Thursday, September 19, 2013

Interview with Ton Cobelens on the TW Steel Yamaha Factory Racing Collection

We're on a motorsport roll recently at the Tarts, from 4 wheels to 2 wheels. TW Steel recently launched the new Yamaha Factory Racing Collection following the announcement of the partnership with the team a couple of months ago. The range consists of 4 watches (well... 2 styles each in 2 different sizes). And one of the riders for the team, Valentino Rossi, I suppose will have to stick his Jaeger-LeCoultre watches in the safe for the next few years...

Following we have an interview with Ton Cobelens (Chief Design Officer) on the design of the Yamaha Factory Racing Collection

Q:  What was your starting point for the design of this collection?

Ton Cobelens (TC):  “Quite simply it was to create a recognizable Yamaha Factory Racing watch based on our existing Pilot and Tech editions.”

Q:  How much input did you seek from Yamaha Factory Racing in the early stages – did they give you a brief or were you given free reign in terms of the initial design concept?

TC:  “After Yamaha Factory Racing had declared that they would possibly be interested in a cooperation with TW Steel I made up some designs without any input from them just as a starting point.  I produced those designs to give some structure to the negotiations and a direction in terms of styling and so on.  From there I’m happy to say things progressed very quickly.”

Q:  You have infused elements of the current YZR-M1 bike into these designs.  Which elements stood out for you to incorporate and where were the challenges in these models?

TC:  “For me it was the incorporation of the display of the motor cockpit into the chrono eyes that stands out most.  The ultimate challenge though was the raised Yamaha Factory Racing logo on the silicon strap, achieved by double injection.  Although it’s essentially a logo placement, I think it adds something very special to the overall design.” 

Q:  Do you feel any additional pressure knowing you’re producing timepieces carrying not only the TW Steel brand name but a name as established and as global as Yamaha?

TC:  “Certainly there was additional pressure.  You have to blend into a watch two different brands competing in two totally different markets.”

Q:  TW Steel enjoys a rich history of motorsport-related timepieces.  Of all the watches you’ve designed, where do the Yamaha Factory Racing editions rank in your favorites?

TC:  “This is a difficult question!  Certainly I am very proud of the Yamaha Factory Racing models and I consider them to be the most successful designs I’ve created in recent years.”

Q:  As a designer, how much of a kick will you get out of seeing fans of both Yamaha Factory Racing and TW Steel sporting these watches around the world?

TC:  “I’m still very proud each time I spot someone wearing a TW Steel.  This feeling will be surpassed when I see someone wearing a TW Steel Yamaha Factory Racing model now!”

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Lewis Hamilton Visits IWC Schaffhausen

It was only a matter of time (pun intended) for speedster Lewis Hamilton to drop in at the IWC factory in Schaffhausen, after being confirmed as an ambassador alongside Nico Rosberg from 2013 onwards, thanks to the partnership between IWC and Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team. Nico was featured heavily during IWC's SIHH party in January this year, simply because there probably wasn't enough time to get Lewis sorted, contractually and legally and who knows what else. It's also a great year that IWC jumped on board with Mercedes AMG as they're having a stellar year in F1, with Lewis's seemingly crazy move not so crazy after all.

PHOTOPRESS/Samuel Truempy

IWC has also been very clever in their product placement for the drivers. The watches probably won't withstand the sort of G forces you get in a F1 car, so they've plastered a big watch pic on the driving gloves, so whenever you get a "driver's view" camera shot, you can see the watch very clearly and prominently in the middle of the screen.

PHOTOPRESS/Samuel Truempy

Lewis's travelling itinerary is pretty hectic already. But he found the time to pop into Schaffhausen on the way from Monza to Singapore last week. Apart from the mandatory posed happy snaps which reveals nothing at all, a speech and a demo run on the simulator, what I guess all the watch nuts really want to know is, after visiting both the Tag Heuer factory (during his time at McLaren) and IWC factory, what does Lewis really think of the two watch brands? I doubt we'll ever get anything on record, but I think that's one thought I'd pay a very pretty penny for. Maybe even two...

Friday, September 13, 2013

Challenger Rattrapante for WatchUSeek Limited Edition by TNT

Who doesn't love limited editions? To be part of an exclusive little club, knowing that there are only x number of the item in the world. It is this desire that drives so many watch brands to continue releasing limited editions. However, the downside is that in order to keep production costs down on limited editions (even though customers are probably charged more due to the 'limited nature), more often than not limited editions are nothing more than a change of dial, colour, hands, etc. Perhaps even as little as extra text of the dial, or even just an additional engraving. I'm not going to start pointing fingers and name names but this practice is quite prevalent, especially in the *ahem* high end of the market.

Then there's limited edition that's, well not really limited. 10,000 pieces is by no means limited.

So, how's a pleb like me going to get my hands on limited edition watches that are actually limited? The answer is quite simple, really.

For starters, avoid big name brands. There are plenty of boutique brands who does very limited runs, and are more often than not very reasonably priced. Then there are forum watches where a particular watch forum will enlist the help of a boutique brand to produce a watch collectively designed by forum members, often based on an existing case/movement combo. And of course, there's also the method where a brand can utilise the watch forum was a distribution/marketing/sales channel, offering a certain model only to the members of the forum. More often than not, the production runs of these watches tend to be quite low. Low 3 digits low. Sometimes even only in double digits.

All this talk about limited edition is leading somewhere, and in case you haven't gauged from the erm, title, this is about the Challenger WatchUSeek Edition Rattrapante by TNT. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say that given the complications, the low production numbers (75 pieces) and the relatively low price, this might just be the watch bargain of the year. There is an interesting back story to this project, the beginnings of which stemmed from Torsten Nagengast, who has a knack of finding special movements lying around and then proceeding to case them up and sell them in limited runs (depending on how many movement he finds). He has produced numerous watch projects under various guises and this is one of his latest.

These movements were originally produced for a Russian watch brand (since folded) and he picked them up for a song. All the movements needed were a couple of parts which he was able to source from AROLA Alfred Rochat & Fils (the people that made the rattrapante module) and voila, you have a bunch of interesting working movements (we assume) that just need an interesting case design to really showcase the complication. And I think this particular case design, (bull head chrono with coin edge sides, fixed lugs to fit NATO style straps) is a winner. Sure, the design is not to everyone's liking. There's no date window, the main time display is shown on a subdial, fixed lugs so you can only fit NATO style straps, etc etc. But in reality, where else are you going to find such a distinctive and interesting watch for this kind of money for this limited number of pieces?

This watch is called the "Challenger" for a good reason. Torsten released a time only "Challenger" watch a few months prior, featuring the same case design with the crown at 12:00 and fixed lugs and limited to 99 pieces. So the Challenger rattrapante belongs to the same family line, and perhaps, if successful, we might see a further line extension sometime in the future?

I for one am quite eager to see this project to fruition and I have on very good authority that at least two pieces will be heading down under, both to Sydney (maybe more. We'll find out). And of course, when that does happen we'll bring you an in-depth review of the watch. Let's hope everything goes smoothly and they can start delivering at their anticipated date of around January to February 2014.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Top 10 Women's Swiss Mechanical/Automatic Watches

It appears that there is a demand of some sort out there for lists of top watches or recommended watches. It also appears that such a list doesn't really exist for ladies' watches. At least not in any usable form. So here at The Sydney Tarts we thought we'd compile a list of top 10 watches for women. These are watches we feel are either classics in their own right, or extremely popular/in-demand. They're not necessarily watches we'd recommend, but of course, watches are entirely subjective and all the watches in this list are pretty good watches in their own right. Really comes down to what sort of watches you like, and how thick your wallet is.

For this post we will be concentrating on the 10 best mechanical/automatic Swiss watches for women. This will cover all price points and we'll do another post later on focusing on quartz models. For brands that offer various ladies' watches in mechanical or automatic, we've picked the most popular or the most iconic model, but will also mention in the text in regards to the other models.

So, here we are, in no particular order... Well, that's not really true. They're in order of "what comes to mind", ie, the first watch is the first one that comes to mind, etc etc. By the 8th we were grasping at straws simply because a lot of watches for women seems to be quartz only...

1. Rolex Lady Datejust Automatic
Well this one is a no-brainer. It's not the prettiest watch in the list but it is classic, and reliable, and a proven workhorse of a watch. Like its male counterpart, these will withstand pretty much anything you throw at it. Rolex watches are over-engineered and are of course, designed first and foremost to be tool watches. So if you are tough on your watches, you really can't go wrong with the Rolex. They also come in a huge variety of colour/material/dial combos, making it easy (or tough) for you to choose one the exact version that's best suited to you.

2. Omega Ladymatic
This is a fairly new addition to the Omega range, although the name Ladymatic has been used in the past. The current Ladymatic, as modeled by Nicole Kidman, is designed purely for women, rather than a scaled-down men's model. The watch is extremely elegant, comes in a biggish size, perfectly on-trend and powered by an in-house movement. Like the Rolex, there are quite a number of dial/material combinations to choose from. The Ladymatic might be new, but it's proved to be very popular and fast becoming a classic for Omega. They've certainly developed a winner here. (Honourable mention: the Ladies Constellation, but these do sell more in the quartz model)

3. Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Lady Manual
We debated long and hard on this one, and finally settled on the Reverso Lady. The cause of the debate is the new Rendez-Vous range, which is just on 2 years old and doing extremely well for Jaeger-LeCoultre. However, our reasoning was that if you were to only get one Jaeger-LeCoultre, it would have to be the Reverso, as it is iconic for JLC, and no one else makes anything like it. (ie, reversible case) So here we are. Our pick of the litter would be the Duetto model, simply because you get two watches for the price of one. There's the daytime (front) side and the evening (reverse) side, powered by the same mechanical movement. (Honourable mention: Reverso with a single side and plain case back for personalisation, or, if you must have a round watch, the Rendez-Vous)

4. Chanel J12 Automatic
I'm sure this watch needs no introduction. Chanel has done an amazing job with this model, and in a relatively short time, created an instantly recognisable icon that has possible brought about the renaissance of the use of ceramic as a case material and the style copied ad nauseum (Much like the Datejust). These are so popular in fact that they're commanding extremely high resale prices, and in some cases, higher than the original list price.

5. Cartier Tank Francaise auto
Cartier has a number of classic watch models, from the Tank, to Santos, to the more current Ballon Bleu... and even within the Tank and Santos range, there are numerous sub-ranges to choose from... but the watch we keep coming back to is the Tank Francaise. To be honest these probably sell more in the quartz version, but the automatic is right up there.

6. Tag Heuer Lady Link Auto (34.5mm)
The Lady Link comes in different sizes and the automatic movement powers the 34.5mm size version. Like the Ladymatic and the Rendez-Vous, this is a series designed especially for ladies. Ok you might argue that there IS a Link series for gents, but at the very least the Lady Link isn't a pre-shrunk Gents version. Beautifully modelled by Cameron Diaz, the Lady Link is classy with a hint of sportiness. Just like Cameron herself. Tag could not have chosen a better ambassador for this range.

7. Breguet Reine de Naples
Personally, not a big fan of this piece. However, it is quite popular and apparently doing quite well for Breguet. There is just something not quite right to my eyes about an egg-shaped watch. But you can't ignore the pedigree. Breguet is a genunine watchmaker and respected by all. I... just can't get past the styling. But you have to give credit where it's due. It certainly is distinctive.

8. Girard Perregaux Cat’s eye
The Cat's Eye collection was launched in 2004, and is available from a simple three-handed watch to something with complications.The oval shape allows for this without being too large to fit on feminine wrists. It is also quite heartwarming to see complication watches for women, and you'd expect nothing less from another brand with rich watchmaking history.

9. Patek Philippe Nautilus Ladies Automatic
The first Patek ladies watch that came to mind was actually the Twenty4, then we realised that you'd have to spend the equivalent of a nice apartment to get it with a mechanical movement (along with carats of diamonds). So the Nautilus is out next choice and it would seem that this range is probably the default women's watch for women who appreciates the watchmaking craftsmanship. Granted it is a pre-shrunk gents watch and gussied up a bit with diamonds, mother-of -pearl and pastel colours, but they have managed to make the range quite feminine and attractive.

10. Piaget Altiplano (34mm)
The whole Altiplano range trades on one exquisite feature - being ridiculously thin. They're classy and feminine, powered by an ultra-thin mechanical movement... there is nothing not to like with this range. Don't forget that although Piaget seems to be just as well known for their jewellery, they do have a proper watchmaking history and do lay claim to the world's thinnest automatic movement, so these watches aren't just pretty faces!

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Ultimate Watch Nerd's Watch - Urwerk EMC

We've often heard that Jaeger-LeCoultre is the watchmaker's watch. But what about watch nerds? Well, Urwerk has produced what I think is the ultimate watch nerd's watch - The EMC. (At least watch nerds with deep pockets...)

I'm not going to get all technical on this one. There's simply no need. Many websites out there on the interwebs will give you the intricacies and the PR regurgitation, but I'm here to tell you what this watch means to a real watch nerd. I mean, it is the ultimate watch nerd watch, isn't it? Even if it's probably way outside the budget of most watch nerds... But the idea of it is genius. I can just imagine sitting at my table, my fake lab coat on , my freebie loupe on my eye and after cranking up the power for the timing machine (literally) I bend over the watch and turn the screw to adjust the timing, trying to get it to 0 seconds across all positions... It's a nerd fantasy come true, without the need to damage/destroy/paperweight expensive watches/movements. Granted, if you can afford this watch you can probably afford to do the aforementioned...

To literally crank up the timing machine- this is just nerdy to the max. To keep that whole "manual and mechanical operation" ethos. If only the timing itself can be measured mechanically, but I guess that's about as impractical as it is improbable.

Seeing this watch brings back memories of when I first really became interested in mechanical watches- I'd go bug my extremely patient and generous watchmaker to time my new purchases, to put them through the various positions and get readings, then keeping the print outs afterwards like the participation trophies/ribbons from little athletics/swimming carnivals. With this watch it's possible to check the timing accuracy whenever and wherever you feel like. (Although I'd probably suggest not in public unless you want people to think differently of you...)

This is really a part of watch collecting/watch appreciation that is sadly lacking for the most part for pretty much every collector/connoisseur. Yeah, sure you can always just go buy a witchi and a watchmaking bench and might as well do an online watchmaking course while you're at it, but that's really beside the point. Here is a package that is all-in-one. I mean, sure this won't apply to everyone, but I know there are people out there who will wonder just how accurately their watch is keeping time. And not just at the end of the day when you compare your watch's time to the internet atomic clock, but at any given point in the day. Perhaps after playing golf with it. Or when you accidentally dropped it.

So, Urwerk, thank you for bringing us a truly nerdy watch for us watch nerds.

(All images from Urwerk)