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TIME PIECE


wore a Hamilton Ventura, while Miles Davis wore a Breitling Navitimer. Watches were a fashion statement, too: Andy Warhol was rarely without his 18ct gold Cartier Tank. But then came quartz – and everything changed. Receiving power from a


BREMONT Famed for its exclusive aviation-inspired chronographs, this British-based watchmaker also produces bespoke timepieces for elite military personnel. Each watch design is linked to a particular military unit, warship or aircraft, and can only be purchased by those who have completed service in the corresponding force.


1904, after Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos- Dumont complained to Louis Cartier that it was tricky to check his pocket watch while airborne: He needed both hands for flying. Cartier created a practical, flat, wrist worn design with a leather strap – the “Santos de Cartier” – and the pilot watch was born.


CHANGING FASHIONS During the First World War, the idea really caught on. Service wristwatches were issued, designed to withstand trench warfare with their reinforced glass faces and luminous dials. Military pilots relied on their timepieces just as Santos-Dumont had, with extended leather straps to fit over their flying jackets. In 1917, the Horological Journal reported that “the wristlet watch was little used by the sterner sex before the war, but now is seen on the wrist of nearly every man in uniform and of many men in civilian attire”. Fashions were changing, and the Second World War brought an even more pressing need for accurate, durable designs: A far cry from the frivolous diamond-clad wristwatches of the 1800s. Innovation boomed. The village of


Plan-les-Ouates, near Geneva, had become a hub for high-end watchmakers: The likes of Rolex, Vacheron Constantin and


JAEGER-LECOULTRE Jaeger-LeCoultre designed one of its signature high-complication Reverso timepieces for King Edward III, to celebrate his delayed coronation in 1937. It was hand-engraved with his name, coronation date and a magnificent crown – however he abdicated six months before the ceremony, so the watch was never presented to him.


SAVILE ROW STYLE MAGAZINE


BREITLING American astronaut Scott Carpenter wore his Breitling 24-hour Navitimer on a space mission in 1962, making it the first Swiss wristwatch to go into orbit. However, though it withstood the rigours of space travel, it wasn’t waterproof – so


it was damaged


when the team landed in the Atlantic. Today’s Navitimers are water resistant.


battery, with hands controlled by a circuit board rather than a mainspring, wristwatches had never been more accurate or lightweight. Analogue quartz watches were first toted at Geneva’s Baselworld watch fair in the early 1970s – but it was their digital counterparts (with LCD faces and no moving parts) that really caused a stir. Quartz timepieces, quickly became the new status symbol: Why rely on ancient craftsmanship, when you could wear the future on your wrist? In the 1970s, there had been over 1,600 watchmakers in Switzerland; by the mid- 1980s, there were fewer than 600. The end was surely nigh for Europe’s luxury timepieces. Rolex and Blancpain persevered with


hand-crafted movements – the latter spurning quartz completely. In 1980, Patek Philippe began designing a new exclusively mechanical pocket watch to mark its 150th anniversary in 1989 – though nobody was sure if it would ever make production. Gradually, auction houses noted a slight


Piaget developed workshops there, and the post-war years saw them busier than ever. Not content with merely keeping the most accurate time, watchmakers turned their attentions to more specialised functions, or “complications”. They included “perpetual calendars” to keep track of the date, “minute repeaters” to chime the time, altimeters, lunar calendars and auxiliary dials – to name but a few. The “tourbillon”, a mechanism to improve the timekeeping accuracy, was perhaps the most prestigious advancement – only available in the most expensive of watches. Some watches were powered by the new generation of self-winding mechanisms; others were simply still cranked by hand.


EVERYTHING CHANGES The watch became, once again, a symbol of status and wealth, marketed to buyers all over the world with celebrity endorsements and sponsorships galore. Steve McQueen sported the TAG Heuer Monaco, while Paul Newman chose the Rolex Daytona. Elvis


trend for vintage mechanical watches. Now that they were almost obsolete, they’d become a nostalgic indulgence – and perhaps their impending rarity might increase their value? By the mid-1980s, the prestige, rarity and craftsmanship of high-end mechanicals had weathered the quartz crisis. Patek Philippe’s anniversary Calibre 89 –


completed, finally, in 1989 – sold at auction for $3.1 million. In spring 1990, Swiss watch exports totaled $1.5 billion. The rest is history. In Geneva, where the


world’s finest watchmakers showcase their new designs, to see that the market for high-calibre, highly complicated timepieces is more buoyant than ever – even with the rise of wrist-worn computers, such as the Apple Watch. Yes, based on their primary function, mechanical watches are obsolete. We no longer need them to tell us the time. But we do want them: To remind us of the power of the human brain and hands, perhaps, or the joy of an exquisitely-engineered movement. The mass-production line is, quite simply, no match for handcrafted perfection: Some things really do stand the test of time.


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