Wempe Watch Blog

Wempe Watch Blog
2014-08-26
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Aviation buffs, hobby pilots and professional pilots enjoy an elite world of specialty timepieces that are inspired by aviation history and yet offer cutting-edge appeal. Let's face it, the worlds of aviation and of wristwatches have long been intertwined, as both arenas really started taking flight (pardon the pun) in the beginning of the 20th century. The first wristwatches went into serial production just about the same time the Wright Brothers were making history at Kitty Hawk.

Since then, many watch brands have gotten involved in the world of aviation and pilot's watches. Some even work side by side with pilots to create aviation-inspired watches that offer discerning customers exactly what they want. As such, today's pilot watches are not just nice to look at. They are functional, precise instruments that can actually help determine altitude, longitude, time-zone differences, fuel consumption and more.

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So what exactly constitutes a pilot's watch? Typically, today's pilot and aviation watches are rugged instruments housing several necessary functions. Generally, a pilot's watch is a COSC-certified chronometer. Examined by the Swiss observatory, Controle Official Suisse des Chronometres (COSC), these watches undergo rigorous testing over a period of time in extreme temperatures, changes in gravitational forces, water, shock and pressure tests, and other stringent conditions. To be certified as a chronometer, for instance, when exposed to temperature change, a chronometer wristwatch cannot vary in accuracy more than plus or minus 0.6 seconds per day.

In addition to chronometer precision, pilot's watches are usually anti-magnetic - an important element when flying the friendly skies (or even when walking into your kitchen with the magnetic influences of microwaves and other appliances). Such anti-magnetism is achieved in a variety of manners, including soft inner iron cases or utilizing anti-magnetic materials for watch components. Additionally, pilot watches frequently offer functions such as compass abilities, alarms and multiple time zones or GMT indication. Sometimes, measurement devices are incorporated into a pilot's watch, with functions such as slide rule bezels to calculate fuel, altimeters for height, telemeter scales (to measure distance), tachymeter scales (to measure speed), or chronographs (to measure continuous or discontinuous intervals of time).

Easily the most important factor in a pilot watch, however, is readability. It is vital to be able to glance at the watch and know the time instantly. As such, many of today's vintage-inspired pilot watches blend the best of both worlds: the Old-World look, with New-World technology. This often translates into bold, easy-to-read, non-glare renditions of time that recall original pilot watch looks. Such features include large dials, large numerals, anti-reflective sapphire crystals and SuperLuminova hands and markers. Often these watches incorporate leathers traps that have a well-worn look, or a steel bracelet. Sometimes, even NATO straps work on pilot watches. Indeed, while the concept of synchronizing watches before flight has taken a back seat to today's cockpit instrumentation, the look and quality of a true pilot's watch remains steadfast and coveted.

2014-08-21
121 Rare pocket watch movement by Thomas Tompion and George Graham (Lot 121, expected to start bidding at about $3,500).

The art of horology is centuries old, and as such, some fine historical timepieces often come on the market at auction. For those with a real love of fine clocks, barometers and scientific instruments, you may want to check out the auction taking place next week by Dreweatts Bloomsbury Auctions, part of the Stanley Gibbons Group plc.

On Thursday August 28th, in England (but bidding can be done online), a few very rare pieces will be auctioned at the Dreweatts & Bloomsbury sale. Among the pieces, a very rare German Renaissance Monstrance gilt brass table clock (Lot 119, expected to sell for between $6,000 and $10,000), an English rococo mantel clock made in the French Louis XV style (Lot 118) and a rare pocket watch movement by Thomas Tompion and George Graham (Lot 121, expected to start bidding at about $3,500).

119 German Renaissance Monstrance Table Clock

True lovers of horological history may take the most interest in the piece co-created by two great historical 17th century watchmakers: Thomas Tompion and George Graham. The movement is the last recorded example of a watch to be signed by Tompion, considered the Father of English Clock and Watchmaking.

Tompion built precision clocks for the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, and also created ornate clocks and repeating pocket watches for society aristocrats. Tompion made 700 clocks in his lifetime and nearly 7,000 watches — no easy feat in a day when metal was cut, smoothed and finished entirely by hand. Tompion also produced precision sundials to ensure that customers who commissioned one of his clocks could always set the clock accurately according to correct solar time. In 1713, Tompion was the first clockmaker granted the honor of burial in London’s Westminster Abbey.

118 English Rococo Mantle Clock

George Graham, born in 1673, was also a master watchmaker of the time, living in London. While he created several inventions, he patented none of them. He is credited by many as devising a mercury pendulum system to keep clocks accurate in heat and cold, and he built the master clock for the Greenwich Royal Observatory. He became close friends with Tompion and even married Tompion’s niece. After Tompion’s death, Graham took over the business. When he died in 1751, Graham was buried in Westminster Abbey in the same grave as Tompion.

Thus, taking ownership of a movement believed to be created by both of these masters would be a wonderful feat, especially since it is believed than fewer than 20 movements were signed by both Tompion and Graham.  The piece up for auction is a rare Queen Anne verge pocket watch movement, number 4650, circa 1713 and was probably made just before Tompion’s death.

123 Rare Charles II brass lantern clock by Thomas Knifton, London, circa 1665. (Lot 123, Est. $17,000 - $25,000)

Other lots up for sale in the auction may pale by comparison to this movement, but are also potential gems. Among them, the Monstrance clock mentioned earlier. Typically Monstrance type clocks were made in Augsburg, Germany, and were a coveted status symbol for aristocratic gentleman during the Renaissance Period. They often had astronomical and calendar details. The clock up for auction is a rare survivor, with a case back that may be a unique feature for clocks of its time.

For more details on other lots going up next week, we suggest you visit www.bloomsburyauctions.com.

2014-08-19

This past weekend was all about celebrating precision instruments and vintage luxury with the world-renowned Monterey Peninsula’s Classic Car Week. It’s the time of year when lovers of vintage motor sports gather together in California for events such as the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion — a cornerstone of the week – and the Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance.

31206_0_2_photo_RMMR14sc_1449 1931 DELAGE D8 SS 100 FERNANDEZ ET DARRIN CABRIOLET AND 1929 ROLLS ROYCE PHANTOM I BREWSTER RIVIERA TOWN CAR NEGOTIATE THE CORKSCREW AT LAGUNA SECA. Photo By: Rolex / Stephan Cooper

Indeed, events include road rallies, long treks along the California coast line and more – all in a blend of showing off the finest period cars perfectly restored to their former glory. Even the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca features vintage car racing.

Rolex, which has been intimately involved in auto racing since 1935, and solidified its position in the sport in 1959 when it began its association with the Daytona International Speedway, actively supports the majority of events for the week – wherein hundreds of top vehicles show what they are made of. For the Rolex Monterey Motor Sports Reunion, approximately 550 vehicles from 27 countries were invited to compete and are accepted based on the car’s authenticity, race provenance and period correctness.

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This amazing race is known as one of the most iconic of its type, with touring and racing cars that are almost unrivaled in their categories. Held at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca track – with its legendary corkscrew turn (with five-story elevation and 11 turns) — the multi-day races are a blend of nostalgia and classicism, of roaring engines and whirring hums. The gentlemen racers and owners who line the paddocks include many top celebrities. At the end of the event, the Spirit of Monterey award goes to a top candidate – who also wins a stainless steel and gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona. The winner this year was Mike Eddy, the owner of a 1964 Ford Falcon, driven it in Group 7A (for 1966-1972 Trans Ams). The Cosmograph Daytona, introduced in 1963, was designed to meet the demands of professional racing drivers. The chronograph watch features a bezel with tachometric scale that allows drivers to perfectly measure speed.

31394_0_2_photo_PEBBLE14to_3865 THE BEST OF SHOW 2014, THIS 1954 FERRARI 375 MM SCAGLIETTI COUPE, WAS ORDERED BY FILM DIRECTOR ROBERTO ROSSELLINI AND IS OWNED BY JON SHIRLEY. Photo By: Rolex / Tom O’Nea

This year also ushered in some important celebrations: the 100th anniversary of Italian automaker Maserati; the unveiling of the new Jaguar prototype Continuation Lightweight E-Type (six will be built by Jaguar Heritage, part of Jaguar Land Rover’s new special division). All of the festivities culminated yesterday at the highlight event: Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where the finest cars in the world were on display at the famed 18th fairway of the Pebble Beach Golf Links. Here, unlike the technical precision of racing at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, cars are put to a different test – that of being historically accurate in technical merit and style. More than 700 cars applied to be at the Concours, but only a couple of hundred were granted admittance. The stakes are high, the cars judged in precise categories such as Early Steam Cars or Pre-War.  So, in the end, the winner of the 2014 Pebble Beach Concours Best of Show was a perfectly presented ’54 Ferrari 375 MM owned by Jon Shirley.

2014-08-14
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Earlier this week, we discussed what makes a watch water resistant — just in time for those great summer water sports we all love. Today, we look at some of the factors that go into the making of a professional dive watch that can accompany you on your underwater explorations. Since scuba diving has become a favored sport for water lovers, the watch world has come full circle – assisting divers, by offering highly technical precision timepieces.

Indeed, top watch brands offer watches that easily withstand the cold or warm salt water elements of the deep blue sea. Watches for diving are equipped with all sorts of important features, including helium escape valves, one-way rotating and ratcheted bezels to measure elapsed dive time, SuperLuminova hands and markers for easy underwater readability, expansion bracelets for use over wetsuits, and so much more.

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Dive watches are not a new category, though they have gained in popularity for wear both in and out of the water. Often watch brands seek outside help from experts in the dive world as they build their professional timepieces. Dive watches have to meet certain diving standards to be considered true dive watches, and then — depending on whether one is skin diving, scuba diving, deep sea diving or snorkeling — the water resistance requirements range from — at the absolute minimum — 100 meters, with most needing to be water resistant from 200 meters to 1,000 meters.

Additionally, today’s dive watches typically are defined by characteristics, such as durability, anti-glare crystals and rugged materials. Generally, surgical-grade stainless steel and titanium are the materials of choice for the serious diver. For straps, the concept is, without question, bracelets or rubber straps.

Other important factors — often patented by the watch brands — include double- or triple-locked winding crowns, additional gaskets to ensure water resistance, silicon O rings, extra-large crowns, alarm functions and double-locked bracelet clasps. Most dive watches are also COSC-certified chronometers. (Chronometers are watches that have undergone rigorous testing in various positions and under different conditions of pressure, temperature, depth and gravity, usually by the Controle Official Suisse des Chronometres (COSC) observatory over a period of time.)

IWC, no newcomer to the world of diving watches, having introduced its first Aquatimer to the world in 1967, sponsored the Cousteau foundation in the past and even released the Cousteau Divers Aquatimer in 2004. That revolutionary watch, five years on the heels of its GST Deep One Divers watch, opened doors for a host of new Aquatimers and put IWC squarely on the underwater maps. Most recently, IWC has teamed with the Charles Darwin Foundation to preserve the biodiversity and environment of the Galapagos Islands.

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The newest additions to the IWC Aquatimer family – the Aquatimer Automatic and the Aquatimer Chronograph – are worth a close-up look. Offered on rubber straps or metal bracelet with quick change bracelet system, the new pieces are statements of purist design and function. The watches feature an internal rotating bezel with quarter-hour scale that is reminiscent of the first Aquatimer released in 1967.

The watch is enhanced by the strong look of the external bezel with rounded, recessed grips. Because it is essential to see time at a glance when underwater in order to calculate how much air is left in the tank, IWC offers a triangle marking system on the bezel. The triangle marking the start of the dive, zero point, is synchronized with the minute hand so elapsed dive time can be precisely read on the scale. For added protection the external bezel can only be rotated counter-clockwise so that should it inadvertently be moved, the diver will conclude he has been underwater too long – an annoyance but not a danger. This new IWC SafeDive system features a patent-registered sliding clutch.

Additionally, the new 2014 Aquatimers are now pressure-resistant to 30 bar. Inside the 44mm steel case of the Aquatimer Chronograph beats the 79320 caliber with 44 hours of power reserve, while the 42mm Automatic Aquatimer is powered by the 30120 caliber. All watches are equipped with luminescent hands and markers. These watches are functional and fantastic. If you are so inclined, watch the video below for a look at IWC’s newest 2014 collection, and remember to stop by to see our wide variety of dive watches anytime — but before you go diving, naturally.

2014-08-12
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We get a lot of questions about water resistance, especially in summer. Among the questions asked of us: “Can I swim or shower with my watch? What makes it water resistant and can it become non-water resistant? Do I have to do anything special to keep it water resistant?” So on and so forth. Interestingly enough, these are all good questions. So, today, we try to answer some of them.

To begin with, no watch is waterproof. Watches can be rated water resistant to a certain depth that is typically pre-determined via extensive tests in laboratory conditions. Factors that make a watch water resistant include special gaskets, screw-in case backs, screw-down crowns, and more.

gaskets

Gaskets: In everyday life, gaskets or O-rings can age, and that aging can affect the water resistance of a watch. Sometimes these gaskets — usually made of rubber or silicon, depending on the watch — can erode over time and begin to break down. They should be checked annually. Additionally, when you have your watch serviced, or the battery changed, the work should be done by an authorized servicer of that brand. Otherwise, the re-sealing of the case or the replacement of the gaskets could be improper – rending the watch non-water-resistant. We suggest you use only authorized retail service centers to have your watch serviced.

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Crowns: The crown (which many refer to as the watch stem) is the single most important factor in water resistance. Because the stem of the crown moves through a hole in the case side and reaches into the movement, water leakage could do serious damage to the watch caliber. To ensure water resistance, most top watch brands create “screw-down” crowns. These are crowns that are threaded and screw closed tightly to compress the seals and prevent water from going in. The crown should never be unscrewed or operated while in the water. We do not recommend swimming with a watch that does not have a screw-down crown.

Casebacks: There are a variety of different types of casebacks on timepieces that range from snap-on to screw-in varieties. Snap-on case backs typically offer water resistance to just about 30 meters, and any deformity in the gasket can affect the resistance of the watch to water. Casebacks that are put into place with individual screws offer a better seal and generally can go to depths of 100 meters. However, screw-in casebacks – where the caseback and case are threaded and screwed together – offer the best assurance. Generally, watches water resistant to more than 100 meters (330 feet) will have screw-in casebacks.

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In addition to the above information, it is important to know that showering with a water resistant watch is not necessarily a good idea. The reason is that showers are generally done in hot water and the temperature of the water can affect the gasket shape and seal. Additionally, if one is moving from pool to hot tub and back again, the sudden changes in temperature could have an affect. For this reason, as well, we recommend having your watch tested for water resistance once a year.

So, the quick guide: If a watch doesn’t say water resistant, or is water resistant to 30 meters, we recommend you don’t wear it in the water. Watches that are water resistant from 30-50 meters can come into contact with water via rain or hand washing. Watches resistant from 50-100 meters can be used in pools, but jumping or diving off of a diving board with a watch on is sometimes not a good idea, as the rapid change in pressure can be jarring for the timepiece. For serious swimming, snorkeling and showering it is best to have a watch that can go to depths of 100-200 meters, or more. Stay tuned. Later this week, we will bring you the low-down on dive watches.

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2014-08-07
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With summer comes activity, heat, moisture, water sports and more. All of these things play a role in the lifespan of your watch and, more importantly, your watchstrap. Knowing what type of watchstrap to wear (if your strap is interchangeable), or what type of strap to buy, can go a long way in preserving your summer-wear timepieces.

Are you all about staying indoors and remaining cool? Taking in some movies, art galleries or museums? If so, a leather strap will suit you just fine. Leather straps offer comfort on the wrist and give a dimension to the watch that offers certain style flair. Dark, distressed leather can impart a vintage feel, while bright colorful hues exude a fashion-forward summery feel. Leather straps are made of all sorts of hides, ranging from calfskin to snake skin, crocodile, alligator, ostrich, stingray and more. Leather is relatively easy to take care of in the right temperatures, but – in heat and humidity – these straps tend to get a bit sticky on the wrist.

rubber silicon straps

If you are a water person – enjoying sun, fun, lakes, pools and oceans – you may want to wear a metal bracelet or, even better, a rubber strap. Rubber weathers the elements beautifully. It dries quickly after getting out of the water, does not stick to the wrist and does not fade or turn colors in the sun. Today’s vulcanized rubber straps are often infused with vanilla scents so they never smell badly when wet, or are blends of polycarbonate and other materials to keep them at top performance levels without getting dry and brittle.

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One of the hottest trends on the market today is the use of NATO straps. These fabric straps – offered in a huge variety of colors and patterns – converts any watch from serious to sporty in an instant. Today, so many watch brands – across all price points – use NATO straps on their watches. Also referred to as military straps, NATO straps have their origins firmly rooted about four decades ago when nylon straps were offered to soldiers because they were durable, could be easily cleaned and were not expensive to buy. Interestingly, while NATO straps are also referred to as military straps, there were not made for NATO troops, instead they garnered their name from the G10 form British soldiers had to use to requisition a strap. They were first referred to, in the early 1970s, as G10 straps.

Typically made of nylon (though also offered in leather), these straps are usually easy to change and extremely functional. They typically feature a keeper through which the end of the strap is passed after looping though the watch lugs and across the back of the case. This double security offers peace of mind that if a spring bar or other lug element breaks, the case is still held in place by the other lug. Stripes have become the typical pattern for NATO straps, with the color combinations often denoting some special meaning.  The great thing about these straps is that they can get wet, dry pretty quickly and usually don’t stick to the wrist. With constant water and sun, they may fade a little but that is part of the charm of a NATO strap. They are meant to be worn and are particularly good for rugged or extreme sports.

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If you are the type who prefers the look and feel of a metal bracelet, that’s a good thing in summertime. Most of today’s metals are extremely sturdy. In fact, among the advantages of metal over fabric or rubber is that it holds up well in rugged outdoor terrains. The type of metal used naturally plays a role in the lifespan of a bracelet, but typically bracelets are long lasting. Titanium offers lightweight appeal, but steel and other metals offer a weight that some people enjoy feeling on the wrist. Naturally, metal is more expensive than most other materials (except for truly exotic leathers).

Generally, metal bracelets are created using individual links that are held together with either pins or screws, or both, and they can be sized to fit the wrist. Today’s steel watches are often coated with black or other colors via a variety of processes, such as PVD (physical vapor deposit). Bracelets are easy to care for, and typically can just be rinsed with water and dried with a soft cloth. Of course, bracelets can scratch – making them perhaps not the most ideal choice for mountain climbing or cave exploration. In short, summer activities and lifestyles may play a role in your material of choice. However, fit, craftsmanship and – most important – personal taste should also be considered.

2014-08-05
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We are in the business of time. We track it with our phones, our computers, and — of course — our watches. August 2014 is a month that some refer to as "Money Bags" because it contains five Fridays, five Saturdays and five Sundays. This phenomenon is said to occur only once every 823 years. We are here to dispel that urban myth.

In truth, any month that has 31 days and begins on a Friday will have five Fridays, five Saturdays and five Sundays – and this happens more often than every 800+ years. In fact, the August calendar repeats itself in 2025. Additionally, May of 2015 will have five of each Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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What is interesting, however, is that August is filled with historic dates. Today, for instance, in the year 1100, Henry I was crowned King of England in Westminster Abby, and the first federal income tax was levied on this date in 1861 (on those who earned more than $800).

On August 5, 1884, the cornerstone was laid for the Statue of Liberty. The first American (Henry Sullivan) to swim the English Channel did so on this date in 1923. A year later, in 1924, the comic strip, “Little Orphan Annie (by Harold Gray) made its debut. On this date in 1985, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was established. So, even if there are five Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in a month more often than every 823 years, this month could still be a proverbial money bag thanks to a rich historical perspective.