries they have sitting right there on the shelf. You guys know what I’m talking about. This is most certainly true for watches. I know that I can spend months thinking about an acquisition and then once I finally have it, a new one pops up to take its place. Needless to say there will always be the things we cannot have.
Luckily for those of us in New York, there is the annual WatchTime event. Over its five years in existence, the show has grown to become the largest public event dedicated to watches in the United States and has taken on global importance as North America’s most important annual watch event for both brands and collectors.
This was my first year attending and I figured it would be a good opportunity to get a close-up and hands-on look at some of those watches that we can’t get out of our heads but, either due to rarity or price, will likely never own. And boy was I ever right. I will try to give a quick overview of what I saw for those of you who couldn’t make it. I’ll start with some of the personal standouts for me before moving on to the heavy hitters.
Bell & Ross have been getting some pretty positive attention lately as they move somewhat away from their typical square, instrument gauge-esqe watches. For a few months I had been trying to see one of their BR V2-94 Bellytanker Bronze chronographs in real life at my local boutique that carries B&R, to no avail. Same goes for the more recently announced BR05, their entrance into the increasingly crowded integrated bracelet steel sports watch category. I was able to see both of them here, and they did not disappoint. The Bellytanker is a damn near perfect 41mm chronograph with an excellent vintage appeal and the BR05, while a little bit larger-wearing than I was expecting was very nicely finished and built and I want one now even more than I did before. Fingers crossed for a 38mm version?
Grand Seiko had a lot on offer, from the four U.S. market Seasons collection watches, to the 65th anniversary Godzilla LE, to a Credor in the flesh. The Godzilla is cool but, as expected, way too big for my wrist. The Credor is what I think the perfect dress watch should be, and the Winter version from the Seasons collection has been added to my shortlist; it was my favorite of their offerings.
Montblanc was on hand with some watches; the booth was crowded so I only got to see a few from their 1858 collection. I really only wanted to see the 1858 Automatic 40mm. It’s a very cool hour and minute hand-only field watch with some heritage styling, including the old MontBlanc logo. Also, kudos to them for putting a nice solid case back on an automatic watch for a change.
Zenith had plenty of watches on show but the two standouts for me were the Defy, as I had not seen its anxiety-inducing oscillator movement in real life, and the El Primero A384 Revival on the vintage reissued bracelet. Both really fun to see in the metal, though the El Primero is a little closer to my personal taste.
Blancpain is a personal favorite of mine and showed their documentary about the Fifty Fathoms on day two. I assume it will become available to the masses at some point and I highly recommend checking it out; it is a good history of Blancpain and diving watches in general, with a lot of great vintage SCUBA diving footage. Afterwards I was able to try on some watches, including the absolutely massive X Fathoms. This is a legitimate tool watch meant for diving, with a depth meter and somehow even safety stop timers. I cannot imagine it anywhere else, but it would be a true joy to wear it on a dive. My favorite was the re-edition of the Barakuda, which is about as classic as a diver can get.
Now let’s move on to some of the brands/watches that I have been following and reading about for years and never thought I would get to wear or even see in real life, as I have yet to get my jet-setting oil baron career off the ground:
MB&F, purveyors of some of the most avant-garde and whimsical watches out there showed me Legacy Machine No.1, Legacy Machine Perpetual, and Horological Machine No7 AQUAPOD. While I would have liked to see an HM6 in real life, which to me is the iconic MB&F piece, these were all very beautiful and very complex, with a level of depth through their skeletonized movements that really doesn’t come through in photos.
A personal favorite of mine was HYT watches. I had long been interested in their hydro mechanical pieces and they are very impressive in real life. The guy at the booth gave us a detailed explanation of the inner workings, which uses mechanical power to operate two small bellows that regulate the flow of two different fluids around the dial that show the time. It was a very interesting concept to read about and I find it insanely cool seeing it work. I got to try on the newest model, the H5, and while it wears like a hockey puck, that’s totally fine considering what you have on your wrist.
Rexhep Rexhepi and AkriviA had their new AK-06 and the Rexhep signed Chronomètre Contemporain, which are somehow equally impressive for different reasons. The AK-06 continues the tradition of the AK-01 and AK-03 by putting the “philosophical core of the watch at twelve o’clock.” This time around it’s the power reserve, and the dial is designed to selectively showcase all the components relating to the power reserve and its indication. It’s an interesting design concept and very impressive to see up close. Oh, and it also has a tourbillion, because why not? The Chronomètre Contemporain is a classic watch in every sense of the word. A beautiful grand feu enamel dial with Art Deco-inspired asymmetrical blue lines covers the immaculately finished movement, which features hacking seconds and automatic zero-reset to allow precise and easy time setting. The exhibition case-back reveals a gorgeous movement, hand-finished using traditional finishing techniques such as anglage, black polish and Côtes de Genève. It is a thing of beauty that my photos really do not do justice.
A. Lange & Söhne had a few different pieces on display, from the Lange 1 to the Saxonia to a few different Datographs. However, I was most interested to try out the Zeitwerk Date, which has long been a favorite of mine and was just as fantastic as I had expected. It is just about perfect in its refined simplicity, and to my eye, one of the best-looking movements out there.
Last but surely not least was Romain Gauthier. This is the booth I was probably most looking forward to and it did not disappoint. Since about a year ago when I watched Romain’s full lecture at the New York Horological Society about his Logical One watch, I have thought it was just about the coolest watch there is, and seeing it and wearing it confirmed that I was right. Everything from the chain and fusee to snail cam to the interesting push to wind function is just about perfect. If I had won some kind of raffle and could have walked away with just once watch from the show it would have been this one. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.
There were way too many amazing watches from way too many brands to cover in one article, but these were the best of the best for me. If you are able to, I would recommend anyone interested in watches and watchmaking try to attend the shows in 2020 and beyond. There is simply no other place, in the U.S. at least, to see so much high-end watchmaking under one roof, and the cocktails were pretty good too.
Some more pictures from the day.