One of the memorable things about SIHH last year was that the only brand to launch an all-new, consumer-friendly collection was Baume & Mercier, the little brother in the Richemont stable.
The Clifton, as the collection was called, was a good’un, too. Based on a 1950s design plucked from the brand’s archive, it had a charming mid-century maturity about it that simultaneously helped Baume & Mercier grow up. A strange thing to say perhaps, given the company was founded in 1830 and counts itself as the seventh oldest watch brand currently in operation, but true.
According to sources, it’s been commercially successful as well, a boon for a brand that needed a little magic to get things going again. The surprise this year is not that Baume & Mercier has stuck with what it’s good at and brought us a raft of Clifton line extensions, but that those extensions include a piece that’s beyond the brand’s usual frame of reference – Baume & Mercier, one of the leading brands in the ‘accessible luxury’ category, has done a flying tourbillon.
It’s called the Clifton 1892 Flying Tourbillon and it will cost somewhere in the region of €50,000. Only 30 will be made. Bearing in mind the Automatic, which footed the collection last year, is just €2,470, and that the hand-wound, red-gold, La Joux-Perret-calibred halo piece cost €11,900, this is a big jump. A very big jump.
Aesthetically, it bears the same hallmarks as the La Joux-Perret piece. The case is 18-carat red gold again and its shape is the same slightly evolved version of the base model with the flatter but more pronounced lugs, only it’s larger this time, at 45.5mm.
Inside is a Val Fleurier calibre produced exclusively for Baume & Mercier, which is elegantly finished with Côtes de Genève stripes on the bridges and circular graining on the baseplate.
Visible through a sapphire case back, it’s certainly a handsome movement, but it has no embellishments over the La Joux-Perret hand-wound version, which, given the extra outlay required, is cause for a raised eyebrow. Its power reserve is smaller too – 50 hours compared to 90. Not a like for like comparison admittedly, but given that it’s five times more expensive, one worth making.
The reason for the name, by the way, goes back to a competition at London’s Kew Observatory in 1892. Alcide Baume took his tourbillon to Kew where it won at a canter, achieving a level of accuracy that remained a record for an astonishing 10 years. That’s the kind of story a lot of brands would kill for, and Baume & Mercier has been extremely smart to remind us of it.
Next on the list of new launches is the much-anticipated chronograph version of the Clifton. Its vital statistics include a 43mm stainless steel case and a tri-compax dial layout, but with the addition of a day/date window, and an upgraded Valjoux 7750 movement.
The Clifton is a natural home for a sensibly priced chronograph (expect this one to come in at around €3,500), and this is a solid execution that could give some of the more established players in this segment a run for their money. The only flaw, if one were allowed, would be that the design wasn’t based on one of the brand’s stunning 1950s bi-compax designs, which are among the most beautiful watches of the period.
The other surprise, which is certainly allowed, is that these two pieces aren’t quite as newsworthy as they may appear. Both were shown at Watches and Wonders in Hong Kong last September, making this the second consecutive year Baume & Mercier has chosen to launch big pieces in Asia before SIHH. The Clifton, you may recall, was launched in China in late 2012 before it appeared at last year’s showpiece event.
Understandably, Alain Zimmermann, the company’s chief executive, has made it clear that China is a key target for the brand, and that its emphasis on the territory is to make up for the fact it has had little presence there historically. Company policy now appears to be to launch products in Asia ahead of SIHH, which is an interesting development.
Baume & Mercier did keep one piece back for SIHH, though, and that’s the Clifton Retrograde Date Automatic, a 43mm stainless steel piece. It has a retrograde date indicator, a subdial for the day, and a power reserve indicator at 6 o’clock, which seems slightly superfluous given the watch’s power reserve is a very standard 42 hours. It’s a good-looking piece, but I can’t help wondering why the retrograde indication doesn’t run parallel to the edge of the dial. A subjective gripe.
Other news includes seasonal adaptations of the Linea range of ladies watches, a key piece for the brand in the Far East, but ostensibly, this is the Clifton’s year again. Quite right, too – it’s a watch Baume & Mercier can proudly hang its hat on.