Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tag Heuer Monaco V4: No, Really!

They said it couldn't be done, and that it would never make its way to market...It's always fun to prove people wrong. Tag Heuer announced that their seemingly perpetual prototype watch, the Monaco V4, will finally enter a limited production of 150 pieces and become available for sale to the public this coming November. Watch enthusiasts have been reading about the Monaco V4 since 2004 with many doubting that Tag Heuer would be able to pull off the bold design. The announcement was made by Tag Heuer at the 2009 Only Watch Charity Auction.

So, what's the big deal? The Monaco V4 will be the worlds first belt driven watch with a linear automatic winding system. This is a first for mechanical watches which are typically run by a series of gear trains, wheels, and pinions and are either wound manually or with a rotor attached to the movement which rotates freely. Think of the V4 as having a literal micro-engine that has a tungsten piston to generate power. Tag Heuer has won two patents for its design over the past 5 years. What a perfect way to honor the Monaco's storied racing legacy. The original Monaco became wildly popular when worn by Steve McQueen in the 1971 film "Le Mans". Since then Tag Heuer and auto racing seemed to go hand in hand, including becoming the official timer for F1 races. Tag Heuer still incorporates McQueen's image to promote the Monaco line.

The linear winding block [center] and quad barrels in V formation

Taking cues from the original Monaco design, which has been altered very little over the years, the V4 will have an updated case coming in at about 41mm. Boasting sapphire crystal and 3 part exhibition caseback, to show off Tag Heuer's groundbreaking movement.

Below is an official promotional film that has been making its way around the web since 2004. It shows the concept of the belt driven movement, and linear winding system. You will notice some minor design changes between the watch in the film, and the production model.

The first run of 75 will be available to the buying public this November, with a second round appearing in June of 2010. Every Monaco V4 will be hand assembled by Tag Heuer's Master Watchmaker Denis Badin.

The cost? Well, the V4 will run you a cool $98,000.00 [About 100,000.00 Swiss Francs]...But honestly, that's small price to pay to be one of the cool kids on your block. Economy be damned, these things are going to sell out pretty quickly. It's great to see Tag Heuer deliver on its years of anticipation.

Thanks to the ViaLuxe Blog for the heads up on this news!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Swatch Group Under Antitrust Investigation

Big news regarding the worlds largest watch manufacturer, The Swatch Group, came out today unfortunately it's not really of the positive nature for them. It was announced that they were being investigated by a Swiss antitrust body for possible abuse of its dominant market position. Those in the know were well aware of The Swatch Groups plan, announced in 2004, to stop selling blank movements to outside watch companies. This sent something of a shock wave through an industry that heavily relied on their ETA brand of mechanical movements. Swatch Group co-founder Nicolas Hayek [pictured] claimed that he felt as though the industry needed to be shaken up, and that he wanted to spur more innovation. At that time they were investigated by the same antitrust body where a deal was struck that ETA would continue to provide blank movements through 2010 to give time for the Swiss watch industry to plan and adjust to the change. Since that announcement from The Swatch Group and with 2010 looming several higher end manufacturers that traditionally relied on ETA to supply blank movements did begin creating their own in-house movements.

Full text of article from Reuters:

ZURICH, Sept 15 (Reuters) - The Swiss competition watchdog has launched an investigation against Swatch Group (UHR.VX) unit ETA Manufacture Horlogere Suisse SA for potential abuse of a dominant market position.

A pre-investigation yielded signs ETA had abused its potentially dominant position in the market for mechanical clockworks, the Competition Commission said on Tuesday.

Swatch Group, the world's largest watchmaker and best known for colourful plastic Swatch watches, said it was confident the results of the investigation would be positive.

"The timing for such an investigation is rather bad as since the beginning of 2009 most of the third-party clients have massively cancelled or postponed their orders," a spokeswoman for the group said in a statement.

Third-party watchmakers have cut back on orders for components from Swatch Group as the Swiss watch industry grapples with its sharpest drop in demand in around 20 years as a result of the economic slump.

The commission was mainly investigating whether ETA sold products at better conditions than other Swatch Group companies than to third-party firms, Patrik Ducrey from the commission said. The investigation was set to take about one year.

At 0754 GMT, shares in Swatch Group had slipped 0.7 percent to 236.80 Swiss francs, while the DJ personal and household goods index was flat..SXQP

The commission said it had received a number of complaints after ETA raised prices and announced new payment conditions last year.

ETA had already been investigated in 2004 after announcing it would stop delivery of clockwork kits -- so called Ebauches -- where it had market share of over 95 percent in the relevant market. The case was settled after ETA agreed to continue supplying Ebauches until the end of 2010. (Reporting by Sven Egenter; Editing by Dan Lalor)

* Watchdog to check if ETA abused market dominant position

* ETA produces mechanical clockworks

* Swatch shares down 0.7 pct, under performing European peers


In a press release issued from The Swatch Group regarding the opening of the investigation they stated:

"The Swatch Group is confident that the results of this investigation will again be positive for ETA.

However, the timing for such an investigation seems unfortunate. Since approximately once year, the majority of the external ETA clients have massively cancelled or postponed their orders, without any consideration for the ETA personnel, its infrastructure nor the investments which have been considerable also at ETA due to the continuous pressure of the COMCO as a consequence of the complaints from third parties."

At last check Swatch Groups stock was down slightly over 1%, probably due to the announcement.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Swiss Army Ambassador Day-Date Review

Apologies for the minimal amount of posting in the past week. Some personal obligations popped up that needed to be handled. I have been updating the Twitter page regularly, so I hope that's been a source of some interesting news for you. I am slowly but surely working my way in to get information directly from watch companies, and other industry sources in the hopes that I can bring you news and information as it happens.

In the mean time; our friends over at Breitling Source posted yet another comprehensive video review. This video focuses on the Victorinox/Swiss Army Ambassador Day-Date automatic watch. The Swiss Army line is often over looked, but they do offer great watches at a fair price. If the pre-owned market is where you prefer to shop for watches eBay is a great source of Swiss Army pieces especially if you are looking for a Swiss Made automatic watch at a great value.

The nuts & bolts of the watch reviewed:
  • Swiss Made with Mechanical Automatic Movement [ETA 2836]
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • Water Resistant to 10 ATM (100 meter, 330 feet)
  • Steel case
  • Luminous hands and hour markers
  • Screw-in caseback
  • Display caseback
  • Day-Date Display
  • English/Spanish weekday
  • Steel bracelet
  • Double locking safety clasp
  • 41mm case diameter
Thanks to Breitling Source for another great video review.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Hautlence Unveils New HLq Model

Courtesy of our friends at: TheTimeTV.

Hautlence, one of my favorite independent Swiss firms, has put forth the latest of their fascinating jump hour pieces. The HLq02 'Honeycomb stitch' is the continuation of a line of limited production pieces that have put Hautlence on the map. It's no secret that I am a big fan of any manufacturer that pushes the envelope of traditional watchmaking, and forces us to re-think how we can tell time. I see Hautlence as one of those brands.

Their newest offering expands on the ideas of the HLs and HLq models moving it further into the avante garde with a honeycomb stitch dial pattern, whose theme runs consistent through the piece.

Technical specifications: HLQ02 Honeycomb stitch
-Dedicated Calibre HAUTLENCE HLQ. Jumping date, Jumping hour, retrograde minute and running second
-Manual winding mechanical movement.
-Power reserve 40h
-Oscillation: 21600 BPH
-24 Jewels
-Diameter: 43.8mm / thick: 10.65mm
-Titanium and white gold case
-Honeycomb stitch dial
-Back decoration:
-Fine brushed galvanic treatment black Gold
-Manually angled bridges
-Identification and numbering plate on the back
-Black Varnish in the engraving
-Water resistant to 30 meters (3ATM)
-Sapphire crystal with angled edges, multi layer anti reflect
-Screwed sapphire case back with stamps and the official engraving
-Polished crown with HAUTLENCE logo
-Black Hand sewn genuine Louisiana alligator strap with square scales, adjustable pin bar to fit on the case and horns, ardillon Buckle

I can hardly wait to see what they do next...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

One to Watch: Alpha Watch USA

Established in Hong Kong by brothers Chun-Keung and Chun-Feung Chan; The Alpha Watch Company has been selling very affordable watches with European styling since 1993. They have been something of an underground sensation among collectors for a few years with many of them trumpeting Alpha's value, and quality. Most of the pieces that Alpha Watch produces would fall into what is politely called by some an "homage" watch, and what is not so politely called by others a "rip off" of a preexisting popular design. The battle over homage watches continues with as many people loving them as there are hating them.

For those not familiar; an homage piece is one that gives the wearer the look of a well known high end watch [i.e. the Rolex Submariner, among others] usually with some other minor changes so as not to infringe on the logo trademarks of the original manufacturer. The up side is that they generally cost considerably less than its counterpart, the down side being that many feel is dilutes the originals design, and is bad for the market. Understand Alpha is certainly not the first to make such pieces, companies like Timex and Casio have been making watches influenced by popular designs for years. That's how it goes in business, if it makes an impact it gets copied in some form or another. One of the concerns is that homage watches coming from some Chinese manufacturers are potentially aiding the production of counterfeit watches...But that's a discussion for another day.

Back to Alpha; doing a search on most watch forums of Alpha will usually bring up several discussions. Most of the reaction regarding watches purchased through their Hong Kong online store has been generally positive with, of course, some negative comments regarding occasional quality control issues. The sometimes spotty quality control can be pretty common among Chinese watch manufacturers. The one thing people can't deny is that a lot of watch collectors certainly like to talk about, and buy up Alpha watches.

In mid 2009 a announcement was posted on the Watchuseek forum's Chinese Mechanical Watch area that Alpha Watch USA was to be established, and that many of the wishes, and some complaints discussed by forum members across the web about Alpha Hong Kong [HK] would be addressed. After a short delay the official US website opened with an initial offering that included products and services buyers have been asking about for years, that Alpha HK wasn't really open to doing on a small production run basis.

This announcement was made by Mark Lewis of Illinois; the founder and owner of Alpha Watch USA. Mark was last employed in the telecommunications field where he has had many successes and actually holds U.S. and International patents related to VoIP [Voice Over IP]. Among Mark's many hobbies [including amateur astronomy and drag racing] is, you guessed it, collecting watches. After seeing how popular Alpha HK was, and his desire of fulfilling the customer's wants and needs he decided to see if opening Alpha Watch US was possible. Stating after countless hours research and finding the right partner he was ready to take the plunge. He found that partner in Chris Youra a Project Manager of a marketing firm in California, who will be acting on behalf of Alpha USA as their design, marketing, and web development departments.

Starting out Alpha US has more or less been acting as an official distributor of Alpha HK's product line in North America creating it's own online store and offering many of Alpha HK's most popular designs. Though it doesn't end there, from the very beginning Mark and Chris have been speaking with fans of the brand and asking them questions about where they wanted Alpha US to go...and they actually started to implement the answers. Immediately on Alpha US's website, buyers now had the option to purchase things like display case backs to retrofit their favorite Alpha HK watches [which was a long time customer request], along with a timegrapher service option on new watch purchases [for a small fee], to see just how accurate their latest Alpha watch purchase is. I asked Mark what about Alpha Watch HK made him want to become the US distributor, he stated: "Alpha Watch has a pretty good reputation in the marketplace and have been around for a long time. That coupled with the fact that they have good manufacturing capacity and are willing to do just about anything from a design standpoint makes them a very suitable partner. Their quality control is actually pretty good for what they deliver on a daily basis which makes our job here in the United States easier."

One of the biggest questions was how Alpha Watch US would differ from the Hong Kong based operations, Mark replied: "Well, for one, we are offering a more service based approach. From fielding questions to interacting on various forums to keep in touch with our customers takes us in a totally different direction from Alpha HK. In addition, offering testing services such as with our Timegrapher substantially differentiates us not only from Alpha HK but most all other manufacturer/distributor/retailers at the price point we are selling." continuing "The only aspect of business we share is the fact that we both sell strictly on the Internet. They are a manufacturer and retailer of their own product. We, on the other hand are a distribution arm for them. That said, I'd like them to focus more on the manufacturing end and less of the retail end but that will take time." It's obvious from Mark's statements that he and Chris are looking to expand Alpha's market and product line beyond what is available from Alpha HK. The new relationship had me curious about how the brothers Chan in Hong Kong would react to Mark and Chris taking their labor of love and reshaping it for an American market. I asked Mark about that as well; "Alpha HK is very supportive of our efforts here at Alpha Watch USA. They take our ideas from a concept sometimes as simple as a rough drawing to a production ready blueprint."

With such an ambitious start and the support many collectors, Mark seems confident that his first foray into the watch industry will be a rewarding one. What can we expect from Alpha US in the future? Most certainly the US side of the business will, for now, continue to sell the pieces that made Alpha HK so popular including:

"The Newman"

"The Mil-Sub"

"The Sea"

"The Carbon" [New model only available at Alpha USA]

Three out of the four of those probably look pretty familiar to most readers who know watches. Aside from the physical likeness to their more high end cousins, all of these use Chinese made 'Seagull' and 'Shanghai' movements which, in their own right, have a track record for reliability and robustness. Though the above pieces are very popular and will continue to be sold for some time Mark and Chris aren't content with keeping Alpha US at the status quo, there has been talk of several new models coming out including some that fans have coveted for a while; "We intend on introducing more models that are unique to Alpha Watch USA as time goes on. I'd like to get completely away from the homage pieces but I suspect that would take a lot longer than I'd like. So, we will continue to offer these [homage] pieces but with the Alpha USA "touch" if you will."

Alpha US really seems to want to be tied together with its customer base, and along side its website has started to keep everyone updated by creating official Alpha US pages on Facebook and Twitter. Mark has even started to perform webcasts via an Alpha US YouTube page where he plans to discuss where things are going, unveil new models, and show what Alpha US is all about. Claiming: "Ultimately, it's the customer who buys our product so, I don't intend to stop listening."

Mark Lewis introducing the heavily requested MilSub watch:

To veiw their current product line visit their official website at:

You can contact Mark directly with any comments or suggestions via their email; or via their official Facebook & Twitter pages.

I would like to thank Mark for taking the time to answer my questions about Alpha Watch USA, its operations and their plans for the future.

Ed Note: The author owns 3 Alpha watches purchased through their Hong Kong facilities.