Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Baselworld 2013 - Alpina's Retro Charm in the 130 Heritage Pilot Chronograph

I think we have good o' Baume & Mercier to thank for their leadership in using "mood" photography on their watches when they began their Hampton lifestyle inspired campaign. (ie, with other items in the background and looking like it was shot on location rather than a studio with a light box) Quite a few brands have taken this road for their latest press release photos and they certainly are a welcome change from the boring soldier shot on white or black background.

Of course, retro in the watch world is always in. There are many decades in which to take styling inspirations from and you know what they say, they don't make them like they used to. Alpina certainly has been around long enough (they're 130 this year!) to be able to dig into their archives for some retro stylin'. One that seemed to work quite well is the 50s chronograph. Longines have done it. So has Baume & Mercier to name but a couple, and now, Alpina has launched their version this year at Baselworld 2013. They've even gone to the trouble of using retro font for the brand name.

Now I'm normally not a yellow gold kinda guy, but somehow, on this model, the yellow gold works for me. Maybe I'm just really taken by that vintage belt the watch is posed next to. (For a brief moment I thought that was the strap that the watch came on!) The gold is most likely plated, which is perfectly fine by me as that will make the watch priced much more reasonably than actual 18k gold. They've certainly done a great job with this number. All-retro everything but with modern manufacturing techniques and quality and a modern, Valjoux 7750 clone- the Sellita SW500 but in a bi-compax layout. All the colour combos work in my mind, so it's a definite winner!

Wonderfully classic design, completely legible, balanced dial, (no date window to ruin the dial) love the cross hatch details on the pushers, even the AR coated sapphire crystal is made to mimick acrylic, just great attention to details. Now how's about including that brown belt with the watch?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Baselworld 2013 - Swatch brings disposability to Haute Horlogerie via SISTEM 51

Swatch brings disposability to Haute Horlogerie via SISTEM 51

First of all let's get all the headline features out of the way. It is an 100% Swiss made, mechanical automatic movement of 51 components, 90-hour power reserve made from ARCAP (alloy of copper, nickel, zinc), highly antimagnetic with an accuracy of 5 seconds a day and will retail for just over 100 Swiss Francs.

Also, let's just say this idea isn't brand new either. Here's a really good article written by Jack Freedman back in 1998, talking about Tissot's experiment with their all-plastic, mechanical and non-serviceable "Astrolon" watch. Amazingly some of the points are even more relevent now in light of Swatch's big reveal.

We at the Tarts have discussed this before about it being only a matter of time before the whole movement assembly became fully automated, given how the technology these days can manufacture items down to the nano level. I personally don't think this is as big a deal as everyone are making it out to be. I mean, the technology is there. Someone just had to apply it to mechanical watches and find a way to make it work, at a reduced cost.

However, a disposable mechanical watch? What is the point here, really, apart from "cuz we can?" Yes, it's accurate to within 5 seconds a day, but I thought the whole idea of having a mechanical watch is because you appreciate the craftsmanship that's gone into the making of the movement? The romantic notion of some grey-haired lady/gentleman in a white lab coat, hunched over a table in a little sun-lit attic somewhere amongst the Swiss Alps, putting together the tiny wheels and cogs and screws that never tell the time quite as accurately as your iGalaxyBerry but it's all ok because it's hand-made? It's about the history and the story and the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you wear your watch?

Granted, we know deep down that the vast majority of the mechanical movements are made by machines, with only the final finishing and assembly done by hand with the aid of some machinery, and only the extremely high end and the odd independent still make watches the old fashioned way. Is this a wake up call from Swatch, dragging all of us back to reality, to something we've always known, but refused to acknowledge? That the cost of servicing these mechanical wonders are no longer worth doing, and it's cheaper to just replace them? These days many of the mechanical watches with run-of-the-mill movements may be 'serviced' but in reality, the movement is taken out and a new one inserted in its place, and nothing is spoken of the old movement.

SO Swatch ushers in a new era, where one openly admits that the watch will work for  say, 10 years, more if you look after it. After that, you simply toss it away for a newer, younger, prettier model, all at the same time you can proudly boast that your watch is a 100% Swiss Made automatic mechanical watch. Pretty much what people do today with Apple devices. Anyone who's seen the tear-down reviews of the latest Apple products will know that once it's broken, you get a new one. They don't even design them to be serviceable/parts replaceable any more, and this is what Swatch has done. Again. (After the Tissot flop decades earlier, and the quartz version of said disposable watch)

I think, it's also a challenge to the rest of the Swiss watch industry, one that Hayek Senior has already shaken up by restricting movement supplies from ETA. To show that not only is it possible to make your own movements, but to do it on the cheap. Well, maybe if you have a lot of $$$ in the bank to roll the R&D.

It is quite likely versions of this movement will slowly make their way to power the lower end product range of other swatchgroup brands such as Tissot/Hamilton/Mido where in their case, the backs can be opened and the movement replaced, just as they are now, but for Swatch, a much, much lower cost, and hopefully, the savings passed on to the consumers. I suppose we'll be hearing a lot more about this new 'revolutionary' technical savoir-faire and more and more discussions/arguments about what this will actually do to the watch industry as a whole. (Not just the Swiss watch industry as this will direct affect the Chinese made mechanical movements)

Maybe the question that should be asked is not whether a disposable swatch automatic watch has a point (because Swatches has always been disposable), but rather, would you buy a watch with a Chinese made automatic movement when the Swiss made version is the same price, if not cheaper?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Baselworld 2013 Dark Side Vs Black Shield - A Battle of Ceramic Proportions...

DarkSide Vs BlackShield - A Battle of Ceramic Proportions...

Looks like black ceramic chrono is still in vogue this year. Over the years we have seen many brands release their version of the black ceramic chronograph, from the very high end to the ultra-affordable. This year we see two more brands joining this already-crowded market place of ceramic cased chronographs.

We talked about the good points and bad points about ceramic cases here so that's the technical aspect out of the way. Let's talk about the watches.

The new Tudor is quite possibly my absolute favourite release from Baselworld 2013. Even better is the fact that it'll be relatively affordable, compared to some of the other offerings out there. Tudor is on a roll lately following their most recent re-relaunch of the brand back in 2010 when they released the brilliant Heritage chrono. this was followed up last year by two even more brilliant watches, the Black Bay and the Pelagos. And this year, we have the Tudor Fastrider Black Shield Chronograph. This is a continuation of the model based on their Ducati partnership, and I think what Rolex should've done for their anniversary Daytona. But you don't see me complaining. IF Rolex did do a ceramic Daytona, not only will I not be able to get one (assuming the price point of Rolex + Ceramic), I'll most certainly not even have access to one (it'll be extremely limited production and sought after and a queue longer than the one for Laduree macarons).

You know, I think Rolex has been incredibly smart in doing this, ensuring Tudor gets back on everyone's radar. Rather be seen as the poor man's Rolex, the brand now has the strength to stand on its on two... hands... ahem. See it doesn't matter what Rolex releases, people will buy them regardless. Tudor, on the other hand has been struggling and their current direction for Tudor could not have come sooner.

For me, this watch is essentially a Rolex Daytona in a ceramic case, and with a ETA7753 movement inside. It could do with perhaps slightly less writing on the dial, but that's kinda  Rolex thing isn't it? My pick would actually be the black/vintage light tan version over the Black/red version. If they price this around the CHF5k mark, they have a major winner.

And for around twice the price, you get the Omega Speedmaster Dark Side Of The Moon ceramic chrono with the in-house movement. For some reason I can't help but feel they delayed the launch of this watch to distance themselves from the Transformer movie...

It's an amazing looking watch. The movement though is of slight concern as the Planet Ocean chrono before this has the same movement and it is very, very thick. A good friend who owns the Planet Ocean chrono said that once it's on the wrist, you don't notice it, but... hopefully the overall proportion and balance will be good, but this is something I need to see in person.

Other than that both models have excellent dial layout and symmetry. The Tudor is perhaps slightly less so due to the date window at 4.:30 but that doesn't really bother men. Omega has a bi-compax layout but with both hour and minute display on the 3:00 sub dial, and the date window at 6:00 makes for excellent dial symmetry and balance. Both have a tachymetre on the bezel (not that you'll use it much) and although you're not likely to confuse the two, I guess it's nice to know there's a stealthy ceramic sports watch for whatever your watch budget allows.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Baselworld 2013 - Frederique Constant Slimline Moonphase

Frederique Constant has produced in my opinion, an absolute winner this year at Baselworld. A simple and elegant slim line moonphase watch with an in-house movement. At first glance you might be forgiven in thinking that you've seen it before. It's almost as if they took a Girard Perregaux 1966 triple date moonphase, took out the day and month and the second hand to arrive at a very clean and fresh rival to the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Moon. For me personally, Frederique Constant has always flown under the radar. They make some elegant watches, but I think the brand recognition still has some ways to go.

This piece SHOULD get more recognition. And if the pricing information on the interwebs is correct (starting around $3500) And starting at 2650 euro (going off the Frederique Constant website and assuming VAT is included) this is an absolute bargain given it's about a third of the price of the JLC, but with pretty much all the looks. At this price you really do need to ask yourself, what prices the brand image and history? In fact, I may even prefer the FC over the JLC. Both are "slim", both powered by in-house movements, moonphase at 6:00 with date around the aperture... you do the maths. However, the FC may have one over the JLC in that all the functions are integrated into the 3-position crown where as there are separate pushers for the moonphase and date on the JLC. It's just much easier and more convenient to operate everything from the crown.

The JLC Master Ultra Thin Moon is one of their best sellers ever since it was launched in SIHH 2011 so I have no doubt that the FC will do just as well. I think it's a classic dial layout that you cannot go wrong with. It is a fairly big watch at 42mm (in dress watch terms), compared to the more manageable and versatile 39mm of the JLC, but proportionally it works quite well.

The watch actually sparked a conversation/debate between Horologium, Initial J and myself, and you can have a read of Horologium's perspective here. However, we are all in agreement that it is a stunning piece, and it is so refreshing to see a watch with an in-house movement for this sort of price. Once I recover from the shock of the price, I'll pick my jaw off the ground and get myself in line for one of these beauties.

If you're still not convinced, here are more images to whet your appetite. Click on the image to enlarge.
Now I don't know how much of these images are the actual watch and how much are photography skills and post editing, but regardless, these are simply stunning and achingly beautiful!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cafe Cicco Bar - Chatswood Chase

And I thought watching a cooking competition show like My Kitchen Rules would help me with more vocabulary to describe food. And yet all the adjectival phrases they ever seem to use are "cooked beautifully" and "cooked to perfection". That tells me absolutely nothing. If I told you in a review that the steak was cooked to perfection and the dessert was done beautifully you still wouldn't know how they tasted. the perfect steak for me might not be perfect for you. But then again these are chefs we're talking about. So I suppose there is only one kind of perfect in their eyes. But rant aside, here we go.

We haven't had much chance to eat out lately, and even longer since I've found a place worth talking about but this past weekend I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at a random place we found. It was the first cafe we came across on the particular day. We just needed a place to sit down and feed the baby, so didn't really care where we were. The cafe is inside Chatswood Chase, called Cicco Bar. I wasn't impressed at first because a) they didn't have any pricing on any of the food and b) I've always been a bit sceptical of this sort of in-shopping centre cafes and c) the chicken wrap I ended up ordering looked dry and d) the total for 2 coffees and 2 solids came to a fairly expensive 23 bux. (Suppose this could be considered normal for eating out in Sydney I guess)

What followed was indeed a pleasant surprise. The chicken wrap and the chicken pie came quickly after order was placed, presented well on a plate and heated. The chicken wrap had the chicken, obviously, avocado, tomato, cheese and lettuse. The chicken was anything BUT dry. As a rule I don't do chicken breast because it tend to be dry, but I don't know how they did it, but the chicken was moist, had proper flavour and the whole wrap was well balanced but light at the same time. The only criticism I could mount against the wrap is that the avocado probably needed another 2 days before it was served (not quite soft enough) but otherwise a great dish.

The chicken pie was also surprisingly good. The pastry wasn't too thick, and there are actual chicken chunks inside, rather than mince. The filling reminded me of chicken soup for some reason... A good solid portion which made the highish price a little more reasonable. Coffees were also nicely done. Not too much air on top, and delicate latte art topped each cup, making the overall experience quite surprisingly pleasant.

Coffee with obligatory wrist shot - the IWC GST Alarm. 

Seriously, there's nothing worse than feeling ripped off, and then having bad food served to you. The fact that everything was *ahem* prepared to *almost* perfection made the whole meal that much more memorable, and remain so long after the price is forgotten. Glad to have found a gem, and let's hope this experience is not a one-off.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Retro Vs Classics

Recently I've been dabbling in the sneaker game. Call it reliving my childhood if you will. Back in my high school days I remember seeing people with Air Jordans or Air Maxes on their feet that I couldn't afford... (I even remember about a fellow student who had his Air Maxes taken from him, straight off his feet, only to have them replaced - I'm assuming by the loaded parents - the next week) All I had were some cheap as no name brand sneakers. My first 'decent' pair was a big deal to me. It was a pair of Converse basketball shoes as worn by Magic Johnson in the 1992 Olympics. (Showing my age, am I?) It was $99.99, bought from Athlete's Foot (yes they carried basketball shoes at one stage) at the local shopping centre. And that was because I made the school basketball team, so I guess I needed something decent. $100 was a LOT of money back then for a pair of sneakers, but nowhere close to what Mr Jordan wanted for his shoes. (In hindsight I should've kept them considering the stories attached to them, even if they're extremely worn. Converse, if you're reading this- can you PLEASE retro them???)

(image courtesy of sneakerfiles.com)

Fast forward many years, and the sneaker industry is experiencing some kind of a revival (or so I was told). More people are wearing pricey sneakers, and more brands are getting in on the secret that Nike/Jordan had known for quite some time- Retro sneakers sell by the truckload at full retail. (For those of you not well versed in sneakerverse lingo, a retro means a reproduction of a design that was previously released, sold at stupid high prices to cash in on the hype and nostalgic factor. These are quite often lower in quality compared to the original release *debatable*, higher in price and all profit since there's no need to recoup the R&D... *ahem"

And yes I got caught up in finally able to afford what I'd wanted as a kid. And went nuts going about it.

Ah, but Retros ain't nothing new in the watch game is it? One could accuse Rolex for doing the "retro" for the past, 50 years? *cough* submariner *cough*. It's really the same watch aesthetically, released over and over again, with slight differences to differ them from the order releases just like Jordans, and the prices keep on going up and up. At least the quality has improved over the years.

There are many other brands who consistently look to their past for inspirations for their current/future models. And why is this? Is it because there's nothing new under the sun, or have we run out of creativity? Or is it because a classic design will always remain a classic? A case of "if it ain't broke don't fix it?" Well, yes and no.

Call me a cynic, but for the sneaker game, what the brands are doing right now is to cash in on the latest sneaker craze. They know retro works and now tries to cash-grab as much as they can before all the kids move on to something else. It'll happen. It's got nothing to do with classic designs. Some retro sneakers are down right ugly, but because of that nostalgic factor, or some sort of a personality/story attached to it, it sells. Nike has been pacing themselves, but then again they have a huge arsenal of backlogs to re-release and "update". Reebok, on the other hand, is seemingly releasing their whole archive in one go. I think they need the $$$. Either that or they have an extremely accurate crystal ball that tells them the retro craze will be over next year. Cuz at the rate they're releasing their back catalogue, they'll run out about then. Or they're doing what Converse is doing and just keep selling the same sneakers they have been for the past 80 years.

Reebok Shaq Attacq Retro sneakers - First released back in '92, Retroed for the first time in 2013 to cash in on the current sneaker and retro craze

Sure there is nothing wrong with a classic design that's been tried and tested and loved. But I feel that to remain a classic, improvements must be made to the product. For example, Rolex does constantly improve on the Submariner, albeit how little each improvement is. Jaeger-LeCoultre has continuously improved on their Reverso, a classic of over 80 years. If you ever get the chance to play with one from the 30s you'll realise just how much they've improved on just the swivel case. Porsche is also constantly improving their 911 Carrera, whilst retaining the classic silhouette. But if the same product is pumped out day in day out with no improvements whatsoever, that to me is just being lazy. (Converse comes to mind again with their Chuck Talyor All Stars but to be fair, it's gone from a pair of professional basketball shoes to streetwear, and they have been creative about the materials used as well as collaborations with various artists/designers to put their signature touches on a classic product.)

I love a classic as much as the next classic lover, but personally, I'd also like to see improvements made, whether it be in the materials, the production, whatever... something. As nice as a 50-year-old Porsche is, I certainly would not want to drive it everyday, and therein lies the rub.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

On The Wrist: Calvin Klein Collection 'Date' - ETA 2824-2

Now here's an interesting watch. Well no. The watch itself isn't really that interesting. The mere fact that it exists is interesting. I'm not sure what the swatchgroup was trying to pull or what they were smoking when they came up with this idea. Or what their mental state is when the idea was approved... Am I being too harsh? Bear with me.

We all know that Calvin Klein licenses his name to various products. I have friends who insists that ck products to them are nothing more than undies and perfumes. But we're not talking about the breadth of ck's product offerings but just one of the licensed product line- wristwatches.

Ck watches are produced by the swatchgroup. I have no idea who designs them but doubt Calvin has any personal input. the whole line was designed on the philosophy of minimalism. Fashion watches with Swiss quality (ahem - we won't go into what constitute a Swiss made watch in this post) at affordable prices. It's worked well. I'm a big admirer of the designs and their quality at first glance shames other fashion branded watches at similar pricing.

I guess it worked so well that they decided to diversify. Out came a line of "cheaper" watches branded ck jeans. Quality I reckon is about the same as the main ck line but with a more youthful tilt. Hmmm. I mean ok the range is still priced well enough to appeal to their target market.

Their next diversification step I'm less sure of. Hence my comments regarding their mental state. For what I perceive to be ck's main target market, this range of watches is completely wrong. Let me tell you why. The "Calvin Klein Collection" is a range of 3 (fine, 6 if you separate the strap and bracelet variations) watches that are powered by various high-endish swiss mechanical movements, priced higher than that of their sister brand Tissot and Hamilton (both of whom have long watchmaking history and reputation) and have relatively higher quality than both, if not, at least equal to that of Hamilton's. Do you see the problem yet? (Ok - A quite browse on the CK website shows that the brand "Calvin Klein Collection" is their most prestigious and luxurious brand, but still...)

Your average ck client is not going to spend that kind of money on a Swiss mechanical ck watch. I don't think they'd even care.  Even if they do, a Longines or a Tag Heuer might be more what they would be looking at for at the price range. Meaning there are plenty of established watchmaking alternatives. So that's price and positioning gone. Promotion? What promotion? I ain't never heard of nor seen this range of watches till I accidentally came across it at a local AD (authorised dealer). (I think Ralph Lauren is doing a better job flogging his top of the line watches) And even then some of the staff had had doubts as to why the boss even brought this range in. They suspect copious amounts of alcohol may be to blame. At the very least you CAN buy it, and it IS available. That leaves the product itself.

And the product isn't half bad I must admit. We here at Sydney Tarts are strictly non-discriminative when it comes to watches, and if you can ignore the name on the dial for the moment and just focus on the product itself, it's actually quite good.  Let's break it down.

The case itself is very well made, with brushed and polished surfaces. I like a watch with a thin bezel and this one is about as thin as it gets. As a result the watch does wear a bit larger. The bracelet is solid with a pretty funky albeit fiddly clasp. I'm not a big fan of the bracelet as the design is quite generic and bland. For me as a rule of thumb I always get the watch on the bracelet as you can always swap it onto a strap. But in this case I'd say skip the bracelet. The watch looks a million times better on a strap.

The dial is clean and on certain angles you can barely see the brand, which can be a good thing. Some will say the dial would be even better if there's no date but I'm ok with it. It's the same color as the dial and it doesn't interfere with the overall balance of the dial. What really attracted me to this watch is actually the color of the dial. It's a wonderful shade of anthracite slate grey which you don't often find on the lower pricing scale. Some brands even keep this colour dial for their limited edition/boutique edition/white gold models. Apart from the colour, the concentric circles reminds me of the Omega DeVille Hour Vision. Something that costs 8 times more.

The case is thin enough given what's inside and it sits on the wrist well without protruding too much. Speaking of whats inside let's talk about the movement. Believe it or not it's the elaboree version (one step down from the chronometer version) of the venerable workhorse ETA 2824-2.
This is a better grade than what's found in Tissot. Doesn't mean it'll be more accurate since I have a Tissot with a basic 2824 and that kept time to within a second a day out of the box. The higher grade meant better materials and more decorations. Something you wouldn't be ashamed of showing with the see through case back.

The other two models in the range are the second petite which uses the ETA 2895 movement, essentially the 2892 with a small seconds and of course the 7750 powered chronograph. I reckon the pick of the lot would be the second petite as in my opinion the movement is that little bit better than the 2824 but both are equally as reliable. The chrono dial is a bit busy and takes away from the minimalistic design language. The only criticisms would be a slightly bigger crown so it's not as hard to wind the watch (but if you wear it everyday you don't really need to worry about this point) and slightly longer hands (purely personal taste).

I mentioned before that pricing isn't great but that is only a recommended retail price. In fact the AD I found these watches in are doing a great deal on these watches *cough* 3 figures for the date model *cough* and this actually brings the price back into the equation. So if you don't mind what's printed on the dial and would like a good quality dressy watch with relatively good value for money, and something not every man and his dog has, you could do worse than consider a watch from the Calvin Klein Collection.