Feature: 3 Watches For The Person Who Has Everything
Maybe you know them, maybe you don’t, but chances are you’ve at least heard of the guy who has everything. Birthdays and Christmas’ are a complete nightmare with this guy, because no matter how hard you try or how creative you get—they already have it. So, what can you do? That’s the challenge we’ll attempt to take on with the three watches you’re about to see.
Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 82035/000R-9359
Okay, so you’re going to have to be one hell of a generous friend to buy one of these as a gift, but just roll with it for a second, because what we’ve got here, the Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921, is expensive, like, £30,000 expensive. Of course, being from one of the top three watchmakers and wearing a solid rose gold case is asking for a hefty RRP, and chances are our guy will probably already have a high-end gold watch because, well, he has everything.
But he probably doesn’t have one of these. No, that’s not because it’s broken; it’s supposed to look like that. We’ll talk about that in a moment, because the slanted dial distracts from something else that’s both interesting and unusual about this watch, the 40mm cushion case. “Wait!” you might be thinking, “this is a rip-off of a Panerai!”, and I can see why you’d think that. The rounded square case has been popularised since the late 90s by Italian statement brand Panerai, whose watches seek inspiration from a back catalogue of military instruments from the 1930s.
The truth is actually the reverse of the expectation: cushion cases were a common sight in that decade and the one before it, an evolution of the first wristwatches that were simply pocket watches with wire lugs soldered onto them, with a splash of art deco style added in for fun. Vacheron Constantin, Omega, Longines, Rolex—who, as it happens, produced and supplied the original watches for Panerai—all made watches with cushion cases, and that’s the inspiration that filters through to this Historiques American 1921 here. It’s not even the strangest shape to come out of the watchmaking of the era: hexagons, octagons, decagons; cylinders, steps, scalloping; you name it, they made it.
But the real question is, why does this Vacheron Constantin look broken? Is it difference for difference’s sake? The reason is the same now as it was back in the twenties—which, let’s all acknowledge is almost a century ago now—when the watch was made originally, exclusively for the American market—yes, if you’re thinking that the name of the watch, Historiques American 1921, is rather on the nose, you’d be correct—with the movement—now the exquisite, Geneva-sealed calibre 4400 AS—rotated either clockwise or anticlockwise by forty-five degrees, dragging the crown around with it.
The answer is one of a surprisingly practical nature: it’s a driving watch. Imagine holding the steering wheel, ten and two, with this on; the dial is naturally and comfortably orientated towards you, so there’s no need to let go to read the time. And this scenario extends to the modern world, too. Think of your hands at a computer keyboard, angled out in front of you; with this, it’s not much bother at all to read the time at an angle that’s comfortable. I’ll bet our guy doesn’t have a watch that can do that.
Chronoswiss Opus CH7523S
People who have everything usually like the obscure, the unusual, the interesting. Well, they would, because they already have everything else. And what can be more obscure, unusual and interesting than a watch with no dial that’s been chiselled away to show off its innards? Cars, computers, clocks—anything that’s got anything curious going on inside it is worth cutting open and having a look around.
No need to actually destroy any timekeepers to find out their timekeeping secrets—to be clear, no watches were harmed in the making of this feature—because Chronoswiss has already done the hard work for us. If you’ve not heard of Chronoswiss, that’s because it’s a very small company based out of Lucerne that has only been in existence since 1983. But don’t be fooled by the comparative youth of the watchmaker, because founder Gerd R. Lang really knows his onions from his onion crowns.
Lang first entered the trade in 1958, learning the complicated art of watchmaking that would shape the rest of life. His talent was recognised by Heuer, which hired him to work in the famed stopwatch and chronograph division. He went on to perform official timekeeping duties for Formula 1 and the Olympics, as well as assisting on set with Steve McQueen in the film Le Mans for the legendary cameo of the Heuer Monaco. His credentials expanded to the lofty heights of Master Watchmaker, and at that point Lang felt he was ready to go it alone.
As you may well know, however, the eighties were a bit of a tricky time to commit to mechanical watchmaking, what with it being completely obsolete and all, but that didn’t stop Lang having a good go at it. And he really committed himself, investing in things like a rose engine from the 1920s, a hand-cranked device that engraves guilloche patterns into dials, as well as high-fire dial enamelling, a process of melting glass powder in a series of ultra-fine layers to build up a translucent finish.
Of course, neither of those features are present here as, well, the watch has no dial. That’s because it features another of Lang’s specialist skills, skeletonization. It was through modern techniques and a base ETA 7750 that Lang enabled Chronoswiss to achieve this incredible effect—without sending the price into the hundreds of thousands—and the calibre C. 741 S has been a staple of the Chronoswiss collection ever since.
Corum Big Bubble Magical 52 Anima 390.101.04/0371 EY01
So, turns out the guy who has everything already has a 1920s inspired driving watch and a skeletonised chronograph—but I can bet you a zillion pounds that he doesn’t have one of these: a Corum Big Bubble Magical 52 Anima. And the name is the least weird thing about this watch, because as the hobbits amongst you have probably noticed, there’s a dirty great big eye on the dial—and it’s staring right into your soul.
It’s hard really to notice anything else about the Magical 52 Anima the whole while it’s looking at you like that, but I’ll give it a go. As the name tends to suggest, the case is a whopping 52mm in diameter, and with the notorious bubble-shaped crystal providing a rather eyeball-esque lens to the watch, ends up being a piece that wears you rather than you wearing it.
Mass is reduced through the use of titanium, but the weighty sapphire simply puts it all back on again. And there’s more sapphire on the back, too, through which to see the guts of this sci-fi–slash–Lovecraftian creature, a Frédéric Piguet calibre 1160. At this point, it’s almost a surprise that it even has a movement and not a collection of nerve endings, because it’s easy to forget that this is, indeed, a watch.
The functional parts of this timekeeper have been rather brazenly relegated to the very perimeter of the dial, two O’s that sweep the edge to tell you the time, give or take a minute or so. Even by Corum’s own standards, this watch is more about how it looks than what it does, with the brand itself referring to this ocular incubus as “fun”. I think they meant “terrifying”.
Still, if the guy who has everything has one of these, it’s because you watched this and got one for them. If the Rolex Submariner is pop icons The Beatles, this Corum is a Swedish gloom metal band that plays a set of fourteen hours in complete silence from a vat of jelly. Even die-hard fans think it’s a bit weird. I can only imagine the meeting when the Corum executives sat around the boardroom table looking at a rendering of the Magical 52 Anima and all said, “Yes”.
The weird thing is that I don’t like it, but I don’t not like it either—it’s like a tasting menu where everything that looks sweet is savoury and vice-versa. It’s not pleasant, but it’s an experience worth experiencing. Being watched by the Big Bubble’s nightmarish big eyeball is such an experience, eerie and unsettling, mainlining straight into my anxiety gland. You’ve got to try it. Everyone has got to try it.
And that’s not even the best bit, and here is where our overly materialistic friend would benefit most: by simply curling your finger in different ways over the watch, you can bring the Magical 52 Anima to life with a series of amusing expressions.
Phew. What a rollercoaster! We’ve seen watches that look like their movements aren’t fitted right, watches missing their dials completely, and watches that want all-consuming control of Middle Earth. It may seem like every other timepiece these days is yet another black dial set in a steel case, but it really doesn’t have to be that way. Perhaps you’re the person who’s tried everything; perhaps these three will reignite your imagination once again.
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