I've just come back from a week in the Cayman Islands (and before that there was a week of finals), so I'll start posting more regularly again. The Wall Street Journal recently released an article titled "The Best Watches of 2016". While I can appreciate some of their choices, such as the updated Rolex Air-King, some other choices leave a little to be desired. They are all nice watches, but some honorable mentions, such as the Breguet, are nothing special. There are no major design changes. I'd like to add my own "best" watches of 2016, while also including the biggest events of 2016. In no particular order:
Chopard L.U.C Full Strike. I wrote an extremely long post on this watch, which you can find here. There are so many special things about this watch I can't even start here. With this in mind it's hard to compare a simple GMT watch to something so complicated.
Oris' first bronze watch release, so I had to include it here. Bronze watches seem to be falling out of favor at this point, but this is still a beautiful watch.
Possibly Omega's most popular (or close to the most popular) model in their current lineup, the Planet Ocean is a gorgeous synergy of ruggedness and stylishness. The new model has taken a turn away from style and focuses more on the diving side. They increased and decreased the size slightly and gave the watch an appearance more like a typical dive watch, while at the same time doing away with the neutral black/gray/steel look I enjoyed so much. You want a plain watch you can wear with with a suit and t-shirt? You get a leather strap. Shame.
Chopard's first minute repeater, the L.U.C Full Strike, is special in that it possesses a number of features not seen in watches before. The Full Strike joins the Strike One (released in 2006) in the L.U.C collection. Six years of R&D has yielded this new watch that chimes the hours, quarters and minutes (hence the term minute repeater) on transparent crystal gongs. The sapphire rings are actually integrated with the watch glass, meaning the sound produced will be louder and have less distortion (compared to having the gongs entirely inside the case). Inside, the calibre 08.01-L, which is subjected to three pending patents (Chopard has found new responses to issues relating to the nature of the gongs, as well as to the operation and ergonomics of the striking system as a whole), is one of the most complex movements ever seen. The movement has built-in features that protect it from mishandling of the minute repeater operations that could result in damage. In addition, although it isn't a revolutionary feature, turning the crown in one direction winds the watch, while twisting it the other way will wind the minute repeater. More interestingly, it actually has two power reserves (present at 2 o'clock). The chiming barrel isn't a joke either. It can chime 12:59 for 12 consecutive times before running out of power. The pusher to activate the repeater is actually integrated into the crown, which is rather interesting to me. Earlier, I wrote that the sapphire gong rings are integrated into the glass. I just thought I'd add on here that both the dial window and rings are machined from a single sapphire block. This is unique and as such, Chopard has filed a patent. Even just figuring out how to machine such small parts out of sapphire took three years. If you are wondering, the gongs produce the C and F notes. Although not a huge problem, Chopard didn't like that the strike governor (component that gives the striking mechanism its rhythm) sometimes hums and clicks during or at the end of chiming. Chopard eliminated these sounds from their watch. The entire mechanism is visible at the 8 o'clock position. Here's a quote from the press release, since there's no way I'm going to say this in a different way than they are.
"Finally, it resolves one of the most disturbing problems faced by a minute repeater: the silence between the last hours stroke and the first quarters stroke, which may vary according to the specific quarter-hour to be struck.
In simple terms, the minute repeater sequence comprises one time-window for the hours, another for the quarter-hours and a third for the minutes. A chime is thus generally punctuated by long silences, during which the watch owner must wait and may in fact wonder whether the watch is still working. The structure of calibre L.U.C 08.01-L enables it to skip these silences automatically. Its hours, quarters and minutes gear trains are superimposed and mutually drive each other. When one has completed its task, it automatically triggers the next, maintaining a constant cadence however many strokes are to be chimed subsequently."
Alright I'm back. The new watch, despite having a movement with over 500 pieces, is a mere 11.5mm thick and 42.5mm in diameter. On another note, the watch is also COSC certified. To ensure the watch cannot be overwound, both barrels are equipped with a slipping spring (used in self-winding movements). I just had to put a quote from the press release here, since it might be the most complicated way of saying 'if you turn a crown one way, it winds one spring and vise versa.' That's too simple, so Chopard went with: "The barrels are recharged by means of a large-diameter rose gold crown coupled with a differential gear, which transmits the force imparted by the hand towards the appropriate barrel, according to the direction in which the crown is wound." Now that I've stopped laughing, the striking mechanism power reserve is coupled with a semi-toothed wheel. When the reserve drops too low, it deactivates the minute repeater chime, thus ensuring that the watch cannot sound fully, due to the lack of energy. In addition, a patented device has been incorporated into the coupling-clutch of Calibre 08.01-L. During coupling and uncoupling, the regulator does not rotate, therefore saving energy for the chime itself. While chiming, the crown is actually disconnected from the movement, thereby making it impossible to perform any time-setting that could damage the movement. The activating pusher built into the crown is also deactivated at this time, since a second attempt to trigger the mechanism might otherwise force the striking mechanism coupling-clutch.