orn in 1972 with the release of Audemars Piguet’s original Royal Oak, the sport-chic watch segment with integrated bracelet has become a dominant presence on the horological scene. It now accounts for a significant proportion of sales, and everyone wants to get in on the action.
EExact figures are difficult to get hold of, but estimates suggest that no less than 42.4% (by volume) of Swiss steel watch exports are in the price segment above CHF 3,000. It’s easy to understand why these watches are so popular.
In fact, not a year goes by without another new brand bringing out a range of sport-chic steel watches. There’s no shortage of recent examples to choose from, whether among the big brands or the independents: Chopard and its Alpine Eagle, Bulgari and its Octo Finissimo, A. Lange & Söhne and its Odysseus, H. Moser & Cie and its Streamliner, Czapek and its Antarctique, Laurent Ferrier and its Sport Auto... to name just a few. Competition is fierce.
The share (by volume) of Swiss steel watches exports in the price segment above CHF 3,000 is estimated at 42.4%.
Newcomers inevitably face comparison with the market leaders: Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak and Patek Philippe’s Nautilus. How do you succeed in such a competitive market? Can a new watch stand out and avoid being labelled the umpteenth reinterpretation of its illustrious predecessors?
References and differences
Speake-Marin has thrown its hat into the ring. The Ripples model signals a new direction for this most British of Swiss watchmakers.
And it’s up against some serious adversaries. How does it measure up? At first glance, you might think that it bears some resemblance to a Nautilus. The new case, named City, is a symphony of fluid curves, and the alternating polished and satin finishes is reminiscent of its prestigious ancestor. But a play of contrasting finishes is hard to avoid on watches like these.
However, a closer look reveals some striking differences: the case is squarer, and the prominent crown guard accentuates the effect. The dial is very round, unlike other references in the genre. A circle in a square? Yes, Bell & Ross has done this before, but we’re in a far more refined register here. And we’re also quite a long way from the angular Royal Oak, when you look at them side by side.
The Ripples model heralds a new direction for this most British of Swiss brands.
A distinctive personality
The most striking thing about this model is how slender it is. The slim bezel defines the watch’s personality and opens up its face. The broad, flattened Côtes de Genève decorations ripple across the dial as they catch the light, and the charcoal grey colour changes depending on the angle of view. The lightness of the design is underlined by the slender hour markers delicately balanced on the crests of the waves, emphasising the typical Speake-Marin layout with its small seconds at half-past one, and the signature Big Ben hands.
Refinement is also evident in the reduced depth of the 9.2 mm case and the fluid drape of the integral bracelet. The small detail of the first link that pivots slightly makes all the difference. The polished and satin-finished links of the bracelet alternate in an altogether natural way. The beautifully mirror-polished edges offer an architectural aesthetic and perfect comfort. All the classic markers of the genre are there, but assembled in a way that creates a distinctive personality. It really is about squaring the circle.
An enhanced movement
To power this new collection, Speake-Marin has used the SMA03 automatic manufacture movement with micro-rotor. The new SMA03-T calibre is fully rhodium plated with a sanded finish and hand-chamfered edges, combining the modern with the traditional. It still beats at 4Hz and provides a reasonable power reserve of 52 hours.
With the new Ripples collection, Speake-Marin has set itself a hefty challenge: to succeed in a highly competitive market where criticism is swift and merciless. The brand has managed to create a watch that fulfils a specific brief while asserting its own distinctive personality. Only the future will tell whether this Ripples reaches the new clientele of collectors it is targeting. In any case, it represents a new era in the brand’s development, and a fine example of successfully squaring the circle.