The world of luxury watches has fascinated people for centuries. These intricate devices can act as a stylistic statement pieces just as much as flashy cars and in-vogue clothes. But how much do you really know about high-end timepieces?
As explained in ‘Why are Luxury Watches so Expensive?’, the price of a premium wristwatch can vary widely based on the materials it’s made of, its movements and complications, as well as the craftsmanship involved. While the majority of luxury watches are now created by computer numerical controlled (CNC) machines, a hand finish can increase the value of a wristwatch by up to 30%.
With this in mind, it’s not really a surprise that Swatch’s Sistem51 – constructed entirely by robots – is the least expensive mechanical watch on the market. On the other end of the scale, records were smashed in 2016, when a 1943 Steel Perpetual Calendar Chronograph made by Patek Philippe was auctioned by Phillips auction house for a whopping $11 million.
However, there’s so much more to luxury watches than just their price point. They have an extensive history influencing both culture and technology worldwide. Thankfully, luxury watch specialists at ROX – Diamonds & Thrills have put together 100 fascinating facts on luxury watches. Read on for some of my favourites.
Complications and material science
The innovative design and expert labour that go into creating these pieces is truly mind-boggling. Timekeeping is often only one among many other functions of these wristwatches, with many brands incorporating additional complications like chronographs (stopwatches), minute repeaters, perpetual calendars, moonphases, world timezones and tourbillons.
To give you an idea of the level of research that goes into making each of these complications unique, Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet spent eight years conducting research alongside musical experts in order to create a 10dB chime for the minute repeater of its impressive 2016 Royal Oak Concept Supersonnerie.
Fellow Swiss watchmaker Hublot has led the field in innovative materials science for several years now. So far, Hublot has created transparent sapphire crystals, a rainbow of ceramics and scratch-proof ‘Magic Gold’ that’s completely unique to their watches. While Richard Mille, another Swiss brand, has created the lightest-ever mechanical chronograph, the RM 50-03 Tourbillon Split Secs Chronograph Ultralight McLaren F1. This watchmaking feat was achieved using graphene – a material first isolated in 2004 at the University of Manchester, earning Professors Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov the 2010 Nobel Prize for physics.
While the Swiss get all the fame for their watches – the Brits are never far behind on their influence in the world of luxury timepieces. With Britain a major naval power in the 18th century, it was vital for British officers to have an accurate means of keeping time in order to figure out longitude at sea. Thanks largely to the efforts of Yorkshireman John Harrison, the British were able to create a world-leading chronometer industry based on watches that were both precise enough for maritime navigation and sufficiently robust to survive months at sea.
British dominance in watchmaking began to wane in the 1900s due to the popularity of mass-produced Swiss and American watches, which were cheaper but just as accurate. It took another hit in the Seventies with the emergence of cheap Far-eastern quartz watches. However, in 2006, brothers Nick and Giles English founded luxury watch company Bremont with the distinct aim of bringing high-end watchmaking back to British shores.
One of the biggest names in 20th century British watchmaking was the horologist Dr George Daniels. He was the only person ever to have mastered all 33 crafts required to make a mechanical watch from scratch. To add to this achievement, he also invented the coaxial escapement for Omega, making lubrication of pallets unnecessary and decreasing service intervals to over ten years. Since Daniels’ death in 2011, his only apprentice Roger W. Smith has continued to handcraft watches using the ‘Daniels Method’ and is widely considered to be Britain’s foremost watchmaker.
The name’s Bond
Quintessential British gent, James Bond, is famous for his fast cars, outlandish weaponry and – most importantly – his impeccable style. One of the defining features of Bond’s iconic style is his ever-present luxury wristwatch. In the film’s first installment, Dr. No (1962), the superspy is played by Sean Connery who wears a Rolex Submariner 6538. However, Rolex refused to loan the now-famous timepiece and it had to be borrowed from the film’s producer Cubby Broccoli instead. Despite this, Rolex remained the brand of choice for subsequent movies until 1995’s Goldeneye. Instead, the dapper Secret Service Agent, now played by Pierce Brosnan, sported an Omega 300M as it was deemed better suited to the naval attributes of “Commander Bond.” Omega has remained the clear favourite for the last seven Bond films, with the Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M with a titanium case produced especially for Skyfall (2012).
If you enjoyed this then there’s plenty of other truly fascinating stories about these high-end timepieces in ROX’s top 100 luxury watch facts.