What watches of today might make the grade as a future prized piece, an heirloom watch? It’s a tough question given there are many reasons we treasure something, from the sentimental and personal to the monetary. When it comes to watches there are pieces that fit none of the reasons above: the appearance of a timepiece or its feel on the wrist often being the determining factor.
But, putting the impossibility of being definitive to one side, there are watches that are undeniably more treasured than others, early Rolex Submariners or Blancpain Fifty Fathoms for starters.
And it’s true that something – almost anything – with Patek Philippe adorning the dial has traditionally fitted such a bill.
But these would be obvious and therefore conservative selections, and your options have broadened somewhat in recent times thanks to special watches appearing at almost every level – and catering to almost every taste.
If it’s a simple everyday wearer, you might opt for the current Omega Seamaster 300, a watch as likely to be regarded as handsome in 50 years as its 1970s-style lines suggest now.
You can imagine a little patina and use would only enhance such a model, whereas Omega’s latest ceramic-cased Planet Ocean, a resolutely modern-day statement, might not age so well; treasures are like that, they wear history like a badge.
Moving up a bit there’s a classic that most certainly won’t date, the Richard Lange “Pour le Mérite” from A.Lange & Sohne. The name mightn’t generally be as well known as Patek or come with the same clever advertising reassurance – that “you never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation”. But Lange has its own impressive history, surviving World War II’s divide of Germany and now thriving at horology’s high end. So much so it’s a current favourite of enthusiasts the world over.
The Glashutte-based brand’s recently announced “Pour le Mérite,” is a quietly confident beauty in white gold with a black dial. What makes it special is not so much the presentation – impressive as it is – nor the limited production run of just 218 pieces.
Rather, it is heirloom material because of its uncompromising approach to precise timekeeping. It achieves this by employing a complex fusée-and-chain transmission arrangement inspired by the mechanism of historic pocket watches.
Peer closely into the back of the watch and you’ll spot a tiny 636-part chain wrapped around the mainspring barrel, 0.25 millimeters thick and 156 millimeters long we’re told. It delivers power from the mainspring to the wheel train via the cone-shaped fusée in a way that guarantees constant torque and stability across the entire power-reserve range; when the watch is fully wound, the chain pulls at the smaller circumference of the fuse. Conversely, when the tension of the mainspring is nearly depleted, the chain pulls at the larger circumference of the fusée.
The Lange spans a happy 40.5 mm and it doesn’t hurt that previous versions of the complication – they were cased in rose gold and platinum – sold out.
Mind you, you’re looking at a tag in the region of $120,000, and a similar price buys another and completely different watch, one similarly regarded by enthusiasts as a treasure, MB&F’s Horological Machine N°8.
The MB&F blends high-end craftsmanship with high-octane race car-inspired design and is destined to be just as rare as the Lange. Exquisitely sculptured, it’s all angular forms and optical prisms with two of the latter showcasing bi-directional jumping hours and trailing minutes.
Dominating the structure are so-called roll bars milled from solid blocks of grade 5 titanium and hand-polished “to gleam like tubular mirrors”. No matter the time, they draw the eye, while the engine sits in full view under a sapphire crystal cover. It’s a view few will get to see given the limited production (as few as 20 in a year) and intrepid nature of such pieces, a mere sighting itself something to be treasured.
If the HM8 is a bit outré, other go-to names currently on aficionado wish-lists include Richard Mille, De Bethune and Greubel Forsey, whose models may not be familiar in family circles but include nary an ordinary timepiece – and barely anything that might pass for a bargain.
All are undoubted treasures demanding a commensurate ransom. And if this is beyond you? In that case just pray that your old uncle’s Longines is a good-looking one and has a back-story worth telling.
Bani McSpedden is watch editor of The Australian Financial Review and watch-next.com.
For a behind-the-scenes update from Bani McSpedden on all matters wristworthy, please sign up for our free weekly watch-next newsletter.