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The Return of Manual-Wind Watches

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The Return of Manual-Wind Watches

The lack of a rotor generally allows manual-wind movements — and, ultimately, their exterior cases — to be smaller, which suits the current trend for small watches. While watch fans are known to call the 40-millimeter size “Goldilocks” because it is neither too big nor too small, several models introduced this year were in the low 30 millimeters, and some were even smaller.

For example, Patek Philippe’s Watch Art exhibition in June in Tokyo had a pair of special-edition manual-wound gold Calatrava watches, sized at 31 millimeters and 36 millimeters (the display also had a host of exceptional hand-wound métiers d’art timepieces).

Bulgari also played with size in developing its manual-wind BVL 100 Piccolissimo movement, introduced last year. It is one of the smallest and thinnest movements on the market: 12.3 millimeters in diameter and 2.5 millimeters thick, and it weighs 1.3 grams (less than 0.05 ounces).

“Our very important clients were saying that they had so many high-jewelry watches but found it was a pity that the tiny batteries soon ran out,” said Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, the brand’s production creation executive director. “You can use a battery for about a year, but after the second or third year when you go to pick it up from your safe, the watch doesn’t work anymore. A mechanical movement is forever.”

The Piccolissimo first was used in Bulgari’s high-jewelry Serpenti Misteriosi watches, but this year it made its way into the new Mediterranea high-jewelry collection, presented in Venice in May. Among the most dazzling pieces was the Giardino Marino Grande (price on application), a watch bracelet with an underwater seascape design featuring fish, shells, sea anemones and coral accented with more than 4,000 gems. A central fish can be flipped up to reveal the 14-millimeter dial of a Piccolissimo-powered watch; it is wound via a special flat mechanism on the back of the bracelet.

Manual-wind movements highlight a watch’s vintage look. At the Watches and Wonders Geneva trade fair in the spring, Panerai unveiled the Radiomir California PAM01349 ($12,300), featuring what the industry calls a California dial: The hours are marked with a combination of Roman numerals, Arabic numbers and dashes, with an inverted triangle at 12 o’clock.

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