Sunday, March 18, 2012

Watch in-depth: Perrelet Turbine

This article is all about the Perrelet Turbine.

Perrelet owes its name to the 18th century watchmaker Abraham-Louis Perrelet (who happens to be credited with inventing the modern automatic movement, among other things). The company was revived a few years ago and is now producing a variety of watches.

Despite the historically significant name (complete with "1777" written beneath it) featuring proudly on the front, there's nothing retro or classic about the Turbine. At a glance, the Turbine seems to be quite a basic watch: three hands and no complications other than a gimmicky dial. However, there's more to it than that. Let's start with what's underneath that turbine.

The origins for the turbine lie in Perrelet's Double Rotor. The Double Rotor was designed (or at least patented) seventeen years ago and has become somewhat of a signature complication for the brand. The movement (Calibre P-181) features - as you may have already deduced from the name - two rotors: one at the back and an additional rotor on the front. For the first Turbine model (released in 2009) Perrelet used the Double Rotor principle, but replaced the front rotor with a turbine, consisting of twelve titanium blades. Later on they dissociated the turbine and the back rotor in order to make the effect more visually appealing.

If you get a chance to pick up a Turbine, you'll immediately notice that this is by no means a mere toy. It feels very solid and has a certain vibe of quality about it. The watches are finished with great attention to detail and the same can be said for the movement, visible through the display back. I also quite like the way they've integrated the crown into the case design.

Despite it's relatively recent release date, Perrelet has already released many different versions. The standard models come in a choice of DLC-coated steel, titanium or even rose gold. There are also different colors available for the dial, hands and numbers.

In addition to the regular models, there are a few special editions. First up, there's the America (Ref. A4015/1, 777 pieces), a Turbine XL with stylistic references to the Stars and Stripes. Next there is the 007 License to Play, that has absolutely nothing to do with a certain British spy. Seriously, it hasn't; it's just a Turbine with some gold accents. Maybe the distinct lack of anything James Bond related is why the watch is now know as the Playing with Fire model (Ref. A8008/1, produced in a limited quantity of 888). It doesn't contain actual fire, as that would be impractical and will ultimately effect the watch's longevity. What is does have, is gold. If however, you find the Playing with Fire to be 'not quite gold enough', perhaps the Turbine XL Gold (limited to 77 pieces, Ref. A3030/1) will be to your taste. It features a rose gold case and gold turbine blades.

For those who want a Turbine, but are put off by the lack of playing cards on the dial, the Turbine Poker is the obvious choice. They made three versions (Ref. A4018/1,2 or 3), each with different cards on the dial.

Last but not least, the Erotic (eight versions, limited to 88 pieces each; Ref. A4020/1, 2, 3 or 4 and Ref. A4021/1, 2, 3 or 4). For the Erotic, Perrelet took four hentai images and placed them underneath the turbine. This was meant as an homage to the tradition of watchmakers engraving erotic images on watches. The thing is, these images were usually engraved on the back of an otherwise perfectly normal looking timepiece so only the owner would know it was there. Not stuck on the front of an already very eye catching watch. Since the image is only visible when the blades are spinning, wearing a Turbine Erotic means you have no choice but to keep your arm perfectly still in situations where you might not want to be seen with a piece of hentai strapped to your wrist. Which I guess would be pretty much any situation.

With the standard Turbine measuring in at a measly 44mm (which is still large compared to the impossibly small 41mm Turbine XS), I can understand why Perrelet felt the need to introduce the 50mm Turbine XL. Oddly enough, the bulky case shape and large diameter don't make the Turbine XL uncomfortably big. I wouldn't go as far as saying you barely notice the watch at all when you're wearing it, but it's really not as bad as the figures might suggest. That being said, walking around wearing a 50mm watch with a spinning turbine on the front will certainly attract some attention.

At Baselworld 2012, Perrelet announced the 47.5mm Turbine Diver. Based on the Turbine platform, it features eleven curved blades (like a propellor) spinning over a dial covered entirely in SuperLuminova. Another new feature is a rotating bezel, because let's face it - the regular Turbine didn't feature enough movable parts on the dial. Unfortunately, creating a new case capable of withstanding the pressure at 300m meant they've had to move the crown. It's no longer subtly integrated into the case itself, but quite visible at the 10 'o clock position. I know it's a bit odd criticizing a watch for having a protruding crown, but the way they hide the crown on the regular Turbine is one of its coolest features.

Personally, I'm a big fan of the Turbine models. That has a lot to do with the fact that underneath the spinning blades you'll find a very serious watch. Given that in the past three years, they've released three sizes (available in different colors and materials), a diver and five limited editions I'm looking forward to what they're going to come up with next.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Watch review: Frederique Constant Slimline FC-345

Frederique Constant is a relatively young watch brand. Although the name has been around for much longer, the 'current' brand was established in 1988. Since then, they've seen impressive growth with watch sales reaching around 80,000 in 2007 and a very impressive 120,000 last year.
Their current collection features thirteen model lines ranging from very high-end tourbillon models to affordable quartz watches. Frederique Constant's main focus seems to lie somewhere in between, with a wide selection of what I suppose are 'achievable luxury watches', for lack of a better term.

The watch up for this review is part of the Slimline range. With a beautiful and thought provoking name like "FC-345X5S5/6", it's bound to be good.

Like pretty much all of FC's watches, the looks can best be described as 'classic' or 'reserved'. The dial is lined with roman numerals and the middle part features a guilloche pattern. This particular model has a stainless steel case and there's also a gold plated model available for a modest surcharge. The case is pretty slim (as is to be expected from a Slimline model), but not too flat and actually very comfortable to wear. The combination of a slim case, but a somewhat large diameter (around 40 mm) is actually a great compromise for people who like big watches, but also want something that can be worn comfortably with a suit.
There's enough going on on the dial for the watch to be interesting to look at, but not so much that it becomes distracting. Overall, I think Frederique Constant achieved a nice balance between legibility and looks.

Inside is a stock ETA automatic movement (FC do make their own in-house movements for higher-end models), that can be seen through the sapphire crystal display back. The rotor features CĂ´tes de Geneve engraving, which is a nice touch. Another cool feature is the fact that the seconds hand has been placed on a small dial, situated at six o' clock.

This particular model retails for around a thousand dollars, which is a very fair price, considering the amount of watch you get. This model doesn't offer fancy complications (just date, hours, minutes and seconds) or particularly striking design, but it's a no-nonsence, good looking watch with a reliable movement. I also like the little details on this watch, like the Frederique Constant logo on the strap buckle and the aforementioned Geneva striping. This attention to detail doesn't carry over to the strap, though. It's made from a material called 'Crococalf'. Unfortunately, this isn't the hide of some bizarre cow-crocodile hybrid, but rather regular calfskin leather, made to look like alligator. Since there's nothing wrong with a calfskin strap, I fail to see why Frederique Constant felt the need to use a material like this. Especially as it feels a bit flimsy and nothing like real alligator or crocodile leather.

So there we are. The FC-345X5S5 is a well appointed timepiece, with a few features that you'll be hard-pressed to find in other watches in the same price range. The main letdown is - without a doubt - the strap. In fact, should you decide to get this watch, my suggestion would be to get a replacement. Might I suggest plain calfskin?

The coolest thing ever? Urwerk UR-1001

Perhaps it is unwise to start this blog with a post about something like the Urwerk UR-1001. Something this cool is not going to come around again for a long while, so one can only conclude things must go down from here. However, let's not think about matters of watch-blogging strategy. Instead let's focus on what is arguably the nicest thing to come from the Urwerk factory in - well - ever, really.

So, what do we have here? Well, first of all, it's a pocket watch. The modern pocket watch market can only be described as 'niche'. Maybe this is because the wrist watch is such a practical tool, or because walking around with a pocket watch these days will make you look like a Victorian dandy. At the very least, it will get you labelled as 'that guy with the pocket watch' if you wear it outside more than twice. Regardless, from a watchmaker's perspective, the pocket watch is a great platform. You have a lot more room to play with, without having to worry about things like the bearer's comfort. Now, looking through Urwerk's other models, I don't get the feeling things like ergonomics or practicality rank particularly high on their list of important features anyway, but nevertheless, the UR-1001 allowed them to disregard those things completely. The results are amazing.

The watch uses Urwerk's satellite system, something we've already seen on some of their wristwatches like the UR-110. Three pointers rotate around a carousel; the hours are indicated on the satellites themselves and the minutes can be read from a scale at the bottom of the watch.

You also get a Day/Night indicator, that through clever use of Super LumiNova and ruthenium has been optimized for legibility in any lighting conditions. Now that's attention to detail. There's also a power reserve indicator, that according to Urwerk tells the owner when the watch "needs refueling". I'm assuming this means means 'winding', but with a timepiece like this it is just as likely it runs on something exotic like moonstone. Or baby seals.

In addition to the hour satellite, there's also a satellite system displaying the date. It's an annual calendar (meaning it automatically adjusts for short months), although it will require adjustment at the end of February.

On the back you'll find the 'control panel'. Apart from a dial that will advise you when the watch needs to be sent in for service, there are two dials measuring time on 100 and 1000 year scales, respectively. So at least Urwerk are feeling confident about the watch's durability. An interesting thought is that, because the '1000 year'-marker only moves with 100 year increments, the original owner will likely never see it move. In other words, you'll need to pass it on to a second generation to see if it works properly. Make sure you pass along the receipt as well, just in case.

All of this is housed in a case that holds the middle between a PDA and a futuristic hand grenade. Note to the self-conscious Urwerk customer: accidentally trying to answer your UR-1001 when you have an incoming call does not make you look cool. Please take care to keep this in a different pocket from your Blackberry. The case is made from specially coated stainless steel. The coating called AlTin - or aluminum titanium nitrate - has a hardness of around 3000 HV depending on the exact composition (translation: it is very tough). Perhaps just as important, it looks great, too.

Then there's the obvious question of price. Urwerk isn't synonymous with 'bargain'. Or 'reasonably priced'. Or 'potentially-affordable-if-I-save-up-for-it-my-entire-life', for that matter. Of course this has to do with their limited production numbers (for example, there will only by eight UR-1001's), the choice of materials (take the counterweight for the minute hand pointers: it's platinum) and the time it takes to develop and build one of these timepieces. Although I don't have any numbers for the UR-1001, expect a price of over a quarter of a million dollars. To be fair, that price also includes a rather fancy looking chain and a walnut display case annex watch winder.

I don't expect Urwerk are very worried about potential clients loosing sleep, though; pondering over whether to get this or maybe a new Lamborghini. If you're the kind of person that can walk around with a watch like the UR-1001 in your pocket, you can get both.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Welcome to the blog

Welcome to the Tourbillonesty blog!

This is a blog all about watches, timepieces and horology.