RGM Watch Company’s
Ref. 116 TimeZone Limited Edition Watch
A WatchCarefully Review
As a fellow who has thoroughly enjoyed the recent fashion for large watches, I have grown accustomed to having serious hunks of metal on my wrists. No “tuna cans,” “orange monsters” or Dreadnoughts have found their way into my collection, but I generally wear watches that are larger than those of anyone I see at work or around town. Omega’s Seamaster GMT, Zenith’s Rainbow El Primero, a Rado Manhattan, a Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronometer 1846—these are the styles I prefer, each measuring more than 1 cm thick and often more than 40 mm across. Suffice it to say I am used to massive watches. This is why I was so surprised to be smitten by and driven to acquire a relatively small watch such as the RGM TZ LE.
I was a regular at the public forum of TimeZone.com back in the days of Richard Paige (former owner) and the limited-edition watches that TZ offered in the late 1990s. I remember the introduction of the TZ limited editions from both RGM and Minerva and thought that the then-current fascination with black dials had gone too far. Little did I know that beneath the mild outward similarities there were significant differences to each. Others have reviewed these two watches and each review has merit; I do not wish to repeat the same comments here but intend to review the RGM TZ LE from one owner’s perspective.
At a glance this watch is but one of myriad timepieces available on today’s market that recall the pilot style watches of an earlier time. “Fliegeruhren” and other such names have been applied to these military-style, black-dialed watches with luminous hands and numerals. They are legion and often indistinguishable from one another. For this reason it is easy to dismiss, as I did at first, a watch such as the RGM TZ LE as being just another member of this vast group. This timepiece, however, has several things that distinguish it. I’ll distill them into a few points: Presence, Motivation, Value.
Initially, and surprisingly for me, one great element of the TZ LE appeal is its thinness. As stated above, I like a hefty watch, but I think I need to reconsider how I define my preferences. What really is significant about all the watches I prefer is that they have a (perhaps indefinable) Presence. The term “wrist presence” has been used in the horological press as a euphemism for “huge,” but I think that Presence is an altogether different thing. The RGM TZ LE is a watch with Presence of a type I am just discovering, so bear with me if my comments are inexact or over-enthusiastic.
The Presence exhibited by this watch is a combination of many factors, not the least of which is how it stands up to another abstract concept, Expectation. As I alluded earlier, it is easy to view this as just another pilot watch but this would be an injustice. First of all, it is NOT a pilot’s watch, it’s a fine timepiece with a dial that evokes a classic style, a prior age. To help define the Expectation component of my examination let me refer you to a situation that has crept up time and time again on watch discussion web sites when visitors post photographs of unfamiliar watches and ask for comments. Many of us have been quick to answer with critical comments based on the design of the hands and the dial, or the common/ordinary movement inside, or the shortcomings of the case, etc. In many instances, we may have dissuaded a potential buyer from acquiring a watch with which he would have been perfectly happy. Subsequent to discussions of this phenomenon, whereby ordinary watch enthusiasts such as myself are granted the voice of authority, several on-line posters have decided to be, if not more charitable, at least less eager to criticize. One reason for this change in heart is that in more than one case, someone whose mind was made up against liking a particular watch found their opinion completely reversed upon actually seeing and experiencing the watch in person. As the old adage (and blues tune) says “you can’t judge a book by looking at the cover.” This is all part and parcel of Expectation, which is a long winded explanation of why one’s assessment of this RGM watch, and all watches, should be made only when the watch has been truly experienced.
It was November of 2002 when I realized I had to own this watch. The official release of the piece occurred in 1999 and during the ensuing months I had heard many good things about it. The movement was touted, the dial and numeral font were praised, the quality was appreciated by everyone who had seen the watch but I was not convinced. I did not see the appeal of it as a pilot’s watch. Again, I was not setting fair expectations and had not even seen an example up close. At the first annual Convergence watch enthusiast gathering, I was able to observe, wear and discuss a few RGM TZ LE watches and was shocked at how much I like it. I was surprised that a thin watch has such Presence.
“Thin” does not do it justice. At 7.5 mm thick it is undeniably thin for an automatic with center seconds and date. The movement (more on this later) measures a mere 2.95 mm high and the dial, hands and two crystals only add another 4.5 mm to the overall dimension. How many watches do you know whose movement contributes less than 1/3 cm to its thickness and the casing only an additional ½ cm? It is an interesting experience, having such a thin watch, but that’s not the main element of its Presence. At 38 mm wide, it has substantial width—the overall width, including the understated crown and guards, is 41 mm—and a significant amount of that real estate is occupied by the ample bezel. Despite these seemingly large dimensions it is a watch with a distinct delicateness. I do not mean to imply it is not a robust watch nor a manly one, rather, it is understated. “An understated watch with Presence?” you ask. Indeed. This presence is a combination of its dimensions, the unique shape of its luminous numerals, the deep black dial with sunken centre, the wide bezel and the eye-catching red TZ logo and tip of the seconds hand. And much more. I could go on but implore you, since you have indulged me this far, to see one of these watches for yourself if you do not mind being compelled to buy one (we’ll discuss value later).
Motivation of this watch is provided by a remarkable automatic movement. The Lemania 8815 began life as an in-house creation of Longines. In the 1970s they developed a series of thin, double-barrel automatic movements for their premium watches. The 890 and 990 families gained a reputation for being interesting and reliable and accurate, although not without problems. A 1977 incarnation of this series by Longines, calibre 990.1, (Author's note: for more information on this Longines Caliber, see this article) is the direct ancestor of the Lemania 8815 found in the RGM TZ LE. Longines ran into financial problems that forced them to divest of their movement manufacturing capabilities -- the design and tooling for the L990 movements was sold to Lemania, a prominent movement manufacturer famous for providing chronographs to Omega, Tissot and others. All of these companies are part of the Swatch group today, but at the time of this sale, they were still largely independent. Lemania put the 8815 into production around 1991 but it has since been seen much less frequently than many ETA and F. Piguet thin automatics and used mostly in relatively expensive watches. Thus it has gained a reputation as being a somewhat rare and exclusive movement.
Watches using this movement and its derivatives are generally to be found costing upwards of and beyond five figures. With a few notable exceptions, the Lemania 8815 has been used mainly in “high mech” masterpieces and gold or Platinum dress watches by such makers as Bertolucci, Breguet, Roger Dubuis, Ebel, Girard-Perregaux, Vianney Halter, Robergé, Daniel Roth and Wettstein/Ventura. Interestingly, the originator of the movement, Longines, has used some variants in recent special edition watches including an Ernest Francillon squelette model, some Lindbergh Hour Angle watches, and the gold half-hunter series celebrating the 30,000,000th Longines. The exceptions include a few watches that are less well-known and certainly less expensive. Ebel used the 8810 in some watches of their 1911 and Discovery lines (without display back). Nivrel offered the 8815 in a thin and somewhat small (34.5 mm) automatic watch in steel. The retail prices of these last two were under $3000 which is substantially less than the average price of a watch containing the modern Lemania variants of this movement.
Obviously, this is a movement not often seen or discussed in on-line watch circles. With the majority of mechanical watches today being powered by ETA automatics such as the 2892 and 2824, the use of such a remarkable non-standard caliber is worth the consideration of any potential buyers.
Value is as subjective and abstract a concept as Presence, but certain facts about this watch are undeniable:
- At an initial offering price of ~$2000 it was relatively inexpensive for a watch using the Lemania 8815 movement.
- Being offered in a series of only 49 units (and # 01/49 is not for sale) by a small independent watchmaker, it carries a notable amount of exclusivity.
These are but two of the reasons that I consider this watch to be a remarkable value. As someone who appreciates items that are different from those you see every day, I find great appeal in this watch due to the unusual movement, the limited edition of the watch, and the fact that annually RGM produces only a fraction of the number of watches of some other notable small watchmakers (Ulysse Nardin, Paul Picot…). It may be a cliché, but it is true that you are unlikely to see an RGM TZ LE watch on the wrist of anyone you encounter in daily life.
The tie-in with TimeZone.com is also an interesting element of this watch., It represents to me a period during which several noteworthy on-line watch communities were each finding their voice and developing their personality. Love it or hate it, TZ is the largest and probably most influential of them all. For such an entity to have allied itself at one time with two small yet significant independent watchmakers (RGM and Minerva) to build small series of special edition watches is remarkable. That each watch contains a movement that would be hard to get elsewhere (for their TZ LE, Minerva used the in-house Calibre 49) and is available at very competitive prices, is even more so.
To conclude, I hope I have made a few points that impress the reader. I do not intend with this review to help RGM sell all the remaining TZ LE watches in their stock (there are only a few and the price has risen). I do, however, hope that my tale of enlightenment and enthusiasm regarding a watch I had previously dismissed will serve as a lesson in two parts. First, do not be quick to judge something that you have not experienced. Second, do not let your initial apathy toward an object keep you from learning what might make that item remarkable. You never know—what seems unimportant to you today (like the incorporation of a significant movement into an attainable wristwatch) may be the foundation of a near-obsession tomorrow. Had I not been open to taking a closer look at the RGM TZ LE one afternoon at Convergence, I would probably have denied myself countless hours of joy researching the Lemania 8815 movement, discussing the RGM line with my on-line friends, and haggling through a few potential deals that, ultimately, concluded with me accepting a brand new RGM TZ LE from the hands of Roland Murphy himself.
For more photos and information on the RGM TZ LE and the Lemania 8815, you are invited to view SteveG’s review (and excellent photographs) of his customized RGM TZ LE.
A Gallery of RGM TZ LE Variations
One of the most interesting things about the RGM TimeZone limited edition watch is the number of options that were available to the buyer. Roland Murphy and his team have been able to create special one-of-a-kind variations within an already limited series of watches.
Various options included:
- Rotor in steel with Geneva stripes; rotor in 22k rose gold with Geneva stripes and RGM logo; rotor in 22k yellow gold with guilloche and RGM logo; vintage and custom rotors also available
- Standard dial in black, custom-designed dial; prototype dial (also with custom modifications available)
- Standard black-on-white date wheel; alternating red/black-on-white date wheel
- Straps in black or brown crocodile
Some examples are shown below. If you would like to include your variant, please e-mail the author.
Movement rotor comparison: Longines, RGM, RGM, Roger Dubuis, Vianney Halter:
Text and images © C. Bradley Jacobs & www.WatchCarefully.com unless otherwise indicated.