5 Watches For An Acquired Taste
It would be a very boring world if everybody liked the same steel watch with the same black dial and the same locking bracelet, and that’s why we have brands like IWC and Panerai, to mix things up a bit. But for some, even these more left field brands aren’t quite left field enough—in fact, they’d prefer something completely out of the park altogether. Here are five watches for those people.
U-Boat Flightdeck MBS 50-MS-G
The story goes that, in 2002, U-Boat founder Italo Fontana came across his grandfather’s designs for a military watch commissioned by the Italian Navy. Built to be worn below decks on wartime submarines, the watch needed to be sealed from water, easy to read in the dark, and most importantly, built to withstand the constant, punishing knocks it would receive in such a cramped environment.
WWII designs uncovered years later led to the U-Boat brand emerging
According to Ilvo, Fontana’s grandfather, the U-Boat watch was the answer. At 50mm in diameter, it looks big by today’s standards, but for many military watches, it was quite the norm. Pilot’s watches like the ones made by IWC were frequently larger than 50mm, and Panerai’s Egiziano, built for the Egyptian Navy, was 60mm. The U-Boat is a tiddler by comparison.
As well as its sheer size, the U-Boat watch also incorporated a protective cover for the crown—a crown that screwed over the actual crown to stop it from getting damaged. As this MSG has a manual movement, however, thankfully U-Boat forewent the crown cover to aid winding.
Zenith Defy Xtreme Chronograph 96.0525.4000/21.M525
Despite being the creator of the first integrated automatic chronograph movement, the much-loved El Primero, it wasn’t enough to stop Zenith from suffering financial difficulties following the quartz crisis. It was only because of watchmaker Charles Vermot, who hid the plans, parts and tools for the El Primero when the mechanical side of the business was liquidated after a takeover in 1971, that the El Primero survived at all.
The Defy XtreMe was a Hail Mary to bring Zenith back to the forefront
After a few shaky business deals, Zenith finally found a home in LVMH, and it needed something big to get it back on the map. Under the guidance of then-CEO Thierry Nataf came the Defy Xtreme collection, as bold and flamboyant as the man himself. As this 1000-metre water-resistant chronograph shows, the Defy Xtreme watches are nothing if not eye-catching.
There’s titanium, carbon fibre; knurled, brushed, satin and machine-turned finishes; everything about it is designed for maximum impact. It divided opinion, yes, but it also did something else—it got people talking about a brand that had barely been uttered in a quarter of a century.
Graham Swordfish Grillo Alarm GMT 2SWGS.B23A
The small magnifying window found on many Rolex watches with a date complication, often known as a ‘cyclops’ lens, has been the cause of many a debate since it first launched in 1953. In practical terms, it magnifies the small numbers used in the date window to make them more legible—a pretty sensible idea, really. That doesn’t stop a lot of people from hating it, however, some owners so much so that they have been driven to pry it from the crystal.
This asymmetric design aims to make the date window very, very easy to read
What would those people think, then, if they saw this, the Graham Swordfish. This unorthodox design would only make these people angrier still, as the steel-cased magnifying window isn’t just stuck onto the crystal—it’s an integral part of the case itself. Where Rolex’s cyclops offers a 2.5x magnification, you’re getting closer to 10x here. There’s no misreading the date on this watch.
And whilst the numbers at 6 and 12 are equally ample, the practicality of the magnified date does pose a little bit of an issue when it comes reading the time, the huge bubble obscuring everything between 2 and 4 o’clock. Aha, you say, a design flaw, but fair play to the people at Graham, because there’s actually a way around this: you can read the hidden hours from the short end of the hour hand instead.
With all this emphasis on the magnification of the date, however, it does seem slightly odd that the GMT display, which is natively smaller than the date window, goes completely unmagnified …
Hublot Big Bang Snow Leopard 341.SX.7717.NR.1977
Hublot’s Big Bang made a ‘Big Bang’ when it exploded onto the scene in 2005 as an exotic addition to the high-end watch stable. The Big Bang’s party piece was the plethora of unusual materials it could be ordered in, a list that includes, but is not limited to, a blend of gold and ceramic called Magic Gold, a blend of aluminium and magnesium called Hublonium, and a blend of titanium and carbon called, well, Titanium Carbon.
This big cat design borrows its look from the elusive snow leopard
This Big Bang Snow Leopard, however, takes the blend of the exotic to the next level. You’ve got gemstones like diamond, quartz and smoked quartz, and you’ve got snow leopard-print denim stitched into rubber, all set off with a steel and titanium case with a white gold bezel. Hublot doesn’t actually have a name for this particular combination just yet, but we suggest Diartzleopimberisium.
If this isn’t quite for you, don’t fear: Hublot also offers the watch in regular Leopard form, with citrine gemstones and a black ceramic case to offset the yellow and orange print.
Corum Bubble Heritage Squelette 082.400.20/0019 SQ19
Domed crystals are big in the vintage world. A modern Rolex has a flat crystal, but those classic gems from the sixties had domed and even superdomed lids that give them that sweet distortion so sought-after. Well, by those standards, the Corum Bubble can’t be classed simply as megadomed, or even hyperdomed—this is ultradomed, as domed as the laws of time and space will allow. To put numbers to it, the watch is nearly two centimetres thick, the crystal itself about half of that.
With crystal domed into a half-sphere, the Bubble is a sight to behold
What results is distortion so strong it puts Metallica to shame, but the Corum does more than just let you watch the time pass—it allows you watch time actually bend. Never mind CERN; the Swiss have already discovered the truth of fundamental physics right here. In skeleton form, the ETA 2892-based calibre CO 0082 displays each beat of each second like you’ve never seen it before. You could be staring through a wormhole into another dimension.
There are of course some practical limitations to wearing a watch like this, such as fitting it under a cuff, reading the time and not clonking yourself in the face with it when you try, but at the same time there’s also something strangely alluring about just … looking at it. Every time you see it, catch it at a different angle, you’re presented with a different view of the dial—and sometimes not even of the dial at all. The Bubble, it seems, is not so much a watch for telling the time as it is for contemplating its very existence.
The audience for these watches is small, no doubt, but you don’t have to want to own one to at least see the fun in them. If everyone wore a Submariner, worked in an office, did the same boring, normal things, we’d have no art, no music, no expression. And who wants to live in a world like that?
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