Monday, February 22, 2016

Turning a Corner with Square Watches

I think that it is safe to say that most people envision round dials when they think of clocks or wristwatches. It is by far the most common shape used to represent the circular repetition of the 24 hour calendar event that we call "a day". It kind of makes sense if you think of one day rolling in to the next seamlessly. A circle is perfect and endless as time itself.

I should be more specific at this point in the conversation because I could either be talking about the shape of the case, the dial shape or both concurrently.

A real Bell & Ross GMT on the left and a fake on the right.
My fascination with square timepieces started with a replica of a Bell & Ross BR01-93 GMT. Yes, sadly I own a fake that was given to me by a buddy for helping him with a special project. I don't believe in endorsing the replica industry a.k.a. the counterfeiters who make cheap copies of expensive product designs even including the logo. However, I have great sentimental value attached to this one so it stays in the box... for now anyway.

Aviation panel gauges with the outer installation screws in the 4 corners. Photo Microsoft.

Bell & Ross caused a sensation when they created their BR series many years ago that essentially pulled the design of square aviation gauges and miniatured it for a pilot's watch. At least, that is what one might think at first.

On second look, you can see that the dial is round and the case is square. The reason is because aviation gauges have 4 installation screws that hold them in place on the cockpit panel. You can almost imagine the "ah ha" moment when Bell & Ross drew a square around the round dial and included the 4 outer screw points. Voila... an instant classic was born, and it is the definitive model that the brand sells.

Without getting into long history of square watches, of which I am no expert, I want to show a few that I have owned and sold as a collector. This is a more personal exploration of the subject. If you want to know about square watches in general, please check out Ariel Adam's excellent Forbe's article "Is It Hip To Be Square? The Longines Heritage 1968 Watch Thinks So".

Invicta Cuadro #1466
My first square watch started with an Invicta Cuadro Model #1466. This model had a lot going for at first glance. At second glance, there turned out to be a few oddball quirks with the sub-dials and chronograph. Despite the company's overzealous price tag of $1295, I picked it up for under $100. Sadly, even at that I lost $40 selling it. Talk about a depreciation! That is why I got out of collecting Invicta watches completely.

This is a case of form over function. Many fashion watches suffer from this.
The Cuadro had a square case and dial and it had numbers and indices that radiated from the center hub. Some watchmakers put their numbers in perspective making them seem to melt or recede into infinity a.k.a. "Star Wars style" typography.

Torgoen Aviation Inspired T-27 Chronographs
After the Invicta Cuadro was purged from my collection, I migrated to the excellent Torgoen T-27 models that are reminiscent of the Bell & Ross BR watches. So many manufacturers tried to replicate the Bell & Ross style without actually stealing it, that you will start to see interesting case variations among the copiers. Variations includes the lug width and most often how the screws in the corners look.

A Bell & Ross BR-03 GMT replica and the Torgoen T2101 Chronograph
What remains similar to B&E watches are the wide 12, 3, 6, 9 numerals, large line indices, fat sword hands and a sloped inner ring. You might say that the Torgoens are "inspired by" the Bell & Ross... and who wouldn't be?

A Torgoen T27101, a replica Bell & Ross BR-03 GMY and Torgoen T27103
The design elements get a little more interesting when looking at the side of the Torgoen T27 where you will start to notice the more complicated edge profile, the polished and brushed surface treatments and excellent leather band the blends into the lugs. The signed crown is a nice touch as is the slightly sculpted dial. Instead of applied numerals, the dial is printed in 3 different layers of ink. The lume on the hands and indices is quite good lasting several hours. I am a bit of a freak about how they used spots of orange on a dial to add some visual caffeine.

A lovely Torgoen T27103 with cream dial and orange accents. Delicious!
The back of both T27s had a distinctive perlage swirl pattern, and Torgoen airplane logo. It was a little bonus for the owner to enjoy and the company went the extra mile in my opinion.

Torgoen watches are well crafted and feel like a quality quartz watch.
I dipped my toe into the sea of Tsovet watches, but they were not for me. I sold it quickly.

Tsovet SVT-PX87
The last square watch that I purchased was one that I fell in love with for it's killer bullhead chronograph design and industry leading lume. It was the Lum-Tec Bull 45 limited edition watch and this looked amazing.

The Limited Edition Lum-Tech A15  Bull 45. Only 150 were made.
Some large flat bottomed watches kinda teeter on the arm and feel awkward, but the A15's case is curved on the bottom to accommodate the shape of an arm. It is also cleverly scalloped on the top and bottom edges of the case to make room for the lugs and controls.

The bottom of the Lum-Tec A15 case is ergonomically curved.
Wearing a square watch is different than a round one. A 44mm round watch seems less bulky than a 44mm square watch. This is quickly illustrated with the fattest square watch I ever owned, which was the A15 Bull 45 by Lum-Tec. I removed the corners on the watch and look how much more svelte it looks!

Digitally removing the corners drastically reduces the apparent size on a wrist.
Sadly, the A15 is a big watch and my non-hulk 7" wrist could not support the size. I looked a little ridiculous trying to rock that much charisma... so I had to accept the truth and sell it. It made me sad because I am a huge Lum-Tec fan. Just look at that lume glow! It's practically radioactive (but not actually radioactive). See this link if the video does not play:

So, that is my personal journey with square watches. For me, I have found that I prefer the classic round dials and cases. I can also wear larger round watches than square versions of the same width. These are things you learn over time and by experimenting... but isn't that why I started collecting watches anyway? Discoveries along the journey are as important as the final destination.

1 comment:

ashar danial said...

I like Torgoen watches. A15 is a really big watch and specially great design of button on the side.