Review: Artisans de Genève La Montoya Gold
If anyone knows how to make a Rolex, it’s Rolex. Let’s face it; they have the heritage, they have the expertise, and most importantly, they have the restraint. Nevertheless, there are many companies out there who think they know better, and the presumptuously titled Artisans de Genève is one of them.
I get modification, I really do. Sometimes it’s nice to add a personal touch, like a colourful leather strap, or a bit of practicality, like a deployant clasp. But on the whole, desirability comes from the originality of something, the craftsmanship of the manufacturer and the accompanying ethos. There’s a reason why cars with body kits tank in value, no matter how expensive or well done they are.
Pushing modification further than just quick, interchangeable parts is quite the commitment. It’s an acknowledgement of wanting something more, something different—something better. When you’re talking about perhaps the best-established luxury watch manufacturer in the world, that’s a bold statement to make. A permanent modification that’s not better than the original, or heaven forbid, is worse, seems like an easy decision not to make.
And I know that looks are subjective, but value really isn’t. If you choose to reduce the value of your watch or car or whatever by changing something in an irreversible way that actually makes it worse than it already was—well, you don’t need an end to that sentence. The meaning is implied.
So why do people do it? Why do people, individuals, think that they somehow have the secret that a brand like Rolex doesn’t? I mean, Rolex spends tens if not hundreds of millions making sure its products are exactly what everyone wants, and it only takes a quick conversation with your local retailer to understand just how true that is. It takes a hell of an ego to see that empire, forged over the course of a century, and think, “I can do better than that.”
Nevertheless, people still believe in themselves enough to do it. If you want your Rolex PVD-coated in black, you can get it done no problem. If you want to buy one that’s already had it done and has the name of the company that did it printed on the dial, you can pay even more and get that as well. There’s no shortage of options to personalise your watch, make it unique, and if you’ve got the money, then who’s to stop you? There is, after all, no accounting for taste.
People will do what people will do, and if there’s a market for it, there’s a business willing to oblige. Whatever your take on modification, it’s out there, it exists—and this La Montoya by Artisans de Genève is probably the most extreme example yet.
For every rule, there’s an exception. A Zagato Aston Martin, for example, is a work of art that elevates the original to a new level. And that’s not by accident; Zagato has spent a lot of time and money considering every aspect of the base car to determine how best to bring its own appeal; has developed its own production methods and craftsmanship to bring its ideas to life. Here’s the difference: a Zagato is its own entity, so far removed from the original that it presents a unique personality that makes it distinct.
It takes a boatload of skill and expertise to do something like that, which is why it’s the exception. For every Zagato there are hundreds of Mansorys that—well, let’s just say they take it in a different direction and leave it at that. What makes the exception work is having a team of people who understand design, engineering, performance, style, craft—you basically need a company that can do pretty much everything the original manufacturer can do, and do it well, and that’s not easy or cheap to come by.
Do Artisans de Genève dare to think that they, too, might be the exception? Former F1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya certainly seems to think so, being that he’s loaned his name to this watch. I can’t imagine that he’s short of a bob or two, so I can only presume that he felt the association was worth it. But let’s not take his word for it, because we’ve got one here and we can make our own judgement.
The bezel is a good place to begin because although it looks like it’s just had a lick of paint—and that would be pretty lame—what you’re seeing is actually forged carbon fibre. Lamborghini use forged carbon fibre, so do Audemars Piguet, so that’s a promising start. But that’s not what we’re here to see, is it, because—well, just look at the dial. That’s clearly not OEM.
In fact, there’s nothing OEM about it. That’s because Artisans de Genève have their own watchmakers—and I don’t mean people who take watches apart, clean them and reassemble them, I mean watchmakers who can cut, shape and finish watch parts from scratch. And that’s what’s happened to the dial here, it’s been cut, shaped and finished, replete with new markers, sub-dial hands—that represent the colours of Montoya’s Columbian nationality—and an iridescent shimmer.
And this reworking isn’t limited to just the dial; thanks to its spiderlike construction, the extent to which Artisans de Genève have adapted the calibre 4130 is plain to see. And this is no hack job; scrutiny will demonstrate that these parts have been expertly shaped, brushed and bevelled to achieve this new look—all by hand, no less. Given how modern the La Montoya looks, it’s a surprise to learn just how traditional the techniques used to make it are.
Just how Zagato body panels are hand rolled, Artisans de Genève parts are hand sculpted and hand finished to a standard expected of a much more established watchmaker. It’s hard to believe the movement even started off as a plain and simple 4130; the only evidence left are traces of the original engraving here and there on the skeletonised bridges.
It’s still a Rolex—as evidenced by the brand and logo printed on the underside of the crystal—but Artisans de Genève have indeed managed to give the La Montoya a unique personality all of its own. So how much does all this work and expertise set you back? Well, let’s just say that an Aston Martin V12 Zagato costs just shy of £400,000, and you can do the maths …
I expect the most of you are still firmly on the side of Rolex knowing what Rolex does best, and that’s perfectly understandable. As someone without a Rolex Daytona, simply having one would be reward enough. But if you’re the kind of person who’s already had their fill of Rolex Daytonas and Aston Martins and want to try something a bit different, you could do a lot worse than driving a Zagato and wearing one of these.
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