Friday, August 28, 2015

The Art of Living with Blancpain

Blancpain earned the reputation of having developed the most complicated and expensive timepiece many years ago and that is what stuck to my mind.

In my earlier years of watch appreciation, I really liked the Blancpain Villeret collection for the simple look and that collection has stuck with me since then. Of course one learns of the Fifty Fathoms diver's watch but it is the Villeret collection that I find most appealing. So when I was invited to view some artistic pieces by Blancpain, I jumped at it of course.

The Blancpain Art De Vivre (The Art of Living) event features handcrafted timepieces - many piece unique. When you enter the Mount Pleasant bungalow you are greeted with a watchmaker's work bench and Ms Caroline working on the engraving of a dial. Caroline is one of the few in-house artists with the talent for engraving. Looking through the microscope, Caroline sits at the bench showing off her skills and the TV in the background shows the ongoing work.

I was immediately drawn to the Blancpain Villeret Damasquinée which features a snake - this is made for those born in the Year of Snake. A beautifully crafted timepiece featuring a hand engraved 18K golden snake on a titanium dial.

On the back features an in-house manual winding ultra-thin Calibre 15B with a power reserve of about 40 hours. Well finished timepiece with a 45mm rose gold case.

Then I was introduced to the Blancpain pocket watch - honestly, I didn't know they still made pocket watches. In this case, it is still in the Villeret collection and it is called the Blancpain Montre de Poche demi-Savonnette which I believe in French means pocket watch... The dial is cambered grand feu white enamel.

And the movement is entirely hand decorated and in this case, with the Rose des Vents motif. The pocket watch is almost 45mm and in a rose gold case.

Then came the "simple" Villeret timepiece - or so I thought... But this is no simple Villeret. Rather, it is called the Grande Décoration.

What's so special about this Villeret Grande Décoration timepiece? Well the front comes with a grand feu white enamel dial and the beauty is also at the back! In this case, it features the building of Blancpain in Le Brassus.

The second on featured that night was that of the Sydney Opera House - piece unique as with the Le Brassus piece.

Closer to home, the next movement features the Petronas Twin Tower in Kuala Lumpur. Also hand decorated and piece unique.

All these timepieces comes with the hand wound Calibre 15B with a power reserve of about 40 hours. The case is 45mm and in rose gold. Impressive!

I enjoyed the evening thoroughly mingling amongst friends and fellow horology enthusiasts. Many thanks to Jenny and Blancpain for the invitation.

Photos taken with an iPhone 6.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

播 威 - Bovet, the first brand in China

I came across Bovet when I was introduced to the Fleurier Quality Foundation of which they and Chopard are a founding members.

For a timepiece to bear the Fleurier Quality Foundation (FQF) seal, they must be finished to the highest standards both in terms of chronometry as well as finishing of the movement. Since then, I help a friend acquire the Amadeo 45 Chronograph, a wonderfully cool timepiece that one can put on the wrist, keep in the pocket as a pocket watch or display it on the desk as a desk clock.

So when the folks at Sincere Haute Horlogerie (thanks guys!) invited me for an evening with Mr. Pascal Raffy, Owner of Bovet, I jumped at the opportunity to find out more about the brand and what it represents. Along with him also came a master craftsman, Mr. Andre Martinez, master painter.

We started the evening exploring the existing range of Bovet timepieces and shown here is the Amadeo Fleurier Monsieur Bovet. This timepieces features a 7 days power reserve and the Amadeo convertible system which allows the timepiece to be changed from a wristwatch into a pocket watch, or a deck clock.

And the reverse also features a time telling function with both dials in black polished lacquer which Mr. Raffy tells me is done in-house.

Next up is the Amadeo Fleurier Virtuoso V - why V? Well, it features a 5 days power reserve with Jumping Hours, Retrograde minutes and double coaxial seconds. The Virtuoso V series is released in a limited edition of 100 pieces. If you look closely at the bottom of the timepiece, it does not only say Swiss Made but clearly states Swiss Handcrafted. And Mr. Raffy is proud of all his timepieces and insists that they are all handcrafted timepieces.

Again, the dial is white polished lacquer - both front and back. This hand engraved timepiece is also done in-house. An impressive timepiece.

Then we met with the man himself! Mr. Raffy explains why he calls his creations timepieces and not watches. Watches tell time but a timepiece not only tells the time but also evokes an emotion and is a work of art. Mr. Raffy is very animated and passionate about his timepieces. Here explaining why the concept of the dual face timepiece for the Amadeo series... when one sits across you in the office and you place the timepiece on the desk, both you and your guest across the table can see the time - what an ingenuous development!

Mr. Raffy promptly took out his timepiece and placed it on the desk - insisted I sit down to make his point. And it is difficult to argue with his logic. He promptly handed us his personal piece - the Braveheart! How did the name come about? One has to be brave to make such a timepiece with 6 patents and the work of art comes from the heart. A magnificent timepiece to say the least.

What are the six patents? The Amadeo multiple configuration system, a double display movement, a double face Tourbillon, a rigid structure felly balance wheel, spherical winding and Tridimensional toothing with multiple gearing.

But what is even more amazing about this timepiece is the 22 days power reserve and Mr. Raffy tells me it only requires less than 160 winding of the crown and without any tool. Featured here is his personal piece with his name painted and piece unique. And what a hefty timepiece it is... Embellished with 408 baguette diamonds of the highest quality (15.91 carats) and also a diamond in the centre of the Tourbillon. Take a look at the baguette diamonds on the case.

Being piece unique, Mr. Raffy chose to have the dial depicting Madonna and the Baby - hand painted of course.

And what a sport Mr. Raffy is - he took out his Braveheart timepiece and strapped it on to Joe for him to try - unfortunately not take back (thanks Ben for this picture).

An exciting evening for many of us - first time meeting Mr. Raffy and first time really having a better understanding of what the brand is. Mr. Raffy told us much of the expertise is in-house and that they hold very high standards for their watchmakers. He spoke passionately about the brand and what a timepiece means and I can see that they are translated through to the Bovet timepieces. We particularly like his Braveheart timepiece and also the 1930 which I will be doing a separate post on. Stay tuned!

All photos taken by iPhone 6.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Jaquet Droz - Master of Enamel Dials

When you think of the brand Jaquet Droz, enamel dial comes to mind. And not just any enamel dial - a two toned one at that!

A friend of mine actually owns one of these beauties. The timepiece is limited to 88 pieces and a certificate informing the owner that the dial is a special batch of two toned dial.

The certificate informs the owner that the timepiece comes with a cream coloured "grand feu" enamelled dial and the ivory coloured applied "grand feu" enamelled subdials.

Enamel dials are difficult to make. Some say the success rate is as low as 40 to 1, that is for every 40 dials, only one make it. And this is for "normal" enamel dials. "Grand feu" enamelling is a rather sophisticated technique that only a few practitioners have managed to master. After several layers of enamelling can the master transfer the Roman and Arabic numerals unto the dial prior to the final firing in the oven.

This particular model features two different enamelling processes and three separate enamelled dial and subdials brazed together.

The Grand Feu technique takes patience and skills to achieve a close to flawless dial. The artisan applies the oxides and fires the dials in the oven several times to achieve a consistent dial. Notice the white spots on the dial - perfect imperfection. Gives the dial its character and uniqueness. Because of the way enamel firing is done, no two dials can be alike.

As I understand it, the brand does not make two toned dials anymore. Just too difficult to make them. The rejection rate is close to 99% and allows the production of only 1 to 2 pieces per month.

The back features an automatic calibre and a well decorated rotor. The movement has a power reserve of more than 60 hours.

The Grande Seconde two tones has lots of presence - the beauty of the enamel and the two toned dial is just stunning. The 43mm case is just nice to show off the enamel and gives proportion to the two off-centre dials.

You can see that the dials are not perfect ie there are still spots here and there. Some say that if the enamel dial is perfect that it is not enamel - there is still so much that humans can achieve. And enamelling is an art plus lots of science of getting it at the right temperature. But somehow, I think it is more art than science.

I am happy for my friend who owns this unique limited edition - I think it will be a long while before Jaquet Droz will come up with two tone dials again.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Fourteen Historical Timepieces from Vacheron Constantin

The Manufacture Vacheron Constantin is showcasing the brand’s artistic craftsmanship with an exhibition now on at their Ion Orchard Boutique.

I headed down to the boutique on a Saturday afternoon and Ryan hosted me, showing me all the pieces and the era they are from. The exhibition showcases the long history of the Manufacture with pieces dating back to the eighteen hundreds.

For starters, Ryan showed me the India inspired pieces...A pocket watch circa 1831 in yellow gold with a flower motif and Champlevé enamelled case.

And the second India inspired pocket watch dating back to 1834. A 18K yellow gold, Champlevé enamelled case and in line engraving.

Then there was the Ottoman period pocket watch dated 1824. This example is a 18K pink gold case adorned with oval cut amethysts and half-cabochon turquoise appliques. This pocket watch is a quarter repeater with a pink gold dial.

And from the same period is a lady's pendant watch dated 1843. This 18K yellow gold, Champlevé enamelled cased pendant watch is decorated with a foliage bouquet and highlighted with pearls over an enamel backdrop and also with a diamond centre.

French inspiration is featured in the next two timepieces. First a lady's pendant watch dated 1909 which features a 18K yellow gold case with translucent enamel on guilloché back. The pendant is intricately decorated with a peacock feather guilloché pattern with the central motif picked out in diamonds.

And another lady's pendant watch dating back to 1911 but this one with a platinum case and chain. The case is decorated with applied geometrical motif set with diamonds.

Next are other Asian themed timepieces - one of which is my favourite on display. The lady's brooch-watch dated 1925 is a 18K yellow and white gold case with Japanese-inspired decorations in diamonds, rubies, coral, mother-of-pearl and black enamel.

Next is a piece dated 1923 with a 18K yellow gold china lacquered and enamel pocket watch. The winding crown is a pearl and the pocket watch comes with a black lacquer dial. This Art Deco pocket watch has enamel decoration depicting a bird. Additionally, the watch is done with black Champlevé enamelled dial and red enamel Arabic numerals.

Also during the Art Deco period are two very interesting pieces - one a pocket watch and another a wristwatch. The pocket watch can also double up as a table clock display and comes with shutters. The case is made of 18K yellow gold with coral, black and red enamel.

When open, the watch pops up featuring a silver dial time display. This piece is dated 1929.

Dated 1930, this Art Deco wristwatch comes with a spring loaded shutter. At first glance, the wristwatch looks like a bracelet...

The crown on the left opens the louvres showing off the time. The timepiece is in white and yellow gold with black enamel indexes on the bezel. The bracelet is in 14K yellow gold.

Greek heritage on show too - two pieces, one a gentleman's wristwatch and another a lady's pendant watch. The wristwatch is a 18K yellow gold timepiece with enamelled Greek fret pattern on the bezel. This timepiece is dated 1913.

The lady's pendant watch (1914) is one with a white and yellow gold case with caseback decorated with Greek cameo-inspired painted scene surrounded by diamonds and enamel.

The exhibition also featured 19th Century open work pocket watches. The first is a 1926 open work skeletonised movement 18K white gold pocket watch with rock crystal and black enamel indexes on the bezel. The movement is made of German silver.

Next is another skeletonised open work pocket watch dated 1986. The yellow and white gold pocket watch comes with an engraved gilt skeleton movement. I love the engraved movement and this is why this pocket watch was awarded the Prix de la ville de Genève in 1986.

These are museum pieces so they will remain in the display showcases. Although you are not allowed to handle the pieces, I still think it is a worthwhile trip to visit the Vacheron Constantin Boutique at Ion Orchard. One don't normally get to see such pieces unless you visit the museum in Geneva, so I suggest you visit the boutique while they are here on display. Exhibition is on till end September 2015. Thanks to Christine and Ryan for the arrangements.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Vacheron Constantin - An Artistic Exhibition

The Manufacture Vacheron Constantin is bringing to Singapore a special heritage exhibition to their ION Orchard boutique that will run until end September, showcasing the brand’s artistic craftsmanship.

Offering an authentic journey across continents, Vacheron Constantin brings to Singapore a new themed exhibition dedicated to the history of horological adornments. It sets the stage for 14 historical models – chosen from the private collection of the Manufacture – illustrating various major artistic movements. A tour that testifies to masterful gestures and abundant creativity rarely equalled in the field of decorative arts, a hallmark of the Geneva school.
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The above is an example from 1925 – A Lady’s brooch watch, yellow gold case with Japanese-inspired decoration in diamonds, rubies, coral, mother-of-pearl and black enamel. And there will be more such works of art like this pocket watch.
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And this art deco inspired wrist watch
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A bracelet transforming into a wristwatch.
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Exhibition is at the Ion Orchard Boutique till end September. A good opportunity to find out more about why Manufacture Vacheron is a leader in artistic timepieces. Many more pieces at the boutique.

Pictures as supplied by Vacheron Constantin.

Friday, August 14, 2015

JLC Reserve De Marche

JLC is perhaps one of the most affordable in-house manufacturer in the Swiss Watchmaking industry and continues to be so. With more than 1,000 calibres to their name, Manufacture Jaeger LeCoultre is my definition of a a good value for money Swiss brand.

When I first saw the JLC Master Reserve De Marche, I liked the relatively simple timepiece and in this case, the very feminine touch of the grey coloured dial.

The date is displayed at the 2 o'clock position while the 40 odd hours power reserve is located at the 10 o'clock position. The seconds hands sub-dial is located at 6. The timepiece comes with folding deployant buckle.

At the back is an open case displaying the automatic movement. Clearly stated that the watch has undergone the JLC 1,000 hours control testing.

A well made 38mm timepiece is elegant and the shade of grey makes it truly feminine.

JLC has always been a great brand for me. My advise to many watch friends who are starting out in their horological journey to start of with a JLC - well priced for an in-house movement. And then move on to the other complications within the brand. You will not be short of timepieces in the JLC Manufacture.