STAR POWERED From left: RGM Watch Co. and C.F. Martin & Co D200 Watch (sold with a guitar shown below), $149,999, martinguitar.com; Classico Small Second Manufacture Watch, $8,800, Ulysse Nardin, 212-257-4920; Defy El Primero 21 Watch, $10,600, zenith-watches.com PHOTO: F. MARTIN RAMIN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Dec. 18, 2017 12:59 p.m. ET
Q: I’m sure you looked at a crazy number of new watches over the past year. Which ones impressed you the most?
A: To be honest, this question always rather flummoxes me. Every year, thousands of new quartz, smart and mechanical timepieces are released. Even if I limit my candidates for top honors to mechanical watches—and I do—that still leaves hundreds. And it’s still apples and oranges: How do you decide, for example, whether a rose-gold dress watch with a handsome leather strap beats a stainless steel chronograph?
To be even more honest, I rely on something that is never in short supply: pure subjectivity. The watches that make my first cut are those that, on first glance, prompt an involuntary “Wow.”
I always find good design exciting, especially when it’s backed up with traditional watchmaking excellence. That’s why one of my final choices is Ulysse Nardin’s Classico Manufacture “Grand Feu” (center), a Swiss dress watch with just the right amount of flair. While the pristine 40mm stainless steel case holds precision machinery, the watch’s exemplary features also include a visually balanced, easily readable dial.
‘The watches that make my first cut are those that, on first glance, prompt an involuntary ‘Wow.’ ’
The dial’s intense sea-blue finish is created via an enameling technique called “Grand Feu” (Great Fire). The handcrafted enamel is baked at about 800-900°C to produce a wavy pattern, one that gleams like water touched by sunlight. I’m in love.
I’m also a sucker for a bit of flamboyance—which brings me to the Zenith Defy El Primero 21. I like when a brand sticks to what it does well, and many years ago, Zenith perfected skeletonized chronographs. “Skeletonized” describes a watch that dispenses with a dial face, exposing the many moving parts.
This high-drama move creates a conundrum for a watchmaker: A chronograph, like a stopwatch, measures elapsed time—the seconds and minutes of a specific event; so how do you legibly display the time, as well as the chronograph readings, minus a dial?
With the Defy El Primero 21, Zenith solves that puzzle remarkably well, cleverly employing color and giving the watch big, meaty proportions. In black or white, the hour and minute hands stand out against the exposed movement. A third hand, measuring seconds, boasts a brake-light-red tip. And at 44mm, the watch is massive, an irresistible eye magnet.
More color tricks: The deep blue ring at the 3 o’clock position displays elapsed minutes, while another blue ring below it tracks 60-second intervals. The hands within the rings are also tipped in red. This watch’s ability to record elapsed time, even without a dial, might inspire another Marcel Proust.
I realize that makes two Swiss watches. What’s next on my list? An American timepiece with a musical connection.
I admire watches that are grounded in a wider cultural context. In 2017, two family-owned brands from Pennsylvania came up with a way to celebrate each other’s craftsmanship. Roland Murphy, currently America’s most significant master watchmaker, started the RGM Watch Co. workshop in Mount Joy, Pa., in 1992. Meanwhile, C.F. Martin & Co., a guitar maker founded in the 19th century, has been based in Nazareth, Pa., since 1838. Many renowned guitar gods favor C.F. Martin’s instruments—and at least two, Eric Clapton and John Mayer, coincidentally also collect fine watches.
An acoustic guitar with exotic-wood inlays in the shape of watch components that comes with a RGM watch.
The two companies came together on a guitar and watch collaboration. The result? An acoustic guitar with exotic-wood inlays in the shape of watch components that comes with a RGM watch featuring Mr. Murphy’s own in-house movement.