Style

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

Friday - - Society Living Leisure -

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.

Dh1.1 mil­lion

Hublot’s MP-05 LaFer­rari Price equiv­a­lent? A brand new Fer­rari plus you’d have a few thou­sand to spare

Dh1.8 mil­lion

Lux­ury watch­maker

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.

Dh473,800

Dh12,200

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.

Dh18,200

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.

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