After my first story on the enduring appeal of bicompax chronographs, this time we step it up a few notches from the sub $5000 category to the top tier. Today’s watches split into two main categories: first there are the chunky tool watches that reflect how the bicompax chronographs of the mid-20th century were, in fact, the forefathers of today’s sports watches. Then, there are the more formal dress pieces that mine the slim elegance of the ’40s- and ’50s references. But whether you lean towards rugged functionality or stylish looks, these twin-register beauties pose an emphatic reminder that, when it comes to chronograph sub-dials, three’s a crowd.
Tudor Black Bay Chronograph
With just a few tweaks, Tudor thoroughly transformed their Black Bay Chronograph for this year’s Watches and Wonders. While I’m always impressed by the mechanics of a chronograph complication, I prefer clean dials and the contrasts of a sharp panda works a treat. The beefy Black Bay chronograph was always a looker, and I do enjoy the brashness of gold and steel in their John Player Special-esque model that I had a closer look at in our video here.
But this year, Tudor sharpened their vintage design pencils and tweaked a solid design. In a slightly slimmer case (it was kinda chubby, come on), the dynamic sweep of bevelled lugs offer a strong reminder of their Rolex family ties. The dial of the Black Bay Chronograph hits a delicious medium between the Speedy and the Daytona while also hitting a great price point, too. In the Breitling-sourced MT5813 in-house calibre that delivers a stonking 70 hours of power reserve, Tudor made a great collaborative choice. I might just have found my sports chrono sweet spot here – Panda City here I come! Price: $7070 AUD on bracelet
Omega Speedmaster Blue Side of the Moon Co-Axial Master Chronometer Moon Phase Chronograph
This contemporary deep blue Speedy is as different from the standard Moonwatch as its name is long, and offers a larger iteration of the chronograph of chronographs. This is not a new model, but has turned out to be a surprising stayer in the range, while still looking unfeasably fresh. While its twisted lugs are recognisably familiar, this is not a Speedmaster as you know it, and at 44.25mm of ceramic case, it is bold, light, and very, very blue. I do feel that I’ve stretched the bicompax focus a tad here, as this also has a moon phase on the dial at 6 o’clock. But the deep blue lushness of the ceramic case and that graphically sharp dial make it impossible to resist. The rich blue of the alligator leather strap with its crisp white stitching completes an elegant take on a vintage classic, with three discreet pops of red adding to what is strong wrist presence indeed. As a co-axial chronometer with the METAS-certified 9904 calibre, it’s super accurate, too. Price: $ 9,560 USD
TAG Heuer Monaco Titan
A decidedly fresh take just out of the oven, the titanium version of the venerable Monaco dropped this week, and only 500 of them will be made. I see this as a virtual ramp launching the sixties square into a future of smooth, light titanium. As a mere tweak to what is the square chronograph, the matte-blasted surface of the titanium case hardware does alter perceptions, moving the vintage racer from the circuit to a contemporary cocktail party. In a sandblasted Grade 2 titanium case, we get the impression of an almost raw beauty, and the soft tactility that brushed steel lacks. The light weight imbues the perfect 39 x 39mm case with a new lease of life and increased comfort. You could argue that this futuristic sand-blasted shape should have the new Heuer 02 movement with its small seconds at 6 (like the delicious green fume version here). but I say no. Why? The self-winding Calibre 11 movement makes the TAG Heuer Monaco Titan complete, to finish a full circle of sorts (or should that be a full square), combining the contemporary twist of titanium with a historical heart. $11,400 AUD
Patek Philippe ref. 5172G-001
The masters of the classic twin register layout, and the main inspiration behind a variety of homages, the 41mm Patek Philippe ref. 5172G-001 in white gold and varnished cool blue is the real deal. We all associate Patek with either the Nautilus or their gold perpetual calendars, but one of my own favourites include this quirky 38mm dark blue pilot’s watch. At first glance, it seems a tiny bit unbalanced. The two registers are slightly below the centre line, and I got completely transfixed by this, surely they should have been centered? But this design means that the outer printed seconds remain legible instead of being cut into by the registers. This functional approach makes it no less dazzling with its clean white details, classic syringe hands, and the white-gold, lume-filled Arabic numerals lending a touch of glamour to the scene. The manually wound movement in the ref.5172G-001 is the caliber CH 29‑535 PS, a traditional column wheel movement with a central chronograph hand, instantaneous 30-minute counter and small seconds register. Its power reserve with the chronograph disengaged is 65 hours, with the dependability of the Gyromax® balance. With its price, you might need the inevitable waiting time to consolidate the rest of your collection, but this is no less than chronograph “end game” material. Price: EUR 66,870
Hublot Big Bang Integral King Gold
“No holds barred!”, these must have been the words spoken when the Hublot design department agreed on the final sketches for the new Big Bang Integral. It surely is one of the most muscular interpretations of the integrated bracelet category, one of most fiercely contested areas of luxury sports watches today. And the Integral sure comes packing a mighty punch. The 42mm version in King Gold is as lustrous as it is brash, yet infused with a technical attention to detail and chronograph functionality. The case and thick bracelet are brushed with bold striations, and broad, decisive angular bevels create flashes of reflection that – if you had any doubts – mean this is not for the shy of wrist. The presence is one of bomb-proof strength, and even with the black details toughening up the act, it has a warm presence through the use of the trademark King Gold alloy. While being both an accurate and highly functional chronograph, let’s face it, you don’t buy the Hublot Integral in King Gold to time your lap times around the running track, rather a brisk run to reach the opening of a member’s club VIP night. Price: $73,200 AU.
Vacheron Constantin Historique Cornes de Vache 1955
Where the Patek ref.5172G is a contemporary interpretation of their vast catalogue of complications, this is Vacheron taking out a leaf out of their rich book of mid-century haute horlogerie. Cornes de Vache meaning cow horns, refer to the smooth perfection of the teardrop shaped lugs, rounded where they are soldered in a hunched up fashion to the stepped, polished case. They swoop in, becoming pointed where they organically grasp the smooth leather strap. I would obviously not mind the dazzle of yellow gold, but this steel version is a gentle reminder of what was considered a sports watch in its heyday – today a lithe dress watch and dainty in its 38.5mm. The dial is pure symmetrical panache, two toned silvery grey with a lighter minute track printed with sporty red numerals for the chronograph function, made clear through the heat-treated blue seconds hand and pointer for the minute register. The dial offers a wealth of information delivered through a clean design language, the almost shy nature of the hour and minute hands quietly doing their job within the inner dial, classic roman applique numerals creating a central focus with the Vacheron Constantin logo, a perfect counterweight to the twin registers at 3 and 9 o’clock. Should you manage to tear your gaze away from the clean and balanced dial, your attention will be caught by the calibre 1142, a Hallmark of Geneva certified 21,600vph manually wound calibre visible through the sapphire caseback, a veritable orchestra of micro-mechanical mastery. At EUR 44,600 the Vacheron Constantin Historique Cornes de Vache 1955 is not exactly affordable, but at what price perfection?