Ralph Lauren’s watchmaking safari

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March 2013

The presence of Ralph Lauren Watch & Jewelry at this year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva marked a certain coming of age for the brand. As the company’s chairman, Callum Barton, explained, “We are four years old and the average age of the other brands at the show is 98 years. We celebrate our fifth birthday at the SIHH and it is the first time you can see products in the show windows outside the booth, now that the brand can walk and talk.”

And now that the brand can walk and talk it already wants to stretch its legs and head off on… safari! Parked centre stage in the typical colonial décor of the Ralph Lauren booth in Geneva this year was the designer’s own vintage Land Rover, equipped for an expedition into the African wilderness, leaving one eager to discover the new timepieces inspired by this world of safari, to which the designer dedicated his first fashion collection almost 30 years ago.

According to Ralph Lauren, “When you go on safari you think it’s a special moment in your life. You will always talk about it. There is a utility and sensibility about it that works.” In fact, the designer has almost made an art out of adding a touch of luxury to the functional clothing required for tracking down wildlife on the open plains. Now he turns his attention to making the watches that bear his name fit for African exploration. It is above all the utilitarian aspect that comes forth in the watches, expressed by a rugged design and the use of a new treatment for the cases that recreates the unique black sheen of gunmetal familiar from old hunting rifles.


The Safari collection
The RL67 Safari chronometer epitomises the classic simplicity of Ralph Lauren design but with an added touch of durability. Its 45mm diameter gunmetal case, with visible screws on the bezel, houses a sober matte varnished azure anthracite dial with large Arabic numerals coated with a beige luminescent substance reminiscent of the desert sands, with an oversize 12 and 6 and a simple “RALPH LAUREN – CHRONOMETER” inscription. The orange sweep seconds hand, for clear legibility, is the only small break in the rigidly applied safari design code. Well protected inside this tough exterior is the RL300-1 calibre self-winding movement with chronometer certification and a power reserve of approximately 42 hours.
The RL67 Safari chronograph adheres rigorously to the same safari aesthetic but takes its dial from the brand’s Sporting collection, using a matte black varnished background with contrasting white Roman numerals and chronograph counters at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock, as well as a date window at 6 o’clock. It is fitted with the RL750 chronograph movement, which is a self-winding manufacture calibre. Operating at 28,800 vibrations per hour, the RL750 offers a power reserve of around 48 hours and has Côtes de Genève and circular graining decoration that is visible through a smoked sapphire crystal case back fixed in place with six screws. In addition to the same 45mm case size as the chronometer, the RL67 Safari chronograph is also available in a smaller 39mm diameter case.
In combination with the gunmetal case colour for both models, a weathered olive-green canvas strap is perhaps the boldest affirmation of this collection’s safari credentials. Reinforced with a black leather lining, this material evokes Ralph Lauren’s pioneering collection of safari clothing that spawned the term “safari chic” and pre-empted the trend for casual safari clothing subsequently triggered by the film “Out of Africa”.



A first tourbillon
Those looking for a less casual accompaniment for their safari attire can opt for the juxtaposition of a delicate tourbillon movement housed in the same 45mm diameter gunmetal case. The self-winding RL67 calibre is the first tourbillon movement to feature in the Ralph Lauren collection and also the first to be driven by a gold micro-rotor, visible through a transparent sapphire crystal case back. This manufacture movement operates at 28,800 vibrations per hour and offers a power reserve of approximately 38 hours. It also features a specially designed tourbillon bridge that has a finish to match the sheen of the gunmetal case. Although the time is displayed on the same sober matte black dial with the desert-inspired luminescent beige Roman numerals and sword-shaped hands, the rugged canvas strap has been replaced by a more refined brown alligator leather strap, which is hand made using honey wax soap to give a special patina.

How the gunmetal look is achieved
As the name suggests, gunmetal was originally used in the manufacture of cannons in medieval times (although it had been in use before this) and later in other ordnance. Steel is now the metal of choice for ordnance but gunmetal is still used today for valves, pipe fittings and pumps that need to be pressure tight. Known as red brass in the United States, gunmetal is actually a type of bronze—an alloy of copper, tin and zinc.
For the Ralph Lauren Safari timepieces, the appearance of gunmetal is achieved using a chemical and thermal treatment. Unlike surface treatment processes such as PVD, DLC and ADLC, which are now widely used in the watch industry and involve purely physical processes to deposit a thin layer of coating on the host metal, the process used by Ralph Lauren to make the gunmetal case for the Safari collection has both chemical and thermal components. In addition to the aesthetic enhancement this brings to the timepiece, it also makes the steel harder than a conventional stainless-steel watch case and thus increases its durability. It is applied to the case, bezel, crown, buckle, pushers and screws of the watches in the Ralph Lauren Safari collection.
1. First, the watch case and its components are sandblasted and microblasted by hand using an air pistol, which gives the piece a deep matte grey finish. 2. The gunmetal treatment is applied both chemically and thermally, transforming the silver colour of the steel into a blackened finish. 3. The case is then brushed and polished using a range of specialised brushes and diamond pastes.

Ladies’ jewellery pieces
The strong focus on the world of safari, in which Ralph Lauren can claim the greatest of legitimacy, is oriented towards the male customer as far as the brand’s timepieces are concerned. But at the more exclusive end of the spectrum, Ralph Lauren has also introduced a trio of stunning ladies’ jewellery models for 2013. The Stirrup collection now includes a jewellery piece, the Stirrup Diamond Link, which is adorned with 1,911 diamonds of 20 different sizes for a staggering total of around 35.58 carats. The entire case, measuring 32.40mm by 34.30mm, as well as the chain-link bracelet—all in 18-carat white gold—are set with diamonds. The crown, also in 18-carat white gold, is set with a rose-cut diamond of 0.38 carats. Set against this sparkling background, the dial remains the epitome of Ralph Lauren classicism, with black Roman numerals and a black railway minute track set against an off-white lacquered and polished background. The impulses driving the small seconds hand at 6 o’clock come from the self-winding mechanical RL701 manufacture calibre, which operates at 28,800 vibrations per hour and offers a power reserve of around 70 hours.
As a perfect balance, this model, available for 220,000 US dollars, was presented alongside the Stirrup Steel Link model, which is the first Stirrup model to be proposed with a polished stainless-steel case and the same matching chain-link bracelet in polished stainless steel. At 2,500 US dollars it retails for a fraction of the cost of its sparkling colleague. A range of eight new colourful leather straps is also available for the Stirrup collection.



Diamonds are also the order of the day in the 867 collection, the latest model in which (and one of the most lavish in the entire Ralph Lauren collection) is called quite simply the 867 Diamond Watch. Here, the sleek 27.5mm square art deco case in polished 18-carat white gold has a bezel set with diamonds as well as diamond-set arabesque motifs that continue along the black suede strap, for a total of 280 stones. A further 12 baguette-cut diamonds adorn the signature square design elements on the case at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock and the ornate folding clasp. In a modern interpretation of the art deco style, the silver opaline dial bears a combination of black Roman and Arabic numerals (outsized Roman numerals for the quarter hours and smaller Arabic numerals for the other hours) and the black suede strap framing the whole helps this striking design to stand out, leaving no mistake as to the art deco inspiration behind this piece.

867 DIAMOND WATCH by Ralph Lauren
867 DIAMOND WATCH by Ralph Lauren

867 MODERN ART DECO WATCH by Ralph Lauren
867 MODERN ART DECO WATCH by Ralph Lauren

Another new model in the 867 collection has a similar “face” but employs even more art deco design codes, marrying the classic art deco colours of black and white with the column designs familiar from the architecture of the world’s most iconic art deco buildings (one of the most famous of which is the Empire State Building, a landmark in Ralph Lauren’s native New York city). The 867 Modern Art Deco watch has an 18-carat rose-gold case set with one row of diamonds and an inner frame in black resin. The signature square elements on the case at 6 o’clock and 12 o’clock are each set with nine diamonds and enclosed by the shimmer of black onyx semi-circles set into the black alligator leather strap above and below, each of which points towards a white ceramic column flanked by six diamond-set columns, a design element that is repeated on the 18-carat rose-gold folding clasp.
Both new 867 models are powered by the RL430 calibre manually-wound manufacture movement, which operates at 21,600 vibrations per hour, offers a power reserve of approximately 40 hours and a fine decorative finish of Côtes de Genève and circular graining. Like the Stirrup Diamond Link, both of these models also offer the ultimate touch of luxury with a rose-cut diamond set into their gold crowns.
With the Safari collection and the new ladies’ models, Ralph Lauren has once again proven capable of successfully combining the rigorously timeless designs and high-quality craftsmanship of its timepieces with highly individual themes such as safari that are ingrained in the Ralph Lauren brand.

Source: Europa Star February - March 2013 Magazine Issue