Forget a Ferrari or Maserati – for pure luxury you need to invest in haute horology that can tell you the time in the back of a cave, save your life if you get stuck up a mountain and be 100 per cent accurate because it’s set by satellite. Mike Peake repo
Need to tell the time in the back of a cave at midnight or hundreds of metres under the sea? Welcome to the world of luxury watches that can cost much more than a Ferrari.
To the dismay of every high-flying businessman who has treated himself to a Ferrari, you can’t show off a fancy car in the boardroom. To flaunt a sparkling new set of wheels, you need to first find a way to get your colleagues into the company parking lot – but what’s to say that it won’t all backfire when a shabby delivery truck parks up and blocks the way?
A far more portable solution for the man who likes to impress is a luxury watch – an impeccable piece of Swiss-made haute horology that can (subtly) be made to appear from beneath a cuff with a well-practised flick of the wrist. And with jaw-dropping technology at the heart of some of today’s most impressive designs, bragging rights can just as easily come from a watch as from a growling V12 engine.
Unsurprisingly, luxury watches are big in the UAE. According to a report published earlier this year, demand for premium Swiss timepieces has risen 23 per cent on last year, with UAE sales topping $800 million (Dh2.9 billion).
Though the US is 10 times the size of the UAE, its whole luxury Swiss watch market is only three times bigger.
The price for a top-end watch in the luxury market is more than a match for a highperformance sportscar. Forgo the Dh1.5 million Lamborghini Aventador, for example, and you could treat yourself to one of maverick French watchmaker Richard Mille’s creations.
Mille has been in the watchmaking business for just 12 years, but his timepieces are already regarded as some of the watchmaking industry’s most exquisitely crafted – and almost all feature some eye-opening innovations that add a dash of ‘wow’ to proceedings. On a Mille watch, you might find an armoured case in titanium carbide, or never-before-seen variable geometry rotors (don’t ask). It’s pioneering stuff, and Mille’s approach to watchmaking – though respectful of Swiss tradition – is a long way from conventional.
“The materials have more in common with the aeronautic and motor racing worlds,” says Sameer Hasansab at the Richard Mille boutique in The Dubai Mall. “Customers like that, and know this is at the cutting edge of technology.”
By his own admission, Mille will see a design through “whatever the cost,” and the result is a series of lightweight, technically bedazzling watches that have been endorsed by the likes of world number two tennis star Rafael Nadal and Formula One driver Felipe Massa, the latter being a long-time ambassador of the brand who once worked with Mille on a watch that weighed less than 30 grams.
Other headline-grabbing feats of engineering from Mille’s Swiss workshops include the RM 021 Aerodyne, which incorporates materials used by Nasa in the manufacture of supersonic aeroplane wings, and also the new RM 036
G-Sensor Jean Todt ($490,000), which includes a tiny G-Force indicator to measure how fast you slow down when braking in a car.
“Though Mille is a relatively new brand,” says Hasansab, “it’s proving very popular because of its exclusivity and innovation.”
A watch for every eventuality
While Mille might be the industry’s most flamboyant proponent of cool new technology – and certainly one of the most sought-after, with price tags averaging around Dh1.8 million – it’s not the only one pushing the boundaries.
Since 1995, the venerable Swiss watchmaker Breitling has been saving lives with its Emergency watch, fitted with a tiny transmitter, which can alert the emergency services when the wearer is lost or in distress.
This year Breitling introduces another watch to its range: the Emergency 2, which adds a second, digital distress signal. By having signals on two different frequencies, the chances of rescuers reaching the lost person quickly are greatly increased. It’s the kind of technology you’d typically find in a bulky personal locator beacon costing around Dh1,800 – little wonder, then, that the compact and clever Emergency 2 is expected to cost around $15,000.
“It’s a piece of equipment,” says Breitling vice-president Jean-Paul Girardin. “It’s much more than just a watch, it’s really an instrument that you hopefully won’t have to use but it could be useful in difficult situations.”
Coming at hi-tech from an entirely different angle is Swiss newcomer HYT, whose mission statement seems to be to stop the industry in its tracks. “We have drawn upon the strictest codes in fine watchmaking… and felt free to shatter them,” a spokesperson says.
The result is a series of hydro-mechanical watches that challenge tradition by bringing minuscule amounts of liquid to the party. Think tiny pistons and hydraulic forces, miniature bellows and scientists embroiled in long conversations about the “metaphysics of fluids”.
A more established Swiss company challenging the status quo is avant-garde watchmaker Tag Heuer, the venerable, 150-year-old brand whose fascination with accuracy saw it in charge of Formula One’s
timekeeping for most of the Nineties. Tag’s new MikroPendulum watch introduces a magneticpowered chronograph, and many think the brand has hit on a tech gem in its quest for ultimate accuracy.
Even more eye-catching is Tag Heuer’s concept watch, the MikroPendulumS, which adds two tourbillons – features that improve the accuracy of a watch – and more magnets to the mix. A hit at this year’s BaselWorld watch show, it represents an entirely new way of doing things, and alongside the company’s Mikrogirder, which incorporates a vibrating blade system, helps illustrate a brand right at the top of the developmental curve.
A little more affordable but still worth whipping out at the water cooler is the Citizen Eco-Drive SatelliteWave-Air, which costs around $2,500 and connects to satellites to set the time. It’s not as impressive as Breitling’s satellite-friendly Emergency 2, but you can certainly respond to anyone who asks you what the time is with unrivalled confidence.
Simple solutions are sometimes the best
Not every innovation gets into the guts of the watch (so to speak); some of the cleverest ideas are more cosmetic, such as those from American company Ball. Acknowledging that good watches should be readable in low-light conditions, Ball has installed tiny vials of tritium gas on the hands and each number, and while it is not the only company to use the gas, it’s probably the one that uses it to best effect. About 100 times brighter than any luminous paint, tritium is said to last for more than 20 years, and is so bright you could probably tell the time from inside a cupboard at the back of a cave in the middle of the night.
The Ball Engineer Master II, which costs $3,299, is a guaranteed head-turner in the event of a power cut, but if you want something even more impressive, Hublot’s new $300,000 MP-05 LaFerrari tourbillion could be just the thing. Bringing to mind the shape, engine and dashboard of the new LaFerrari hybrid supercar, the watch also has a record-breaking power reserve of 50 days – which means that once you wind it you needn’t touch it again for almost two months. Featuring the most parts ever in a Hublot watch (an astonishing 637), it is limited to just 50 pieces.
Hublot is frequently one step ahead of the pack. For example, realising that its customers
loved a solid slab of gold on their wrists, the company re-engineered the precious metal to make it more scratch-resistant. The result? Last year’s patented Hublot Magic Gold – twice as tough as a regular gold watch.
Innovation often prompts engineers and designers to stop and take a lingering look at what’s gone before. Sometimes they find inspiration in the achievements of those who have long since passed into the history books – the independently run Swiss brand Oris being one such case in point.
Hoping to incorporate a mechanical depth gauge – which can display the depth a diver has gone down to – into the new Aquis Depth Gauge watch (priced at around $3,500), the longestablished company’s technicians hit on an old piece of science known as Boyle’s law. It’s more than 300 years old, and provided the spark for an idea that is both brilliant and simple.
In a world-first for divers, water enters a tiny canal running around the edge of the watch face as the wearer starts his descent. The deeper he goes, the greater the pressure on the wrist and the more the air in the canal is compressed. The depth is denoted by the point at which the water (dark grey) meets the air (light grey) in the canal.
It’s simple physics, beautifully done and shows once again that in an emerging world of internet-connected smartwatches, the most dazzling timepieces aren’t necessarily those that can link you to Facebook.
Hublot’s MP-05 LaFerrari Price equivalent? A brand new Ferrari plus you’d have a few thousand to spare
Richard Mille has recruited Formula One driver Felipe Massa to be an ambassador
for the brand
RM 036 G-Sensor Jean Todt Has a tiny G-Force indicator that measures how fast you slow down when braking in a car. Price equivalent? A villa in Dubai.
Ball Engineer Master II Helps the user to ssee the time in the darkest places. Price equivalent? A five-day holiday to Paris.
The HYT H2 Mush 300 The HYT uses hydraulics to completely change the way a watch tells the time. Price equivalent? A Harley-Davidson plus some change.
World number two tennis star Rafael Nadal is a brand ambassador
for Mille watches
Ball Engineer Hydrocarbon NEDU Has a helium-release mechanism incorporated into the crown for deep-sea diving. Price equivalent? Three nights in a one-bedroom deluxe suite at Burj Al Arab.