Watches: Back to Basics: Classic Three-Hand Timepieces

By Thierry Ané on August 4, 2014

Does a watch really need to have a tourbillon to vouch for its affiliation with Haute Horlogerie? Is the presence of a minute repeater or a perpetual calendar the best gauge of the high-end pedigree of a particular timepiece? Is the race to complexity the only option for talented watchmakers to showcase their expertise?

The answer to all these questions is obviously “no” and one can even say that for Fine Watchmaking like for anything else, less is sometimes more. When you think about it, could you imagine a better challenge for a gifted watchmaker than creating a simple time-only watch that still manages to stand out by its flawless style and its outstanding horological nature?

Reviewing this year’s introductions, I thus looked for noticeable examples of superlative craftsmanship and timeless elegance in watches reduced to their primary function: the indication of the time of the day. I allowed for a little twist though, a little refinement: the presence of a small seconds. It removes nothing of the watch purity but brings an additional touch of elegance and timelessness. What follows is an open-minded selection of the best models unveiled this year in this category.

As you will see, each brand has its own interpretation of this classic timepiece. Some offer strictly traditional models while others add a touch of sophistication to the dial. Although gold remains the material of choice for these classic watches, its colour varies from one brand to another and some watchmakers favour other materials like platinum or even stainless steel. Even for the size of a “classic watch” all these renowned brands seem to disagree: the timepieces presented here range from a tiny 38.5 mm to a generous 44 mm.

But far from being a setback, these disparities are what make these watches interesting. They prove that even in this extremely codified segment there is still room for each brand’s creativity to come out. Browse through this rather large selection to discover the classic watch that best suits your own tastes.

A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Pink Gold

The "1815" collection pays homage to the birth year of the brand’s founder, Ferdinand Adolph Lange, who established the watchmaking industry in Glashütte. The 1815 Pink Gold is the simplest model in this line but perhaps the one that best summarises the values of this defender of Haute Horlogerie.

This 38.5 mm pink gold watch mounted on a brown alligator strap presents a beautiful rhodium-coloured solid silver dial with a railroad-track minutes scale, black Arabic numerals and a small sedonds sub-dial at 6 o’clock. The hands are flame-blued as they have always been on high-end timepieces.

The sapphire case back lets you admire the manually-wound L051.1 calibre. This exceptional movement has been entirely developed and built in the brand’s manufacture to the most exacting quality standards. In pure Glashütte style, it features a three-fourth plate in untreated German silver with Côtes de Genève decoration, flame-blued screws, rubies with screwed gold chatons, and a balance cock engraved by hand.

The 1815 is also available in yellow gold or white gold. This is clearly the most traditional model of this selection, but also one executed flawlessly: a watch you will enjoy wearing all your life.

Baume & Mercier Clifton Automatic Two-Tone

The eye-catching new Clifton Automatic Two-Tone is undoubtedly the most affordable timepiece in this selection. It does not make it any less desirable though: with its 41 mm stainless steel case adorned with a red gold bezel this Clifton surely has a lot of character.

The sun satin-finished dial with red gold hands, Arabic numerals and hour markers is perfectly executed. I personally like the blue five-minute Arabic numerals on the minutes track: they give a very modern touch to this elegant classic watch. The small-seconds is classically placed at 6 o’clock and this watch also features a date window at the 3 o’clock position.

A brown alligator strap with a folding stainless steel buckle completes the look. A version with a two-tone bracelet is also available but, in my opinion, it takes aways a lot of the elegance of the watch.

The sapphire case back offers a view of the self-winding Sellita SW260-1 movement that animates this watch. Although not as prestigious as the Lange L051.1, this is nonetheless an extremely reliable movement with a fine finishing. In particular, you can admire the oscillating weight that has been personalized with snailed and Côtes de Genève decors as well as a Phi symbol.

Bremont Wright Flyer Rose Gold

British watchmaker Bremont has just released this limited edition timepiece in honour of the Wright Brothers and the world's first airplane. We will not take part in the polemic that surrounded the launch of this Wright Flyer: whether or not Bremont did work with La Joux-Perret on the development of their new “in-house” BWC/01 movement is not the point here.

With a beautifully polished 43 mm rose gold case adorned with a grooved crown and a brown alligator strap with contrasting white stitches, the Wright Flyer Rose Gold is definitely a stunning aviation-style version of the three-hand watch we are discussing today.

The white dial with a railroad minutes track and beige-coloured Arabic numerals has a nice vintage appeal. I like the fact that the small seconds dial is placed at 9 o’clock instead of the traditional 6 o’clock position. Its contrasting silver colour also successfully breaks the all-classic look of this timepiece.

The back reveals the fine Côtes de Geneve of the BWC/01 calibre as well as its propeller-shaped oscillating weight that incorporates some of the original muslin material used to cover the 1903 Wright Flyer aircraft. Also available in steel or white gold, this Wright Flyer is probably the sportier interpretation of the time-only classic you will find in this selection.

Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Platinum

Extreme thinness is known to be a complication of its own and ultra-thin models are the ultimate dressed watches. With the Octo Finissimo Platinum, Bvlgari offers a timepiece that combines the refinement of slenderness with the simplicity of a time-only piece.

To underline the effortless elegance of this model, Bvlgari selected the opulence of platinum for the 40 mm case with a thickness of just 5 mm and the black tie appeal of a shiny large-scale alligator strap paired with a black lacquered dial.

With simple index hour markers appliqués, the “6” and “12” Arabic numerals, as well as hollowed and facetted diamond-shaped hands, the watch asserts its Italian sense of style. The originality of this Roman design is further enhanced by the unusual position of the small seconds at 5 o’clock.

The classic elegance of the face of this Octo Finissimo contrasts with the stunning modernity of the movement’s finish: the bridges with perfectly bevelled and polished edges feature classic large Côtes de Genève but a “certain” symmetry and the presence of an unusual power reserve indication on its own black bridge bring a very contemporary twist.

The Octo Finissimo is surely the ideal companion for a formal night-out or for a very special occasion.

Chopard L.U.C 1963 Anniversary Chronometer Rose Gold

50 years ago, the Scheufele family took the helm of Chopard and to celebrate this important anniversary, the brand introduced the L.U.C 1963 Anniversary Chronometer Rose Gold, an exceptional timepiece carrying two prestigious certifications: the watch is COSC-certified and also bears the Poinçon de Genève.

With a 44 mm rose gold case, this time-only model is the largest of this selection. The cambered and brushed sides and the slender and highly polished bezel make it look classic despite its size. To ensure a comfortable wear, the lugs are gently shaped to follow the curve of the wrist.

The translucent porcelain-style white dial with rose gold Dauphine hands is clearly reminiscent of pocket watches but the presence of a large small seconds sub-dial at 9 o’clock intersecting the railway track minutes circle with large black Roman numerals on its edge make the dial extremely daring for such a classic watch.

Despite the beauty of the dial, the real show is on the back. The large (38 mm) manually-wound L.U.C 63.01-L calibre inside the L.U.C 1963 Anniversary Chronometer truly deserves its Geneva Seal. It features a splendid two-tone treatment with Côte de Geneve-decorated German silver bridges with polished and gilded edges. Rubies and screws are circled in gold and the movement also showcases a swan’s-neck regulator.

The L.U.C 1963 Anniversary Chronometer is the perfect choice for the watch aficionado who wants to make a statement while stating its appreciation of Fine Watchmaking.

H. Moser & Cie Venturer Small Seconds Red Gold

Inspired by Heinrich Moser, the founder of the brand, the new Venturer collection draws upon design elements from traditional pocket watches, as well as details reminiscent of the Bauhaus era or the convex crystals fashionable in the 1960s.

The 39 mm red gold case with a thickness of 12.5 mm features gentle curves and harmonious proportions. It features nice details like the fluted crown with the Moser “M” initial but what strikes me the most is the larger than usual bezel opening and curved sapphire crystal that give you a panoramic view of the dial.

The attention-grabber is the red gold fumé dial with a slightly convex shape perfectly enhanced by the shape of the gold baton hour markers and the long and slim hands subtly curved at the edge. The small seconds sub-dial has been placed as close to the bottom of the dial as possible.

The sapphire crystal on the back reveals the beautiful HMC 327 calibre. This new manually-wound movement entirely developed and manufactured in-house features a silicon escape wheel and lever, a balance wheel with gold screws, an in-house Straumann hairspring with a hand-applied Breguet overcoil and a hacking seconds mechanism.

The Venturer Small Seconds is also available with a silver sunburst or an ardoise sunburst dials. For more details and live pictures please read my recent article about the Venturer Small Seconds collectionWatches: H. Moser & Cie Venturer Small Seconds Collection (+live pics).

The Venturer Small Seconds with red gold fumé dial should appeal to those in search of an extremely refined three-hand watch at the same time extremely classic and surprisingly unique.

Laurent Ferrier Galet Micro Rotor White Gold

Is it necessary to introduce Laurent Ferrier’s exceptional “Galet Micro Rotor” model? The self-winding FBN 229.01 calibre that animates this piece has been entirely designed, developed and manufactured by the master watchmaker.

Entirely hand-finished to the highest standards, this outstanding movement presents a silicon escapement with double direct impulse, a mono-metallic balance with timing screws, a self-compensating flat Breguet balance spring, a shock absorber, a hand-made angled balance cock, and of course, an 18-karat gold micro-rotor between two bridges.

This year, the talented watchmaker introduced a red gold version with a vertical satin-brushed black solid silver dial, but the Galet Micro Rotor White Gold version included in this article is by far my favourite interpretation of the watch.

With a light-brown alligator strap and an opaline silver-toned solid silver dial, the watch boasts a beautiful vintage look. It just seems that the colours are withered: they work admirably with the extremely rounded 40 mm white gold case. A minute track runs around these new dials, while straight relief-worked Arabic numerals focus firmly on readability. The small seconds is classically placed at 6 o'clock.

Anyone in search of the right balance between classic design and contemporary watchmaking techniques will appreciate this Galet Micro Rotor White Gold.

Roger Dubuis Hommage Automatic White Gold

The last timepiece of this selection, the Hommage Automatic White Gold, is undoubtedly the most decorative. Nonetheless, it only resorts to a very traditional technique, namely the guillochage, to assert the daring and instantly recognisable Roger Dubuis aesthetic.

From the subtly lowered dial centre springs an audacious silver guilloché motif. The directionality of the lines created by the rose engine is echoed by the radiating charcoal grey applied Roman numerals that are cleverly prolonged by the built-up applied five-minute markers on the charcoal grey flange. A pink gold version that blends the silver guilloché with a charcoal grey flange and pink gold Roman numerals is also available but when you wear it for a while, the tone-on-tone white gold version grows on you. It is simply sublime.

These “Hommage Automatic” share a classic 42 mm round case with a highly polished concave bezel that contrasts nicely with the satin-brushed case band. They also feature long slender lugs and a large fluted crown and all bear Mr Roger Dubuis’s signature metallised on the sapphire exhibition case back.

The Hommage Automatic White Gold is powered by the COSC-certified RD620 calibre entirely developed and manufactured in-house in keeping with the stringent demands of the Poinçon de Genève. In addition to characteristically-shaped bridges, spring and levers, this self-winding movement features a micro-rotor, yet another Roger Dubuis’ signature.

Despite being a time-only model with a small seconds at 9 o’clock, this Hommage Automatic White Gold will not go unnoticed on your wrist and will make all your watch collector friends a little bit jealous.

For more information please visit the following web sites:

A. Lange & Söhne

Baume & Mercier




H. Moser & Cie

Laurent Ferrier

Roger Dubuis