Keep time, make a statement

  • Ulysse Nardin has joined forces with the European company SCI Innovations to develop the Ulysse Nardin Chairman, a unique cellphone described as the world"â„¢s first mechanical telephone.
  • Ulysse Nardin has joined forces with the European company SCI Innovations to develop the Ulysse Nardin Chairman, a unique cellphone described as the world"â„¢s first mechanical telephone.
Date:18 March 2009 Author: Alan Duggan Tags:

Do you have a thing about watches? Some people are obsessed with them, spending a small fortune (and occasionally a large one) on timepieces so rare, unusual or shamelessly “blinged” that they boggle the mind.

Vanity, fashion-consciousness, a passion for cutting-edge design, a public statement of personal or professional success, the assertion of one’s individuality all these and many other factors come into play.

While researching a special feature on watches (look out for “A Question of Timing” in our April issue, on sale from 23 March 2009), we encountered some extraordinary examples of horological art – including a couple of designs featuring rusty metal extracted from the wreck of the Titanic. One watch offered a dial embedded with authentic Moon dust. (Hey, it’s all about making a statement.)

Sometimes, however, the concepts defy explanation. One example is those horrendously heavy watches that resemble tactical weapons rather than instruments for telling the time. They’re fine if you have wrists like those of The Incredible Hulk, but if your bones are delicate and bird-like, they make you look utterly ridiculous. And do we really need that huge rotating bezel, or those little complementary dials that tell us the time in Shanghai? (I have three on my watch and have no idea what the hell they’re for).

Then there’s the brand thing. I’m willing to bet that all of us know someone who wears a knock-off of Rolex, TAG Heuer or another expensive brand. (Naturally, I’m assuming PM readers wouldn’t stoop that low.) What do you think about this? Does it label the wearer as a cheapskate, does it represent a public statement about the idiocy of brand loyalty, or are these watches no more than harmless souvenirs of trips to Bangkok or New York’s Chinatown?

Many years ago, my wife won a very elegant Cartier watch in a competition and wore it with a frisson of pride. Over the next few months, however, she became increasingly annoyed because people kept complimenting her on the convincing appearance of the watch. “It looks so real,” they would say. Since she could hardly walk around with a certificate of authenticity pinned to her blouse, she actually stopped wearing the watch. The issue later became of academic interest only when our housekeeper’s dodgy son stole the watch and sold it to someone in a minibus taxi for R50.

Whence this detour? To another item in our feature on watches – the launch of an anti-counterfeiting campaign by the and the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. Its rallying cry: “Fake Watches are for Fake People.” Aside from the potential damage to famous brands, there are serious implications for the watch industry as a whole. Okay, your call

And finally, a snippet that didn’t make it into our watches feature News from the Baselworld expo reveals that manufacturer Ulysse Nardin has joined forces with the European company SCI Innovations to develop the Ulysse Nardin Chairman, a unique cellphone described as the world’s first mechanical telephone (see our picture). Much as an automatic watch is powered by its rotor, the Chairman is powered by a second integrated battery using the kinetic energy provided by the rotor’s motion. This supplies the extra energy needed to keep it going.

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