Rainbow Emotion of Color
Extravaganza Crystal Classic (Ref. EX44-SS-cl)
by C. Bradley Jacobs
Originally published in iW magazine
A new series of stylish watches for women, the Rainbow Emotion of Color line, was introduced in 2008 by the European Watch Group, the banner organization for Swiss & German brands including Magellan, SARO-Gem, Bombardier, Riedenschild, LACO. The Rainbow watches, as the name suggests, utilize color prominently on the dial but in ways no other brand employs. As envisioned by German artist Paul Heimbach, colored discs stacked above the dial rotate mechanically and act as the hour and minute (and sometimes seconds) indicators much as the “mystery watches” of fifty years ago mounted gemstones on clear discs to give the impression of a floating indicator. Rainbow’s modern interpretation of this method results in constantly changing hues and moods as the colors—from white and yellow to deep violet and blue—overlap and engage one another. The variety of color is astounding and, as Rainbow indicates on their web site is indeed “an innovative and absolutely new style…of visualizing time.”
The colors change as the time changes:
Pictured prominently here is the case style referred to as Extravaganza Crystal, coupled with the dial known as Classic. This arrangement features one of the more eye-catching cases with the brand’s original, and one might say most basic, dial variant. The Extravaganza Crystal’s multitude of brilliant Swarovski stones is tastefully set into a steel case with timeless lines. The downturned lugs, slightly offset by the triple row of crystals set into the case band, are reminiscent of classic case shapes used in the mid-1900s by many of the finest watch brands and case makers. The watch shown houses a nicely decorated self-winding sweep-seconds caliber from Sea-Gull; models in this line are also available with Citizen-Miyota cal. 8215 or with various Swiss calibers. Officially listed as TY 2806S, this example’s movement is easily and smoothly hand wound and runs with reliable accuracy. Though the 37.5 mm Extravaganza case with solid screw-back and onion crown will appeal to most watch aficionados, a wide array of combinations is available from Rainbow which include some highly sculpted case shapes Emotion of Color such as Aurora and Passionata and even wilder dial patterns such as Vertigo, Tripod and Lightsaw. All of these variations can be seen at www.rainbow-watch.com.
Commenting upon the launch of the Rainbow line at the 2008 JCK Exhibition in Las Vegas, the CEO of Rainbow Watch GmbH, Joachim Baer, disclosed that Rainbow’s “designs and also the technology are patented. We already set up our production in Germany near Saxonia.” Preparations are underway for a jewelry collection to be released in 2009 and Rainbow’s “high end mechanical wrist watch collection can also be manufactured in solid gold cases [with] Swiss made movements.”
Newcomers to the market for fashion watches generally bring lots of modern flash but little that hearkens to the illustrious history of wristwatches. Many of the models do all of this, first with quality components such as stainless steel, hard crystal, gem stones (diamonds are also available via special order), and supple leather straps, and secondly by drawing upon tradition via their case shapes, the “mystery dial” theme, and the use of mechanical movements. Rainbow has clearly taken quality very seriously, as is the case with the other European Watch Group brands, and they have decided to let their innovative dial designs speak for themselves. Whereas most dedicated “fashion” watches emblazon their dials with large logos or brand names, the words Emotion of Color are visible in very small print at the bottom of the Classic dial, and the Rainbow name, superfluous indeed from the front of the watch, is prominently displayed only on the case back.
Text & images (of the watch under review) © C. Bradley Jacobs; all other images courtest EWG
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<BR><h1><font color=brown>Guillermin Mollet Premiere Edition 2003</h1>
<P>by C. Bradley Jacobs</font></center>
<P><A HREF="http://www.fototime.com/D9D08AF4BD6E198/orig.jpg" target=_new><IMG SRC="http://www.fototime.com/D9D08AF4BD6E198/orig.jpg" align=right WIDTH=250 HEIGHT=200 hspace=5 VSPACE=5 alt="Guillermin Mollet Premiere Edition 2003"></A><b>In an age </b>when massive sports watches and steel chronographs are the rage, when even the most venerable houses are jumping on the bandwagon of adding diamonds and dial-cluttering retrograde complications to make their watches stand out, it is a rare pleasure to find a watch such as the Guillermin Mollet Premiere Edition 2003. The initial offering of the new brand Guillermin Mollet, this watch is more than just an example of retro-modern styling, it is a timepiece that pays homage to an historic design as well as an era. <P>
<P>As the brand’s literature indicates, the firm of Guillermin Mollet was well known in post-war Paris for “exceptional designs and international clientele.” Around 1950, a special wristwatch case was designed and hand-crafted for Patek Philippe. The case was made in low numbers--only three are known to exist—but it has been faithfully reproduced in a larger, yet limited, edition to allow those who appreciate this distinctive design to acquire one of their own. One hundred-fifty pieces are available in each of three colors of gold. The example reviewed here is one of the rose gold examples with cream dial and applied gold roman numerals. In all, fifteen different styles of the watch are available, representing combinations of various styles of marker, three colors of gold case and four dial colors.
<P><A HREF="http://www.fototime.com/9103438CEAD8A3E/orig.jpg" target=_new><IMG SRC="http://www.fototime.com/9103438CEAD8A3E/orig.jpg" align=left WIDTH=250 HEIGHT=200 hspace=5 VSPACE=5 alt="Buckle"></A>The Guillermin Mollet website indicates that “Each watch is fitted with a genuine Alligator strap, made entirely by hand in Italy. We offer these straps in three classic colors- black, brown and rust in glossy and mat finish. All our straps are fitted with Retracto integrated spring bars for easy removal, giving you the freedom to change the strap to suit your attire. Each strap is finished with a hand made18k matching sculpted buckle designed to fit the distinctive style of the watch.”
<P>One may look at this watch and think at first that it is small. Considering the current trend of large watches, where even a classic tank can be as wide as a large, round diver’s watch, the GM is comparatively small. It is, however, a substantial timepiece. At its widest points, the case measures 28 mm; it measures 40 mm from 12:00 to 6:00; the thickness at the center is 11.4 mm; and measured on the diagonal, the dial is approximately 30 mm. Visually, the design appears compact, but its dimensions, a substantial crystal (more on this below) and its 80 gram (2.8 oz) weight combine to create a watch with serious “wrist presence.” The straps are 19 mm at the case and 16 mm at the buckle.
<P><A HREF="http://www.fototime.com/4A3B763051FDA90/orig.jpg" target=_new><IMG SRC="http://www.fototime.com/4A3B763051FDA90/orig.jpg" align=right WIDTH=250 HEIGHT=200 hspace=5 VSPACE=5 alt="Rose gold GM with cream-colored dial"></A>Of course, such an elegant watch should not be compared with the utilitarian sport watches of today, but it seems that the wristwatch market demands increased size across the full spectrum of products. Guillermin Mollet has accommodated this desire. Whether or not the original design was as large as this reproduction, I do not know, but if concessions to popular taste were made, GM has created their watch in a size that should please today’s connoisseur and still remain timeless.
<P>The case design has a theme, which I will refer to as “stacked.” This combines a stepped and flared hood at either end of the case (it’s really a sort of lug-less case rather than “hooded” as early Rolex Bubblebacks are described), an angled, three-section profile (contributing greatly to comfort of the wrist), and a massive, curved crystal. This crystal, which is roughly the full size of the dial, is of thick sapphire with a bold curve, flat sides and finely beveled edges. Its complex shape serves alternately to magnify and slightly distort the dial, and it also serves to cast and reflect light in a most appealing manner. The variety of angles at which light hits the dial enhances the various patterns visible there. <A HREF="http://www.fototime.com/57504BABF23B0AD/orig.jpg" target=_new><IMG SRC="http://www.fototime.com/57504BABF23B0AD/orig.jpg" align=left WIDTH=250 HEIGHT=250 hspace=5 VSPACE=5 alt="The automatic movement is an ETA 2000"></A>The dial of this example features a guilloché-type pattern in the center, framed by a series of concentric rectangles upon which are mounted the gold markers and roman numerals. Gold hands and a printed nameplate complete the design. Although the description sounds busy, the overall effect is harmonious and the structural elements of the case function to draw your eye to the dial, exactly where it belongs. The stacking effect of the case is repeated on the strap buckle of matching 18k gold.
<P>The watch is powered by an ETA 2000, the rotor of which, if listening is any indication, spins long and freely. I have not timed this watch, but would expect that it keeps time to near chronometer specifications as do most of the highest-grade ETA automatics. Surely for a watch with retail prices of $6000-6400 this is not an unreasonable expectation.
<P>A lovely honey-colored hardwood box, lined in leather, contains the watch and paperwork. The shape of the box, though it does not exactly mimic the watch, nicely complements its steps and curves.
<P><A HREF="http://www.fototime.com/383BB5E8EEBF94C/orig.jpg" target=_new><IMG SRC="http://www.fototime.com/383BB5E8EEBF94C/orig.jpg" align=right WIDTH=250 HEIGHT=250 hspace=5 VSPACE=5 alt="Guillermin Mollet packaging"></A>Overall, this is a nice package. The original of this design was signed by Patek Philippe, which certainly sets it apart from any unofficial reproductions in both price and pedigree, but only three are known to exist, making it nigh on impossible to acquire. Guillermin Mollet has resurrected a stunning design and done so by making available a reliable and exclusive timepiece at a reasonable price. The inclusion of a more exclusive movement would have greatly enhanced the package, but at what price? As is, the watch seems to operate very well, which is enough for most folks who are looking for a distinctive dress watch.
<P>For more information, visit <A HREF="http://www.guillerminmollet.com" TARGET="_blank">the Guillermin Mollet website</A> where there are photos of each different model as well as more information on the history of the brand name. Guillermin Mollet is no longer a fashionable jeweler in Paris, but this new company in California is doing a fine job of carrying on its tradition.
<BR><font color=gray>Text & Images ©2003 C. Bradley Jacobs.</font>
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Metallurgist Craig Bergsma retains vintage ideas that work
in both his designs and his American watch company
by C. Bradley Jacobs
Originally published in iW Magazine, April 2007
Craig Bergsma of Chronodeco is a man committed to honoring the past. A conversation with him could touch on any of a variety of topics including 1960s chronographs, early hot-rods that he built, the art-deco numerals on the dial of an antique Longines, racing sailboats and flying all over the world in the 1960s, or the Alfa Romeos he and his brothers drove as young men.
Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that his watch business is equally dedicated to maintaining an ethic of classic design and old-school service. After a brief introduction to the brand, we will present the new Positano model from Chronodeco, the first non-chronograph from this boutique brand. Later you will learn of the company’s commendable dedication to the conservation of vintage timepieces.
One of just a few small American watch brands, Chronodeco first came on the scene in 2001 with a fresh idea, though one rooted in history. Bergsma had a vision to build a small series of chronographs using nothing but vintage components. The result was the limited edition of thirty watches in the firm’s Metropolis collection (pictured at left).
He fitted new old stock cases and dials with well-preserved and fully serviced vintage chronograph movements. Features such as Chronodeco’s retro modified Mercury-head logo, dials and hands in a variety of styles and colors, and 37mm rose gold-plated cases, made these an instant hit with collectors. The Metropolis series sold out in short order. The equally stunning Phaeton, in an edition of twelve watches, was sold out a year later just a few months after introduction.
Building on these successful debuts, Bergsma followed up with modern watches envisioned along the same principles; thus were created the Era and the Contrail.
The Era watches, in a series of 250 pieces, feature the same bold art-deco design aesthetic as Chronodeco’s previous pieces, but are built from modern components to Bergsma’s specifications. Parts and production advice were provided by the RGM Watch Company and Chronodeco assembles the watches. Available in a smaller edition of twenty-five, the black-and-grey dialed Contrail model brings together Bergsma’s love of watches and flying, and pays tribute to his family’s history of involvement with flight. Information about all past and current models can be found at Chronodeco.com.
In the process of searching for vintage watches and parts for his own collection and restoration projects, Bergsma encounters countless items that inspire ideas for new projects. Among them was the discovery of a cache of NOS cases, movements and dials that fit nicely into his vision for Chronodeco.
The new watch, built from these parts, is called the Positano. Although it represents a departure from previous offerings—it is Chronodeco’s first non-chronograph—it does clearly mesh with the lineage established by its predecessors.
In spite of being constructed entirely from vintage components, this collection has a strikingly modern presence thanks in large part to the oversize case with its elegant lugs. Measuring 38mm in diameter and 9mm high, the Positano makes a bold statement with either the black or silver dial, each of which works well with the rose-gold color of the case and crown. The supply of parts limits this release to twenty pieces: twelve with silver dial, gold–plated markers, and blued steel hands, eight with black dial and white hands.
The movement in the Positano is another of the many inviting features of this watch. As other famous brands such as RGM, Chronoswiss, and Dubey & Schaldenbrand have shown, there are numerous alternatives to the ubiquitous ETA movements one sees on the market. Though ETA movements clearly have earned their place, an appealing option is the use of vintage movements. Chronodeco has been fortunate to obtain the uncommon Caliber 176—from the respected maker Unitas—which was originally packaged with new old stock cases and dials.
This 13-ligne movement, long out of production, is similar in design to the oft-seen Caliber 6497 (16.5 lignes), but was not as widely employed.
While the new watch was in the planning stages, Bergsma and his wife Colleen visited Positano on the Italian Amalfi Coast and fell in love with this small seaside hill town. He couldn’t resist naming his new watch after the city that John Steinbeck explored and wrote about in 1953 for Harper’s Bazaar. “Positano bites deep,” Steinbeck wrote. “It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”
Bergsma commissioned his sister Shawn to create a special logo—an elegant calligraphic script of the town’s name—to adorn the dial along with his own company imprint. The overall presentation is just what he desired; at a glance the Positano appears to be a perfectly preserved watch from the 1940s, yet each watch is a recent creation from NOS parts. Even the dials are vintage, though they have been professionally stripped and finished, to enhance their longevity, according to designs by Bergsma.
Prices for watches from the Positano collection start at $695 and include a mechanical guarantee of six months excluding the balance staff, which is not mounted in shockproof jewels. Each watch will be hand-assembled by Bergsma. Chronodeco exclusive calfskin straps with rose buckles complete the vintage look of the package.
In addition to building new watches that are intended to celebrate a glorious era, Bergsma is committed to preserving the remnants of the past. The remarkable exercise in restoration exhibited on page 218, a one-of- a-kind half-restored vintage chronograph, showcases the variety of services—movement repair, dial refinishing, and re-plating of cases—also available from Chronodeco.
Most collectors will understand the sort of questions a watchmaker must field in dealing with customers who desire to return their beloved pieces to their original glory. Watches arrive for inspection at the Chronodeco workshop in every imaginable condition—plating worn down to the base metal, pitting and deep scratching, dials and movements corroded almost beyond salvation. It is nearly impossible to imagine that the recovery of some pieces is possible…until you see the “before and after” pictures that most restoration services provide.
The Chronodeco web site shows a number of such projects, but Bergsma decided to go one step further and attempt to bring the before and the after of one remarkable example directly to the public.
He started with a severely aged vintage Chronograph Suisse needing movement service, dial refinishing and case re-plating, at a minimum. The twist on this restoration, though, is that he intended only to do half the job, so that the watch itself exhibits both the starting and end points of an extreme restoration project.
In simple terms, the case of the project watch required filling in some pitted areas, polishing a filled segment, and carefully electroplating only half of the case. A corresponding area of the dial would need to be restored, but this proved impractical, so Craig employed two dial sections—one of the worn and faded original and one of a NOS dial—to show the contrast between starting and finishing condition.
Of course, being a perfectionist, Bergsma completely serviced the Landeron movement so his exhibition piece would be working perfectly. However, this only enhances the novelty.
This showpiece, called the "Half-Fast Chrono,” has drawn much attention at conferences and collector gatherings across the US. Even in a display case surrounded by Bergsma’s favorite vintage pieces, such as a 1960s Heuer Carrera and a rare 1940s Gruen 1-button chronograph, the Half Fast easily draws the most attention After members of the public (and the industry) have seen this example of his work, it is easy to know why Chronodeco restoration services, as well as limited edition watches, are in demand.
Aside from his avocation in the world of watches, Bergsma’s vocation is that of a metallurgical engineer at an aluminum company. Among his professional achievements are the development and patent in the late 1990s of AA6069, a registered high-strength aluminum alloy. Today this alloy is used in high-end bicycle frames made by firms such as Santa Cruz, Cervelo, and Cube in Germany. It is also used extensively in forged airport runway landing-light housings. Craig has been involved with aluminum technology for more than thirty-five years and has dozens of published papers and several more aluminum patents. While this background helps in restoring watch cases, he says that working in auto body shops right after completing high school probably helped the most. Craig expects to retire from the aluminum industry in a few years but insists he’ll continue working on old watches and building new ones for many years to come.
Click the image at right to read an article about the Chronodeco 1968 series of hand-wound chronographs...
Update (July 2020)-- I've been in touch with Craig just recently and he indicated to me that he has retired from the watch business. His website has also been disabled, so some images he hosted which I linked in my articles are in the process of being restored. I'm sorry to hear Craig is no longer contributing to our beloved hobby, but wish him happiness in his next adventure.
Text © C. Bradley Jacobs and WatchCarefully.com, unless otherwise credited. Photos in this article © Craig Bergsma and Brandon Sparks.
Roamer Watch Company’s
Nostalgic brilliance, timeless charm...
Originally published in International Watch Magazine, April 2005
Recently, a trend has emerged in which long-established watch companies are expressing pride in their heritage through re-issues of classic pieces from the past. Roamer Watch Company, in a move that reflects a history of following their own path, has chosen to issue a watch they might have made, but never did until circumstances made such a move irresistible. At the 2004 Basel Fair, Roamer introduced the Compétence MST, a limited-edition watch that combines a new old stock vintage movement with an inspired nostalgic design.
Roamer is a Swiss company whose presence in the US has not previously matched its reputation in Europe and Asia where its long history is more familiar to watch aficionados. Founded in 1888 by Fritz Meyer, the Solothurn-based company began manufacturing watch escapements before expanding into the assembly of complete watches. In 1905 the firm became a movement manufacture under the name Meyer & Studeli. Having begun to create their own movements (marked MST), Meyer & Studeli grew steadily, eventually taking on the manufacture of cases and dials and employing more than 1200 individuals. In 1952, having become a fully integrated manufacture, the name Roamer Watch Co. SA was adopted and has been in use to this day. Through a transformation of its image--a combination of attracting new markets while delving into its prestigious past of mechanical watchmaking--the brand is experiencing a revival and its new focus promises to guide the firm into the up-market position it seeks. Integral to this aim is Roamer’s insistence upon assembling their watches entirely in their own workshops. Their focus on quality and individuality is clear.
Leading the way, Roamer’s new Compétence MST watch series employs a recently-discovered cache of unused examples of MST Caliber 468 (see technical specifications below), a hand-wound movement manufactured in the 1950s. Found hidden in the Roamer archives, this well-preserved supply of 19-jewel movements will only be used in the new limited edition watch. Caliber 468 will not be reproduced because the original technical drawings and tools no longer exist.
Additionally, because the competence line’s pierced case designs are based upon a vintage prototype only recently refined for production, the new Compétence MST timepiece is truly a time capsule representing the high points of Roamer Watch Company’s competent creative history.
The Compétence MST houses Caliber 468 in a rectangular case that is at once an expression of post-WWII retro-modern elegance and an interpretation of the Roamer company’s present individuality. The frontiers of the dial connect to the case by way of numerals and indices, creating a skeletonized effect where the dial (or movement, depending upon one’s point of view) almost floats within the case. Though the movement is diminutive (6 ¾ lignes) the polished stainless steel case measures a healthy 34 millimeters across; large dimensions for a square watch. Sapphire crystals with anti-reflective coating protect both sides of the watch and give a clear view of the decorated movement with its blue screws and côtes de Genève. Other modern touches include a caseback secured by four screws, an exclusive decorated crown and a 316L stainless steel folding clasp for the leather straps. Dial variations include black, blue, silver and anthracite. Despite the impressive array of features and the inherent exclusivity of the Compétence MST, pre-tax MSRP is a mere 1450 Swiss Francs (~$1170).
Roamer’s Compétence MST is the new flagship of the Compétence product line, which includes several nicely decorated display-back timepieces such as the Original, “La Grande,” and automatic Skeleton models. Roamer’s attention to its past has also found expression in the classic 1960s “Stingray” nameplate and the “Golden Days” line which recalls the “golden age” of the Roamer line: the 1950s. The remainder of Roamer’s output includes decidedly modern influences from slim dress to modern sport, from bold chronographs to elegant women’s watches. More than 100 years of existence and more than 65 years of movement manufacturing give Roamer a pedigree that few of today’s Swiss “watchmakers” can match. Though not yet fully poised to invade the North American market, Roamer’s plans for expansion certainly include the United States, which is seen as having huge potential for a firm offering traditional Swiss watches with such impressive price-to-quality ratios. American watch enthusiasts are invited to keep an eye on this storied Swiss firm and bid them renewed welcome.
Roamer MST Caliber 468
Manufactured by Roamer in Solothurn, Switzerland, ca. 1950s
6 ¾ '''; diam. 15.5mm
19 Jewels with Incabloc anti-shock system and
Girocap escape-wheel jewel anti-shock syste m
21,600 V/h with Power reserve of approx. 35 hours
Hand-wound with Hours & minutes indicatio n
Blue tapered screws & Côtes de Genève
A WatchCarefully comparative review of two
vintage watches with Tiger-Eye stone dials
Rado Diastar & Technos Borazon
Rado has long been recognized as a leader among watch brands. Their ground-breaking designs and their innovation in the use of hard metal and ceramics to produce scratch-resistant cases have few peers. Having accomplished so much over the past four decades or more, it is understandable that many other brands have adapted Rado designs and methods of construction for their own products. In some cases, a delicate balance is stuck between homage to the innovator and introduction of an original design. In other cases, the intent to copy the original and insinuate a new, similar product into an existing market is clear. Without attributing to the brand any motives, I have chosen to compare a Technos watch to a Rado watch in this review of two interesting 1970s products:
The first watch, considered a benchmark by many collectors and historians, is the Rado DiaStar. First introduced in 1962, this model featured (and still does) a case with a prominent oval bezel made of sintered tungsten-carbide. The use of this material was heavily promoted as rendering the watch scratch-proof, and the model became an icon of design—one often copied and re-interpreted, even until today. The example being examined for the purposes of this review is a ca. 1970s DiaStar Magic, reference DiaStar 13G. It is a gold-tone model of the usual basic shape and it features a faceted sapphire crystal, automatic day/date movement by ETA, and a dial made of stone. In the 1970s-1980s Rado, and many other companies, marketed watches with stone components (usually dials, though Tissot and some others produced stone watch cases as well) which were not a large proportion of their production, but were made in enough varieties to be a collectible theme of their own. The DiaStar shown here features a dial of tiger-eye stone.
The second watch is of, shall we say, a similar style. It is a Borazon model from Technos watch company, a Brazil-based assembler of Swiss-made components. Again, this watch has a hard-metal case, faceted sapphire crystal, ETA automatic movement, and tiger-eye stone dial. The similarities are obvious and, presumably, intentional. However, this is not a mere copy of a Rado icon. This review will focus on some of the individual elements of the Technos that give it a personality of its own, even when displayed side-by-side with the DiaStar.
The method of comparison used for this review is both objective and subjective. I will describe the elements of each watch with as little emotion or opinion as possible, but then draw a conclusion of a subjective nature. When appropriate, I will declare one watch to have the edge over the other. I trust that the reader will not be offended. Due to the history of Rado, I consider it to be the more “established” brand, and I will conduct the comparison by describing the DiaStar first and then explaining how the Technos measures up (or fails to) against the “original.”
Though the obvious place to begin comparing a DiaStar with similar watches is the case, these watches are exceptional for one reason, and that is reason enough to look first at their dials.
First, some disclaimers: These watches, both being in good running condition and fairly well sealed, have not been completely disassembled for the purpose of this review. No in-depth descriptions of the method of construction of each dial will be given, nor will they necessarily be closely photographed. All comments on quality are the opinion of the reviewer who is not an expert in mineral specimens, nor in the making of watch dials.
The dial of the Rado is of typical DiaStar configuration. It has a day/date aperture at 6:00 and bold 3-dimensional markers for the hours (more on this below). One noteworthy feature is lacking: the anchor logo that spins on a jewel-like bearing set into the dial. This has been a regular feature of Rado automatic watches since 1962, but is often replaced with a printed logo on watches with stone dials. Communication with Rado has indicated just what one would expect—that the addition of any extra perforations in the stone (aside from the day/date window and the central hole for the hands) would endanger its integrity. As a result, on this watch we see that the Rado logo, brand name, and model name are printed in crisp, legible white paint. Most other DiaStar models feature applied logos and names. The printed elements here are appropriate, though, for any additional 3-dimensional elements would distract from the main feature of the dial: the reflective/refractive quality of the stone.
The stone used for this particular dial appears to be of good quality. There are no visible interruptions in the pattern of striations, nor are there cracks. Light is captured and reflected in a way that makes the dial appears very bright and lively, without being flashy like polished gold would be. Indeed, the stone, though very animated as the angle of light changes, actually imparts a mellowness, subduing the overall bright presentation of the watch’s gold-tone case and bracelet.
The dial of the Technos was created with a much less bright slice of stone. At a glance it appears to be more like brushed brass than tiger-eye, but with a close examination, and sufficient light, it is clearly tiger-eye. Unlike the stone of the Rado dial, the range of colors in the Technos tiger-eye is more monochromatic. The striations are much less obvious and, with the position of the grain of the stone being perpendicular to the parallel facets of the crystal, it is difficult at a glance to recognize their orientation. For the sake of this review, the dial and movement were removed from the Technos for photography:
The printing upon the Technos dial is a copper- or gold-tone and thus the entire presentation is rather monochromatic. In certain light the printing is almost invisible, an effect which accentuates the stone but can be annoying when one tries to read the text.
I cannot determine which is the higher quality or rarer piece of stone, but I would give higher marks to Rado for choosing one that is more pleasing to my eye. From a quality perspective, it is clear that Rado wins this round. Their characteristic beveled window frame is far more attractive than the unadorned date aperture of the Technos—an element that seems to be almost an afterthought. The seam between the dial and the chapter ring are far cleaner on the Rado than the Technos, though this is not obvious during normal use without magnification.
Markers and Hands
Rado chose to use bold 3-D gold markers filled with white paint, which nicely matches the white painted dial elements such as those mentioned above, but also included printed white minute markers on the stone. The gold hands are pointed & polished, beveled & grooved, and feature openings which are filled with luminous paint to match the luminous dots applied to the dial before each raised hour marker. The minute and seconds hands reach very close to the appropriate chapter and the hour hand is of a reasonable and proportionate length. All of these elements are of good quality and, though the luminosity has declined in the decades since it was produced, the readability of the interface is surprisingly good for such a busy and decorative construction.
The Technos markers are also 3-dimensional and gold, but are topped
with small black bars which match the printed black minute chapter on the gold ring at the perimeter of the dial. In sufficient light, this is a pleasing combination but in darker situations, proves much harder to read than the Rado. Gold beveled hands with black fill continue the theme. These are not of the same elaborate design as those of the Rado—almost imperceptible angles and shorter length (and the lack of an extended minute chapter printed on the stone dial) make a weaker overall impression than on the DiaStar.
Both watches are powered by ETA 25-jewel 2824 variants. The Rado’s is gilt while the Technos’s is nickel plated. Both are running well years after having been assembled and with their service histories unknown. Cursory examinations of each watch and movement reveal that the Rado has probably not been used much nor serviced in its lifetime. The Technos has definitely been opened, perhaps for service. It shows some wear on the back and is also missing part of a marker that would be loose inside if the watch had not been opened and this item removed. It would be unfair to grade either watch on the accuracy of the movement, since neither has recently been serviced (to my knowledge), though the Rado has been running within a second or so per day for 2-3 weeks. Similarly, it would be unfair to give the Rado higher marks for having a day display, though I find the Rado’s 6:00 placement of the day-date window symmetric and more pleasing than the 3:00 date aperture on the Technos. It may be fair simply to acknowledge that both brands chose solid, proven movements which were the standard of their day for their price range.
Case and Bracelet
Rado’s DiaStar case is an icon. However, it is perceived by many watch collectors as having an ungainly bulk, and an unimaginative shape. The explanation for these features probably dates back to the early days of the DiaStar’s design. Mr. Marc Lederrey, chief designer for Rado in the early 1960s, was the first to explore the use of unusual alloys and space-age materials in watch case making. At that time, the fragility of the materials and the limited capabilities of the production machinery meant that only a simple bezel could be produced. A minimal number of steps was preferred, as a more complex design might increase the risk of waste during manufacturing and finishing. Thus was born the oval DiaStar and, though many variations have been produced since (eg, the DiaMaster and Balboa series), it is this original design that comes to mind when Rado’s tungsten-carbide bezels are discussed.
With this particular example of the Technos Borazon, we see that some liberties were taken with the original idea of the scratch-proof bezel. Many additional facets are included and, though the vestiges of the original oval design are present, the result is a watch that appears to be thinner and more svelte. Also, this new shape does more to identify this watch as not being a product of Rado than any other element. The origin of the idea is not completely disguised, but the finished product has more of its own personality than most DiaStar derivatives.
Both watches included folded-steel bracelets with fold-over clasps. The Rado bracelet was produced and marked by noted supplier Novavit S. A. (NSA) while the Technos bracelet is unsigned. Both are proper for this style of watch, even if their originality to each piece cannot be verified. Typically, Rado and Technos and many other brands used bracelets of this type, the clasps of which were stamped or engraved with the company name and/or logo. Signed crowns were also the norm for these brands and the Rado’s is gold-plated with the anchor logo. The Technos would have a steel crown with a raised “T” although this example appears to have an unsigned replacement.
The cases of each watch are massive and have screw-on backs with the company logo and a case number engraved. The Rado is 13 mm thick x 35 mm wide and 42 mm long. The Technos measures 12 x 35 x 38. The choice of which style of case is preferable is, obviously, a personal one. In the context of this comparison, it may be fair only to note that each timepiece’s case is quite appropriate for this style of dial and the era in which they were produced.
These are both uncommon watches, and are unlikely to both be the subject of a buyer’s choice at the counter of his favorite watch seller, so this review is much less one of practicality than of historical comparison. Other brands offered dials of stone, and tungsten-carbide bezels, so this is not even a comprehensive historical review of all the similar models available to an intrepid collector. However, as a comparison of an innovator’s product with a piece clearly designed in the same vein, I hope it gives the reader some perspective on what makes a Rado a quality watch that often commands a large premium over its imitators.
My brief experience with each of these watches has left me impressed with both. This DiaStar Magic is something of a collector’s item—the extent of it’s rarity has yet to be determined, but it is in fabulous condition and is remarkable as an example of a style of dial that has not been produced by Rado in two decades or more. The Technos, is a fine example of a watch, and brand, that is very uncommon in the United States. Technos has traditionally not marketed watches in the USA and this may be another example of a brand that has reached our shores only recently as a result of the World Wide Web. Research into their history and their current product line shows that they continue to create watches based upon influential designs of other brands, yet they also produce some designs that are clearly their own. In this regard, perhaps they are akin to Invicta or MarcelloC—brands which have their own rabid devotees and detractors.
In general this Technos Borazon is a difficult watch to read except in good light. As a piece of jewelry, it is lovely, though not so much as the Rado. As an example of modern design it is eye-catching and harmonious, though not so much as the Rado. Although the Borazon’s case shape is a pleasing alternative to that of the typically bulbous DiaStar, this is not enough to make up for a host of minor deficiencies elsewhere in design and quality—the latter being the decisive criterion. It is interesting to note, that the bezels of both watches are in remarkable condition roughly thirty years after they were manufactured. Tungsten-carbide cases are not entirely scratch-proof--I have examples that are heavily scuffed--but when given appropriate care, they can certainly look like new for years.
Additional comments, etc...
Subtle things Rado did right:
- Align the facets of the crystal with the striations of the stone.
- Avoid dark colors on the dial.
- Pay attention to fine details such as hands and markers.
Improvements Technos made on a classic:
- Additional facets on the case lend a slimming effect to a case style that has always been bulbous.
- Silver-tone case finish is more like steel or white gold than is the blue-grey of traditional Rado tungsten-carbide bezels.
Other examples of Technos Tiger-Eye dials:
If you've read this far, you must be a fan of Rado and I invite you to visit the Rado Discussion Forum.
Text and images: © C. Bradley Jacobs and WatchCarefully.com, unless otherwise credited
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 it’s 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 (no RGM bracelet available as of this writing)
Some examples are shown below. If you would like to include your variant, please e-mail the author.
Text and images © C. Bradley Jacobs & www.WatchCarefully.com unless otherwise indicated.