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The off-the-field elegance of the sport-luxe watch
Watches & Wonders

The off-the-field elegance of the sport-luxe watch

Monday, 04 May 2020
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

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5 min read

Sport’s great, especially when it involves a dinner party. In which case, you need a timepiece to match. One that plays hard and is elegant in victory. Fortunately, watchmakers are one step ahead.

So you thought it was a good idea to take your bronze chrono mountain-biking? Or that steel beauty with coordinating bracelet? And came home swearing never again. No matter how solid, how performant your favourite timepiece may be, the fact remains: it is a sports watch in name only. It may be resilient, it may be reliable, it isn’t cut out for hard physical action. A watch can have the properties of a sports watch, the functions of a sports watch, even the look of a sports watch, this doesn’t make it a sports watch. There is, on the other hand, a discipline in which many of us excel, one the Olympic Committee would do well to consider, and that is armchair athletics. In which case, we need a watch that looks the part.

Aquatic antecedents

It all started with dive watches. Originally developed in the 1950s as professional tool watches, they quickly won the hearts (and wrists) of urban adventurers and beach-bound explorers. As the only timepieces that must comply with an international standard (ISO 6425) to warrant their name, they can legitimately call themselves sports watches as they are designed specifically as diving equipment. That precious few of us intend swimming with the fishes at 100 metres depth changes nothing: a dive watch is a must-have and offers fabulous scope to brands. Panerai certainly wouldn’t disagree. This year’s Luminor Marina, presented at watchesandwonders.com, feature a slew of new materials such as Fibratech™ (basalt) and Carbotech™ (carbon) together with 3D-printed titanium and Goldtech™, the last word in underwater glamour. The aim is clear: make watches that are lighter, more resilient and more hard-wearing. Driving the message home, Panerai is guaranteeing certain models for… 70 years!

A chronograph reminds us that in life, it's often the seconds that count.

With a tool like this on the wrist, life becomes one big adventure story, which is precisely the promise made by Montblanc’s 1858 line. The brand, which acquired a longstanding tradition of military and explorer watches at the same time as its Minerva manufacturing arm, suggests that we reconnect with nature. And this being Montblanc, nature means mountains. What better companion as you begin your ascent than something vintage-flavoured. The newly launched 1858 24H with a single central hand fits the bill, especially as it doubles up as a compass. The days of those intrepid pioneers come flooding back at the sight of its bronze bezel and crown. Still, not every sporting achievement is measured in thousands of metres altitude. As chronographs remind us, in life it’s often the seconds that count. Watches cut out for the role include the all-steel Portugieser Yacht Club Chronograph or the more “studied” Streamliner from H. Moser & Cie., a chronograph with a central display and a flyback on the minutes and seconds. Leaving behind these “functional” shores, we enter a world where the exploits are first and foremost mechanical. Think of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Chronograph Calendar or, better still, the Traditionnelle Tourbillon Chronograph by Vacheron Constantin and the Portugieser Tourbillon Retrograde Chronograph from IWC.

Remember the 70s

Bearing in mind that a tourbillon is a delicate mechanism, best not take a gold “sports” watch equipped with this type of regulator on a trek through the Amazon rainforest. So far, only Richard Mille has succeeded at this kind of exercise – incidentally reserved for those who have already scaled a financial Everest. Other brands feel more at home with activities that are better suited to the debonair MG driver than a steeplechaser. It’s a philosophy captured by Laurent Ferrier whose Grand Sport Tourbillon reminds us that winning means nothing if it’s not done in style. At the end of the day, it’s the taking part that counts… something all the more enjoyable when you can rest assured your timepiece will survive intact. In watch parlance, it’s known as sport-luxe, a notion that originated in the 1970s when the wonderful Gérald Genta scratched an itch for worthy successors to the tool watches of earlier decades. Possibly his most famous design is the Royal Oak for Audemars Piguet, although we also owe him the 222 for Vacheron Constantin, the Patek Philippe Nautilus and, for IWC, the Ingenieur.

It's chic, it's sporty, it's the watch for every occasion. Best of all, it gives its wearer the look of a man on a mission.

The sport-luxe category is now stronger than ever and the keys to its success unchanged: a robust steel case, a clean, legible dial displaying time only, possibly with the addition of a date display and/or small seconds, a touch of lume and a crisp design down to the links of the integrated bracelet. Having been conspicuous by its absence from this segment, A. Lange & Söhne presented the Odysseus at the end of 2019. Others have followed suit this year, starting with Baume & Mercier and its COSC-certified Clifton Baumatic, then Cartier with its updated Pasha and Montblanc whose Star Legacy gets a chronograph for the occasion. It’s chic, it’s sporty, it’s the watch for every occasion. Best of all, it gives its wearer the look of a man on a mission, ready for action!

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