Watchmakers have been creating timepieces that touch our hearts

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 December, 2015, 12:12pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 December, 2015, 10:41am

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Humans love marking special days or occasions – be it birthdays, anniversaries, important milestones, to pivotal moments in history, and more traditional events such as Halloween, or silly ones such as International Bacon Day.

Watchmakers have been creating pieces that tap into this sentimental part in us. There are many such evocative timepieces out there, but we will focus on two explorers – one real and one who lives eternally in books and hearts; a machine created during the second world war; and man’s quest to conquer space.

First, let’s go back in history to the 1500s. The name Vasco da Gama conjures one single word: expedition. One of history’s greatest explorers, the Portuguese was the first European seafarer to find a southern seaway to India, fortifying his nation’s status as a leading seafaring and trading nation, and eventually a colonial empire in Asia.

Historians credit da Gama’s success to his courage, thirst for action, risk-taking and precision – traits Montblanc espouse as a watchmaker. It made sense for the team in Villeret to honour da Gama’s achievements with the Tourbillon Cylindrique Geosphères Vasco da Gama. Just as the explorer journeyed to unchartered territories, so does Montblanc with a timepiece featuring an unprecedented combination of a cylindrical tourbillon and triple time-zone indication, capturing da Gama’s spirit of innovation and determination.

If there’s a brand that loves history, it’s Bremont. The English watchmaker has long championed its love for mechanical devices and engineering excellence with a British twist. It is no surprise that they built a timepiece that pays tribute to one of Britain’s greatest technological contributions – breaking the Enigma machine’s encryption code.

Bremont makes these special edition watches “special”. Take a look at its first limited-edition watch, the EP120, which had a rotor made using metal from a 1942 Spitfire Mk V aircraft. Or its Victory watch, which contains some of the original timer and copper from Lord Nelson’s ship, the HMS Victory.

With the Codebreaker, Bremont worked with Bletchley Park Trust to get an encryption wheel from the Enigma machine for use in the watch’s winding rotor. To strengthen its association with cryptography, the rotor will be inscribed with a tribute to Alan Turing, the British computer scientist that led the team in cracking coded messages from Nazi Germany, which proved pivotal in the second world war.

Tribute watches can be a stark reminder about tragedy. Take a look at what Omega did. The Biel/Bienne watchmaker has long honoured the Apollo Space Program and the heights that humans can reach and achieve – releasing the Speedmaster “Dark Side of the Moon” for Apollo 8; the Speedmaster Moonwatch for Apollo 15; and the Speedmaster Apollo 11 45th Anniversary Limited Edition for the most famous Apollo mission of all. At this year’s Baselworld, Omega announced the release of the Speedmaster Apollo XIII Silver Snoopy Award, to recognise the failed Apollo 13 mission.

Apollo 13 was supposed to be the third moon landing, but was aborted when an oxygen tank exploded crippling the craft and led to power and heat loss, shortage of potable water and the possibility of carbon dioxide poisoning. What led Omega to honour this mission was the ingenuity and perseverance displayed by the astronauts and mission control, turning a tragedy into an enduring tale of rescue.

If you look closely at this watch, Snoopy can be seen on the dial, and at the back where the famous beagle is adorned in a space suit with star-filled night sky. This is Omega’s nod to the Silver Snoopy Award it received for its contribution to the success of the Apollo programme.

In 1944, pilot and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry took off on his P-38 Lightning for a flight over the south of France and never came back. Speculation on what happened to the French aviator – known for his best-selling novella The Little Prince – ended 54 years later when a bracelet and pieces of his aircraft were identified off the coast of Marseille.

In 2006, IWC Schaffhausen unveiled special limited editions of the Pilot’s Watch that features the same tobacco colour as the flying suit Saint-Exupéry used to wear. To mark his last flight, the Schaffhausen-based maison released the Pilot’s Watch Chronograph Edition, “The Last Flight”, featuring silicon nitride ceramic cases.