It’s the lull before the storm. Baselworld, the world’s biggest watch fair, opens on Thursday, so there’s going to be an avalanche of new timepieces coming out soon. But, for the moment, I’m left twiddling my thumbs and rewatching The Wire, quite simply the greatest television show ever made. No arguments. Ask Barack Obama.
While we wait for Baselworld, this week, I’ll go through three watches that had me momentarily distracted. There’s no specific theme that ties them together other than that they inspire a bit of curiosity, I suppose, and we begin with the most intriguing of them all: the Ralph Lauren RL Automotive 45mm Skeleton Steel.
Ah yes, Ralph Lauren Watches: I’m still wondering if this was ever a good idea. The company decided to make watches at the top of the boom market in Asia and, moreover, had a solid joint-venture partner in Richemont (which owns IWC, Cartier and so on) but, after all these years, I have to say I’m still not convinced. The brand has been dogged by price issues, with its watches not really justifying the cost. The Stirrup collection for women is worthy of praise, but the men’s watches have been a combination of odd and “meh”.
The new RL Automotive is a step up; it is still a bit odd, but in a good way. I’ll get the things I don’t like out of the way first, primarily the large logos at the top and bottom, which seem too big and gratuitous to double up. Everything else about the watch is great. The skeleton dial shows real craftsmanship and the wonderful ValFleurier customised movement. The stand-out elements, though, are those inspired by Mr Ralph Lauren’s collection of 1950s sports cars, including the bezel made of hardwood to evoke the luxury car interiors and that, to me at least, looks like a steering wheel. Inside the watch, which comes with either a leather strap or steel bracelet, is an RL1967 movement with a 45-hour power reserve. Overall, this is a nice watch, but it’s priced at US$34,200, which is a huge amount, and more so because the case is made of steel. The jury is still out.
Next, we have the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Chronograph QEII Cup 2018, a watch that’s a mouthful and an eyeful. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Swiss brand’s sponsorship of the Hong Kong horse race, this special edition is not much different from the Royal Oak Offshore, other than the slate-grey-and-blue colour combination of the dial and the case-back engraving commemorating the race.
But I’ll take every chance to talk about the Royal Oak Offshore as it’s a stone-cold classic. The watch is sized at 42mm and the case and bracelet are made of titanium. Inside is a 3126/3840 movement with 50 hours of power reserve, and features include a chronograph and a date indicator. Limited to 200 pieces, the watch is priced at HK$260,000.
Finally, we have another left-field piece from maverick British watchmaker Peter Speake-Marin, the new London Chronograph. Speake-Marin is sort of an insider, connoisseurs’ brand but really should be more widely known as it makes wonderfully eccentric yet top-quality watches. The London Chronograph has won me over with a design that has some 3D depth due to a slight concave shape, which means the subdials “float” on the dial face.
Other design plus points are the use of vivid blue and red and the over-the-top shape of the hour hand. I’m not a huge fan of the Speake lettering but it’s certainly different. Inside is a Valjoux 92 movement and the 42mm case is made of titanium. Limited to 15 pieces, the watch is priced at HK$158,400.