Robb Read: Inside The World Of Bespoke Watchmaking

Why elite collectors often see elements of their supposed one-of-one on someone else’s wrist?

By Paige Reddinger 21/07/2021

“I made the mistake, no one else,” says former Hollywood power agent Michael Ovitz of the several dozen custom watches he commissioned from Patek Philippe about six or seven years ago. It was the first time Ovitz, who has been collecting for 35 years, placed a bespoke order, but his goal was ambitious: He requested several different references, each in a variety of metals, with one-of-a-kind dials. “They were terrific,” he says of Patek, “and accommodated everything I wanted.”

His regret is not foreseeing two problems. The first was misunderstanding his own psychology: Too afraid he’d bang up his special treasures by wearing them, he never even took some of them out of the packaging. In hindsight, he says he would stick to one version of each reference. “My second mistake was that I didn’t ask them for an exclusive on the design,” says Ovitz. “So I saw a lot of [Patek] watches showing up with my design, and I didn’t want that. I wanted unique pieces.” (Patek Philippe declined comment, citing clients’ privacy.)

Navigating the pitfalls of the world of bespoke watchmaking can be tricky, even for experienced collectors like Ovitz, who also has a major trove of modern and contemporary art. Commissioning can lead to the ultimate in bragging rights—influence over a genius creator’s oeuvre and legacy—or total dejection. Nearly every luxury firm is capable of taking customisation to the next level for those willing to spend whatever is required, which can run to millions, but when the client’s and the brand’s expectations are not aligned, the project can backfire.

Michael Ovtiz’s custom Patek Philippe Ref. 5004J-027

Michael Ovtiz’s custom Patek Philippe Ref. 5004J-027 in yellow gold. Courtesy of Phillips

Ovitz’s response has been to part company with some of the Pateks, recognisable for his “MSO” initials discreetly placed at six o’clock. Several have quietly popped up on the market, both privately and publicly, through notable auction houses. In 2018, his 36mm Ref. 5004J, in 18-carat yellow gold with a perpetual calendar and split-seconds chronograph, fetched about $484,000 at Phillips’s Hong Kong Watch Auction: Seven. A Ref. 3940 in 18-carat rose gold with perpetual calendar and a Ref. 5059 in 18-carat yellow gold with retrograde perpetual calendar were sold through European Watch Company for undisclosed amounts. But despite the less-than-ideal outcome with his initial foray into bespoke, Ovitz says he has not soured on the concept. Asked if he’d try again, he replies, “Yes, but one-offs that I co-design and that are not duplicated.”

That can be easier said than done. Across the industry, this type of project requires not only a significant investment, with a hefty deposit paid upfront—it’s expensive to develop a new complication or rearrange elements on a dial—but also a certain level of blind trust in the watchmaker’s word. In some cases, collectors report having agreed to allow a company to create an ultra-limited handful of slightly tweaked versions of their originals but still ending up feeling burned.

Voutilainen Observatoire

Voutilainen Observatoire with a Peseux 260 movement inspired by a custom creation for a New York client. Voutilainen

One New York collector, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, recounts how he felt betrayed when a watchmaker began producing more and more pieces with his concept. They had entered into a loose agreement allowing for four additional versions to sell to other clients, which later grew by several and eventually resulted in an ongoing series. “At first, I thought it didn’t matter if he increased the production a little bit, because I got the watch that I wanted,” he says. “But the thing is, it was a little bit like pulling teeth to try to get him to do this thing, and ultimately, it put him on the map, and then he just started cranking them out. I was kind of bummed.” The collector was so disenchanted with his experience that he ended up selling it. The approx. $97,000 price was almost double what he had initially paid, but the piece was the first and last one he bought from that particular maker.

Not every collector minds seeing their ideas on other people’s wrists. The relationship between brand and client can be mutually beneficial. Occasionally, a bespoke commission is so inventive that it wields influence over the brand’s repertoire for years to come. That collector can serve as muse and visionary, investor, guinea pig and sounding board.

Royal Oak Grande Complication

An Audemars Piguet VIP client recently requested a prominent minute-repeater slide on his Royal Oak Grande Complication, similar to this one. Diode SA – Denis Hayoun

Take, for instance, Bovet’s Récital timepiece (top image), an ultra-high-complication design that has received multiple accolades, including several Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Gèneve awards (the GPHG, the highest honour in watchmaking). Its origins date to 2006, when one of the brand’s biggest collectors came to owner Pascal Raffy asking for a tourbillon timepiece that featured a hefty seven days of power reserve along with a crown positioned at three o’clock in a pure and simple design. “He asked me, ‘How do you imagine the dial?’” says Raffy. “I said, ‘The tourbillon is the tank of the timepiece. It is the power, the energy, the generosity. Extending from its cage, let’s design a beautiful and simple blackened Côtes de Gèneve finishing.’” Together, they gave birth to the first Récital in 2007.

The collector was so pleased with the outcome that he suggested Bovet do other iterations, according to Raffy. The prototype was then presented to select retail partners and VIPs. “We were happy if we could sell a few of them,” says Raffy. “It would be a gift [to us] from the collector. That week, 50 models were sold.” The piece has spawned 22 editions to date and has become one of Bovet’s most recognisable designs.

Watchmaker François-Paul Journe

Watchmaker François-Paul Journe in his atelier. F. P. Journe

Collaborations such as these have sometimes been so crucial they have lifted a watchmaker out of relative obscurity. When Kari Voutilainen ventured out on his own after honing his craft behind the bench under master watchmaker Michel Parmigiani at Parmigiani Fleurier, a single client’s wish propelled him into the spotlight. Before he began making his own movements, a client came to him wanting an old Peseux 260 calibre—an observatory-competition movement used by brands for entries in chronometry competitions—in a time-only watch with straight lugs.

It took a year of negotiating and waiting to source the movement before it was delivered as a unique piece. The collector then brought it to the Besançon Observatory in Besançon, France, to be officially tested and certified as an observatory chronometer. The test goes a step further than the standard COSC certification, widely used in the industry, in that it inspects the entire watch for high-level accuracy rather than just the interior movement. The unusual piece went on to spawn not only a newly established Besançon Observatory chronometer certification but also Voutilainen’s coveted Observatoire series, which now encompasses 50 iterations of the original.

the F. P. Journe Centigraph

The F. P. Journe Centigraphe was the result of a request from a VIP customer who wanted an exceptional chronograph with three hands. F. P. Journe

The Observatoire is not a singular story at Voutilainen’s workshop; other client requests have spawned series. “It has happened many, many times,” says the watchmaker. “One customer wanted to have a GMT but something a little unusual. He said, ‘Make me a watch where the whole dial is turning at six o’clock. That will be cool because it is like it’s living and changing its face all the time.’” So Voutilainen set about redesigning the second time zone to be replaced with a rotating disc integrated into the small seconds, with an arrow to read the GMT time. After the client shared photos on a watch forum, Voutilainen was inundated with requests. “That was purely the idea of our customer, and actually, I myself didn’t even believe that it could be so successful,” says Voutilainen, who has since produced 25 GMTs with the same function. As for the man who came up with the idea in the first place, he adds, “it wasn’t an issue for the customer at all. He has a unique piece with an engraved dial.”

Duplication is not the only drawback of bespoke commissions that serve as research and development for small independent brands. Allen, a San Francisco collector who spoke on the condition of not using his surname, says that sometimes the complex new technology simply doesn’t work. “We’re basically the beta testers,” he explains. “These are not big manufacturers that are able to do all sorts of testing to make sure they are running smoothly before they deliver them. If there’s a problem, we have to send it back.”

London-based collector Michael Hickcox (left) with a timepiece at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie.

London-based collector Michael Hickcox (left) with a timepiece at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie. Ben Gierig

Even at major companies, such as Audemars Piguet, which produces about 40,000 watches a year at its sprawling manufacture in Le Brassus, Switzerland, complex customisations remain rare but influential. Despite making only unique pieces until 1951, the brand says this level of attention is now reserved for the very elite few. “Capacity is always the issue, because of the amount of hand-finishing we do,” says Michael Friedman, head of complications. “It’s a long back-and-forth process, because you still have to keep a balance between the design language of the brand and what the client wants.”

Currently on the docket: a larger, easier-to-activate minute-repeater slide for a client’s Royal Oak Grande Complication. “That’s a cool idea, and it’s something we very well could propose in the future, perhaps not his exact design,” says Friedman. “It’s a customisation which we hadn’t considered yet on the Royal Oak.” But it won’t be as simple to execute as it sounds. The entire piece will have to be re-engineered to adjust the pocket where the lever is activated and still meet its water-resistance standards.

Similarly, Vacheron Constantin—the third member, along with Audemars and Patek, of the “holy trinity,” horology’s anointed crème de la crème—has produced custom pieces for centuries. Its clients, however, usually have high expectations for their commissions to remain singular creations. The company’s Les Cabinotiers atelier builds one-off complications from the ground up for its bespoke watches, many of which remain out of the public eye in private hands.

Voutilainen’s GMT-6 timepiece was based on an original commission from a private client

Voutilainen’s GMT-6 timepiece was based on an original commission from a private client. Voutilainen

But for independents, which lack the infrastructure of vast facilities and armies of employees, the time and resources required to create complex bespoke projects add up to significant investments. To make the math work, they may have little choice but to repeat innovations. In the case of Voutilainen, who makes only about 60 watches a year and is intent on building movements in-house, committing to a one-off piece is an enormous personal sacrifice as well. “The time is missing, but also it’s my personal time,” says Voutilainen, who just bought a new building to expand his workshop and house a few more employees to work on bespoke pieces. “During all these past years, I’ve been doing the casing, finishing of the hands and fabricating some components for the hands myself.” It takes him an entire day to complete one set of hands, meaning he dedicates 50 to 60 days of his year solely to that task. He says he spends more than half his time on the bench, working well into the evenings most days.

As a result, a custom order from an independent can take longer than earning a college degree. Hickcox, the London collector, says he waited five years to receive his customized open-dial Roger W. Smith Series II timepiece after commissioning it in 2012. By the time it was ready, he had lost interest. He had also had some temporary financial reversals and so decided to sell the Series II to dealer Silas Walton, owner of the high-end vintage-watch e-tailer A Collected Man, rather than pay the balance and take delivery. “Silas made sure it went to a deserving client, so Roger was pleased with where it ended up.” (Smith declined to comment on the record.)

Smith makes just 12 watches a year, and they are highly coveted, enabling Hickcox to easily unload his for about 30% more than the roughly $163,000 he says he paid. “It worked out really well from a financial point of view for me, even though I’m not a watch speculator or investor,” says Hickcox.

Collector Gary Getz inspects a watch through a loupe

Collector Gary Getz inspects a watch through a loupe.

The five years Hickcox waited is nothing compared to what some clients with extraordinary wish lists endure. When F. P. Journe revealed his first Centigraphe model in 2008, about a dozen years had elapsed since the initial request from a mathematician, who had come to him asking for an exceptional chronograph with three hands: The first would make one revolution in a second, another would turn in 20 seconds and a third would do a 360 every 10 minutes. “I could never figure out how to do it,” Journe says, “until one day, I visited the Scuderia Ferrari, where I finally figured out how to have three hands turning at three different speeds.” The client passed away long before he could ever see his concept come to fruition.

Journe is notorious for doing as he pleases. He works on his own clock, so to speak, and often declines projects he considers beneath him. Rushing to find a solution simply to satisfy an impatient client is not an option, and he will never build a watch by adding complications or modules on top of a basic movement. “It’s too easy,” says Journe. “It’s like cars built with these communal platforms. That’s called industry, and that is not the kind of work I do. I always do what I want. Very often I refuse absurd requests or things I do not find interesting.”

Petermann Bédat Dead Beat Second watch

Getz gave design input for this Petermann Bédat Dead Beat Second watch. Petermann Bédat

The right of refusal remains firmly in the hands of the maker, a power imbalance that can surprise some collectors, who tend to be accustomed to getting their own way in life. Even an offhand comment about where you plan to wear your six- or seven-figure watch could land your project dead in the water. Bovet’s Raffy recalls a time in 2013 when he had agreed to create a bespoke minute-repeater tourbillon for a client, which, in addition to its haute horlogerie mechanics, would feature hand-engravings and an enamel painting. But the collector made a grave mistake when he informed Raffy he was going to be very proud to take it swimming in his balmy locale. Plans for the creation were promptly extinguished. “For me, this is absolutely something you cannot do,” says Raffy. “I said, ‘I’m sorry. I will not do it.’ He thought it was a joke. This gentleman thought I would not refuse an order of two million Swiss francs [about $2.8 million]. I said, ‘Thank you. You have my respect, but this is not the image of the house of Bovet.’”

Questions of aesthetics can also kill a project. Requesting motifs that he considers kitschy is a no-no chez Voutilainen. “I like very classical and technical-looking watches,” he says. You wouldn’t, say, ask Lamborghini to outfit the seats of your Huracán supercar in floral chintz.

Keeping control of the visual design is especially important for independents like Voutilainen, who typically do not or cannot spend a dime on marketing. Collectors act as walking advertisements. But that’s not to say watchmakers have a monopoly on visionary ideas. On the contrary, sometimes it’s the companies seeking out the collectors for their ideas and insights. The industry, like most today, relies on social-media influencers, and in some cases, the mutually beneficial relationship has catapulted both watchmaker and collector to rock-star status.

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - OCTOBER 02: Breitling Summit Zurich on October 2, 2019 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by The Image Gate for Breitling)

Vienna-based Breitling collector and consultant Fred Mandelbaum. The Image Gate

Silicon Valley collector Gary Getz, who frequently posts about his collection under the Instagram handle @garyg_1 and writes about it regularly on the site Quill & Pad, recalls Petermann Bédat cofounder Gaël Petermann approaching him and a friend at an auction preview in November 2019. “I didn’t know him,” Getz says, “but he recognized me and he asked to show us their watch and asked us for feedback.” Petermann unpacked an early version of his Dead Beat Second, which had a blue dial and gold Roman numerals. Getz, after asking permission to be frank, called the dial “boring” and suggested Petermann add some flare.

Petermann and his partner, Florian Bédat, took the advice to heart. The steel-and-sapphire dial of the finished Dead Beat Second features a cutaway between one and four o’clock that reveals a front-facing glimpse of its manual-winding mechanical movement. In November of 2020, it took home the Horological Revelation prize at the GPHG. Getz didn’t receive a dime for his advice, but Bédat thanked him from the stage. “My friends and I are more than delighted to be asked for our inputs and really pleased to see these independent makers succeed,” Getz says.

AVI Ref. 765 1953 re-edition

The AVI Ref. 765 1953 re-edition Mandelbaum helped conceive for Breitling. Breitling

Status and recognition are significant ego-strokers, but the ultimate accolade is landing a full-time, paid consulting gig. One of the first people Breitling CEO Georges Kern called as he was preparing to take over the brand in 2017 was Vienna collector Fred Mandelbaum, whose popular Instagram account, @watchfred, has 54,000 followers. Not long after, Kern was on a plane to Austria to woo him for an official role. “They call me the guardian of heritage,” says Mandelbaum, who was tapped to help conceive a line of re-editions based on the brand’s vintage models. The new pieces include the Ref. 806 and AVI Ref. 765, both modern replicas of the 1959 and 1953 originals, respectively. He also consults on design generally, when it comes to tapping into the brand’s history. Why? Mandelbaum’s deep knowledge comes in part from the fact that his collection of vintage Breitlings is more extensive than the brand’s own archive. Over the past decade he has acquired one of each “relevant,” as he puts it, Breitling chronograph ever produced. “I think it’s safe to say that my scope of expertise about the brand heritage is something that wasn’t available when Georges took over,” says Mandelbaum. Many of the heritage models referenced on Breitling’s website and in its catalog are in fact his. So far, Mandelbaum has proved his Midas touch. Both re-editions sold out quickly to retailers and distributors, and a third is in the works for this year.

Collaborating at this level is not for novices. It’s a years-long process with serious money at stake on both sides. But when it works, Mandelbaum insists, more than watches are built. “There is a lot of support, goodwill and friendship that evolves in these circles,” he says. “Ultimately, it is a gentleman’s sport.”

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The Orchards Veue Parkside Will Become a Landmark of Sophisticated Living in Sydney’s North-West

The Orchards Veue Parkside promises residents a harmonious blend of comfort, convenience, and natural beauty; a place to thrive.

By Robb Report 14/06/2024

It’s said that the average person will spend 62 percent of their waking time at home. With such a large part of our daily life spent within the confines of our sanctuary, why not make it fabulous if you can?

That’s the premise of Veue Parkside, a brand-new residential development offering in North-Western Sydney dedicated to sophisticated living. Located in the heart of Norwest in Sydney’s Hills District, Veue Parkside epitomises a new era of apartment lifestyle, seamlessly blending modernity with nature’s tranquillity; natural landscapes, green spaces, and lush parklands make up a large part of this enticing residential community.

But, perhaps, its greatest offering is what’s on the inside.

Featuring a wide array of one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments across a total of 156 apartments, some offering two-storey living. Each home offers a light-filled haven that harmoniously integrates contemporary touch points with natural surroundings. Adorned by lush greenery and expansive parklands, Veue Parkside offers a refreshing perspective on urban living where residents have premium offerings at their doorstep, from delectable dining to world-class shopping, and more.

Sekisui House is behind the visionary project—a name synonymous with excellence in community development and home building since 1960—with every element of this up and coming project thoughtfully considered. From the architectural vision to the selection of materials, no stone has been left unturned.

The Orchards Veue Parkside

Residents will also enjoy exclusive residential amenities, including an outdoor podium, community and function centre including a music room, a communal BBQ area, well-appointed gym, indoor heated swimming pool and concierge. Additionally, the extension of the Linear Park will be accessible to both residents and the public, providing a serene escape within the bustling community.

Of course, Veue Parkside is only part of the picture. The Orchards masterplan spans 8.1 hectares of North-Western Sydney, promising to bring a dynamic mixed-use community to the suburb of Norwest. Upon completion, the ambitious development will boast 1,300 new apartments, extensive open spaces, and a variety of community amenities—one of the most significant residential projects in Australia in over a decade.

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Soon, Veue Parkside will be offering new releases set to celebrate the epitome of modern living in the heart of an idyllic community. To enquire further and learn more about the residential development, visit Sekisui House or call 1800 606 808.

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These Next-Gen Supersonic Jets Want to Replace the Concorde. Will They Ever Take Off?

Skeptics think not, but a core of true believers are inching forward with new designs and test flights.

By J. George Forant 14/06/2024

To dig into the state of supersonic flight these days is to invite an unlikely conversation about cell phones. Three out of five experts in the field compared the smartphone of 20 years ago with a future generation of jets that hope to blow past Mach 1.

“Think of the original iPhone. In those early days, it made huge leaps every year. That’s where we are with supersonic,” says Blake Scholl, CEO of Boom. “Tech advances in S-curves. Products go through periods of slow development, then rapid improvement, then level off again to incremental gains.”

The Concorde, the world’s only commercial supersonic jet, was the big, clunky plastic phone that the very wealthy first had in their cars, while the new breed of supersonic jet is a flip phone with a keyboard that, according to supersonic’s believers, will eventually morph into the sleek, multifunction supercomputer that has become so affordable that it’s available to almost everyone.

“It’s taken longer than we would’ve hoped, but there will absolutely be supersonic flight,” says Vik Kachoria, the CEO of Spike Aviation. “We think supersonic will offer a lot of value and will be very useful.”

Not everyone shares his certitude.

Boom’s Overture commercial jet touts supersonic’s potential, but faces multiple hurdles.
Boom Aerospace

“If you go back and look it up, starting from the ‘90s, proponents of supersonic flight say it is always 10 years away,” says Brian Foley, a business aviation industry consultant. “Why 10 years? Probably because it’s a number that’s not too distant, but far enough that when the time comes, no one will remember all the promises you made and failed to deliver on.”

One hopeful, Aerion, which counted Boeing and Lockheed Martin as investors, shuttered in 2021 after nearly 20 years of planning for its next-generation AS2 supersonic business jet. If any private company had the potential create a new commercial supersonic reality, it seemed to be Aerion. The backers invested billions and hired top aerospace engineers to work on the minutia of flight beyond Mach 1.0, or 1234 kph.

Then, out of the blue, the company shut down because it couldn’t secure long-term investors who believed in supersonic’s potential. “They had put together amazing talent,” said aviation consultant Rollie Vincent, who did some work for Aerion, shortly after the closure. “The number of PhDs per square foot was off the charts,” he said. “But they weren’t building things. They were trying to refine design and purify aerodynamics. At some point, everybody, including investors, want to see real parts.”

Aerion’s AS2 was the poster child of a potentially successful supersonic jet. After 20 years, the company abruptly folded.
Aerion

Boom, now leading a handful of private supersonic aircraft developers, seemed to realise early that it needed hardware to demonstrate its progress. The company launched its XB-1 demonstrator jet on March 22. Its initial flight topped out at less than 240 knots, but for the first time since the Concorde, a non-military plane built for supersonic speed executed a successful flight. If future test flights progress as projected, the XB-1 could make a run at the sound barrier within a year. And the company’s 150,000-square-foot production facility in Greensboro, N.C., is on schedule to open in late ‘24.

Not far behind, NASA’s X-59 experimental craft should make its first flight later this year. The jet, a product of the QueSST project, represents the government’s attempt to reduce the sonic boom, a key development for supersonic’s commercial future, since it’s illegal to break the sound barrier over land in the U.S. and most other countries.

“The key to lowering the boom is in shaping the airplane and the wing, smoothing them out so the shock waves don’t combine,” says Dave Richwine, deputy project manager for technology on the X-59. “NASA is working at a fundamental level and, hopefully, the industry will bring it all together.”

Mitigating sonic booms is the primary focus of supersonic builders.
Getty

There are signs that approach is working. Spike has absorbed much of NASA’s work while modifying and applying the theories to a larger craft, its 12- to 18-seat business jet called the Diplomat, which won’t launch until at least 2026. Like the X-59, it aims to reduce the boom by manipulating and flattening the sonic waves so they’re directed upwards and largely cancel each other out. The goal is a sonic “thump” or a ground-level sound of roughly 75 decibels perceived, akin to a closing car door.

Exosonic, which is developing unmanned supersonic drones for military training and a 70-seat passenger jet, expresses a similar goal on sound, and is part of the group rallying to change the current law. Instead of a speed limit, builders want a sound limit, so it doesn’t matter how fast a plane flies, so long as it doesn’t rattle the windows of the houses it passes over.

Boom is less preoccupied with noise. Scholl says at some point, a standard will be issued and Boom will meet it. For now, the company plans to address the issue by only going supersonic over the ocean. Over land its planes, says Scholl, will operate 20 percent faster than current commercial jets.

NASA’s X-59 experimental aircraft plans to turn sonic booms into much quieter sonic thumps.
NASA

In theory, Boom’s XB-1 will eventually lead to the Overture, the 64- to 80-seat commercial aircraft the company plans to build once it dials in the technology. American, Japan Air, and United have all put in non-refundable preorders of Overtures, and Scholl hopes the plane will be flying with passengers by 2030.

“We’re very engaged with the FAA and we’ve already received our G1 certification,” Scholl explains. “It’s a long list of boxes we have to check, as it should be, but we’re locked in on the needs and all we have to do is meet them.”

All these supersonic projects feature a modified delta wing and a long, tapered nose that gives the craft a more futuristic, streamlined profile than the Concorde. Aesthetically, the designs are attractive, but they also make it impossible for pilots to see, a problem solved by a system of cameras mounted on the exterior. The XB-1 includes an augmented reality overlay with guidance for the pilots.

Facing critics and shortfall in development funds, Boom CEO Blake Scholl remains a cheerleader for supersonic’s potential.
Boom Aerospace

Spike, which has a longer development timeline, eliminated almost all the windows on the body, replacing them with hi-definition flat screens that run the length of the cabin, on which they can project the exterior view—or a movie or “anything you can put on a computer screen,” says Kachoria.

The Spike chief executive compares the Diplomat to a Gulfstream, with a customisable interior and the option of plush, oversized seats, and Exosonic too plans a business jet version, with three suites, executive seating, and full-recline chairs. Across the supersonic category, weight limitations will reduce the capacity for the kinds of comforts found in typical first-class service, but other considerations will, presumably, make up for any lack of poshness and interior space. “Instead of getting upgraded to business class, someone might get upgraded to supersonic,” says Kachoria. “You won’t have fancy plates, but you’ll arrive at your destination in half the time.”

Foley, who did market research on supersonic jets when he was employed at Dassault Falcon and has worked with Spike, remains skeptical. He forecasts a market of about 300 jets for private owners, or about 30 planes a year for 10 years: “Is that even enough for an engine manufacturer to participate?”

Spike’s concept of its jet interior.
Spike Aerospace

Apparently not. When Aerion shut down, GE Aerospace halted three years of development of the Affinity supersonic engine designed to power Aerion’s AS2. GE, along with major engine builders Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce, Honeywell Aerospace and Safran all passed on developing an engine for Boom, according to AIN.

That left the company with no option but to form an alliance that included Florida Turbine Technologies, GE Additive and StandardAero to invent a propulsion solution, an engine called the Symphony.

“Designing an engine is no easy task, especially from scratch, and it’s potentially a multibillion-dollar exercise beyond designing the plane,” Foley told Robb Report a year ago.

Sustainability remains a concern for observers. The Concorde burned four times as much fuel as the 747.
Getty

Despite that, Boom has built the XB-1 and taken it to the sky. “The technology and supply chain exist,” says Scholl. “There’s no fundamental new science—every key technology in this airplane has already flown before.”

In early 2021, Subaru, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and several other companies formed Japan Supersonic Research with a goal of having an SST passenger jet by 2030. They partnered with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and have access to JAXA research going back to 1997. Shigeya Watanabe, deputy director, recently told Aero Society it was working on improving current technologies as well as developing more sustainable propulsion technologies.

Sustainability was a non-issue when the Concorde first took off in 1969. It burned four times more fuel than a 747 on a Paris-New York flight. Fifty-five years later, it’s now a core challenge for aviation, especially supersonic aircraft. Environmental scientists Anastasia Kharina and Tim MacDonald wrote in a study for the International Council on Clean Transportation that “commercial SSTs could be three times as fuel intensive per passenger as comparable subsonic aircraft.”

Spike Aerospace is considering hydrogen power to align with sustainability initiatives in commercial aviation.
Spike Aerospace

Boom and Exosonic hope to solve the green issue by designing their engines to run on 100-percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) while Spike is exploring electric and hydrogen. “The technology for design is so much faster now,” says Kachoria in discussing the engineering challenges. “We can make modifications and see the result onscreen in seconds. They built the Concorde with slide rules and drafting paper and did 10 total iterations. We can do 1,000 simulations in a few hours.”

Kachoria sees supersonic’s potential upside as 900 or more planes over 20 years going to a mix of high-net-worth individuals, fractional leasing services, and airlines. Scholl is even more bullish. “Our ultimate goal is to have supersonic flights on all routes for all passengers,” he says. “These planes will create their own need. As soon as people see others crossing the Pacific in four hours, they’ll say, ‘Why are we sitting in this metal tube for so long when we don’t have to?’”

If Boom and the other supersonic builders succeed, how long will it be before someone is asking a similar question about their jets? Destinus and Hermeus are also aviation start-ups, and they’re developing hypersonic jets that will travel at up to five times the speed of sound.

Lack of interest from aircraft engine manufacturers has forced Boom to develop its own engine.
Boom Aerospace

Pipe dreams or the birth of a new era in flight? The outcome could depend, as Aerion found out, on whether the manufacturers can find the start-up funds, amounting to many billions, for a viable niche in commercial and business aviation. “Never say never,” says analyst Foley. “But these things tend to move at the speed of money, and investors don’t seem to have the risk appetite.”

This article was originally published in Robb Report US.

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Not All Great Super Tuscans Are Red—Get to Know the Region’s Outstanding White Wines

The lighter side of Super Tuscans.

By Mike Desimone And Jeff Jenssen 14/06/2024

Those of us who drink Italian wine often gravitate towards the three B’s: Barolo, Brunello, and Bolgheri, the last of which you may recall is the original home of Super Tuscans. This impressive sounding but unofficial moniker was originally lavished on a group of wines made with grapes that are not native to Tuscany such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

One of the first wines to be given the sobriquet was Sassicaia, whose 1968 inaugural vintage was released in 1972 and was classified as a vino de tavola, or table wine, because it fell outside of the regional DOC guidelines. Fans of this plus wines like Masseto, Guado al Tasso, and Tignanello may be surprised to learn that the regulations drawn up for Bolgheri DOC in 1983 only included white wine and rosé; reds were not added until the rules were updated in 1994. Even more surprising is that exciting white wines from varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Viognier are made in Bolgheri and throughout Tuscany.

Two of the best and most well-known white Super Tuscans, Ornellaia Bianco and Querciabella Bàtar, are vastly different wines; in fact, they don’t even fall into the same denomination. Made with 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc, Ornellaia Bianco 2021 hails from Bolgheri DOC, while Querciabella Bàtar 2020, a 50-50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco, is a Toscana IGT wine. Shorthand for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or controlled designation of origin, Bolgheri DOC has a set of production requirements for all wines made there. A bottle from Bolgheri labeled Bianco may have any amounts of Sauvignon Blanc, Vermentino, or Viognier; if the label on a wine from there reads Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier, it must have at least 85 percent of the variety. Since its debut in 2013, Ornellaia Bianco had been made with mostly Sauvignon Blanc blended with Viognier, but the two most recent vintages, 2020 and 2021, have been 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc.

In both seasons, the final decision to use only Sauvignon Blanc was made after a blending session. Ornellaia estate director Marco Balsimelli—who moved into the role at the beginning of this year after working in Bordeaux since 2010—believes that Sauvignon Blanc in Bolgheri has a “more mature” expression than in cooler regions, “yet, it succeeds in retaining acidity and complexity,” he tells Robb Report. That said, he credits Ornellaia’s vineyard site for the quality of the Sauvignon Blanc it produces, pointing to its altitude, proximity to the Magona Forest, and rocky clay and limestone soils as major contributors. “All these conditions allow for a cooler, windier, and slightly more humid climate compared to other areas of Bolgheri, ideal characteristics to produce a great white wine,” he says.

Ornellai’s Sauvignon Blanc is a must try, too.
Ornellaia

Querciabella Bàtar is an IGT wine; the abbreviation stands for Indicazione Geografica Tipica (typical geographic indication) and was created for wines that don’t fall into DOC or DOCG categories but are of a higher level than vino de tavola. This allows winemakers to craft quality wines using what are generally considered “international” rather than with local varieties such as Vermentino or Trebbiano. The Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco for Bàtar are from several vineyards throughout the Tuscan region of Chianti, which is better known for its Sangiovese-based reds. Querciabella winemaker Manfred Ing tells Robb Reportthat throughout Chianti there is “ample sunshine with beautiful, cool evenings, which allow for perfect ripeness and fruit concentration while maintaining freshness and finesse.” He acknowledges that a diverse array of vineyards sites brings different qualities to Bàtar such as concentrated fruit, intense floral aromatics, minerality, freshness, richness, and citrus notes. Ing, a native South African uses less than 15 percent new oak and minimal lees stirring to coax out greater fruit expression in this outstanding wine.

Other bottles to look for include Cabreo La Pietra Chardonnay Toscana IGT from the Folonari family; Ca’ Marcanda Vistamare Toscana IGP, a blend of Vermentino, Viognier, and Fiano from the Gaja family’s estate in Bolgheri; and Isole e Olena Collezione Privata Chardonnay Toscana IGT, which is from an estate in Chianti owned by the Descours family. Emanuele Reolon, the winemaker and estate director at Isole e Olena maintains that several attributes make Tuscany perfect for the cultivation of Chardonnay, and that Isole e Olena’s vineyards are particularly suitable thanks to its schist and limestone soils, a microclimate that offers cooling sea breezes, altitude and north-facing exposure, site-specific planting of Chardonnay within the estate, and the vineyard team’s focus on sustainable practices.

As many of us head to Tuscany this summer, we will be coasting along twisting roads lined with vineyards to visit historic medieval towns like Montalcino, Montepulciano, Bolgheri, Siena, and San Gimignano, filled with ancient stone buildings, incredible restaurants, and tiny, family-run wine shops. We should remember that in addition to the Brunellos, Vino Nobiles, Chianti Classico Gran Seleziones, and Cabernet- and Merlot-based wines we’ll be stocking up on, we should explore the region’s broad array of white wines. After all, man cannot live on red alone.

 

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Big-Wave Surfers Kai Lenny and Maya Gabeira on Why They Actually Wear Dive Watches in the Water

The legendary sports figures explain that timing is everything when you’re riding the biggest waves in the world.

By Paige Reddinger 14/06/2024

“The cool thing about surfing is it’s all about timing,” Kai Lenny told press during a TAG Heuer event in Tuscany for the launch of its new and improved Aquaracer. “Everything’s about timing. When you’re on a wave, the wave is this fluid object, and it’s constantly changing. And you’re almost predicting the future, even if that future is only a couple of seconds ahead of your next move. When you’re traveling down a wave, you have to almost see things before they happen.”

TAG Heuer

Lenny and fellow big wave surfer, Maya Gabeira—two of the best big-wave surfers in the world—were on hand to promote TAG Heuer’s new timepieces, but as far as watch brand ambassadors go they are among the most authentic. Unlike other sports figures who mostly promote timepieces as a lifestyle correlation to their adrenaline pumping careers but rarely use them while competing, both Lenny and Gabeira say they feel their timepieces are essential on the open water. (In today’s world, a racecar driver is definitely not timing his laps with a chronograph while burning rubber on the track during a Formual 1 race, and SCUBA divers long ago abandoned mechanical watches, for instance.)

TAG Heuer

When you are surfing 80-foot waves at Jaws in Maui or 100-foot waves at Nazaré in Portugal (the biggest waves in the world, equivalent to the height of a 10-story office building) timing can be a life or death calculation. Just ask Gabeira, who famously nearly died after a wipeout at Nazaré that plunged her underwater for 12 minutes. She says those 12 minutes actually felt incredibly slow as she contemplated her life during the time which she was in the process of losing consciousness and nearly drowning. “I thought a lot,” she says. “It went from thoughts and emotions to a very physical kind of bad. You start feeling all the physiology change. I’m a free diver as well, so I knew what my body would do if I was lacking oxygen. So, I started being very focused on my physical abilities and what I had to do and how much time I still had. And then after it just went black, to be honest.” She says she rarely thinks about the experience now but it took her about a decade to recover from the trauma.

TAG Heuer

Through their best and worst rides, both Lenny and Gabeira say their timepieces are constant companions. In fact, Lenny has gone through at least five Aquaracers in the deep blue. “It comes from just wear—you’re in big waves and everything breaks at one point, including yourself,” says Lenny. “And I use it as a tool. I’m always timing waves.” He says when he’s competing, especially, he will time things down to the second to make sure he’s catching the big waves, which come approximately every 30 minutes. “It comes down to when you paddle for the wave, how much time you have to allow yourself,” says Lenny. “It’s amazing how often I’m actually like dialing the watch to be like, okay, in two minutes from now, a set is coming and because of the ocean wavelengths, it’s so consistent. You can actually time the ocean and predict when it’s going to come in just off of your timepiece.”

TAG Heuer

One big bonus of the new TAG Heuer Aquaracer, according to Lenny, is that he feels the rubber strap is more secure than in previous models. Other updates to the timepiece include a more legible minute track and a more prominent hour hand featuring a shield shape, as well as a wavy new dial (which will, no doubt, draw comparisons to the Omega Seamaster, but the Aquaracer comes in at a cool USD$3,800 vs. USD$5,900 for the Seamaster, which may be a bit easier to swallow for those that are into hardcore surfing and prone to losing their timepieces like Lenny). The case has been reduced from 43 mm to 42 mm, in keeping with current trends towards smaller sizing. It is, of course, water resistant to 300 meters in keeping with the best dive watch standards.

TAG Heuer

While timepieces are truly practical tools for these big wave surfers, they’re also mementos. Lenny says his first Aquaracer he got in 2015 is his most treasured because he wore it during his first big wave competition at the infamous Jaws surf spot in his hometown of Maui. “That was the one watch that I consistently wore for the longest,” says Lenny. Against all odds, he still has it, and he says it’s a reminder of a time when he had to pass through a certain veil of fear. “But you know, it’s a good throwback to an awesome time in my life when I was much younger and got to cut my teeth in the big wave world,” he says.

TAG Heuer

For Gabeira, the most poignant reflection of time is her own accomplishments. Incredibly, she didn’t start surfing until the age of 13 (for comparison, Lenny has been surfing since the age of 4.) A boyfriend introduced her to the sport and she fell in love with it from the first ride. He broke up with her, but the ocean remained her faithful companion. “I went to Australia and then I came back and I was like, ‘Ok, I’m just going to keep improving until I’m so good, he never has a chance around me in the ocean again,” she says, reflecting on that time in her life. “He was the surfer and I was the beginner. I was like, ‘You watch it flip.’” She is now one of the best big wave surfers on the planet and in 2020, when she surfed a 73-foot wave in Nazaré, she set the record for the biggest wave ever surfed by a woman. How’s that for perseverance? It’s proof that it’s never too late to be your best and with serious dedication and an near obsessive investment of your time, you just might, like Gabeira, realise your wildest dreams.

 

 

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After a Record-Breaking Auction, Sotheby’s Watch Department Gets a Leadership Shake Up

After Sylvester Stallone’s Patek Philippe Grand Master Chime sold for USD$5.4 million, Geoff Hess, Sotheby’s former head of watches for the Americas, and international watch specialist Sam Hines have both been promoted.

By Victoria Gomelksy 14/06/2024

When Sotheby’s held its Important Watches sale in New York on June 5, Sly Stallone’s Patek Philippe Reference 6300G-010 Grandmaster Chime sold for USD$5.4 million in an atmosphere that bore little resemblance to the staid, conservative auctions of yesteryear. That specific sale—the highest ever for a modern watch at Sotheby’s—even upset the leadership of Patek Philippe.

“We tried to create an auction room experience—there were cocktail tables, a hot dog stand activation and champagne bottles were popping,” Geoff Hess, the house’s new global head of watches, told Robb Report days before news of his promotion, from head of watches for the Americas, was made public last week.

“The watch world benefits from something other luxury categories don’t and that is an incredible global sense of community,” Hess said. “We’re going to focus on ensuring our clients not only receive great service but also on immersing them into our community.”

That statement could well serve as Hess’s mission statement as he plots the future of Sotheby’s watch auction business. Together with Sam Hines—who has returned to the auction house as the new Hong Kong-based chairman of the watches department, following a two-year stint as managing director of Loupe This, the online watch auctioneer founded by Eric Ku and Justin Gruenberg—Hess will focus on creating more events (“There will definitely be a RollieFest2025,” he said) as well as social content.

Hess capped off a great spring season with the sale of Sylvester Stalloone’s Grand Master Chime.
Sotheby’s

“We had not less than eight videos at our auction yesterday, helping to bring our watches to life,” Hess said.

He also referred to Sotheby’s Rough Diamonds auction in April when the auctioneer teamed with the watch magazine Heist-Out to stage a live sale dedicated to avant-garde and overlooked vintage timepieces. The location? A wine cellar in downtown Geneva.

“How fantastic that an entity like Sotheby’s would embrace the notion of bringing 200 people into a cave,” he said. “We can leverage on the down trend in prices to recognise that more than ever before clients want to enjoy the auction experience.”

Meanwhile, Hines is due to begin his role in Hong Kong at the end of June, in time for the opening of Sotheby’s new Maison at Landmark Chater at the end of July, marking the start of an exciting new chapter for the house’s operations in Asia.

“In Hong Kong, the auction business was a seasonal business — spring and fall — and the auction houses would rent the Hong Kong Convention Center for weeklong exhibitions and auctions,” Hines said. “But Sotheby’s is now opening this dedicated space so auctions will take place within the Sotheby’s home. We’ll have flexibility to hold auctions all year round. The space has many floors. There will be a retail space, a gallery space, all really groundbreaking for the Asian business.”

Hess says, “[Y]ou’d have to be living under a rock not to see the uptick in interest in Cartier.”
Cartier

Hines said the changes coincide with global shifts in the watch auction world that include the emergence of a new generation of influential Asian collectors.

“Twenty years ago, the Asian market was very small compared to the U.S. or Europe,” Hines said. “But it’s growing at rates where it’s rivaling traditional selling centres. Some of the biggest buyers in the world are in Asia now. So the Asian sales are like what New York was 10 to 15 years ago.”

He also noted new opportunities to deviate from the traditional selling calendar.

“Sotheby’s management globally is looking at why do we have to sell in October and April?” he added. “If an exciting sale could take place in August, why not?”

The sales calendar isn’t the only thing up for revision. In February, Sotheby’s announced a simplified fee structure, which went into effect on May 20. Designed to attract new buyers and sellers, the house now charges buyers a rate of 20 percent (down from 26 percent) on purchases with a hammer value up to USD$6 million and 10 percent of the portion of the hammer price above USD$6 million, applicable to all Sotheby’s auctions globally, excluding cars, real estate, wine and spirits.

Hess said the recent New York Important Watches sale reflected the fruits of the simplified and more accessible pricing. “We had over 1,400 registered bidders yesterday,” he said, noting that the figure represented an increase of 400 registered bidders compared with last June. “That’s a jaw dropping number, meaningfully larger than five years ago. Moreover, more than one-third of our buyers yesterday were new.”

While both Hess and Hines acknowledged the recent downturn in secondary watch prices, they emphasised that it was not a reflection of anyone’s enthusiasm for watches.

“When people ask about the current state of the market, we talk about a meaningful down trend, but the reality is the fun is back in collecting,” Hess said. “I definitely see collectors embracing smaller watches than ever before. It used to be that 36 mm watches suffered a little bit because they were smaller than the 40 mm sport watches that people got excited about. Now there’s less of that. Certain brands will benefit and certain references.

Audemars Piguet

“And you’d have to be living under a rock not to see the uptick in interest in Cartier,” he added. “People are embracing new case shapes and smaller cases and naturally, Cartier would be a perfect fit. The brands are recognizing that, too: AP just came out with their mini Royal Oak yesterday. That’s not a coincidence.

“It’s less about a specific brand that’s hotter than others. It’s about size, shape and also price. That’s the reason why we say the fun is back in collecting. The thrill of the hunt is much more powerful now. Buyers have more choice now than they had recently. That allows you to seek out value buys and that leads to people enjoying the hobby more.”

 

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