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by Jason on 31 October 2012
Founded in 1735 by Jehan-Jacques Blancpain in the Swiss town of Villeret, Blancpain has become one of the top haute-horlogerie brands on the market today. They produce a number of styles ranging from restrained elegance to bold sport, and a limitless selection of complications. Unfortunately it is often overshadowed by the “better known” players in the high-end Swiss watch market – Blancpain often plays second fiddle to sister brand Breguet, and has less recognition than the powerhouse manufactures of Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe, and Jaeger le Coultre. Thus Blancpains are often under appreciated, which is a shame as some of their timepieces - like the Villeret Dual Time we have here - are quite stunning and can offer impressive value on the used market.
Today Blancpain is one of the jewels of the Swatch group, providing a complimentary brand to Breguet and offering competition against the venerable Vacheron Constantin (which is part of the rival Richemont group). While Breguet offers traditional designs and old-world craftsmanship, and a distinctive brand style common to all models, Blancpain has a “younger” style with clean and simple dress watches like the Villeret as well as bold sport designs like the Fifty Fathoms and L-Evolution collections.
Looking over the range of models, it can often seem that the brand lacks the focus you would expect from a high-end manufacture. Where Patek Philippe has a particular style, Blancpain makes everything from an ultra-thin dress watch up to a ridiculous 55mm diver’s watch that makes a U-Boat look tame. They seem to be trying to sell a watch to everyone. Personally I have always liked the Villeret collection, and have a soft spot for the classic Fifty Fathoms.
When we received this Villeret it immediately took me back to my early interest in watches when I was a teen. Blancpain was one of the first luxury watch brands I learned about. I once saw a very simple, sober Blancpain design being advertised in an issue of Robb Report, and immediately fell in love with the brand and the design. I can’t recall the exact watch, but I remember it had a gold case, white dial, and a leather strap. That became the prototypical “high-end watch” in my own mind from that point on. It had to be elegant, perfectly proportioned, and classically styled. That remains my criteria for my personal watches to this day, though I have expanded my taste to include a few select sport models.
Most Villerets share the same aesthetic cues that make the line immediately recognizable to wrist spotters. They feature slim case profiles, narrow bezels and expansive dials, simple lugs and crowns, and a very clean dial designs. Even complicated models, like the Dual Time, have very simple dials that have a certain minimalism to them in spite of the extra registers. In that regard the Dual Time is a prototypical Villeret – add or subtract complications and you have an idea of what most of the lineup looks like.
The Dual Time features a 38mm 18k rose gold case with an impressively slim 10mm height, quite a feat for a watch that has several complications in an automatic movement with a 4 day power reserve. I adore simple dress watches of this ilk. The case is very simple but has some nice curves and a rounded profile that matches the domed bezel quite well. I never liked ornate lugs and overly complex case designs in dress watches, I think simplicity is key to making a good classic watch.
The Villeret features an exhibition back to show off the movement, one of Blancpain’s signature automatics featuring an exceptionally long power reserve. Blancpain in general seems to keep a low profile when it comes to quoting specifications on their movements, which is surprising considering that many of them have 4, 5 or even 8-day power reserves (when most brands are touting 50-70 hour power reserves as something special). The 5L60 calibre in the Dual Time is an automatic winding in-house movement with an impressive 100-hour power reserve – impressive because it’s a very small, slim movement with several complications. All functions are accessed through the crown without the use of quickset pushers on the case; the first position on the crown adjusts the main hour hand in one-hour jumps (and sets the date) while the second time zone stays static, the second position adjusts the time on both displays together. Only the hours are adjustable, minutes of both time zones are always linked (sorry Newfoundlanders). The movement is soberly finished with machine-made cotes de geneve striping and bevelled plates, nothing spectacular. It has the appearance of a very high quality mass-produced movement, which is exactly what it is.
For many years Frederic Piguet SA was providing complications and building movements for higher-end Swiss brands, including Blancpain. In 2010 FP was absorbed into Blancpain, essentially giving Blancpain an in-house movement manufacturing facility overnight, but they continue to provide movements and modifications to other brands. Part of the Swatch Group’s rules for third party brands outside the Group is that they must disclose in their technical specs if FP modules are used in their watches. Before this rule was introduced many high-end brands would simply “neglect” to mention the use of FP modules, which suggested that the movements were produced entirely in-house. The popular conception is that many prominent watch brands produce their movements entirely in-house, something that is quite far from the truth – see my article on movement sharing for more information about the practice.
The dial of the Dual Time is a highlight of the watch. It’s very simple but beautifully put together. The finish is an opaline white, a creamy eggshell colour with a fine grained finish and semi-matte appearance. All the markers are applied to the surface and have quite a bit of depth. The main dial has beautiful three-dimensional Roman numerals, while the secondary time uses batons and Arabic numbers. The day-night indicator features a tiny sun and moon, with subtle engraving between the two halves and around the subdials. All the finishing is subtle but flawless and well proportioned.
The strap is stunning as well. As you would expect on a watch of this calibre, it has a very fine grain alligator hide with a solid deployant buckle. You can always tell the quality of a fine leather strap by the way it slides between your fingers; a “cheap” alligator or crocodile strap will have a coarse or plastic-like feel, a high quality strap like this one has a buttery smooth, oily texture. It also has a supple feel and flexibility that is unmatched by cheaper hides. I also really like buckles that hide the excess length on the inside of the strap without using extra keepers for a clean look on the wrist.
The Villeret Dual Time is a stunning, simple dress watch that is a classic example of Blancpain’s traditional style and elegance. In relation to complicated models from other high-end marques, it is relatively good value for a fine 18k gold timepiece with a nice movement and useable functions. The Dual Time was replaced recently by the Villeret Demi Fuseau Horaire, which adds some extra workmanship at the expense of the subtle elegance that sets this watch apart. I believe that the Dual Time we have here is an excellent choice for a fine gold dress watch if you are seeking an alternative to the usual suspects from Patek, Rolex, Vacheron and Audemars.
For more information about our watches, give us a call at 514 845 8878 or visit our contact page.
by on 4 October 2012
*Avant les taxes. Offre valable jusqu’a epuisement des stocks. Limite d’un article promotionnel par client. Les billes exposees sur le bracelet sont vendues separement. Pour en savoir plus, voir notre boutique.
*Before taxes. Offer valid while supplies last. Limit one promotional item per customer. Charms shown on bracelet are sold separately. See in store for details.
by Jason on 3 October 2012
The WW1 series has been garnering a lot of accolades for Bell & Ross. A break from their “traditional” Instruments, the WW1 collection has a unique style that ends up being a very distinctive dress watch. Styled to resemble pocket watches converted into wristwatches (complete with add-on strap lugs) the WW1s are quite unique in the market – the closest comparison I can think of would be the Panerai Radiomir with its wire lugs and cushion case. This year BR expanded the collection by adding several new versions, including the 42mm Argentium and Jump Hour models, and the 45mm Monopusher (officially called the Monopoussoir). These models mark a significant step upmarket for Bell & Ross.
The Argentium and Jump Hour models are only available in precious metals (silver alloy for the Argentium, gold and platinum for the Jump Hour) while the Monopusher is made of good ol’ stainless steel. Where most BRs utilize unmodified ETA calibres, the Monopusher uses a La Joux-Perret chronograph movement. This adds some credibility to the brand in terms of complication and cachet – La Joux-Perret is a well-known supplier of complications and modifications in the higher-end of the Swiss market. The calibre used in the WW1 is shared with the venerable (but obscure) Vulcain brand, which is famous for its Cricket alarm watches.
Like the previous WW1s, the Mono has a 45mm round stainless steel case with wire-style lugs and a narrow (18mm) leather strap. The design overall is tweaked to give a vintage military feel; this example is the Heritage but it eschews the usual black-and-tan colour scheme Bell & Ross has become known for. In this case the number and hands have dark, dirty beige lume applied on a speckled matte black dial. The case is polished steel (not matte PVD like the other Heritage models), and the strap is a honey brown calfskin with white stitching.
The WW1 is an “all dial” design with a very narrow bezel. It gives the watch a much larger appearance than you’d expect. The narrow strap also contributes to the top-heavy look. The Mono adds a pair of oversized subdials to the mix, in classic bicompax (3 and 9 o’clock) layout. It is clearly reminiscent of early wrist chronographs, which were bicompax monopushers more often than not. I especially like the rough look of the dial, which is similar to the finish on the WW2 Bomber. Looks properly patina’d, like it got some moisture in the case about 30 years ago. My only gripe is the bright white finish on the hands and subdial markers - it doesn’t match the rest of the dial and looks odd with so much contrast.
The case is the same 45mm round, simple item you will find on the other WW1 models (specifically the big date and power reserve versions). It has a high polish finish and a smooth surface that really does look like a pocket watch for the wrist. Caseback is unfortunately closed (as with all the WW1s) so you can’t check out the monopusher mechanism. The sapphire crystal is domed and has an anti-reflective treatment, as you would expect on a watch of this calibre. The crown is oversized and features a large integrated pusher for the chrono. Pusher action is surprisingly light, especially if you are used to the solid clunk of a Valjoux or Valgranges chronograph. A light tap sets the chrono into action, a second tap stops it, a third resets it to zero. It’s a shame we don’t see more monopusher chronographs on the market, as they have a charming old-world function and a much cleaner design (no extraneous buttons on the case). Chalk that up to the complexity and cost of the complication compared to a standard two-button chronograph.
The WW1 Monopoussoir sets the bar a little bit higher for the Bell & Ross brand. After years of making variations on a theme BR is clearly trying to move the marque upmarket with a series of more complicated models – not just with the Monopoussoir, but also the new Jump Hour series and a quarter-repeating 5-minute repeating Argentium pocket watch. It’s a bold move for a brand that has become known for producing rugged, industrial-design watches with off-the-shelf ETA movements. I certainly hope that the Monopoussoir is a sign of things to come, as it is a refreshing departure from the norm in general.
by Jason on 14 September 2012
2012 has been a year of vintage re-editions and retro designs. After several years of massive sport watches dominating the market, we are seeing a gradual increase in demand for timeless designs that just so happen to equate to the clean and simple appearance of models from the 1950s and 60s. Hamilton has been at the fore of this trend for the past several years, introducing several models that plumb the rich heritage of the (formerly) American brand. Last year we had the Thin-o-matic, this year we have the Intra-Matic, hot on the heels of the retro-sport Pan Europ chronograph.
The Intra-Matic is inspired by dress watches of the 1960s with a very simple design that channels the restrained elegance of men’s fashion of the period. It is distinctly American in inspiration; it is far simpler and cleaner than Swiss design of the same period. Not to say that Swiss classics are busy, but they generally have a little more ornate finish to them – applied dial markers, dauphin hands, worked lugs. The Intra-Matic is much cleaner - simple case and thin lugs, stick hands and printed baton hour markers. Compare it to the Thin-o-Matic and you will see how much the design has been pared down to the minimum. In my opinion, the Intra is the better design of the two. I’ve long been a fan of very basic but perfectly proportioned dress watches and the Intra nails it.
Like the Thin-o-Matic the Intra-Matic has a very slim case profile, but adds an exhibition back. The bezel is extremely narrow which gives the watch a huge amount of wrist presence. The 42mm looks enormous on the wrist. You would never guess it was “only” 42. It’s a poster child for the “proportion is everything” argument – as I often say here on the blog, you need to see a watch in person and try it on to really know how big or small it looks.
If you want a more understated but still sizeable look, the 38 is the way to go. If you are used to 45mm plus watches, the 42 will suit you fine. If you like something more traditional and understated go for the 38. Myself, I like the 38. It looks much bigger than you would think, like an upsized vintage watch – the 42 looks good a large wrist, but not on mine.
The dial and hands are uncomplicated and suit the style to a tee. The dial has a sunburst metallic grain and a subtle domed shape. The sapphire crystal is also domed – while domed sapphire was once restricted to more expensive marques, we are now seeing it included on more affordable brands. It’s very difficult to cut a sapphire into anything but a flat disk, so it used to be prohibitively expensive to include on an entry level/midrange watch. It would seem that the process is getting easier now that we are seeing them on Hamiltons.
The markers and hands are slender batons that make the dial look even more expansive. The date window at 6 is well integrated and doesn’t stand out too much. I found the Thin-o-Matic looked odd with its afterthought date window cutout at 3 (I have the same complaint against the Pioneer automatic). But not having a date display on a modern watch is a big strike against a watch in the minds of most clients, so it’s not surprising that Hamilton adds it to watches that would look better without them. It’s a minor gripe from a purist’s perspective, so feel free to disagree.
Continuing the comparison with the Thin-o-Matic, the Intra-Matic has an exhibition back where the Thin has a plain back with space for engraving. Thankfully the glass back doesn’t add any appreciable thickness to the case, which remains impressively slim for a mass-produced automatic watch with an ETA movement. Exhibition casebacks are always a plus in this price range and a major bonus for most first-time Swiss watch buyers who are keen to gaze upon the inner workings of their mechanical timepiece, so kudos to Hamilton for showing it off.
A little aside: some designs (like the Pioneer, or the IWC Big Pilot and Ingenieur) have a functional closed back – they have an antimagnetic faraday cage inside the case to mitigate the effects of magnetic fields on the sensitive movements. Thus they need to have a closed back because the movement is blocked from view. Sure, antimagnetism doesn’t sound like a useful feature – but you would be surprised how sensitive these movements can be to magnetism. If you worked around MRIs, CRT monitors, or large speakers you would quickly see the effects. I recall accidentally placing one of my watches next to a CRT computer monitor. Normally it ran spot on, within 10 seconds a day. 30 minutes after I put it down it was running 10 minutes fast. Oops.
There are two options for straps. One is a vintage-style calfskin with tang buckle, the other a multi row stainless steel bracelet with hidden clasp. Either one looks the business. The bracelet has a vintage style that suits the Intra to a tee, kind of like a 1960s bead-of-rice bracelet (but more angular). The strap is pretty good by Hamilton standards and looks like it was pulled out of a new-old-stockpile of vintage straps – it’s flat, stitchless calfskin with a buttery smooth texture. Simple but effective and well suited to the style.
The Intra-Matic is a fine watch for the money. No surprise there, as that has become a Hamilton trademark. It is a superbly simple design that channels the spirit of the 60s very well, and would look spectacular with a tailored suit. It is elegant and well finished enough to fit in with the big-boy dress watches from far more expensive marques. Even if you have expensive taste the fact that it is a Hamilton that retails for under 1000$ should not be a deterrent, because this is a fantastic design that sets a new benchmark for the Jazzmaster series.
For more information about Hamilton or any other big-boy watches that we carry, feel free to call us at 514 845 8878 or visit our contact page.
by Jason on 5 September 2012
by Jason on 10 August 2012
Another year, and another series of Bell & Ross Instrument limited editions are out. It’s been a tradition for the company to release a new series of variations on the BR01 theme each season to renew interest in the ever-popular collection and give something for collectors to drool over. This year we had three new versions to look forward to, all paying homage to genuine aircraft instruments – the Horizon, the Altimeter, and the Turn Coordinator. The Horizon and Altimeter are forthcoming; in the meantime we have received the Turn Coordinator, a model that takes the disc-based time display of the Compass and Radar models and updates it for 2012.
The original Instrument limited editions were always different colour versions of the original BR01. As time went on, the company began offering more unique variations to renew interest in the line. The first major shift was the release of the Compass and Radar watches in 2010, both utilizing a unique concentric disc system to display the time. Taking an idea from the “mystery dial” watches and clocks that were popular before the 1970s, these watches displayed the time on a series of discs that occupied the whole space of the dial; in effect, the discs are the hands and the dial combined. The Compass used hour and minute scales read through an aperture with a single line at 12 oclock. The Radar displayed the hours, minutes and seconds with small luminescent batons that rotated around the dial, with the hour and minute indications printed on the underside of the crystal.
The Turn Coordinator takes the concept of the Compass and updates it for 2012. The Compass only had hours and minutes – the Turn Coordinator adds a seconds indicator and changes the style of the case and crystal. Instead of the machined case top with a sapphire aperture, the Coordinator has a full sized crystal with an instrument motif printed on it. It’s a busier design than the Compass, and truer to the original aircraft instrument, much like the Radar, Horizon and Altimeter models. It is a design that is hard to miss; this is a watch that stands apart from the crowd - at first glance it doesn’t look like a watch at all.
As you would expect the case and bracelet are traditional BR01 fare. As you would expect it has the corporate 46mm stainless steel case with black PVD “Carbon” coating. Like all BR01s it comes with two straps, a black rubber on a tang buckle and a black nylon with a Velcro closure. Unlike most BR01s it is limited to 999 pieces (same as the Red Radar, Horizon and Altimeter) and supplies are limited.
Reading the Turn Coordinator is straightforward, but takes a bit of getting used to. The time is read at the vertical line at 12 oclock, with the hours above the minutes. Because the discs rotate clockwise, the numbers appear to move backwards – we are used to seeing hands rotating around the dial from left to right, so seeing the numbers rotate clockwise behind a fixed “hand” takes getting use to. The seconds hand is located at the centre of the dial and is made to look like a spinning four-bladed propeller, situated on the nose of the plane diagram on the crystal. While not very useful (what second is it? There is no indication) it does give a bit more activity to the display than you had on the Compass, and lets you know that the watch is running. The Compass could stop dead without you noticing until you realized the time wasn’t right. Inside is an ETA 2892 automatic calibre, modified to accommodate the disc system. While the disc display appears simple at first glance, calibrating the discs to rotate smoothly without binding or affecting the timekeeping (they are very heavy compared the usual hands the movement is designed for) takes some very fine tolerances.
The Turn Coordinator is not for everyone. It is weird. It is bold. It’s tricky to read. But it is so distinctive it is sure to attract attention and become a conversation piece. Among Bell & Ross limited editions, it’s one of the most unique thus far, and comparable to the Radar for “what the hell is that?” reactions. In other words, it’s a perfect addition to the BR01 Instruments, never a watch for wallflowers in any variation.
by Jason on 26 July 2012
Alpina has been on a roll lately, introducing the hit Startimer and Sailing models last year. This year they updated the Extreme Diver with a new version, similar to the Sailing but with a ceramic bezel, and now they have introduced the highly anticipated Heritage Pilot. With a massive 50mm case and a design heavily inspired by 1930s pilot watches, the Heritage is a very interesting timepiece from a brand that has been making waves in the midrange Swiss market as of late.
Alpina is a sister brand to Frederique Constant, who provide the bulk of the manufacturing facilities (and a series of in-house manufacture calibres as well). Oddly, Alpina is the older brand of the two; founded in 1883, Alpina produced watches until the 1970s when the Quartz Crisis forced them to shutter. Frederique Constant reintroduced the brand as its sporting arm in 2002, and are now beginning to take inspiration from Alpina’s catalogue of historic models. The Heritage Pilot is modeled after a series of manual wind pilot watches made during the 1930s.
Traditional pilot designs featured large cases (usually 45mm to 55mm), precise manual wind movements generally based on pocket watch calibres, and highly visible dials with luminescent hands and Arabic markers. These were strictly “professional” watches, not the sort of thing you would see on an average wrist in an era when 30-35mm men’s watches were the norm. The historic Alpina featured a hunter-calibre movement with sub seconds (as opposed to later big pilots from the Second World War that had centre seconds). As far as pilot watches of the period went, the Alpina was quite elegant, featuring flared lugs and a beautiful dial with a striking railroad track minute scale and Breguet hands. It also had a hunter caseback like a pocket watch, something that would be appropriated for the new design.
The Heritage Pilot is clearly a homage to the original, but has some key differences that make it look a bit more modern. The seconds subdial has been moved to 6 o’clock (a Lepine calibre in watch nerd parlance), the case is simplified, and the crown is bigger. The dial has the historic Alpina logo, but all the markers are applied – look closely and you will see that the dial has remarkable depth, but is made to look like it is printed flat. The distinctive minute track is retained, but the Breguet hands are ditched in favour of swallow-shaped luminescent items. And of course you have the modern conveniences of a sapphire crystal and exhibition caseback (hidden under a nifty button-operated hunter back), as well as a nicely decorated movement (an Alpina-modified ETA 6498 calibre). Overall it’s a nice clean design that looks vintage without being too old fashioned. The details and finishing are modern but the overall look is straight from the 1930s.
Size wise, it’s a big’un - 50mm diameter, and it looks it. It wears well owing to a slim profile and curved lugs, but this is not a watch for dainty wrists. Unlike last week’s Bell & Ross WW2 Bomber, this doesn’t shrink on the wrist. It looks massive. To modern eyes the combination of vintage look with massive size is a bit jarring, but it’s well within the spirit of the original. If you think a modern IWC Big Pilot is big at 47mm across, you should see the original models from the 1940s – they were 55mm, and were supposed to be worn on the outside of a flight suit.
The movement is a tried-and-true ETA Unitas calibre, specifically the 6498. These are workhorse movements that were originally made for pocket watches, but have since become popular engines for large wristwatches. Panerai in particular made the movement popular as the go-to big watch calibre, but it has advantages aside from size. It’s robust and easy to service, runs quite accurately, and is very reliable. In Alpina trim it is decorated with cotes-de-geneves striping and blued screws – like any Alpina, they offer tidy finishing and decoration, in a price range that normally omits it.
The hunter caseback is a neat feature that sets the watch apart. The caseback flips open with the press of a small button at 4 o’clock. In modern fashion there is a glass exhibition window over the movement, along with an engraved ring that has all of the model info and serial number. A traditional hunter back would have nothing covering the movement aside from a hinged dust cap. The inner face of the caseback has a perlage finish, a very nice touch. The exterior has a circular guilloche finish with a centre crest that could be engraved by the owner.
The strap is a simple, no-nonsense brown calfskin with contrasting stitching and a tang buckle. It’s a bit of a letdown considering how detailed the rest of the watch is, but I can see the leather breaking in nicely over time – it’s a heavy leather that usually looks great after it has been worn for a while.
The Heritage Pilot is produced in a limited run of 1883 pieces, in honour of the year the company was founded. Priced under 2000$, it’s an impressive piece that really stands out and channels the spirit of the original without looking contrived. It’s also distinct from the sea of big-pilot style watches out there that usually ape the style of the later 1940s Fliegeruhr and Beobachtungsuhr designs.
For more information about Alpina watches or any other brands we carry, feel free to call us at 514 845 8878 or visit our contact page.
by Jason on 16 July 2012
Bell & Ross has been releasing many new and distinctive watches lately, departing from their tried-and-true Instrument series to offer some more unique timepieces. Last year we saw the release of the WW1 series, inspired by early wristwatches adapted from pocket watches often used during the First World War. This year they continue the vintage military theme with the introduction of the WW2 Bomber Regulateur, a rather strange (ok, really strange) watch designed to emulate a particular style of timing instrument used during the Second World War.
Vintage bomb timers were usually seen in two main variations. One was a rectangular instrument mounted clock that had a prominent seconds hand. The second, and the inspiration for the Regulateur, was a massive wrist-worn stopwatch that had a central minute hand and sub-seconds. As such it could be used as a navigational aid, where minutes and seconds are the most important measures (hence why most pilot designs feature prominent minute scales instead of hour markers). The most distinctive feature of this stopwatch was the large knife-edge bezel that rotated a triangular marker to count minutes. The unique shape of the bezel was for ease of manipulation by a crewman wearing heavy gloves, which also necessitated the use of an oversized crown and pusher.
The WW2 applies the timer/navigation watch style in impressive fashion. The sharp edged bezel dominates the design, while adopting a regulator layout – running seconds are at 12 o’clock, hours are at 6, and the minutes are in the centre - maintains the prominence of the minute hand. Did I mention the watch is also enormous? 49mm across, to be precise. This is a conversation starter if there ever was one. I would say it’s a design that is so ugly that it is cool, and that is the general consensus around the office. This is not a watch that balances delicate proportions and classical style in a harmonious package – it’s an ugly brute that looks purposeful. And dangerous. You wouldn’t want to get smacked upside the head with that bezel.
Despite all appearances, the WW2 wears very well considering how large and awkward it seems. The bezel is tall enough that you won’t have it digging into your wrist, and the huge onion-shaped crown is moved to the 9 o’clock position to keep it from poking you (ala U-Boat and Graham). You might be tempted to think this is a left-handed watch, but honestly if you wore it on your right wrist that crown would start leaving a scar in a hurry (also ala U-Boat and Graham). The keys to comfort are the movable lugs. Mounted on swivels that are separate from the case, these make the watch shrink on your wrist and keep it from jutting out past narrow wrists such as mine. They keep it snug and comfortable while making it appear less… enormous. But make no mistake, this is a monstrous watch that rivals the biggest and baddest watch/doorknockers out there. It’s just much more easy to wear, even on a smaller wrist, thanks to those nifty articulated lugs.
The distinctive dark finish to the case is shared with the WW1 Heritage – despite a titanium-like appearance, it’s actually stainless steel with a grey PVD finish. It suits the industrial look to a tee. I would expect that after a few years of wear and tear it would start to get an interesting patina, owing to the matte finish and PVD coating. Combined with that distressed calfskin strap, this is the sort of watch that will look good after a bit of abuse. Check out the BR01 Airborne II for a good example of a “worn” PVD finish to get an idea of what I’m envisioning.
The dial is nice as well, with a speckled matte finish that looks aged. I suppose you could call it a “tropical” finish, with a hint of dark brown and some mottling like a vintage watch that has been exposed to the elements. The signature “Heritage” colour scheme is present, with beige coloured markers. My one criticism would be the colour of the markers and hands. It’s too bright for my taste, I would prefer a more subdued tone. The idea is for the dial to look like aged tritium lume, which usually turns sandy-beige over time, but they took the idea a little too far and made it look like mustard yellow. But that’s just my personal nitpicking, most people like the colour scheme. IWC has been copying the look lately in their latest Pilot models.
The WW2 Bomber Regulateur is a seriously ugly watch – so ugly it’s cool. When we first saw the pre-production photos we thought it was a joke. Surely Bell & Ross wouldn’t make something so wilfully weird? But they did. And despite our early misgivings, now that we have the watch in our hands we can’t help but applaud them for having the guts to make something so odd. The end result is far nicer than we imagined and it makes for a distinctive timepiece that will surely grab attention. I usually lean towards more traditional designs, but the WW2 has my seal of approval. Don’t judge it until you try it on your wrist.
by Jason on 2 July 2012
Last year, Hamilton released the Pan Europ as a limited edition recreation of an iconic design from the 1970s. Produced in a run of 1971 examples with a blue dial, blue bezel and brown rallye strap, the model sold out in short order. It was one of the hottest Hamilton models of recent memory, and for good reason – it looked amazing, was priced really well, and had a distinctive style that set it apart from typical automatic chronographs. This year Hamilton is following up on the success of the initial run by producing two “unlimited” (regular production) versions of the Pan Europ. Available with either black and silver dials, these new Pan Europs are just as stunning as the original.
The original Pan Europ Chrono-Matic was released in 1971 as Hamilton’s first automatic chronograph, sharing a movement with Heuer and Breitling (who introduced one of the first automatic winding chronograph calibres, competing with the Zenith El Primero and Seiko 6139). The original had a distinctly 70s design, featuring thick integrated lugs, a C-shaped case, and an internal tachymeter chapter ring combined with a rotating external bezel. The design is reminiscent of a Heuer Autavia, but in my opinion it has better proportions than the Heuer. Something about the bicolour dial and internal tachymeter gave it a more interesting look compared to the rather plain Autavia.
The re-edition sticks close to the original design. The case is slightly bigger at 45mm across, and the use of a standard Hamilton modified H31 (Valjoux) automatic movement means that the crown is on the right side (the original Buren-Breitling-Heuer movements had the pushers on the right and the crown on the left). The dial and hands are very similar to the 1971 version, but with some modern depth – the subdial rings are raised, the hour markers are applied, and the chapter ring is recessed around the markers. Red subdial hands and sweep second hand add a touch of sporty colour to the design. Either dial is nice, but the black takes my vote for the best look.
The movement is Hamilton’s exclusively modified Valjoux 7753 automatic calibre, dubbed the H31. Produced by ETA for Hamilton, it has several upgraded parts to improve accuracy and bump the power reserve from 40-odd hours to 60 hours. It offers a lot of value for money – many of the latest automatic chronographs from Hamilton feature the H31 and its sister, the H21 (with a 12 and 6 o’clock subdial layout). As ever Hamilton offers some of the nicest automatic chronos you will find in this price range. The extra power reserve and upgraded parts are a bonus that you won’t get from most brands at twice the price, let alone under $2000. That’s the benefit of having a brand within the Swatch group, with direct access to ETA calibres.
The dial layout is a classic bicompax (two register at 9 and 3 o’clock) with a date window at 6, ala original Pan Europ. It’s a clean and uncluttered layout for a chronograph. You lose the hour counter (only the running seconds and minute counter are retained) but considering most owners never make use of the chronograph it’s not a big deal. The look is distinctly vintage, recalling classic two-register chronographs of the 1940s-50s-60s, and of course the original Calibre 11 models (including the Heuer Monaco) that featured a two-register layout with date. A quickset pusher is located at 10 o'clock to adjust the date, like other H31 chronographs.
The Pan Europ is a sizeable watch, clocking in at 45mm with a thick profile. The case is brushed with a sharp polished chamfer along the sides, very simple but quite attractive. The caseback is opened to show the movement (unlike last year’s limited edition). Pushers are simple pump items that stay true to the original design. The C-shaped case gives it a chunky look, as does the rotating bezel. The bezel is an unusual feature that you don’t see on many modern chronograph designs; it’s graduated in minutes to count elapsed time like a diving watch, so you can time two events at once – one on the bezel and one with the chronograph. Nowadays you usually see rotating minute-graduated bezels on diving chronographs exclusively, so it gives the Pan Europ a distinguishing feature among current designs.
Last year’s limited edition Pan Europ was a very hot seller for Hamilton and sold out worldwide in a matter of months. The new versions are equally impressive but far more accessible, something that will make a lot of fans who were unable to secure the limited piece very happy. It’s an excellent re-edition piece that channels the spirit of the original without looking contrived or dorky (which, unfortunately, is the problem with a lot of designs from the 1970s…). Like any Hamilton the Pan Europ offers a lot of value for the money – it’s a well made, nicely detailed, nicely designed watch for a reasonable price. You can’t beat that.
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