Feature: 3 Modern Watches From 3 Classic Brands
Breguet, Blancpain, Vacheron Constantin; with approaching a millennium of history between them, these three have earned a reputation for the archetypal classic watch, much like this Classique Alarm Le Reveil du Tsar here. Even the name sounds like it comes from a time when men wore velvet tights and long, curly wigs. But what if these brands tried something a bit more unconventional?
Breguet Marine Royale 5847BR/Z2/5ZV
Breguet is such a traditional brand that its styling conforms to the way the French made watches before the Swiss had even started. The man himself, Abraham-Louis Breguet, may have been born in Switzerland, but his life and learning were forged in France, and it was there that he learnt the ways of the great masters.
And such the brand holds firm to this passage of education, honouring the watchmakers that gave rise to Breguet’s astounding career. But a brand is foolish to stand still, and so Breguet today has ventured outside of its comfort zone to create this, the Marine Royale.
As the name suggests, this a watch you get wet, although you wouldn’t even dare to think it, let alone try it. Yes, it has three-hundred metres of water resistance, screw-down crowns, a ratchet bezel—with nifty outboard mechanism—and luminous markers, but it’s also fashioned with enough gold to make the Queen of England feel poor, so you’d be a brave soul to want to test it.
And the reason there’s so much gold is because it’s so big; at 45mm in diameter and almost 2cm thick, plus with matching solid gold strap keepers and a buckle that would look just as at home on a belt, this thing racks up the carats pretty quick. It’s all so solid and chunky and brash and bold—nothing like what you’d expect of a Breguet.
Even the subtle detailing that Breguet is so famous for has been amped up to eleven. The coin edge case finish is magnified for the pusher, the notches in the bezel to indicate the minutes like slices out of a cheesecake. Even the wave-like guilloche on the dial has extra dimension, the rolling pattern moving enough when it catches the light to make me feel a bit seasick.
But this is still a Breguet, and so of course it does more than tell the time: the Marine Royale is outfitted with a vibrating alarm, wound with the movement and set with the additional, rubber-coated crown. The big pusher at eight o’clock turns the alarm on and off, indicated by the musical notation on the dial, which triggers the hammer wedged into the calibre 519 R when the time is right. This sends it into a frenzy, a blur of metal that drains the power reserve indicator on the dial faster than a top fuel dragster drinks fuel.
Blancpain L-Evolution R Chronographe Flyback Grande Date 85F-1203-52B
As the oldest watchmaker still in business, Blancpain knows a thing or two about making traditional watches. This L-Evolution, however, as the names suggests, is not one of them. Being that carbon fibre wasn’t properly utilised until the mid-twentieth century, the L-Evolution already sets itself apart from the classic watches that make up the bulk of Blancpain’s back catalogue before it even begins.
To give it its full title, the Blancpain L-Evolution R Chronographe Flyback Grande Date, like the Breguet before it, continues a theme of high watchmaking regardless of its updated shell. The calibre 68F5, despite its slick grey plating and racy ‘R’ logo—lifted straight from a hot hatch, it looks like—manages to squeeze in a tactile column wheel flyback chronograph and a big date display as well.
Where this watch differs from its siblings is in the lashings of motorsport-inspired, high-tech materials like titanium and carbon fibre, the latter of which Blancpain has not been shy with. It’s on the case, it’s on the dial, it’s on the buckle—it’s even in the strap, which is, of course, trimmed in suede with contrasting stitching just like racing steering wheel.
It’s like the board at Blancpain attended one of the Blancpain-sponsored Lamborghini Super Trofeo races, looked through the window of a Huracán Super Trofeo Evo car and said, “Yes! Make it just like that!” And so they did. Even the red accents and cursive “Limited Edition” script lean on the stylings of the great coachbuilders like Pininfarina and Bertone.
My favourite detail is one that will appeal to all of you who grew up with the cars of the eighties on your bedroom wall, the F40, the Countach and the 959, because take a closer look at the grande date and you’ll see a font lifted straight from the dashboards of that era, that cheesy, calculator style that looks so bad yet is somehow still so evocative. If there was ever a watch to wear whilst driving a Ferrari 512 Testarossa, it’s this one.
Vacheron Constantin Quai De L’Ile 86050/000M-9343
In an effort to present the modern face of Vacheron Constantin, it appears to have sourced inspiration from the hipsters of deepest Williamsburg, because on the dial of this Quai De L’Ile—named after the founding location of Vacheron Constantin—in tiny, tiny writing, is written: “With your able assistance, I promise you that we will make as much from watchmaking as all the commercial travellers together … I assure you that we will be strong: our watchmaking is highly esteemed here, by continuing to do better if possible and that is always possible.”
This is supposedly what François Constantin wrote Jean-Marc Vacheron during his days as a travelling salesman for the brand. Maybe people wrote more flowery letters to each other back then, but what’s really interesting is, behind all the poetic language, he’s basically saying that he’s going to sell a boatload more watches than every other watch brand combined. To then insult his business partner back at the factory, he then reminds him that his watches could always be better.
Well, I guess that worked, as Vacheron Constantin is heralded as one of the top three watchmakers in the world today. But now we’ve got that strange historical reference out of the way, we can take a look at what is a surprisingly unique and interesting watch that hides a lot of unusual secrets—including that strange mantra etched into the dial. First of all, this watch isn’t made from gold, or steel, or platinum or even titanium—this is solid palladium. Palladium is very closely related to platinum, but can be heat treated to yield a harder finish—handy if you’re the kind of person who likes to smack their watches into doorframes from time to time.
But the mysteriousness of the Quai De L’Ile goes even deeper than that. The smoked dial, layered with detail, hides a lot of unusual characteristics that make this watch worth studying closely. There’s the hidden golden ratio, played out in fine lines around the centre; the date wheel, that remains fixed in place whilst the white rectangle moves beneath them; the sun motif, borrowed from the clock tower opposite Vacheron Constantin’s Quai De L’Ile home. A UV light even reveals a secret mark that makes the sun glow.
Of course, everything about this watch, including the ruthenium-plated calibre 2460, is finished to the level of quality François Constantin was talking about in that letter. Perhaps his pressing words to Jean-Marc Vacheron are what motivated the watchmaker to push beyond its competition, to become what it is today. It’s good to see that, with the Quai De L’Ile, the brand is still pushing over two-and-a-half centuries on.
Don’t worry—these three legends of watchmaking haven’t all dropped their traditions and gone all Hublot on us. You can still help yourselves to a range fit to bursting with classic watches like this Classique Alarm. But if you’re into the history and heritage, but want something a bit more now, a bit more controversial, you don’t have to compromise at all.
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