Bolt On ...
The current trend for watches is the sports look, and the sports look only. Sad in a way as the rarest and most beautiful pieces are dress watches. It’s not that I don’t like sports watches, I love ‘em. It’s just you can have too much of a good thing. This aside, I have chosen to talk about sports watches, but only those models that stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Officine Panerai were introduced in the late 1930’s, for the use by the Italian navy. Numerous models were produced, mostly by Rolex, but the problem was that the screw-down winder would not take the abuse necessary - the thread was prone to wear. It was this rare Rolex defect that led to the birth of the coolest diving watch in history.
The Panerai case was Rolex, the movement by Angelus, and the winder was housed by the mother of all clamps to make the watch watertight. Only one problem with the coolest diving watch in history, it was too bloody big. Too big for my skinny arms anyway, with a strap which could easily double as a girth capable of taming a wild mustang. Of course they were designed to be worn outside wetsuits, but who goes diving in sports watches anyway?
For years I sold vintage Panerai to various Italian clients as ornaments or desk clocks. Then, about a year ago, I got a call from a client who actually wanted to wear one. Now, Mark Harris can only be described as what I and most blokes aspire to be - a dude. He drives a Bristol, owns a couple of bars in W11 and dons all the threads about to be in. Pleased that even dudes do falter, I meet him wondering if I will be able to keep a straight face when he asks me if it looks too big. It’s a beast, was all he said, laughing. It looked great - bastard!
Cartier recently bought Panerai and have introduced them to countries other than Italy - a modern, smaller version of the classic diving watch, with a diameter of 44mm. The modern Panerai has become the most fashionable watch bar none. One of the main reasons for this success is price, from £1,495 to £2,150. They come in steel, matt black or titanium and are rarely seen on the second-hand market for less than £1,200 which, when compared to sports models from other watch houses, is incredibly good.
Officine Panerai have launched an even smaller, 40mm version, (£1,775) which I feel is a shame, as the larger size looks better on women than men. You know the look; petite figure in big boots on a 1000cc bike!
I am writing this article in sunny Tunisia with, of course, the sole purpose of putting the Patek Philipe Aquanaut through its paces - it’s fine in the pool and the factor 8 wipes of a treat!
The Aquanaut is another sports model starting to enjoy big success.
Patek Philipe are perhaps the greatest name in watch-making. Their complicated pieces (chronographs, moon phase, minute repeaters) are mechanically second to none, however, their reputation for simpler timepieces is a bit boring.
The Nautilus and the Aquanaut are exceptions to this. The Aquanaut is one hell of a watch. The largest version comes on a rubber strap with a glass back to impress you with the exquisite finish of the automatic movement. The dial bravely imitates the rubber strap with what can only be described as a tyre track running through it. Every time I look at at I think Prada, I don’t know why it just has that feel. The price of such a toy? One Aquanaut or two Panerais. Me? I’d go for the Aquanaut but I’ve always been a sucker for names.
A year on, and for Mark Harris the new beast is a rare 1970’s Patek Jumbo Nautilus. His 1940’s Panerai cost him £3,500 a year ago and is now worth around £6,000, so it does pay to be ahead of the game.
If a price of around £4,000 for the Aquanaut is freaking you out but you like the sound of the Patek, there is an alternative. The Bvlgari Scuba. In the ten years I have dealt in watches I had never sold a Bvlgari as they were associated with jewellery not watches using mainly quartz movements. Now most dealers, including myself can’t get enough of them. The new Scuba has not only an automatic movement but an officially certified chronometer movement at that. The rubber strap is outrageous with incorporating steel hinges at two pivotal points. How talk of rubber and pivoting can make one’s mind drift.
The non-chronograph models retails at £1,750 on rubber, and dips to about £1,300 used, whereas the chronograph retails at£2,600 and dips to about £1,900 second-hand - that is if you can find one as there is a waiting list.
It is rare, and a compliment to Cartier, Bvlgari and Patek that watch houses come out with new models that really hit the mark, instead of dull re-editions of previously successful models limited to only a thousand pieces! These watches are of their time - and their time is now.
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Like the reintroduction of the Mini motorcar over a decade ago, this reinterpretation of Big Pilot by IWC is better than the original. This 1st series Platinum example is of course the top of the top.