The first timepieces I recall coveting were my grandmother’s.
Maybe they were the first objects of any kind I hankered after, given I was not yet a teenager, but there was a carriage clock by her bed that looked somehow important, a small battered Rolex handed down to, and in my formative years, on the arm of an aunt, and a gold Waltham pocket watch that I chanced upon while visiting my grandmother’s home in Somers Avenue, Malvern, Victoria. The latter was a 17th birthday present from her parents; by the time I spotted it, many years later, it seldom appeared in daylight, like her best silver.
On passing to my mother it remained in the realm of the unavailable – but with the tantalising rider of “maybe one day” which, eventually, arrived, as is the way of such things. Ditto for the little Rolex replica that migrated in my direction on my aunt’s passing. Treasures then, and still treasured, the only exception being the carriage clock, whereabouts long unknown.
As to the value of these objects, that’s something that’s both minuscule and immeasurable; early Rolex replica watches and Waltham pocket pieces are easily found in the secondary marketplace and command modest prices, but owning pieces handed down by forebears – well that’s a different proposition, the worth here being sentimental and historical rather than monetary. This is assuming there are no 5512 or 5513 model Rolex Submariners or military issue Jaeger-LeCoultres or Blancpains in your immediate past, sought-after collectables that now bring prices many times the original ask.
Either way though, you have to like the object in question, which brings me to the question of what watches today might make the grade as a future prized piece. Even better, should you still have a favourite and functioning grandparent – or elderly relative – is there a timely treat they might be persuaded to invest in before looking your way?
Something – almost anything – with Patek Philippe adorning the dial has traditionally fitted such a bill and still would, but your options have broadened in recent times thanks to special replica watches appearing at almost every level – and catering to almost every taste. If it’s a simple everyday wearer you might suggest an replica Omega Seamaster 300, a fake watch as likely to be regarded as handsome in 50 years as its 1970s-style lines suggest now. You can imagine a little patina and use would only enhance such a model, whereas Omega’s latest ceramic-cased Planet Ocean, a resolutely modern-day statement, might not age so well; treasures are like that, they wear history like a badge.
Moving up a bit there’s a classic that most certainly won’t date, the Richard Lange Pour le Mérite from A. Lange & Söhne. The name mightn’t trip off ancestral lips like “Patek” or come with the same clever advertising reassurance – that “you never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation”. But make no mistake, Lange has its own impressive history, surviving World War ll’s divide of Germany and now thriving at horology’s high end.
As for the Glashütte-based brand’s recently announced Pour le Mérite, it’s a quietly confident beauty in white gold with a black dial. What makes it special is not so much the presentation – impressive as it is – nor the limited production run of just 218 pieces. Rather, it’s heirloom material because of its uncompromising approach to precise timekeeping. It achieves this by employing a complex fusée-and-chain transmission arrangement inspired by the mechanism of historic pocket watches. You read correctly. Peer closely into the back of the replica watch and you’ll spot a tiny 636-part chain wrapped around the mainspring barrel, 0.25 millimetres thick and 156 millimetres long, we are told. It delivers power from the mainspring to the wheel train via the cone-shaped fusée in a way that guarantees constant torque and stability across the entire power-reserve range; when the watch is fully wound, the chain pulls at the smaller circumference of the fusée.
Conversely, when the tension of the mainspring is nearly depleted, the chain pulls at the larger circumference of the fusée. The Lange spans a happy 40.5 millimetres and it doesn’t hurt that previous versions – cased in rose gold and platinum – sold out. Mind you, you’re looking at a price tag in the region of $120, but what else are your grandparents going to be splashing out on at this stage?
One of a kind
The answer to that is probably not another similarly priced arrival regarded by enthusiasts as a treasure, as that’s MB&F’s Horological Machine No.8. This low-six-figure item is a fake watch that blends high-end craftsmanship with high-octane, race-car-inspired design and is destined to be just as rare as the Lange. Exquisitely sculptured, and undeniably a wrist-borne fantasy, it looks better than anything you’ll see at a race track, but is probably not your average octogenarian’s idea of a fine timepiece.
Barely recognisable even as a watch, it’s all angular forms and optical prisms with two of the latter showcasing bi-directional jumping hours and trailing minutes.
Dominating the structure are so-called roll bars milled from solid blocks of grade 5 titanium and hand-polished “to gleam like tubular mirrors”. No matter the time, they draw the eye, while the engine sits in full view under a sapphire crystal cover. It’s a view few will get to see, and given the limited production (as little as 20 in a year) and intrepid nature of such pieces, a mere sighting would be something to be treasured.
If the HM8 is a bit outré, the other go-to names on aficionado wish-lists are De Bethune and Greubel Forsey, whose models may not be familiar in family circles but include nary an ordinary timepiece – and barely anything that might pass for a bargain. If you or a favourite forebear could afford one, they’re undoubted treasure. And if you can’t? Just pray that your old uncle’s Longines is a good-looking one with a story.