The ability to produce an affordable offering without skimping on quality is a rare skill in the Swiss watchmaking world. An affordable product puts the smile back on people's faces, it scores points, especially if it comes from a region where independence is sacred, and where much is at stake for anyone other than a huge industrial dinosaur in the hands of a powerful watchmaking group. Exceptional watchmaking that strives for affordability without sacrificing the essentials, is still possible in 2017 and you get an incredible feel-good buzz when you're lucky enough to be in its presence.
A daring launch in 1975. What madness!
Rarely has a watchmaking brand taken its fate into its own hands with such gusto and daring. Having 2,200 retail outlets across 65 countries means a lot of responsibilities and a great deal of determination. In the beginning, there was a man who sat on the board of a specialist private label workshop. A man who went by the typically French-sounding name of Maurice Lacroix, a name very much in keeping with the air and stature of an appellation contrôlée located in the Jura. And that man's aim was to transmit the basic value of authenticity. But he was also a man with a sense of humour and a degree of self-objectivity, while all around him the revival of historical, go-to big brand names was an on-going scenario.
It was the same sense of humour, in fact, that prompted Lacroix to file a patent application for the 'Vagues du Jura' appellation in 2017, in what was possibly a tongue-in-cheek dig at the famous 'Côtes de Genève' motif that has provided the staple aesthetic code for so many models in the sector. Do you actually get waves in the Jura? Certainly, no-one has ever questioned the existence of a coastline in Geneva. But be that as it may, in 1975, it took a very brave soul to start up a business in the middle of a major crisis. The sector had lost two-thirds of its jobs due to the arrival of the more affordable quartz watches from Japan.
Micromechanical self-sufficiency and a string of design successes
The company was very soon surfing the waves of success. In 2004, on the eve of its thirtieth anniversary, it secured Roger Federer as its ambassador, a player then at the peak of his career. In 2006, it gave its production facility a facelift and invested heavily in the resources required to design, produce and fine-tune its first mechanical calibre in-house. Today, Maurice Lacroix, the hottest winner in the Red Dot design awards (the design Oscars), proposes 15 product references and is planning to reduce that number from 380 to less than 200 in two or three years' time. It is now a watchmaking Manufacture in its own right, opting for silicium regulating organs and a systematic approach to innovation, especially where materials, or simple, and indeed unusual, complications are concerned. Complications such as its square wheel, which sets a seemingly random pace for its hands display, sometimes slow, sometimes fast. After a few forays into the land of 'talking pieces' and ultra-complications, or 'concept' watches, it is now going back to its roots with an offering of 51 new item references in 2017. Its positioning clearly echoes its mantra: protect the product, ensure the highest possible perceived value, never skimp on coatings, finishes, subtle identity codes, and don't get distracted despite your passion and obsession with detail.
‘Aikonique’goes back to basics
The company owes its place in contemporary history to the fact that the production of its iconic Calypso model hit 100,000 pieces a year back in the day. But one of the great cornerstones of 2017 is this blue chronograph measuring 44 mm in diameter, derived from the Calypso, which was reinvented into the Aikon in 2016. When pronounced phonetically it becomes ‘icon’. Owing to its appealing price, it serves as an effective hook to gain entry into the world market. It also boasts a few readily recognisable codes, such as the stylized brackets at 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 o'clock, and chronograph pushers harmoniously embedded into the rounded contours of the case-middle.
Other noteworthy features include the dial-skimming rhodium-plated, blued satin-finish hands, hours, minutes and seconds hands, studded with diamonds, plated in rhodium and liberally coated in the delightfully vintage white Super-LumiNova, which sheds its greenish light during the night-time hours, polished 'bouchonnée' butterfly buckle and mock-croc calfskin strap, embellished on one side with the famous ‘M’ logo, polished and embedded. As further proof of its unstinting attention to detail, we have also a screw-down crown making the watch water-resistant to 100 metres, i.e. 10 ATM, and an anti-reflective sapphire crystal. The whole retails at an attractive introductory price of 1,140.00.- CHF inc. VAT.
Pontos, a matter of style…
Naturally, it is the fantasy of every brand to be able to boast a model in its collections since 1996 that mocks fashion and travels the oceans of time, without becoming a has-been. This watch is to Maurice Lacroix what the Porsche 911 to the motor industry. Throughout its existence, it has undergone a plethora of minor evolutions that have given it its own timeless style. The form is not outwardly changed in appearance, any successive additions being all but perceivable in their finesse. Admittedly, in 2016 the case measured 43 mm in diameter and the alternating play between polished and brushed surfaces quickened its pace, but the rounded horns, under the watchful expert eye of the craftsman-designer, remain a pinnacle of aesthetic achievement. The horns are also staggered and therefore lend a valuable second level of interpretation to the watch case.
In 2017, aside from the Pontos Power Reserve, for which Watchonista harbours a particular affection, the Pontos acquired a few new family members, including an array of straps and a few novel interpretations, all edging the range towards a level of perceived luxury that remains consistently respectful of its public. The "milanaise" bracelet, for example, is a feature that runs throughout the range, encircling the wrist in a retro nod to the Dolce Vita lifestyle. It is particularly suited to the Pontos Chronograph, 43 mm in diameter, as indeed is the embossed calfskin strap, whose grid motif could almost make it pass for rubber, while the woven fibre decoration is more reminiscent of the NATO symbol. A further option is available in the form of an orangey-brown leather strap produced using the traditional techniques of either vegetable tanning or aniline dyeing, lending it a discreet lustre, fine grain and vivid orangey hue. This is particularly stylish when seen in combination with the bold blue dial of the Pontos Chronograph, a family mechanically powered either by the ML 112 or ML 157, at a rate of 28,800 vibrations an hour. Both are Maurice Lacroix 25 jewel mechanical calibres with automatic winding, each offering 46 hours of power reserve, a central seconds and even a date feature embedded at the bottom of the subdial positioned at 6 o'clock.
Affordable automatic Day-Date
A special mention must go to the Pontos Day Date, a three-hand model graced with two independent apertures. The first indicates the day of the week in a broad arch beneath the 12 o'clock marker, transformed for the occasion into the hallmark initial ‘M’. The second displays the date in figures from 1 to 31. Like its sister pieces, this Pontos model boasts many great details such as its strap with butterfly buckle, which, despite the affordable price (upwards of 1,600.00.- CHF), place it in a superior class of timekeeper. The 26 jewel mechanical calibre with automatic winding and rhodium-plated decoration offers a power reserve of 38 hours.
The buyer can also choose between a butterfly or an ardillon buckle. A host of subtle details include a 41 mm diameter case water-resistant to 10 ATM, screw-down back and pusher, and anti-reflective sapphire crystal. The dial comes in a choice of black gold, black or silvered sunray satin-finish, serving as the perfect foil for the facetted, rhodium-plated (or rose gold) indices and for the sweep of the diamond-studded hands also plated either in rhodium or rose gold, with a smattering of luminescent white to pierce the nocturnal shadows with its greenish light.
Two original complications in the Masterpiece collection
The Masterpiece collection embodies the perfect synthesis between the consummate craftsmanship of Maurice Lacroix and its deliberate positioning on an axis that combines affordability and watchmaking aesthetics. In dogged pursuit of the highest possible perceived value irrespective of price category, the brand has added two profoundly desirable models to the Masterpiece collection for 2017. A double-retrograde and a retrograde moon. Certain to set many pens a-scribing in the coming days, the two models, each of them a successful fusion of modernity and classicism, may be previewed in the lofty heights of Lausanne.
Available with a silvered or black dial, the Masterpiece Double Retrograde boasts a 43 mm diameter case water-resistant to 5 ATM, and, in addition to the usual hours and minutes functions, a small seconds positioned at 9 o'clock, a 52-hour power reserve indicator close to the crown, and the retrograde display of a second time zone just beneath 12 o'clock. Diametrically opposite at 6 o'clock, a second retrograde hand indicates the date in the calendar. The movement responsible for this generous array of functions, the workshop-crafted 74 jewel ML191 calibre with automatic winding, beats out the mechanical march of time at a rate of 18,000 vibrations an hour. On the reverse side of the watch, a transparent back leaves the movement open to admiring glances, as well as the constant rocking back and forth of a skeletonized rhodium-plated rotor with spiralling Côtes de Genève decoration. This model comes with a crocodile leather strap with deployant buckle, and in the classic version offers blued steel hands on a sand-blasted clous de Paris ground. Retails at 4,500.- CHF inc. VAT.
The Maurice Lacroix Masterpiece Moon Retrograde, available in three new references, including the option of a blue dial version, houses the moon phases and hand display marking the 7 days of the week in a subdial at 6 o'clock. Same case diameter, same water-resistance, same pure aesthetics and transparent back as before, but this time the 52-hour power reserve indicator has been moved above the crown and the retrograde date marker is now positioned between 11 o'clock and 9 o'clock. The automatic workshop-crafted calibre ML192 beats at a frequency of 2.5 Hertz (18,000 vibrations an hour). This is a beautiful example of precision watchmaking excellence with the power to inspire a whole new breed of enthusiasts, specially since it retails at less than 5,000.- CHF inc. VAT.