Famed for its multi-million dollar jewellery and the, often remarkable, innovation of its exclusive Opus watches, Harry Winston is now aiming to broaden its appeal to a younger audience by introducing a more accessible timepiece collection. QP gets a sneak preview of the new Ocean Sport line.
Baselworld just wouldn't be the same without that familiar sense of anticipation that precedes the annual visit to the Harry Winston booth, the one place at the show where you simply know that you're going to see something utterly new, utterly innovative and utterly far-out. I refer, of course, to the ritual unveiling of the latest Opus concept watch, an event that has taken place every year since 2001.
But this is no mere gimmick - if it were, the back catalogue of Opus contributors wouldn't read like a Who's Who of the greatest living watchmakers. Francois Paul Journe? Check. Antoine Preziuso? Check. Vianney Halter? Check. Christophe Claret? Check. And the list goes on.
And, although the number of people who will ever own an Opus is tiny - they are, by definition, expensive and the entire complement of all Opus watches made to date only stands at 635 examples - Harry Winston's vice president of sales, David Gouten, believes that as much as 80 per cent of the brand's success in shifting watches can be attributed to the existence of the Opus project.
This is both to do with the fact that the Opus models afford significant media coverage and the fact that they are constructed by watchmaking wunderkinds, thus lending considerable horological credence to a name best known for its association with the world's most dazzling diamonds - whoppers such as the Lesotho, the Star of the East, the Hope and, perhaps the most famous of all, the one that Richard Burton bought for Elizabeth Taylor in 1968 for $300,000, a 33.19 carat job that comes under the hammer at Sotheby's next month with a pre-sale estimate of $3.5 million.
Decidedly masculine, the Ocean Sport Automatic features a 3D dial delineated by a hatched pattern echoing the notches on the bezel.
A decade of growth
When the Opus One was unveiled in 2001, Harry Winston was a mere fledgling in the world of watchmaking and sold but 800 pieces per year, having only decided to enter the game in 1989 before launching its first timepiece, the Premier, in 1995. Today, the brand shifts more than 5,000 watches from its 20 salons and a few selected retailers around the world, and it has established its own horological niche with a commercial range of distinctive-looking, well executed and interesting watches that includes everything from the elegant and understated Midnight two-handed dress model to more advanced designs such as the Premier Perpetual Calendar, the Project Z models and the Ocean Triple Retrograde chronograph. In the high horology collection, meanwhile, are the Histoire de Tourbillon models One and Two and another tourbillon plus a minute repeater in the Midnight range.
And now that its horological standing has become well and truly established, Harry Winston has decided to reach out to a whole new audience beyond those moneyed 40- and 50-somethings that currently make up the bulk of its clientele by introducing an entirely new line designed to appeal to younger buyers, both male and female.
Launched at Baselworld 2011, the Midnight Collection features classic watches with svelte cases crafted in white or rose gold.
Set to receive its first public airing at SalonQP 2011, the Ocean Sport collection is, according to the blurb, intended for those who lead an "active lifestyle" and are "looking for exclusivity and strong design".
Perhaps the most instantly notable aspect of the range is that fact that every model will have a case hewn from Zalium, the aerospace-type zirconium, which first appeared in the original Project Z models and is also used for the Ocean Diver. Registered for the exclusive use of Harry Winston in watchmaking, Zalium is lightweight and hypoallergenic like titanium, but even harder wearing and more corrosion resistant.
It does have a certain drawback in that, like magnesium, it tends to be somewhat flammable when being machined, but the HW case makers (the brand has manufactured its own since 2007) have reported no major incendiary incidents to date, so it would seem that they just about have the measure of it. And, if there was one aspect of the Ocean Sport line that I would select as being a stand-out feature, it would be the cases: they are fabulously bold and tactile, real chunks of shameless over-engineering.
Proving it was right up there with the big boys, Harry Winston introduced the first in the Histoire de Tourbillon collection in 2009.
The men's models comprise a 44mm, automatic three-hander and a 44mm automatic chronograph, both of which feature interesting layered dials (half of which is cleverly louvred in the former) that lend the watches a distinctly architectural appearance accentuated by some clever use of variable toning and patterning - which is heightened in the three-hander by the sweep seconds hand and numerals being finished in blue.
The chronograph is, naturally, even more intriguing. The Zalium unidirectional bezel gets DLC-coated indexes and the dial is entirely open worked with its components being finished in a metallic, smoked effect. The lighter-coloured, skeletonised movement is clearly visible and, despite the fact that there seems to be a great deal going on, the watch maintains a high degree of timekeeping functionality thanks to the intelligent use of Superluminova and just enough bold, distinct dial markings. To make it a practical proposition for diving, the chronograph also offers water resistance down to 200m.
The magnificent Opus Eleven by Denis Giguet incorporates technology and architecture never before seen in watchmaking.
The women's offering in the Ocean Sport range comprises a 38mm chronograph with an automatic movement and a 36mm two-hander that has to make do with quartz power. Less complex-looking but lighter and more decorative than the men's versions, these are potentially more versatile - particularly the three-hander which, while sporting, wouldn't look out of place at a cocktail party with its sunray patterned dial and diamond hour markers.
So, if you really are looking for "exclusivity and strong design" in a watch that isn't going to cost the earth, should an Ocean Sport be a contender? Well, there's no doubting the exclusivity of the Harry Winston name and, frankly, design doesn't come much stronger than this without being seriously avant-garde.
Beyond that, the main consideration of many buyers will probably be pricing. With the Ocean Sport Quartz coming in at £10,100, the Automatic at £11,650, Ladies' Chronograph at £17,550 and Chrono at £19,450, the collection is likely to offer Harry Winston serious kudos - which should be sufficient in most people's minds to prompt the famous words of Marilyn Monroe: "Talk to me, Harry Winston".
Further information: www.harrywinston.com