Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sneak Peak: Damasko In-House Movement

The young mechanical watch firm Damasko out of Germany [established in 1994] has been working on a completely in-house manufactured movement for about 3 years. A quick visit to the "Technology" area of their website and you see that Damasko is focusing a lot of it's attention on producing an oil free escapement created from a 'Diamond Like Carbon' [DLC] material that runs completely dry [without lubrication], that has superior wear resistance. Damasko initially took their concept and tested it out in existing movements [i.e. the Valjoux 7750] to see how it would hold up, with the results being very positive. A quiet announcement from Damasko through some smaller avenues shows that all is going according to plan, and that not only has the escapement been a success, but their plans to create an in-house movement are rapidly coming to fruition.

In a post from "Mike Stuffler" Moderator @ Watchuseek:

"Damasko is currently applying for a new patent. Damasko has developed a new production technique to produce hairsprings.

After three years of development the “Epi-Poly -Silicon” (EPS®) is ready for serial production.

It is a poly crystalline silicone which is for the first time produced as a layer out of vapour deposition.

Due to the vapour deposition it is possible to create crystals in nanometer size which makes that material a perfect substance for mechanical applications.

The new movement named the "A 35" will make it's public debut in a few months and will feature: a new patented winding mechanism, a ceramic/steel mix rotor bearing which takes away that parts need for lubrication, along with the mentioned DLC escapement, and in-house hairspring.

Damasko has apparently invested over 3 million Euro into this project, with most of that money going into developing the machinery to keep everything local. Starting now all pallets, wheels, pinions, barrels, rotors, bearings, balances, escapements, decorative engravings, spotting(s) and galvanic processes will be produced, and performed in-house.

A big thanks to Mike over at Watchuseek for passing this info along!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

New Feature: Odds & Ends

Every once in a while I come across a couple of stories that I think are pretty interesting but there really isn't too much more I could write about the subject that isn't already there. I decided that when I get a couple of those compiled I would make a single post about them. More likely than not the news will not be hot off the press, but I still think it's worthy enough to share.

For now I'm just going to call it "Odds & Ends" if I can think of a better name I'll change it.

I have two stories that appealed to me for various reasons recently; so here goes.

---- Story I ----

Quite the Amazing Gesture

It's no secret that I am a fan of all things wristwatch, it is among other things a great passion of mine. Over the past couple of years for various reasons, I have had a growing love for the continent of Africa as well, it's an absolutely stunning place in every sense of the word and I find myself yearning to go back when possible. Bearing that in mind, I was pretty happy to see a small story in the news regarding a wristwatch and the country of Ghana.

First Lady Michelle Obama with First Lady Ernestina Mills of Ghana

During President & Mrs. Obama's September visit to Africa the First Lady of Ghana, Mrs. Ernestina Mills, presented First Lady Michelle Obama with a stunning Backes & Strauss automatic timepiece. The 18kt rose gold watch contains 2.35 carats of diamonds with its dial adorned with the flag of the Republic of Ghana. Contained within the graphic of the flag is the display for a moonphase complication. The watch was presented to her on behalf of Ghana by Backes & Struass, and the African Watch Trading Co Ltd. This is certainly no slouch of a watch but its extravagance comes second to the understanding that diamonds and gold are two of Ghana's greatest resources.

It wasn't so long ago that the watch world was a buzz about President Obama's Jorg Gray 6500 Series Chronograph. It's nice to see that now Mrs. Obama can join the party with a beautiful piece of the watchmaking craft for herself.

---- Story II ----

Joe Girardi Signature NOA Watch

I'm sure this will make some people grumble just a little bit but I am a huge New York Yankees fan, and have been all of my life. Needless to say I was very happy to see the Yankees take home their 27th championship earlier this month. It was right before that final win in the World Series that I stumbled across a special edition watch developed by NOA Watches ["None Of the Above"] in conjunction with Joe Girardi, the New York Yankees manager.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi wearing a NOA piece during a press conference

The watch is a special edition, limited to 100 pieces and is currently [unless it's sold out already] for sale at Manfredi Jewels in Greenwich, CT. Known for their 3-D style dial work this NOA piece is no different. The dial contains their familiar raised indices along with a Yankees logo, an impression of Joe Girardi's signature, and each watches number in the run of 100. I bet you can't guess who got "No. 027". All this, of course, colored in navy blue. Inside of the 42mm case is a 3 hand + date automatic movement, sandwiched in between sapphire crystals on both front & back. Keeping the watch secured to 99 other happy owners wrists is a navy blue rubber strap.

The retail price for the watch is $2,400, but expect to pay more if they are sold out and wind up for sale elsewhere. Proceeds of the original sales have gone to help "Catch 25", Joe Girardi's foundation which provides support to families and individuals across the country who are challenged by ALS, Alzheimer’s, cancer and fertility issues.

Trust me, if my wife wouldn't kill me on the spot, I would already have one. This is a must have for any Yankees fan that knows their watches...and can afford it.


So there it is..."Odds & Ends", hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading!

Another Lawsuit for The Swatch Group: Op-Ed

There is a funny thing that happens when a recession hits, all of these things that were 'OK' to do during a time of prosperity all at once come under loads of scrutiny. A couple of days ago I was clued into a story, stemming from Australia, about yet another lawsuit that was filed against the mighty Swatch Group by the former general manager of their Australian branch; Mark Watson. The lawsuit alleges that Mr. Watson was wrongfully released from his position at Swatch when he refused to break an Australian law stating that Swatch forced retailers to charge their suggested retail prices, and not allow any form of discount to the customer. In more common terms; price fixing. Though Watson's lawsuit appears to be for personal loss and damages from losing his position it brings up those now age old questions; is The Swatch Group too big, and do its business maneuvers have too much influence in the market?

Let's just get right down to it; Swatch is a massively huge company. It's seemingly really difficult to buy a Swiss watch now without them having some hand in the production somewhere along the line. A quick look at the firms they control and you'll see its a veritable who's who of modern watchmaking. They are the principal owner of many exclusive luxury firms, moderate to lower end brands, and what is one of the largest suppliers [at least until 2010] of mechanical and quartz movements in the world. When taking a step back from it all, its really hard to say that they are not a monopoly.

The love him, or hate him, Swatch Group CEO is Nicolas Hayek; a very outspoken and sometimes overly arrogant, character who some think has too much of a hand in what happens in the industry. For example; in 2006 Hayek announced that his movement manufacturing firm [ETA] would stop selling blank movements [sort of a drop n' go watch movement system] to companies outside of the Swatch Group umbrella. This took the industry and even the Swiss government by surprise, who later cut a deal with Hayek to continue to supply movements until 2010 so the industry could reorganize itself. That 'bridge the gap' deal is pretty much an admission by the Swiss government that Swatch was a monopoly. Since that time Swatch has only grown larger, and acquired more brands and part manufacturers.

Is Nicolas Hayek missing his top hat and monocle?

When asked why Hayek stated at the time that the industry had grown stale and lacked innovation, and he felt that cutting off the supply watch movements it would spur other firms to create more. Since that announcement many Swiss companies have indeed become 'manufacturers' [a term given to watch firms that produce their own in-house movements from scratch]. The problem is the companies that were able to become manufacturers did so because of consistent high sales, and a fat bottom line. They had the capital to invest in developing new movements. There was a period where moderate and lower end brands were caught twisting in the wind while they searched for an alternative supplier and began to use their ETA movements more sparingly. In turn this game of simple supply and demand was proven correctly when a moderate end watch brand with ETA movements began to raise their prices pointing a phantom finger in The Swatch Group's direction for blame.

Now that the dust has begun to settle it looks like a good portion of the mid level brands have turned to the place that every struggling industry turns to when they need materials...China. The Chinese watch industry has subsequently grown in scale since Hayek's announcement. The quality of their movements has greatly increased, and now many Asian watch companies now offer high end complications, once only offered by Swiss companies, at a fraction of the cost. I'm thinking when Hayek stated he wanted to spur innovation he didn't really have China in mind. The Chinese are now being taken more seriously as it helps fill this gap, and at the same time begin to make a name for themselves. Unfortunately the Chinese still have the stigma of poor working conditions and the production of counterfeit watches [and not just the $20 "Rolex" on the streets of New York City, but scary good, functional representations of very high end pieces] and they would need to do more to clean up their and focus on their own creativity before they are welcomed more into the "big game".

I'm positive there are few who would disagree that The Swatch Group is definitely a monopoly in one way or another. That said; you really don't hear much from other companies in the industry accusing them of it. And yes, the government of Switzerland raises concern, and even has investigated them more than once for anti-trust violations but when it comes right down to it; is Switzerland going to mess with one of it's largest sources of financial revenue? Probably not. I would expect more slaps on the wrist, and compromised arrangements to be hammered out between the two. The whole of the watchmaking world seems to be fine with the way Swatch operates...Does that make it OK?

What it comes down to at the end of the day is; do you want said brand of watch, and are you willing to pay for it? The average customer is not too concerned with the practices of a parent company. Be it the Euro, the Yuan, the Yen, the Franc, or the Dollar...The might buck still rules all [even when its worse less than it has been in years].

As always I welcome any opinions.

Audemars Piguet: Life in the Fast Lane

Not so long ago [August 25th] we put out a story announcing the new partnership between the Alinghi sailing team, and Hublot watches. One of the aspects covered in that post was that Alinghi previously had sponsorship from Audemars Piguet [AP].

Now, I know you were all worried about AP and how they were going to survive without the partnership with Alinghi...Fear not; it was announced yesterday that they have hitched their trailer to another professional sailing team. Typically known for joining forces with sailing teams that race in The America's Cup, AP's newest wave riding friend is the good ship "l’Hydroptère" skippered by Alain Thébault and a ten-man crew.

I can already hear you asking; 'So if not racing in The America's Cup what is the purpose of the l’Hydroptère?' The answer is a simple one, Speed. On November 8th the l’Hydroptère was confirmed as the world's fastest flying trimaran holding an average speed of 50.17 knots over one nautical mile. During the same series of runs the l’Hydroptère also broke the speed record over a distance of 500 meters with an average speed of 51.36 knots. Ultimately the team wants to continue their record breaking runs their next venture where l’Hydroptère is to sale around the world in 40 days, leaving from Lake Geneva in Switzerland in the summer of 2010.

There has been no announcement as of yet whether or not AP will create a special edition piece honoring the l’Hydroptère team, and their record breaking runs.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Armin Strom Video Review

Kyle over at the Perpetuelle blog posted a video review of an Armin Strom Blue Chip skeleton watch.