Where the rich are investing 2016

Watch Out!

From oil-filled watch faces to moon dust and space age materials, these luxury watch companies are a fanatic's delight

Fascination, appreciation, and desire for popular luxury watch brands were my mantra even in my teens. Unfortunately the means to afford one was quite another story. I had become an expert at bargaining with fake watch vendors in Bangkok and prided myself in my collection of dubious timepieces. It was not till I was in my mid 20s that my wife borrowed some dollars from her boss in Singapore and bought me a genuine Rolex. I was in seventh heaven!  I still remember going numb with the ecstatic shock of seeing the green leather box of the Submariner.  Hello, luxury watches, I had arrived. 

This was in the mid ’90s and luxury watch brands were not officially sold in India so the knowledge of luxury watches was limited to Rolex, Omega, Rado, and Cartier. Other more expensive brands were not recognized and therefore not given prominence. Over the years, with the introduction of luxury watch retailers in India, the knowledge has grown but is still limited to “classic” luxury brands, that have earned a name as quality watchmakers for over a hundred years like Patek Phillipe, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Audemars Piguet, and Breitling. A few newer brands have also gained popularity through the sheer volume of advertising and sponsoring of sporting events like Hublot, and Franck Muller.

There is, however, an emergence of new luxury brands that have revolutionized watchmaking with the use of new movements, materials, and technology. These are brands launched by master horologers that have excelled in this art and then taken it to a different level. Most of these brands are still relatively unknown to the majority of potential high-end watch customers.  They range from elegant dress watches to sporty chronographs to timepieces that make a bold statement.

Two names on top of the list of new super luxury brands are Richard Mille and Greubel Forsey. While Richard Mille watches are inspired by the founder’s fascination for F1 racing and precision machinery to the extreme including the use of space age materials, Greubel Forsey watches are unique in the use of multiple tourbillion movements that have brought about a level of precision never seen before in the industry. With watches averaging $250,000 and going up to one million dollars, production of these brands is very limited and it is doubtful India will prove a worthy market as they cannot be classified as “value for money” under any circumstance.  After all, they cost as much as a 5-bedroom apartment in an upmarket condominium in Gurgaon!

Other newer brands in the $50,000 category that are gaining popularity are F. P. Journe, founded in 1999 and HYT, that appeared in 2012. F. P. Journe watches are elegantly styled, and exude class and finesse. The dial colours are pastel and subtle and each timepiece is inscribed “Invenit et Fecit” which means – invented and made. This is to denote that the movements have been made completely in-house. HYT watches have a clear automobile influence in their very appearance. You immediately notice two cylindrical tanks in a V-shape that are symbolic to what you would see under the bonnet of a sports car. However, what visually differentiates this watch brand from others is the presence of a circular tube with a coloured liquid in it. This is actually what replaces the hour hand.  

Names like Cvstos, BRM, and Romain Jerome are innovative in styling and uniqueness but the absence of sophisticated mechanical complications help in keeping the pricing more affordable. Cvstos, founded in 2005 by Sassoun Sirmakes, the son of the owner of Franck Muller, primarily manufactures sport/racing watches in large tonneau-shaped (barrel shape), avant-garde designs.  BRM (Bernard Richards Manufacture), with an output of just 2,000 watches per year has based its design and colour scheme on British motor sports. These are bright, youthful, and sporty and a contrast to Romain Jerome that has used actual moon dust and parts of the sunken Titanic to create a collection that is one of a kind. Revived in 2006 by Yvan Arpa, Romaine Jerome watches are a conversation piece, guaranteed to raise eyebrows at social gatherings.  

The most unusual watch that made me question any limitations in watchmaking is the Ressence Type 3.  The clarity of the dial is unbelievable. From no angle can you see any reflections, just the face of the watch as clear as a full moon in Alaska.  This is because the face of the watch is filled with oil and cancels out total internal reflection. It has optimum clarity while scuba diving, as the indicators appear to float above the crystal. The absence of a crown, and the unique mechanical functions give it a futuristic direction.

While the classics are timeless, these newer brands have had a notable impact on the luxury watch market and are popular with younger customers. Even the “classic” brands have had to reinvent themselves and up their output of new designs to keep up with this newer “brat pack” of high-end timepieces.  

While a number of these brands now becoming available in India with premium retailers like Kapoor Watches (Delhi), The Helvetica (Chennai), Time Avenue (Mumbai) and Zimson (Bangalore), a far larger selection is available in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dubai. Just don’t get intimidated by swanky showrooms and well-versed sales teams, and put in a good effort to bargain on the sticker price. In a consumer’s market, the customer is king!