Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Top 10 Best Swiss/German Square Watches

Top 10 Swiss/German Square watches and other honourable mentions.


When is a square not a square? When lazy hacks who couldn't even be bothered doing a google image search and decides that tonneau shape, rectangle and cushion are close enough. Try explaining that one to your kindergarten teacher and see where that gets you. You're NOT going to fit a rectangular peg into a square hole no matter how hard you push. So here we go. We at the Tarts spend a little more time on google, and find you the top 10 best square watches that are ALSO powered by a mechanical movement, and are either Swiss/German made. (Yes again I know the Japanese make some really nice square mechanical/quartz watches too but you know, that would be a very broad range and simply make this list a little too easy and a little too meaningless.)

Plus, as an added bonus, we are covering a broad range of price points and styles (and yet still remaining perfectly square) so there is a watch for every budget/style. In fact, we are feeling so generous that we are giving you a list of 15 (more like 20 but we'll get to that) because some watches may be a little difficult to come by and others maybe no longer be available brand new from an authorised retailer. Plus some we included cuz we like 'em. Here we go. In no particular order, it's hip to be square!! (Yes we know it's an overused cliche phrase…)


Cartier Santos Dumont 35mm



Santos Dumont, an aviator, was a good friend of Louis Cartier and in 1904, Santos Dumont was presented with what seems to be the 'first' wristwatch made especially for men, as it was quite difficult to keep track of time using a pocket watch when both hands are needed to fly a plane. Say what you will about Cartier being a "jeweller" but they have a long history in wristwatches. The Cartier Santos Dumont is one of my favourites powered by a Piaget manual wind movement. Thin, elegant, unpretentious and unmistakably Cartier.

Bell and Ross BR01-92 46mm



Also inspired by aviation (flight deck instrument, in this case) this is quite possibly the antithesis of the Santos Dumont (in terms of square aviation themed watches). Loud, big and in your face, it literally feels like you've strapped on the actual instrument to your wrist. And that's what I love about it. The basic BR01-92 is the pick. Clean and highly legible, it wears really well (believe it or not) due to the relative thinness of the watch.


Franck Muller Master Square 36.5mm



If you must have a Franck Muller and you don't want to be seen as a tonneau-shaped sheep, this is the watch for you. The watch features the classic Franck Muller arabic numerals (or if you prefer a Cartier on steroids look, it also comes with Roman numerals). The whole case is actually curved in profile to hug your wrist, meaning again, the watch is very comfortable and wears extremely well.

TAG Heuer Monaco 38mm



Originally introduced by Heuer in 1969 in honour of the Monaco Grand Prix, it was made famous by Steve McQueen when he wore it for the film Le Mans in 1971. So famous in fact TAG Heuer is still using Steve in advertisement - I mean, wouldn't you? Steve McQueen is, like, the epitome of cool. And if a cool guy like Steve wears the Monaco, that means I'll be able to bask in the reflected glory when I wear the same watch. All jokes aside, it is a classic and the watch has not changed since it first appeared (not many watches can claim that).

Nomos Tetra 30mm


At 30mm this is getting close to a midsize. Yes, square watches do wear bigger, but this is more for those who appreciates a time when wristwatches weren't so bold. Even so, the Tetra is very modern in its simplicity. Bauhaus style with a dial that's uncluttered, powered by an inhouse movement, you could do so much worse than this. And by wearing this watch you're quietly confident and you obviously do not need to over compensate for anything. It's also the only watch on this list that is made in Germany. Read into this anyway you like.

These next two seems to have been inspired by the same watch and the same year! However they vary quite differently in price point and execution.

Vacheron Constantin Historiques 1968 35mm
Longines Heritage 1968 33mm







The Vacheron is an ultra thin automatic watch powered by the thinnest full rotor automatic movements. The VC Calibre 1120 was designed by Jaeger-LeCoultre for use exclusively by Vacheron, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. The movement is a mere 2.45mm thin, therefore the whole case can also be made extremely thin (at a svelte 5.4mm). The Longines on the other hand has no such luxury when it comes to thin movements. That's not to say it doesn't have a relatively thin movement to borrow from sister company ETA. The 2892-A2 is one of the thinnest automatic movements around, plus you get a date function! Other than that it's a touch smaller compared to the Vacheron. Both are elegant and resolutely square and you can't go wrong with either if you happen to be born in 1968, or if 1968 happens to be a significant year for you.


Omega Deville X2 35mm discontinued



This is a strange one and one that didn't do too well when it was available new. For some reason I like it and one of the reasons why most people hate it is the reason I like it - the mixed use of Roman and Arabic numerals. Case is based on a historical Omega and there were a few different variations of dials/complications that can be had with this model. It is an through-and-through Omega so the quality is there. And because of its unpopularity you could pick up one on the cheap somewhere...

Louis Erard La Carree Chrono 39mm



Louis Erard is known for their extremely good value for money, given they're Swiss made, and runs reliable workhorse movements. I could not believe my eyes that the chrono here can be had for around 600 Euro! A well made, Swiss automatic chronograph (Valjoux 7750 from the looks of it) for this sort of price is a bargain! Now I have a feeling that this one might also be discontinued but it's easy enough to find online. Hmmm I think I may have just sold myself on this...


Hamilton Jazz Master Square Chrono 40mm (38.5mm for time only)



This one seems like it's also discontinued, but I'm sure these models can still be found if one uses Google. Hamilton, like Louis Erard makes extremely great value watches. One advantage that Hamilton has over Louis Erard is that it's part of the enormous Swatch Group, meaning they have access to movements galore and much better economies of scale, hence their extremely competitive price point for the watches you get. I'm a big fan of some of the models out of the Jazz Master range and I didn't realise they had a square version till I was googling for watches for this post.

Because I'm feeling generous here are five more square watches. (I realise that some of the watch on this list are discontinued, meaning for those who prefer the security of buying new from authorised retailers will have less choices overall.)

Piaget Altiplano Square 33mm



This piece is discontinued, but again, thanks to the internet, I'm sure one can be tracked down without too much hassle. Like most ultra thin Piaget watches, this one is elegant, classy and dressy, and has a certain je ne sais quoi about it. Piaget makes beautiful watches and as they are proper watchmakers, with gorgeous inhouse movements to boot. If you ever need a watch for a black tie event, but something that won't clash with others at the shindig, this would be it. I did mention that it was thin right? At 4.5mm, this is one of the thinnest mechanical watches around.


Hermes Carre H 36.5mm



Don't listen to anyone who tells you Hermes are only good for bags. They have a long history in watchmaking, although they may not have had invested much in their watch division at times. This piece is a limited edition, and completely sold out. This piece was designed by French architect Marc Berthier, and limited to just 173 pieces. The watch is powered by the Girard-Perregaux caliber GP3200 movement. I'm sure if you do manage to find one, you'll have to pay above the retail price of around US$15k


The Ralph Lauren Slim Classique 27.5mm



I'm going to quote a sales blurb: "The Ralph Lauren Slim Classique collection represents modern watchmaking with classical, slender proportions that recall a bygone era." Right. at 27.5mm, I'm going to call this a lady's watch. As much as I like my Ralph Lauren, I really cannot see the value in the watches though, Yes I know they're well made and this one probably runs a Piaget movement, but...


Fortis Square Automatic Day-Date/Chronograph 39mm



I'm kicking myself for not buying this when I had the chance. (yes, had the chance but not the money!) It's a chunky watch, but it's anything but imposing. It looks great, has substance and it's not expensive. I prefer the day-date version over the chronograph because of the cleaner dial and I think the styling worked better in the Louis Erard compared to the Fortis, given it's the same movement. at 39mm, it's a good, solid size.


Ventura V-Matic Ego Square 37mm



Here's one from the recent past. I've always appreciated Ventura's styling. Very digital sci-fi and spacey, but running very traditional mechanical movements. The V-Matic Ego Squre is from the early 2000s, and in time it'll probably look quite retro-futuristic.

So all up you have almost 20 properly square watches (due to the time only/chronograph variations in the same style case, or different dial layouts). They do wear quite differently to round, cushion shaped or even rectangular watches, so like always, try it on first if you can!


Oh... and if you have kids who are into Thomas the Tank Engine....



Monday, September 29, 2014

Quick Look: Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Date

One of the most underrated watch in the current Jaeger-LeCoultre range is also one of its finest in my humble opinion. It is the basic Master Control Date, powered by the Caliber 899 movement. This is the entry level piece to the Master range and it is also the entry level piece to the Men's automatic range for Jaeger-LeCoultre. Competitively priced at $8,400. So competitive in fact that these pieces are quietly flying out the doors. A quick ring-around the AD network in Australia uncovers a not-surprising fact: the watch is back ordered and there is a waiting list! This is usually reserved for over-hyped sought after limited editions in other brands but something quite unheard of in a core range product. You know they have a winner on their hands when this is the sort of problem they have. I would've added my name to the waiting list had I the money to spend on such a classic.



I won't bang on about the movement. There are enough information on the interwebs about it. Suffice to say that it is a tough and reliable workhorse and it is the movement upon which many complication modules are built. This movement is also one of the thinnest around at only 3.3mm high, contributing to a svelte watch with a total case height of 8.5mm, and a very versatile 39mm diameter.



The watch is elegant in its simplicity. Everything you need to tell the time and date and nothing else. No superfluous writing on the dial. No, not even "automatic". The see through case back shows the finely decorated movement. It's not to the level of say, a Patek movement, but you're also looking at a price point that is two-thirds lower. It is however, miles ahead of other similarly priced watches. The case quality is sublime, and the sunburst dial exudes an understated elegance. I probably wouldn't have bothered with the tiny lume dots at the hours and tiny lume inserts in the hands. It's a dressy watch. I can go without the lume. Dressy watch it may be, but it can be easily dressed down by fitting a brown strap or gasp.. a NATO strap.



This is also a watch with a strong history within JLC. It is on this range, the Master Control, that the 1000 hour test began back in 1992. The watches are subjected to a rigorous testing regime over, yep- you guessed it- 1000 hours, or equivalent to 6 weeks, fully cased up. They go through a variety of tests including timing, shock resistance, water resistance, etc, and only by passing all tests will the watch be allowed to leave the factory. This test is now performed on all JLC watches, excluding Atmos clocks and Calibre 101 watches.



So, a classic versatile watch that probably won't date and will only get better with age, a watch that played a part in the history of JLC at a relatively affordable price point, I guess a waiting list for is isn't all that difficult to fathom. Now I just need someone to spot me the odd 8 grand...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

On The Wrist: Stowa Flieger Black Forest Edition 1 Australian Review

We love black watches
Oh, yes we do
We love black watches
And we will be true.

When the watch isn't black
We're blue.
Oh, Black watches we love you. **

End flash back to my high school musical days. (Yes I was in high school musicals. What? I enjoy the performance arts...chicks dig guys who can bust a move and hold a tune... Really...)



But there is SOMETHING about an all-black stealthy sinister looking matte black anything isn't there? Matte black cars turns heads. Matte black sneakers are always on trend. Coco Chanel also said something about the colour black. Black will always be the new black no matter what the advertising execs tries to tell you. 



Especially a black watch named after one of the most delicious black-themed desserts- the Black Forest cake. Stowa will tell you a different "official" story about some forest close to their home but we know the truth .

It's the first time a DLC coated watch is offered by Stowa (we talked about this process here) and it's a limited edition of only 200 pieces worldwide. It is based on an existing model but modernized and made "better" by being all black (with the movement given the same treatment) and a splash of bright orange to give it that extra pizzazz (and to make time telling easier). Tongue-in-cheek aside we really do like the black/orange colorway (to steal a sneaker term). 



Stowa watches are produced under the guidance of watchmaker Jorg Schauer, and the case work is flawless. Really. At this price point (around 800 Euro. less VAT if you're outside Europe) there is no better case. Shame I can't say the same about the movement. The original plan was to make the eta 2801-2, essentially a 2824 minus the rotor, to be fully black with bright orange branding on it, but technical difficulties put that idea to bed. Personally I felt that if an all-black movement wasn't going to happen, I'd much rather they covered it up and offered a special case back. 



Having said that, the movement minus rotor meant less height and I was pleasantly surprised at just how thin the whole watch is. Dress watch thin. Not stupidly thin like a Piaget Altiplano but thin enough for everyday wear. It won't intrude and won't present itself to being caught on door frames and cuffs. 





The dial is very clean, the logo is only really visible at certain angles under certain lighting. Everything you need to tell the time and nothing you don't. Like, oh I dunno... Say... a paragraph on the dial saying how officially accurate this watch is... The strap is thick, soft and comfortable. Nuff said. Overall the watch feels great, sits well on the wrist and it is very light.

I do feel that a classic pilot watch is a must in every collection. And because so many brands make this style of watches, you really are spoilt for choice at every price point. You could go authentic and buy one from the original manufactures of the pilot watch or if you're less picky, even fossil makes one. 



So what about this Stowa Black Forest? It's not my first pick for a pilot watch. I'd go for something more historically correct in terms of aesthetics (for example, below right). But as a second? Most definitely. Problem is that this Black Forest edition 1 IS a limited edition of only 200 pieces and they're all sold out. (I was lucky enough to see and review this piece, thanks to the generosity of its owner). This piece COULD be the only one in Australia. But luckily, Stowa makes a wide range of flieger watches and they're quite reasonably priced. You can see the range HERE.

Here's the Black Forest next to its OG cousin. Photo courtesy of the owner
**By the way I plagiarised and butchered the lyrics to "Bye Bye Birdie" at the beginning of the post.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

8 Months In: An Australian Impression of Swatch Sistem 51 Ownership

People who know me know that I really didn't get the hype surrounding the Sistem51. I didn't see the point of a throw-away mechanical watch. But I admitted that it was a revolutionary step in watch history. Not for the so-called technological advances. But for what it stands for. That perhaps we're ushering in a new era of getting used to tossing away something that was once associated with craftsmanship and engineering and art.



But then I saw the more positive side of it. This watch (if and when regulated properly and assuming all the initial issues have all been troubleshot) will last you the better part of 20 years and it's supposed to always keep reasonable time over this period (since a watchmaker will not have access to the movement to regulate it). This means the one thing that bugged me about quartz watches - running out of battery when you actually want to wear it - is relegated to the history bin. And let's face it, the Sistem51 was never going to be haute horlogerie. I think it's designed to replace quartz watches, and even though it will never keep as good a time as a quartz, it is a small inconvenience for 20 odd years of "Shake it, set and go" and no more "Argh it's out of battery! What am I going to do without a watch for 2 weeks???"

Ok. That preceding scenario has never occurred to me. No, not because I'm a movement snob but a) my quartz powered watches seems to last forever on one battery (thank YOU G-Shock) and b) why the heck would you only have one watch???



Anyways, I did give in to the hype (like I did with those damn Jordans) and when the opportunity arose I acquired a piece of this watchmaking history. So, what's it like living with a Swatch sistem51 in Australia? Well, disclaimer first. I do rotate through other watches so it's not constantly on my wrist. As I have alluded to, there have been documented quality issues with the watch and although I've been lucky, I know first hand from collectors here in Australia the issues they've had with theirs. But mine does what is says on the box. Massively long power reserve and keeps relatively reasonable time. Mine was about an average of about plus 5 seconds a day. This is within cosc accuracy specs. And to be honest, at this price point for a mechanical watch, I would've accepted anywhere from 0 to plus 15 seconds a day. I cannot stand a watch losing time though.



My particular example is white plastic case on white silicon strap. It gives a very bright and summery feel but perhaps for Australian climate with hindsight, not the best colour as it gets dirty very quickly. Nothing a little wipe down won't cure though. The ticks very loudly. I suppose this is a trademark Swatch characteristic? But I think it's less annoying than one loud TICK every second for the quartz Swatch watches. The power reserve will come in handy even for those who swap watches regularly as the watch will still be ticking when you pick it up again after 3-4 days. As it is plastic, the watch is very light and comfortable. It won't be an everyday watch if you suit up during the week, but a perfect weekend watch.



So, after 8 months have I been converted? Well, let's just say it's not a massive outlay (AU$185) and it's nice to have a piece of watch history. I still don't know what all the hype is (aside from being caught up in it), but I'd expect some lines forming outside Swatch boutiques for the Australian launch come Friday. Let's just say that in terms of hyped products, it will have the longevity advantage over a similarly priced retro Jordan sneakers. But other than that...

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Exclusive Australian First Look: TNT Challenger Rattrapante for watchuseek

Rattrapante. Split Second Chronograph. Double Chronograph. No matter which way you say it, practically speaking, it's a pretty useless complication to have on your mechanical watch. Tell me, when was the last time you need to time the difference in seconds (up to 60) of two separate things? I suppose you could use it to time 2 eggs. If you put them in the water at different times. But then again I'm not even sure how that would work.

The other way you'd use it, practically speaking, is you're timing laps. You use the split second function to stop it temporarily as you note down the time for the first lap, then let it catch up again and then repeat. So this will come in handy if you're watching formula one. Then again, maybe not.

But it is such a nice complication to have. To watch the two running chrono second hands going at different times, it's just so cool. Watching it catch up and the two hands runs again in sync. It's a lot of fun to watch. Much like staring at a tourbillon. Plus, rattrapante complication is quite rare. Rarer than tourbillons. And minute repeaters. And they're not easy to make either, so there's some bragging rights in that too. Somewhere.

Can you tell the difference between the black dial and the blue dial??

Which makes this watch all the more special. TNT, the company famous for being able to find obscure, long-forgotten movements, and put them into limited edition runs, produced this 75-piece series of rattranpante chronograph watches, exclusive for members of the forum watchuseek.com. The movement is based on the valjoux 7750, with the added rattrapante module and this movement is quite possibly the most popular to base the extra complications on, simply because it is so robust and reliable. Omega has done one with this movement, same with Rado (probably with the exact same movement). IWC also did one, again based on the Valjoux and I believe Chronowiss also had one. Just to name a few. And they're all priced quite high- from $5000k onwards.


I really don't know how TNT manages to track down these movements nor do I know how they can then get them all serviced, turned around with a case and dial and what not, and sold all for around 800 Euro. But I'm glad they did and I'm glad that watch enthusiasts in Australia managed to snag 2 out of the 75 examples (that we know of) and that I had a chance to get a really good look.

Reliable Valjoux 7750 movement with the rattrapante module

The coin-edge bull head case is shared with a few other models that TNT is producing, which is to be expected for economies of scale reasons, but the dial and function is exclusive to this watch. There is also zero TNT branding on the dial (with just a subtle watchuseek logo at 6:00 position). I'm not sure why they went for the bull head design. Yes, it's different, and you won't have pushers and crowns digging into the wrist, but with the configuration it has, the pushers are very close to the lugs, making the operation a little inconvenient. The pushers also travels a long way before engaging with the movement, which can annoy some people. It's also a little difficult to wind the crown or to set the time, again, due to its position. I suppose each person will find it different, and some might choose to live with the small inconveniences in order to have something quite unique.



The dial is split into 4 smaller dials, one each for the chronograph functions and the time. Yes, the time is limited to the small dial at 12:00 and for those with less than perfect vision, telling the time might be a little strenuous. But it's not the only watch with a small dial for the time (I'm looking at YOU, Jacquet Droz) so this shouldn't detract from the watch as a while, and it does give a very balanced dial overall.

Small dial at 12:00 for the time

For the price, the quality and the finishing is excellent. Keep in mind that this is an 800 Euro watch so it needs to be compared like-for-like. It doesn't matter if the movement and complication is worth more than 800 Euro on its own. So, next to say, Tissot, Oris, or even Longines, the quality stacks up, but comes up short if you compare it to something a bit further up the food chain. Otherwise, you get sapphire crystal front and back, as well as a very nicely done ceramic bezel. The less said about the included NATO strap the better, but the optional leather strap is soft and supple.



I didn't get the chance to time it, but I'm sure accuracy won't be too bad. It is a 7750 after all, and any good watchmaker will be able to regulate it to chronometre specs. The watch although thick, wears very well on the wrist and it is very comfortable. I wouldn't pair it with a suit, but again that's up to you. Two dials are available but having seen the two side by side the difference isn't great. The black dial is not very black and the blueberry dial isn't very... blue. But who's to complain? It's a great looking watch, a fun complication and a very, very limited edition to boot. It's a great watch for not a lot of outlay and for the 75 people (or less - I believe some bought two) who has them, it's definitely a keeper.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Quick Look: Breitling Blackbird


If you think Breitlings are oversized blinged up watches, you'll be happy to know that they're not all like that. They do make some very sensibly sized watches and this is one of them. In fact it almost seems small, at least, that was my first impression. Till I measured the case size. It couldn't be that small given it runs the Valjoux 7750 movement. The measurements came to be 40mm in diameter and about 13mm thick. 100m water resistant.



The Blackbird has always been one of my favorite planes. It's designed to be a stealth recon aircraft flying "below the radar" so to speak. It's sleek , elegant and subdued. It also looks mean and aggressive. And not to mention pointy. It conveys a sense of discreet power. Funnily enough pretty much all of these adjectives can be used to describe its namesake in watches. The Breitling Blackbird. No, not the Breitlings of today, (and they're not alone in this) but one from the age of sensibility (relatively speaking) in terms of watch design. The early 2000s.  This was before bling and oversizedness took hold and watches became ostentatious for the sake of "just cuz".



Good thing about Breitling watches is that they all look pretty much the same from generation to generation and only a truly hardcore B-fan will be able to tell to a degree of certainty which year the model is from. And even then, older models are much more desirable, aren't they? I refer you to a classic exchange from the movie "Gone In 60 Seconds" - the newer one with Nicolas Cage - where an exchange about vintage Ferraris compared to brand spankers and what they say about their owners. Ahem.



As mentioned earlier this model is powered by the Valjoux 7750. A tough, reliable workhorse of a movement and one of the most popular if you want a chronograph. The movement is quite tall, meaning the watch will be relatively thick regardless to begin with. But the Blackbird wears well on the wrist and is easy to pull off. High contrast white hands on black dial makes it quite legible and the dial is also balanced if not symmetrical. Anti - reflective coating on the sapphire crystal adds to the legibility in all conditions. Finally, it comes with the signature 7750 rotor wobble that is so endearing to some and an annoyance to others.



They certainly don't make watches like they used to and this particular model is long discontinued. Meaning the number of this style will not increase and for the time being they're reasonably easy to find on the secondary market. However, be quick if you want a reasonably priced Breitling that's neither Jeremy Clarkson nor Kanye. And as matte finishing and discreetness makes a return to popularity, the demand and price for these examples will rise quickly and discreetly.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Quick Look: Baume & Mercier Clifton Retrograde Date

I remember my first retrograde experience. There is something so poetically unnatural in its movement that really captivates. On this particular piece it was a jumping hour with a retrograde minute hand, and i would wind the time forward, advancing the minute hand quickly to close to "60 minutes" and then slow down and watch the hand bounce back to "0 minutes" and starts again. It's more fun than watching the windscreen wipers going through a similar motion (although I must admit as a child I do remember being fascinated by the wipers and I would mimic its function with my hands on a flat surface with water). Why is it more fun than wipers as an adult though? Simply because of the sheer force with which it bounces back and the speed it does it with. This must put quite a bit of strain on the movement, and thus producing a reliable one is no mean feat.



This could be the reason why the retrograde function is not offered en masse, and the ones who can should be applauded for their defiance against natural motion (ie, hands going around in circles).

The Baume & Mercier Clifton Retrograde is a very fine looking timepiece. In fact, the whole of the Clifton range boasts classic styles, if a little reserved, and I think this is where the retrograde balances the range. The oversized arc of the retrograde date screams out for attention like the middle child. It's the watch for those who wants a classic dress watch but doesn't want to be bound by classic proportions and styling. It's for those who needs to confirm due to societal pressures but still wants flashes of personality, like drab grey suits with bright orange socks and pink pocket square. Yes proportions may be a bit out of whack, but it retains a certain balance, with the day sub dial at 9:00 and the power reserve at 6:00.

It is not a small watch with a diameter of 43mm, and I know there are people out there who swears anything bigger than 38mm is too big for a dress watch. Given the national average weight has been on the rise for decades I think 43mm suits just fine. The watch sits well on the wrist, and the lugs do curve down which adds to the fit. The alligator strap is soft and supple and I'm sure will be even more comfortable after the initial wearing-in period. The watch is powered by a ETA2892 movement with the calendar module from Soprod.

Granted it's not for everybody, and the price point (AUD7200) I feel is a little on the high side for a stainless steel watch from Baume & Mercier and it doesn't quite fit into the whole "Affordable Luxury" ethos. However, it is a stand out piece and speaks volumes about who you are, choosing it over a  safe and boring choice of a Datejust.