Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Fitting Tribute - Speedmaster Apollo XVII Anniversary Edition

The Omega Speedmaster Apollo XVII 45th Anniversary Edition is a sight to behold. The release is a tribute to Eugene Cernan better known as Gene Cernan, the last man to step onto the moon in 1972 onboard the Apollo XVII flight.

The historic Speedy has always been associated with the moon landing and nicknamed the Moonwatch. Google Moonwatch and Speedy and the images of the Speedmaster Pro will turn up. This year at Baselworld 2017, Omega unveiled the tribute piece to Gene Cernan, appropriately named Speedmaster Apollo XVII Anniversary Edition. Featured here is the steel version reference 311. coming with a solid steel bracelet and limited to 1972 pieces - the year Gene Cernan made the last drop in on the moon.

This is not the first blue dial Speedmaster Pro but this blue is different. Perhaps it has got something to do with the ceramic dial - made of Zirconium Dioxide aka Zirconia. Ceramic is a contemporary material that Omega uses, especially in recent Moonwatches, that adds aesthetic value. Similarly, the Ceragold used in the blue bezel is also a patented technology belonging to Omega.

A closer examination of the dial reveals the chemical symbol ZrO2 which is the symbol for Zirconium Dioxide. Zirconium Dioxide is a kind of ceramic material and in this case, is used on the Anniversary piece. The ceramic dial together with the gold combination of the markers, hands and sub-dial rims lend a touch of class to the otherwise sporty timepiece. What is also evident is featuring a racing-style minute track as opposed to the "normal" minute markers found in other Speedies. The racing-style minute track was introduced in the 1996 version of the automatic Speedy launched in conjunction with Michael Schumacher who was then the new brand ambassador.

And what about the red font 05:34 GMT you might ask? Well that was supposed to be the time Gene Cernan stepped on the moon for man's last lunar walk. And notice how reflective the dial is - and I can tell you, the blue on the dial is so hard to capture. My photographs do no justice to the beauty of the blue ceramic dial. As for the use of the blue ceramic, this is one of many new materials used by Omega to enhance the overall quality of its timepieces.

Another closer look at the time 05:34 GMT. A nice vermilion hue.

On to the logo at 9 o'clock - that is the patch of the Apollo 17 which is the same patch found on the Apollo 17 Limited Edition released in 2012. The etching is brilliantly done on this one - something only a ceramic dial can achieve with precision electroforming (gold) manufacturing technology.

The gold hands are as one would expect of Omega. Nicely done to blend well with the timepiece. But did you notice that the two hands on the 3 o'clock and 6 o'clock subdials are white in colour while the one at 9 o'clock is gold? Bet you didn't notice it at first glance...

Next, the applied gold markers. The tip of the marker is coated with white Superluminova coating. The blue bezel is also interesting - it uses Ceragold for the tachymeter scale.

Housed in the Moonwatch is the Lemania based Calibre 1861. Unfortunately, I was not able to take a picture of the case back but the solid steel case back is exact replica to the dial of the Apollo 17 patch.

While the steel version comes in a limited quantity of 1972 piece, the original gold version of this timepiece was limited to 72 pieces. So good was the response to the launch that Omega decided after BaselWorld to increase that to 272 pieces much to the disdain of early adopters.

My take on the Speedmaster Apollo XVII Anniversary Edition - this is a winner and if you are a Speedy fan, I suggest you already reserve one for yourself. I believe it will be sold out pretty quickly if not already.

This year (2017), Omega celebrates 60 years of the Speedmaster Pro. To track the milestone of the evolution of the Moonwatch, check out the Omega website dedicated to all the iterations of the icon.

P.S. - After having a conversation with Gregory Kissling, Head of Product Management, I stand corrected to the significance of the time 05:34 GMT - that was the time Gene Cernan took the last step on the moon, not the first. How Omega had come about this timing was through the help of NASA and scouring the transcripts of the conversation between Gene and Houston Mission Control. So now I know the truth!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The First Titan - Ophion OPH 960

Ophion according to various sources is an elder Titan and to some, creator of the universe and also the creator of all gods including Chronos, the father of time. So what better way than to name their brand Ophion - being the "father" to Father Time! And the brand was born.

Back in November of 2016, I had the chance to meet with Miguel, one of the founders of the brand. Founded in Madrid, Spain, the timepieces are designed by Miguel and his collaborators and then assembled in Germany. The inspiration for their first timepiece, the OPH 960 comes from the 1960's. That's why the first timepiece was named - the OPH 960. Ophion wanted to offer a classical timepiece with an interesting movement but at a very affordable price point.

The 43mm OPH 960 taking its cues from the 1960s comes with a domed dial, polished index, Dauphine hands and also domed sapphire glass on the front and see through sapphire case back featuring a not so usual movement. There are interesting features on the OPH 960 - for instance, the luminous markers on the side of the inner case instead of on the markers. Not something you will notice until the sun goes down. The luminous markers are coated with Superluminova C3.

The dial is clean and the timepiece is classic and very legible. The case and dial are from Germany.

What is worth noting is the dial and the markers. What is also interesting is how the minute and second hands are also curved to "hug" the domed dial.

First the markers. Notice how the markers are polished and they don't sit evenly on the domed dial. Details like this makes the timepiece special.

The dial is textured and the logo is also coated with Superluminova C3.

Now for the movement - Swiss made Technotime. Instead of using ETA based or UNITAS based movements, the folks at Ophion chose Technotime. Given the price point in mind, they decided on the Technotime for several reasons - one is the fact that it comes with a 5 days power reserve.

Secondly, the movement architecture is also rather unique - the butterfly in the centre of the movement is seldom seen in many other Swiss movements. And with Technotime, they would custom finish and decorate the movement for Ophion. how much customisation you might ask? The main bridge and the balance bridge with the custom made straight in line brushed finish, the chamfering and polishing of the edges, the blue thermal screws, the perlage under the balance wheel, and the sunburst decoration on the twin barrels. Not bad huh?

And the finishing on the movement is not bad for a timepiece at this price point. See it for yourself...

Well polished finish...

The OPH 960 is priced at €1,300 (if I recall correctly) and they are produced in batches of 30 or more depending on demand. But the minimum order quantity is 30. The movement and hands are made in Switzerland, the strap from Spain and the case and dial are from Germany. The company that provides the case also assembles the timepiece.

After their successful launch of the OPH 960, they have now developed a new Ophion OPH 786 which is now open for orders. With the OPH 786, there is more decoration for the dial and the movement but it is still under €2,000. The OPH 786 is inspired by the 1700 era with a very well made guilloché dial. The idea is to offer a true guilloché dial in an affordable timepiece. Miguel has always been in love with guilloché dials but all the affordable watches have stamped guilloché that does not reflect the light in the same way. Another great value timepiece from Ophion. Kudos to Miguel and the folks at Ophion for their very affordable classic timepieces.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Glashütte Original Senator Chronometer - The Only One

Inside the Glashütte Original Senator Chronometer hides a complication no other brand has.

Glashütte Original is in good company when it comes to making timepieces that possesses the Zero Reset (second hand) function. A. Lange & Söhne, Montblanc (with a Minerva calibre), Akrivia and Jaeger LeCoultre are the other brands that I know how that has timepieces with the zero reset feature. What's the big deal you might say. Big deal if you are like me - one who waits till the second hand reached zero (sixty) before pulling the crown, setting the time and depressing the crown and hoping the minute hand does not advance forward beyond the marker. You will agree with me that when you start winding the watch and the seconds hand is at the 10 second marker that you have to wait 50 seconds till you pull the crown. The zero reset solves that problem.

Basically, what the zero reset does is exactly what it says - it resets to zero when you pull the crown. Very much like the flyback function in a chronograph when you depress the pusher. It surprised me that many brands do not consider this a useful feature or is it because it takes too much to even incorporate such a feature into a timepiece. So a few brands have done that but no more than one hand full in the watch industry and Glashütte Original is one of them.

Zero reset only addresses the first part of my pet peeve - what about the shifting minute hand when you depress the crown. Fact is many (general) automatic movements and even some in-house movements are well known to have the minute hands shift when the crown is depressed. And for many collectors, this is not acceptable. Enter Glashütte Original with the minute increment adjustment mechanism.

Notice in the picture above the second hand it at the zero position and how the minute hand sits nicely at the 11 minute position. When the crown is pulled, the zero reset mechanism returns the second hand to zero and the minute hand to the nearest minute marker. When the user turns the crown to adjust the minute, the minute hand ticks away, yes it ticks from one minute marker to the next and so on. The feeling is a smooth ticking sensation when you turn the crown. Ingenious!

What is even more amazing is the reset function - if the second hand is before the 30 second mark and you pull the crown, not only will the second hand reset to zero, the minute hand will retreat to the minute before. For instance, the minute hand could be between the 10 and 11 minute mark and the second hand is at the 20 second mark, when you pull the crown, the second hand advances (clockwise) to zero while the minute hand retreats to 10 (minute). The same is true when the second hand is at the 35 second mark and you pull the crown, the second hand advances to zero while the minute hand advances to the 11 minute mark. Impressive!

Technical features aside, the timepiece on the whole is well proportioned. Large date at three o'clock... notice how the dial is grainy rather than a smooth dial.

And the blued hands are pretty well finished too.

Power reserve is at the 12 and a day/night indicator window within the power reserve. The day/night indicator comes in the form of a black or white window that changes at 6 o'clock - 6 pm and it changes to a black window and at 6am, changes back to white. Picture below is showing as 2.24am with the day/night indicator being black.

And the movement side... Featuring the Calibre 58-01, the manual winding movement is all German - the three quarter plate construction, the ribbing...

...the hand engraved balance cock. All signature features of German watchmaking.

The finishing on the Senator Chronometer is industrial. Ok but not great. I had expected more on the finishing of the movement especially when this timepiece is one of their higher end pieces. Power reserve is also rather limited at 42 hours.

The movement is Chronometer certified by the Glashütte Observatory who provides the certification while working in conjunction with the offices of weights and measures in Thuringia (LMET) and Saxony (SLME). While the certification is similar to the Swiss standard, the main difference is that the movement is encased in the watch case when undergoing certification. For the Swiss COSC, the movement is encased in a temporary case.

The 42mm Senator Chronometer was unveiled some years ago and I first saw it at an exhibition in Bangkok. I recall the piece to be rose gold with the same white coloured dial. The first timepiece that is exacting in it time adjustment capabilities - zero reset second and actual minute adjustment.

For more information on the timepiece and its variations, please visit the Glashütte Original website. The website video shows all the features of the Senator Chronometer including the minute increment peculiarity.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Ophion 786 - Affordable Classic

Ophion Watches from Spain released the OPH960 last year and they are now back with their second timepiece, the OPH786.

Stark difference between the OPH960 and the OPH786 - the latter being a more classic timepiece taking its cue from Breguet. The OPH 786 comes with three dial versions - the one below being the silver dial.
 photo OPH786 Silver Dial 01_zpslyryoch1.jpg

Then there is my favourite blue dial version. I saw this back in November 2016 when Miguel came to Singapore and it was love at first sight...
 photo OPH786 Blue_zpsjgkpnguw.jpg

Version three is the black granulated dial version sans guilloche.
 photo OPH786 Granular-Black_zps1vy4ibbp.jpg

The dial is a two part dial with nice central guilloche.
 photo OPH786 Layer Dial_zpsljxqzddt.jpg

The movement is a Technotime/Soprod 718 base and the timepiece takes it inspiration from pocket watches of 1780. The bridges are hand decorated with granulated decoration.
 photo OPH786 Movement 02_zpsehcnylvw.jpg

The encased movement in steel - timepiece is Made in Germany. For a timepiece that is just below EUR2,000 - EUR1990 for the blue and silver guilloche dial, I think this is great value for money. Something different... And I like it! The black granulated dial is priced at EUR1,650.
 photo OPH786 Movement 01_zpsispplpc0.jpg

The first batch of OPH 786 is open for orders and if the past trend is anything to go by, they will sell out fast! You may order them at the Ophion website. I will be writing a post on the OPH 960 as soon as I find time to photograph the watch.

Photos provided by Ophion Watches.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Close Up with the Speedy Tuesday

The Moonwatch or the Speedmaster Professional is well known also as Speedy. At some point in time, someone coined the term Speedy Tuesday and the nickname has since been used the world over.

Speedy Tuesday caused quite a stir in the world of horology. For one, no watch has been sold by a major brand directly online in a "first-com-first-serve" manner. When the folks at Omega launched Speedy Tuesday, little did they expect it to be such a hit - I believe it was sold within 24 hours of the launch.

This Speedy Tuesday takes its roots from the Speedmaster Alaska III model. While the original version has an all black dial, the new release features a two tone dial - a black dial with white sub-dials - what is also known as the "Reverse Panda".

Handsome, me thinks! Somehow, the Speedy Tuesday evokes that vintage feel - new yet old. And if you compare the Omega logo underneath the 12 marker, the thicker logo is reminiscent of the earlier year Speedies.

The radial sub-dial is another feature not found on the regular Speedmaster Pro series and lends a nice touch to the Speedy Tuesday.

But what is evident is the Omega logo underneath the domed hesalite crystal - that "secret" emblem of the Speedmaster Pro series.

Similar Omega logo on the "regular" Speedmaster Pro and also the black dial and sub-dials.

The solid case back is different from the regular piece - clearly making a statement to Speedy Tuesday and the links to the Speedmaster Project Alaska III. Shown here is the prototype piece making its rounds. Notice the word RADIAL on the case back of the Speedy Tuesday - the reason for this is because of the radial sub-dials in the Alaska III timepiece. Omega had made some modifications after consultation with NASA astronauts and the result was the radial sub-dial. The radial sub-dial improved legibility and it ensured an easier and more accurate way of reading the chronograph's elapsed timing results.

The release of the Speedy Tuesday was limited to 2012 examples and are all accounted for. The timepiece comes with two straps - a brown vintage leather strap and a back and white NATO strap. Many of us are on the wait list but I am sure for those who managed to snag a piece, they won't let go. But pray someone do give it up... I'm waiting!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Dresden & Not Glashütte - Lang & Heyne

When you mention Made in Germany, watch enthusiasts will think of Glashütte - a town in the State of Saxony. But the folks of Lang & Heyne prefer to locate in Dresden, the capital city of the State instead.

The historic capital city of Saxony is not only architecturally significant but also important for the craft of watchmaking. Marco harks from the city of Dresden and the history of watchmaking goes further back compared to Glashütte. It was only after the government granted Lange some subsidies did Glashütte develop into a watchmaking city. Marco Lang wanted to pursue the more artistic way in watchmaking that is associated with Dresden, hence the decision to locate in Dresden rather than Glashütte.

And in the same line of thought, their range reflects nobility associated with the city. If you look at their range, Friedrich August I, Johann, Moritz etc., the folks at Lang & Heyne has dedicated them to selected rulers of the House of Wettin, one of the oldest families of the German nobility.

In recent months, Lang & Heyne has been making waves with their 2017 Baselworld release - the Georg. As with many other fellow non-German collectors, we call it "The George". How wrong I am... Ev Kudoke, the Marketing Manager for the brand tells me the correct pronunciation is "gee-org". hope I get it right this time.

Not only is this Lang & Heyne's first rectangular timepiece, it boasts of a totally open and skeletonised movement at the back. Beautiful does not do justice to the description of this movement. Take a look...

But today, we are not talking about Georg - that I leave for another post in the future. What I find interesting speaking with Ev and Marco Lang in their recent trip to Singapore is how innovative the brand is. Taking traditional Saxon watchmaking techniques and transforming them. Their range starting with the Friedrich August I and the Johann featuring the Caliber I got their inspiration from the pocket watch movements of old.

Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures of the Johann or the Friedrich I, but this is the second in-house calibre in the Moritz. The Moritz is a full calendar

The signature of movements of that era is the three quarter plate we now associate with German watchmaking. And here in the Caliber III is an example of the three quarter plate movement. Other than the jewels, mainspring and hairspring, all other components are made in-house. Lang & Heyne is proud to state their movement is up to 95% produced in-house.

On top of the hand engraved balance cock, also typical of German watchmaking, what is also unique to the brand is the diamond in the centre of the balance cock - unique to the brand and found in all timepieces. And the hand finishing is as expected - top class.

Then comes the more complicated Calibre IV found in the Albert chronograph range. A monopusher Column Wheel Chronograph with the pusher integrated into the crown system.

Encased in three metals - white gold, rose gold and platinum, this is the platinum with a black dial version. Notice also the three lugs construction which lends some proportion to the timepieces of Lang & Heyne.

And the movement side of the Albert featuring Calibre IV - a column wheel chronograph with a re-imagined three quarter plate. The construction of the timepiece still has features of the three quarter plate, except that the plate is receding towards a more open construction.

The German movements and especially that of the chronograph are well laid out with their "multi-dimensional" construction.

The next complication is the constant force mechanism which is found in the Konrad. In traditional timepieces, the main spring that gives power to the gear train will have different torque when it is fully wound and when it is towards the end of its power reserve. The constant force mechanism addresses this issue by providing a constant force throughout improving accuracy. Here, Lang & Heyne introduces their one second constant force movement - to the uninitiated, the "ticking" of the second hand either indicates a quartz or a dead-second (aka dead beat second) but it is not - it is far more complicated than that. Few have mustered the art of a constant force mechanism and for those who do, typically combines it with the Tourbillon. Notice the shine on the white enamel dial of the Konrad.

What is equally interesting is the "prograde" date indicator. Instead of a more common retrograde indication where the hands return to the start as moving counter to its initial path, the prograde indicator jumps from the last date in the same direction to the 1st of the month. So in the prograde mechanism here in the Konrad, the golden date indicator jumps in a clockwise direction from 31st to 1st. And those blued Louis-XV hands add a touch of classicism to the timepiece. The Konrad for all its complication comes housed in a 39.4mm case - wearable... very wearable indeed!

The fourth movement in the manufacture of Lang & Heyne is the Calibre V. Perhaps one of the most difficult to master, the constant force mechanism ensure a constant force being transmitted to the escapement wheel thereby ensuring the wheels receives the same force throughout as the main barrel powers down. Again, the multi-layered construction of the movement is a sight to behold. And the three wheels of the constant force mechanism ticking away is also a joy to watch.

Next up is Calibre VI found in the Friedrich II. While it looks similar to the Friedrich August I the Friedrich II is 39.3mm versus the Friedrich August I in 43.5mm. Additionally the Friedrich August comes with an enamel dial while the Friedrich II comes with a lacquer dial. Lang & Heyne also produce their own enamel dial for their Champlevé model as well as the earth and moon discs of model Moritz. The rest of the enamel dial comes from a third party specialist - Donzé Cadrans.

The stepped dial gives depth to the white lacquer dial. The words, Made in Saxony and art deco numerals adorn the dial.

This is the prototype - Number 0.

The Calibre VI has 55 hours of power reserve and in the Lang & Heyne tradition, is hand finished and has the engraved balance cock adorn with the diamond and also a stepped construction to the movement.

I asked Ev why they progressed from Calibre I to Calibre III and skipped Caliber II - her answer is this. She tells me that they have put Calibre II in "cold storage" and that when the inspiration is reignited, perhaps they will introduce it in another timepiece.

Certainly an interesting German brand. While Glashütte is more well known for watchmaking in the modern era, basing their manufacture in Dresden is probably a smart move for Lang & Heyne. Not only does it represent the roots of Marco Lang but it also reflects the historic significance of Saxon watchmaking. Production numbers are not large as they focus more on quality than quantity. So don't be surprised the waiting time for your timepiece will take anything in the region of 3-6 months and if customisation is requested, a longer lead time.

With Georg, the brand is gaining recognition at last. But lest we forget, they have many other offerings. My favourite being the Konrad. I hope to own one some day - only if I can afford it.