THERE’S A REASON why Apple calls its slimmest laptop line ‘Air’, and Samsonite its suitcases ‘Spectrolite’ and ‘Lite-Box’: in just about every context – from sports cars to sports equipment – a lack of weight is a desirable design feature. Materials technology pushes ever more towards lighter, but no less strong materials.
And yet in the luxury market, weight has long been associated with quality, durability and value; it’s ingrained.
Back in 1939, the designer Henry Dreyfuss spent time in a New York department store watching shoppers pick up the Big Ben alarm clock he’d designed for Westclock and then choose a rival model. Why, he asked them. Because the Big Ben felt too light. So he added a three-ounce weight to it. And then it sold big time. Even today some products add weight purely to achieve this effect.
So where does that leave the watch world, with its recent shift towards titanium cases? It leaves it with lighter, stronger, more scratch-resistant products, ready for a future in which the lightweight is increasingly equated with the modern, the efficient, the sustainable.
Where does that leave us watch fans? Making some psychological adjustments to appreciate that less can mean more. And here is some fresh metal to help prove it…
Oyster Perpetual Deepsea Challenge
The crown has turned titanium. For the first time in its history, Rolex has launched a fully titanium watch for the open market. And Rolex being Rolex this is not just any watch, but one that is capable of reaching depths of 11,000m (around 7 miles). Bearing in mind most competent divers are benchmarked around the 300m-500m range, this is taking things real deep. The new Rolex Deepsea Challenge – or Rolex Oyster Perpetual Deepsea Challenge Sea-Dweller reference 126067 in RLX Titanium to give it its full name – is actually capable of working at a depth of 13,750m, as Rolex builds in a generous 25% margin. But given the Mariana Trench doesn’t even go that deep, it’s all rather theoretical. But regardless, it is one hell of a feat of engineering – and a fittingly impressive flagship for the brand’s first commercially available foray into titanium.
Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Chronograph
Well, it’s a classic right – so what can you do to move it on? Audemars Piguet has taken the Royal Oak Offshore and updated the movement – with its new self-winding flyback chrono – added an interchangeable strap system, given the dial a ‘petite tapisserie’ pattern of tiny squares, and, yes, made the case in titanium. It’s been a massive year for the Royal Oak legacy. It’s exactly 50 years ago that the then managing director of AP, Georges Golay, called famed designer Gerald Genta and told him he needed “a sports watch that has never been done before, something totally new” – and that he wanted it by the next morning. Genta delivered. And we’re still enjoying his design, in new iterations and new materials, to this day.
Overseas Tourbillon Skeleton
As if having a case and bracelet made from grade-five titanium didn’t make this tourbillon piece light enough – at just 110g – Vacheron Constantin has gone and skeletonised the movement too. More than that, it has devised an ultra-slim skeleton, at just 5.65mm thick. Well, they may as well go for it: this is the first time in the company’s 267-year history that it’s offered an all-titanium model – another indication that titanium, once considered too techy for many of the Swiss industry’s older makers, has entered the mainstream. And while the company has made an Overseas tourbillon before, and skeletonised an Overseas perpetual calendar, this is its first Overseas skeletonised tourbillon. That, in haute horlogerie circles, makes it an event. If you want to buy one, join the queue (it’s very long) – and start saving (it’s very expensive).
Tudor continues to cut its own path with the latest Pelagos 39 model. This is not just the Pelagos of old scaled down to the 39mm sweetspot – making for a more wearable, less obviously macho piece – but a reworking of an already winning formula. The Pelagos 39 features a grade-two titanium case and bracelet, luminescent ceramic composite monobloc hour markers, a rapid adjustment system for the clasp, and a diver’s extension. Sure, it may ‘only’ be able to reach depths of 200m compared to the 500m of its big brother, but how many of its owners will go that deep, or indeed go diving at all? Its unique brushing means no bright light reflection – said to be safer when diving with sharks. Phew.
Spring Drive Snowflake
Grand Seiko’s Snowflake was so-dubbed after its pale and ethereal dial, inspired by the powder snow that falls on the Hotaka mountains surrounding the brand’s Shinshu watch studio. But it’s also a fitting nickname for a watch whose titanium case makes it 30% lighter than the steel alternative. It also comes with the Japanese giant’s clever Spring Drive, which has a conventional mainspring, barrel and an enhanced rotor but uses this mechanical set-up to power a quartz crystal and integrated circuit. The result? A properly sweeping second hand – even those watches claiming this are, close up, taking tiny steps – and hard-to-beat accuracy.
Pilot Chronograph 41 Top Gun Ceratanium
What do you call a material that blends the lightness of titanium with the hardiness of ceramic? Why, Ceratanium, of course. That might sound a little like a C-list Marvel superhero, but is the result of long experimentation by IWC since the 1970s, starting with making steel more scratch resistant by hardening it with tungsten. Indeed, it was IWC which would later create the first ever watch with titanium case and bracelet, in 1980, for Porsche Design. One further great advantage of Ceratanium: it allows for a fully black material, rather than the usual easily-chipped black coating of many other watches. This watch is properly stealthy.
Khaki Field Titanium
It doesn’t get more back-to-basics than this. If you ever fancied yourself a contender on SAS: Who Dares Wins or spend too much time playing Call of Duty, or simply like the tool-like, design-for-purpose of much military equipment – then this is for you. Hamilton’s history-making service issue field watches go way back – and this model plays it close to those historically smaller real McCoys, with a 38mm case and a 24-hour scale. But even military budgets have limits, so those service pieces wouldn’t have had this Khaki Field’s nubuck strap, 80-hour power reserve or titanium case. Maybe this is one just for the top brass then.
Submersible Forze Speciali
If Action Man owned a watch, this would be it. The Panerai Submersible Forze Speciali is as rugged as they come with every element serving the specific demands of the soldiers that inspired it. The black DLC-coated titanium case is paired with a blue unidirectional rotating ceramic bezel. Dials featuring indexes composed of solid blocks of Super-LumiNova. And on the caseback is an engraving of a Marina Militare frogman, an artful reminder of its capacity for underwater exploits. Limited to just 300 pieces per annum.
Propilot X Calibre 400
Oris is well known for its pilot watches, stretching back to its outsized Big Crown models, made so pilots in unheated aircraft could set them wearing hefty gloves. But the 39mm titanium-cased Propilot x Calibre 400 is – while being fully mechanical, with a super anti-magnetic in-house movement – more Pilot of the Future, or maybe Pilot of the Retro-Future. There’s the ProPilot series bezel, with those funky slanted grooves, for example, the 1960s slinkiness of the bracelet with its patented clasp system, and then the choice of dial colours – navy, grey or (tinned) salmon. Arguably this is yet another strong contribution to Oris’ growing reputation as a Swiss brand ready to gamble on growing demand for distinctive rather than me-too watch designs.
A LANGE & SOHNE
If you’ve ever been interested in getting hold of a bog-standard A Lange & Sohne Odysseus – as if anything Lange makes is bog-standard, as if any of its watches were that easy to get hold of – along comes an even harder-to-grab limited edition in titanium. But it’s an object lesson in how a change of materials can change the tenor of, well, an object: if the original steel and blue dial version was refined, classical and dressy, the new iteration in grainy, sand-blasted matte titanium, with a muted grey-scale dial, suddenly feels much more modern, more dynamic, and, erm, lighter. That’s just what Lange intended, seeing this as its breakthrough everyday sports watch. At least, you know, for those who can get hold of one of the 250 pieces.
1858 Geosphere Chronograph 0 Oxygen
Wondering if that random ‘zero’ above is a typo (in square mile? How dare you!), it’s actually a small indication of a big, complex idea of Montblanc’s: this limited-edition model’s case is made voided of all oxygen, so it doesn’t fog up or oxidise in sub-zero temperatures. And, to prove the point, it had mountaineer Nimsdai Purja MBA wear it on the top of Everest earlier this year. Perhaps driving the point home too much, Purja made the ascent without supplemental oxygen, setting a world-record in the process. The titanium case-back of this Geosphere features a laser-cut engraving of mountaineering legend Reinhold Messner’s 1978 route up Everest. We hope Purja isn’t too miffed. Maybe next time?