Watches

The Weirdest, Wildest, and Most Wondrous Timepieces

These five styles stood out from the pack in Watches and Wonders.
IMAGE ULYSSE NARDIN, AUDEMARS PIGUET
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By way of a closing word on the novelties, innovation, and unabashed luxury from Watches and Wonders, we stop to gawp and point at some of the most ingenious, playful, and occasionally downright mind-bending creations that human ingenuity—and skill—can conjure. You might not see some of these on the wrist of someone you know ever. But it’s good to know that they’re out there, because the forward momentum of the watch industry depends sometimes on this sort of out-of-the-box thinking.

Hermès Arceau Pocket 'Aaaaargh!'

Photo by Hermès.

As well as making beautiful, elegant watches like the Cape Cod, the Arceau, and the Slim, Hermès likes to let its craftsmen go ape on occasions and wander into creative realms you might not think synonymous with a brand knocking on 200 years old. Exhibit 1: the Arceau Pocket “Aaaaargh!” a white gold pocket watch (and why not?) decorated, using age-old leatherworking and marquetry skills, with the leering face of a T-Rex on the case. It has a flying tourbillon and a fully functioning minute repeater complication that chimes the hours, quarters, and minutes on demand, one of the most exacting technical feats in watchmaking, which means there are not many of these. In fact, it’s an edition of one.

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The intricate artwork on the Arceau Pocket “Aaaaargh!” drew its inspiration from a Hermès scarf designed by artist Alice Shirley, the craftsmen recreating the minutest details in tiny slivers of leather just half a millimeter thick. Just to make things a little trickier, the T-rex is visible from both inside and outside the case. Why go to so much trouble, you may ask. One: Tasking the artisans in its Paris workshops with overcoming technical and creative challenges has extensive applications elsewhere in the house’s repertoire of luxury objects. Two: It displays to the army of Hermès fans that the brand is always striving to do better. Three: It’s fun.

AP's Marvelous Marvel

Photo by Audemars Piguet.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept 'Black Panther' Flying Tourbillion

Ever since they first put Mickey Mouse on a watch in 1933, watchmakers have loved to slap popular cultural motifs to the dials of their watches. Arguably the most out-there collab to have emerged in recent years was launched last week. Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Concept “Black Panther” Flying Tourbillion, a limited edition of 250 pieces for a cool $162K, is a creation that was immediately the talk of Geneva and the tuned-in digital world beyond. In the 42mm watch, the Black Panther, hand-carved and painted, clambers through the white gold case and bezel, which contrast with a purple inner bezel and matching rubber strap.

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Oohs and ahhs (and the occasional uhuh?) zipped across the Twittersphere over the new watch, the first in a series of superhero watch collabs between AP and Marvel, that according to company legend, wat first set in motion by Don Cheadle (aka War Machine from the MCU). For Audemars Piguet CEO François-Henry Bennahmias, the collab must make perfect sense. The monstrous box office appeal of Marvel is but a hop and a skip from the real-life superheroes of hip-hop, football, and basketball, for whom an outsize Royal Oak on the wrist—especially one not everyone else has—is the sine qua non of success. If this seems like another over-the-top celebration of expense, there was also a serious purpose to the endeavor. AP launched an ongoing project with two American charities, Ashoka and First Book, to promote opportunity and learning in low-income communities. An auction of four unique lots on launch night—including a one-off, all-over carved version of the Black Panther—raised $8 million in support of the two charities.

Angles Are Attitudes

Photo by Bulgari .
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One of the more subliminal trends to emerge from Watches and Wonders—but just strong enough to activate the horological spidey senses—was an apparent bid by some brands to bust out of the dominant round shapes that have dominated at the macho end of the market of late; a new angular geometry gave a new crispness to a number of launches. But Bulgari got there first. The Rome-based high jewelry brand has invested, under chief watch designer Fabrizio Buonamassi Stigliani, heaps of effort and ingenuity over the past decade to turn Bulgari into a powerhouse of very modern-looking watches. But looks aren’t everything. Bulgari’s achievement has been to create an entire identity around impossibly slim watches (the Octo Finissimo range), and to do it while cramming in ever-more-complicated movements. Bulgari added a new first last week with the Octo Finissimo Perpetual Calendar (in platinum, as shown above, or titanium) that’s just 5.8 mm thick. The movement into which all that functionality is wedged is 2.75mm. Not bad for a watch that, if kept wound, will tell you the second, minute, hour, day, month, and year (including and leap years) correctly until March 1, 2100. It’s a Monday.

Out of This World

Photo by Ulysse Nardin.
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It’s increasingly rare these days, but, occasionally, handful of watchmakers still create super-complicated mantel clocks that are mechanical works of art. The UFO, created by Ulysse Nardin, is a futuristic-looking object, yet its roots also lie in the maritime history of the brand. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Marine Chronometer—UN’s stock in trade—was effectively the GPS system of its day. Keeping track of the time at a known point like the Greenwich meridian meant a ship’s captain could calculate the degree of longitude his ship was away from it. It required unparalleled accuracy. Ulysse Nardin, a specialist among specialists, at one time supplied marine chronometer clocks to as many as 50 navies.

The UFO ($41,000) was created for the brand's 175th anniversary in collaboration with Maison de l’Epee, a celebrated Swiss clock maker. It features 663 components assembled in such perfect balance that with a gentle nudge the entire case sways from side to side (60 degrees either side of the vertical). An aluminum, hemispherical base is weighted with over 7 kilos of tungsten. The clock tells the time in three separate timezones and will keep going on one wind for a whole year. While this could have been a one-off—such is the amount of work involved in creating it—Ulysse Nardin has actually made 75 of these wonders.

Ghost Protocol

Photo by Hublot.
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Hublot Big Bang Integral Tourbillon Full Sapphire

Hublot’s schtick is watches that can‘t be mistaken for anyone else’s. That became particularly true when it created the Big Bang in 2005, which nodded to the brand's original porthole-inspired watch of the early '80s ("Hublot" is French for "porthole"). But it was a pretty small nod, as it turned out. The new Hublot was big, bold, and attention-seeking. It got the attention, winning the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve in its debut year. The Big Bang has been Hublot’s flagship watch since then. Unashamedly bold and fun, it has been the base for a host of special editions and collaborations, each one more eye-boggling than the last. While it has already created watches in steel and all the major precious metals, for the past five or so years, the brand has also been actively pursuing the creation of watches whose cases are made not from metal but from sapphire crystal.

This week it reached the milestone of creating a watch—the 43mm Big Bang Integral Tourbillon Full Sapphire—which as the name suggests has its entire outer case and bracelet made from painstakingly honed chunks of sapphire crystal. As well as the outside, crystal has been used in the inside to support the moving parts, including the tourbillon, which makes for a mystifyingly transparent watch. You may need a suitable lifestyle to match this watch. You'll certainly need $422,000 to snap up one of the 30 pieces produced.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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