John Harrison developed marine chronometers for the British Navy in the early 1700s. These were chronometers mounted on gimbals in wooden boxes, designed to be as accurate as possible for more precise navigation. Later they were made by other clockmakers for other navies, and the classical dial pattern, with a small seconds subdial at 6 o’clock and Roman numerals, was used for pocket watches, including those made by Harrison himself. Later still, in the early 20th century, pocket watches were adapted to create the earliest wristwatches. Today, the marine chronometer style is a still a classic, sophisticated, distinctive genre, expressing a bygone age but also a visual portrait of the long quest to improve precision. Here is a selection of some marine chronometer-style watches by a number of brands. In ascending price order.
Possibly the Patek Philippe 5119 Calatrava and the A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Pour le Mérite are the watches that corresponds most exactly to the genre’s appearance, but the Steinhart, Stowa and Tourby watches at the lower end of the price scale are also very close. In terms of technical brilliance, in my opinion the A. Lange & Söhne watch and the Glashütte Original Senator Chronometer are absolute masterpieces, The Urban Jürgensen 1142C is the only piece here that has a movement with a detent escapement, one of the features of historical marine chronometers
Steinhart Marine Chronometer 44
How I love the Unitas movement. The Unitas 6498-1 calibre movement made by ETA is a perfect fit for the 44 mm case, and it is celebrated by this piece, with the calibre number appearing on the subdial. It is hand-wound and runs at 18,000 vibrations per hour, 2.5 Hertz. The watch is fairly thick at 14.2 mm, with fine finish, the polished bezel standing out with respect to the brushed steel case. The same high quality can be seen both dial side, with printed black Roman numerals on a white lacquer dial, and on the movement. The crown is truncated-conical, large enough to make winding and time-setting easy. Water resistance is the standard 3 bar (no swimming or showering), and the watch has a brown leather strap with deployment clasp. One feature that will appeal to purists is that it doesn’t have a date window. The watch is reference M0509, and it costs €450 inclusive of VAT (€379 if you’re buying from outside the EU). Available online at www.steinhartwatches.de
Raymond Weil Maestro Automatic Small Second
This watch, reference 2238-STC-00659, has a 39.5 mm steel case, slim at 10 mm thickness, with the canonical design features of marine chronometer-style watches. The dial has a reassuring, compact, balanced design, with the hands perfectly aligned with their respective scales, some nice guilloché in the central section, an unobtrusive date window, and a small seconds subdial positioned so that it doesn’t obscure the numerals in the lower section of the dial. The self-winding movement provides 38 hours power reserve; it is presumably something like the ETA 2895-2. It can be viewed through the sapphire caseback. Even though the caseback is snapped on (not screwed) and the crown is conventional and not screw-down, water resistance is still 5 bar/50 metres. The strap is in calf leather with printed alligator motif, stainless steel folding clasp. Price approximately €1,120, $1,250. http://www.raymond-weil.com/
Stowa Marine Original Roman White
At 41 mm in diameter and 12 mm thick, this is a very wearable classic marine watch. The dial is high-polished white simulating enamel, with black printed numerals and blued steel hands. The movement is the hand-wound Unitas 6498-1, visible through the display caseback. It has been modified and finished by Stowa, in particular with a swan-neck regulator. The movement runs at 18,000 vibrations per hour, 2.5 Hertz, power reserve 46-50 hours. The case is in polished stainless steel, 5 bar water resistance. A lovely piece, very authentic, no date window, reflecting Stowa’s long tradition in making marine chronometers – their earliest watches of this type were made in 1939. The watch costs €1,280 inclusive of VAT. Available online at http://www.stowa.de
Tourby Marine Roman
I love the case of this piece, with its contrasting brushed (on the case side and lugs) and bright stainless steel finish. And the dial is beautiful, with the classical hands, all different, and the perfection of the printed dial indications. The case is 43 mm in diameter, and probably about 12 mm thick (9 mm without the watchglass). It has a black alligator strap with pin buckle. The caseback has a sapphire crystal revealing the movement, the hand-wound Unitas 6498.1, which runs at 18,000 vibrations per hour (2.5 Hertz) and has a power reserve of 44-48 hours. Tourby provides some optional extras that include sunburst finish on movement wheels, and a folding clasp on the strap. The basic price is €1,400, which includes a leather travel case. Available for order direct from the company website, http://www.tourbywatches.com
Longines Master Collection marine-style watch
This piece in the Longines Master Collection inverts the usual colour scheme of marine chronometer-type watches, with black dial and white Roman numerals. The usual seconds subdial at 6 o’clock has been replaced by the power reserve indicator, and the seconds hand is central. The stainless steel case is 38.5 mm in diameter, containing the L602 automatic movement made by ETA as its calibre 2897. It runs at 28,800 vibrations per hour, and provides 42 hours power reserve. The movement can be seen through the transparent caseback. The bracelet is in stainless steel with folding clasp operated by pushers. Reference L2.708.4.51.6, price €1,940, about $2,350.00. http://www.longines.com/
Mühle Glashütte Teutonia III Handaufzug Kleine Sekunde
The Teutonia III Handaufzug Kleine Sekunde by Mühle-Glashütte is a classical men’s watch, with fluted bezel, enamel dial, chemin de fer minute track and small seconds subdial that give it an unmistakably historical look with a touch of Breguet. The blued steel hands coordinate with the blue crocodile leather strap. The case is in stainless steel, 42 mm in diameter, 12.2 mm thick, with the characteristic Mühle-Glashütte vertically brushed finish and volute-shaped lugs with polished top surfaces. Water-resistance is 10 bar, 100 metres. The caseback has a sapphire crystal window revealing the MU 9415 hand-wound movement. It has the distinctive Glashütte three-quarter plate, with crown wheel and ratchet wheel in view. The balance has woodpecker-neck regulation, another Glashütte characteristic . Glashütte stripes, blued screws and red bearing jewels make the movement particularly attractive. The hand-wound movement provides a 44-hour power reserve, and it has the stop-second function for precision time-setting, and fast date adjustment. The movement is just 25.6 mm in diameter and so the display crystal is rather small in comparison with the total case diameter. The Mühle-Glashütte Teutonia III Handaufzug Kleine Sekunde costs from €2,250 (£2,000 in the version with leather strap, and £2,100 in the version with stainless steel bracelet). http://www.muehle-glashuette.de/
Junghans Tempus Power Reserve
The Junghans Tempus Power Reserve is a little different with respect to the classic marine chronometer design. It has a small seconds subdial symmetrically opposite the power reserve indicator on the right. Its classical design is a tribute to company founder Erhard Junghans, with relief-printed Roman numerals, and hands with luminous coating. The stainless steel case is 41.8 mm in diameter, 10.8 mm thick, water resistance 3 bar (30 metres). It has a crocodile leather strap with stainless steel folding clasp. The sapphire caseback reveals the self-winding J830.5 movement, which seems to be a modified version of the Seiko 9S51. It runs at 28,800 vibrations per hour (4 Hertz) with a power reserve of 48 hours. Nicely finished. The watch is reference 028/4725.00, price €3,190, $3,510.
Glashütte Original Senator Automatic
Glashütte Original make another watch closer to the classic marine watch aesthetic (scroll down), but it costs over four times as much as this piece. The Senator Automatic is pure marine watchmaking beauty, with slim black Roman numerals on a silver dial bordered by a black railroad track minute scale. The hands are in blued steel, and the central seconds hand has a double-G counterweight. This version has a steel case 40 mm in diameter, 9.9 mm thick, with a screw-down caseback that has a sapphire window. Louisiana Alligator leather strap, stainless steel buckle. Water resistance is 5 bar, The watch is powered by the in-house self-winding calibre 39-59 movement, which has the stop-second feature for precision time-setting. power reserve 40 hours. The watch is reference 39-59-01-02-04, price €6,200. http://www.glashuette-original.com/
Wempe Chronometerwerke Power Reserve Stainless Steel
Wempe has a long history in manufacturing marine chronometers – more of their 1930s Unified Chronometer were made than of any other marine chronometer – and following the company’s relaunch, they have introduced this marine chronometer watch. It has a hand-wound movement designed and built by Wempe, the CW3, and this has a logical and useful additional feature for a manually-wound watch: the power reserve indicator at the top of the dial. It’s a good-looking watch in a 43mm steel case, 12.5 mm thick, with a sapphire caseback, water resistance 3 bar. The movement has some traditional features of German watchmaking, such as the large three-quarter plate with Glashütte wave decoration, and the swan’s-neck adjustment, which in this piece is not for adjusting the rate of the balance, but the rate symmetry. Additional features include screwed gold chatons, and a balance that is unusually positioned in the 12 o’clock position. Performance is improved by laser-skeletonizing the escape wheel, pallets and balance. Wempe takes its chronometer-making history very seriously, and the company has established its own testing institute in the Glashütte Observatory. Its watches are tested to the German standard DIN 8319, to parameters similar to COSC, with the same precision requirements (-4/+6 sec/day maximum deviation). The German standard requires that the movement has the stop-second function, and, differently to COSC, precision tests are performed with the movement mounted in the case. The watch costs € 6.450 inclusive of VAT, post and packaging extra. It is available direct from the company website http://www.wempe.com, with a shipping time of 3-4 days, though I have a feeling that it was a limited edition and may have already run out.
Bell & Ross BR 01 Instrument de Marine
Ini this piece, Bell & Ross have adapted their aviation-type square case derived from cockpit instruments, creating a marine chronometer-style watch that is a direct reference to 18th and 19th-century marine chronometers mounted on gimbals and placed in a wooden box. The BR 01 Instrument de Marine has a case in bronze and rosewood for the case, while the caseback is in titanium, a modern material that doesn’t stain the skin (as would bronze) and is anti-allergenic. Water resistance is 100 metres. It’s a square shape 45 mm across and from top to bottom, and this means that it’s large. White lacquer dial, black Roman numerals, no date, brown alligator strap with a bronze pin buckle. The watch is powered by the hand-wound BR-CAL.203 movement, made by ETA as the Unitas 6498. It has 17 jewels, runs at 21,600 vibrations per hour, 3 Hertz, and has a power reserve of 56 hours. Limited edition of 500 pieces, reference BR01-CM-203. Price €7,900. Read more here, or see the Bell & Ross website.
Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronometer 1183-122-40
Ulysse Nardin has powerful links to the sea, and it makes many Marine Chronometer and Marine Chronograph models, all with the same classic dial design. This piece, Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronometer 1183-122/40, has the typical dial design with small seconds at 6 o’clock, with the addition of a power reserve indicator at the top of the dial. The watch is powered by the UN-118 movement, which, typically for Ulysse Nardin, has a lot of good content. The escapement components are made using DIAMonSIL (made by SIgatec, a company that is now part of the Ulysse Nardin group), a material in which synthetic diamond is deposited onto the surface of silicon, greatly reducing friction and the need for lubricants, and therefore extending durability and increasing power reserve. The date can be adjusted forwards and backwards using the crown. The oscillating weight is anchor-shaped, with two, more realistic, anchors, one on each side. The movement is COSC-certified, and the entire watch has to pass the Ulysse Nardin Performance Certificate. It’s a large piece at 45 mm diameter, with a stainless steel case that has a 200 metre water resistance rating. The crown is screw-down. This version has a leather strap with folding buckle. Other versions have a rubber strap with titanium inserts, or a gold case. The 1183-122/40 Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronometer costs €9,900, $10,300.
Speake-Marin Resilience 38 mm steel
Peter Speake-Marin, one of Britain’s brightest watchmaking stars who is now firmly based in Switzerland, combines his distinctive Piccadilly stainless steel case with an oven-fired enamel dial, heat-blued hands and Roman numerals. The result is an atypical watch, reminiscent of the marine chronometer style even though it has a central second hand. Those elongated Roman numerals define its character, along with the piece’s relatively small size, 38 mm in diameter, 12 mm thick. The watch has a Vaucher 3002 movement, and this sets the piece apart from the infinity of watches mounting ETA and Sellita calibres. 28 jewels, 28,800 vibrations per hour (4 Hertz), 50 hours power reserve. The case has a water resistance of 3 bar (30 metres), and it is mounted on an alligator strap with stainless steel pin buckle. Price approximately €12,200 plus tax, 13,350 Swiss francs plus tax.
Patek Phlippe 5119 Calatrava
In the Patek Philippe collection since 2006 – though it replaced the 3919 which dates back to 1985 – the 5119 is a watch of absolute classical perfection. Its hallmarks are the Clou de Paris bezel created using a diamond guilloché technique, the small size at 36 mm, and its prodigiously slim case. The dial has the austere simplicity of functional marine chronometers, with narrow black Roman numerals on white lacquer. The watch is powered by the 215 PS hand-wound movement, visible through the sapphire caseback which is fixed by means of 6 screws. The movement has 130 parts, and is just 2.55 mm thick. It runs at 28,800 vibrations per hour, and has a power reserve of 44 hours. The watch is available in yellow, rose or white gold, with alligator strap and pin buckle. Price about €19,300, $21,500. http://www.patek.com/
Glashütte Original Senator Chronometer
The watch, an officially certified chronometer, is in the classic marine style, with the addition of the power reserve indicator at the top, a useful indication considering that the watch is powered by a manually-wound movement. The dial also features the large “Panorama” date, and a day/night display, in the form of a small circular window which alternate between white and black, on the power reserve subdial. Its purpose is to simplify date-setting. The case is 42 mm in diameter, 12.3 mm thick, in white gold, with an alligator leather strap that looks even better with the curved springbars that eliminate the space between strap and case. The folding clasp is in white gold. The Calibre 58-01 movement has the stop-second feature, but it is more sophisticated than in most watches. Instead of just stopping the movement of the seconds hand, when the crown is pulled out the seconds hand automatically jumps to zero, and the minute hand moves ahead to the next complete minute. When you adjust the watch, the minute hand always jumps to the next minute mark. This mechanism ensures that the second hand is always perfectly coordinated with the minute hand. I think that this is very cool, user-friendly feature, perfectly aligned with the quest for precision that was once the primary objective for makers of marine watches. The movement has the habitually superb Glashütte Original finish, with the three-quarter plate that hallmarks many watches made in Glashütte, screw-mounted glass chatons, and the hand-engraved balance cock. The watch is reference 1-58-01-01-04-04, price approximately €27,200. http://www.glashuette-original.com/
The image below shows the planetary gears under the large wheel on the right, which are for the operation of the power reserve display. This is the rose gold version of the same watch.
Urban Jürgensen 1142C CS Platinum
Urban Jürgensen, a brand with a Danish heritage and now based in Biel in Switzerland, has a long tradition in the area of marine chronometers, and founder Urban himself began making such instruments from 1810. In 2014, ownership of the company returned to a group of Danish investors. This watch has some of the features of a marine chronometer design, though with central seconds and a power reserve indicator at the top, and its details include the brand’s signature teardrop lugs that are forged individually, milled to perfection and then soldered onto the case. The guilloché dial is a work of art in itself, and the hands are handmade, with the hour hand featuring the large gold eye that is slightly asymmetric, providing a balanced, slightly tapering effect. The watch is powered by the UJ-P8 movement, which is directly linked to Urban Jürgensen’s work in the 19th century because it has the detent escapement that was part of his historic marine chronometers. This type of escapement was generally considered as being too delicate for a wristwatch, but in 2011 it was successfully launched in the P8 movement. It runs at 21,600 vibrations per hour, 3 Hertz, and it is manually wound. The watch is made in two versions, platinum, reference 1142C CS PT, price €66,600 excluding tax, and in red gold, reference 1142C CS RG, €55,300 excluding tax. http://www.urbanjurgensen.com/
A. Lange & Söhne Richard Lange Pour le Mérite
The Richard Lange Pour le Mérite (complete review here) has narrow Roman numerals on a black dial, with continuous seconds at 6 o’clock. Framed by the 40.5 mm case in white gold, the dial is perfect in its simplicity, with uncluttered minutes and seconds scales, and just four small red numerals providing a touch of colour at the edge. Hands are in rhodium-plated gold. It is only logical that a movement with fusée-and-chain transmission is in the marine chronometer format: the complication is there to improve rate accuracy for the duration of the watch’s operation. It’s a system of providing constant torque as the mainspring gradually runs down. It works like bicycle gears. The chain is wrapped around the mainspring barrel, and from there to the fusée, where the gear diameter is smallest when the watch is fully wound, and largest when the mainspring has almost completely run down. Unlike bicycle gears, the A. Lange & Söhne fusée provides infinitely variable gear ratios. Four openings on the caseback enable you to glimpse parts of the fusée, chain and barrel. The movement decoration reaches its height of artistry on the hand-engraved balance bridge, but every part is finished by hand, including the chain with its straight graining, and the engraved escape wheel and fourth wheel cock. The blued screws and gold chatons holding the jewels show that this is traditional watchmaking at its best. The freely oscillating Lange hairspring powers a large balance running at 21,600 vibrations per hour, 3 Hertz. Its rate is adjusted by means of four gold poising screws mounted directly on the balance. The Richard Lange “Pour le Mérite” by A. Lange & Söhne is a limited edition of 218 pieces, available in boutiques from October 2016, price €81,300 (this price is correct for Germany). Click here to visit the A. Lange & Söhne website.