When you hear the word Baume, most would assume it’s referring to Baume & Mercier, a popular luxury watch brand dating back to 1830 and now part of the Richemont Group. And they’d be partially correct. Baume is an offshoot of Baume & Mercier with Marie Chassot (Product Marketing Director for Baume & Mercier) coming in as the lead, along with several other executives from the parent company. Baume is, however, very much an independent company with different design philosophies and strategic guidance, and a strong focus on sustainability.
Baume might be an entry-level brand among Richemont’s more prestigious (and expensive) offerings, but there’s a lot to like about its deep level of customization and a couple of special edition models. The one I’m reviewing today is its flagship HRS Limited Edition Automatic, a limited production regulator model with an interesting take on recycling. Baume calls it “upcycling” and its wooden case is made from a used skateboard deck, while the strap is cork with recycled buttons. Unique, to say the least. Let’s take a closer look at a watch that’s unlike anything else.
Editor’s note: as the watch fans and Haute Horlogerie aficionados that we are at MONOCHROME, we decided that this review should adopt a different angle. Erik, who’s specialized in “affordable” watches, was the right person for that. We asked him to have an objective look at this watch, as a stand-alone product, and not to focus on the “Richemont connection”. While some members of the MONOCHROME team are still very surprised and reluctant about this move from Richemont, the goal of this review was to look at the product and not at the strategy.
Not long ago, Toyota had an offshoot brand called Scion. The cars had edgier designs and more affordable prices than its parent company, clearly targeting a younger crowd. That same strategy seems to be employed with Baume & Mercier’s hipper offshoot, Baume. Joining the Richemont Group’s portfolio of high-end watch brands, including A. Lange & Söhne, Piaget, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Panerai, Cartier, IWC and Roger Dubuis (among others), Baume is surrounded by some of the most prestigious brands in the world. Like Scion, however, it’s targeting a newer generation of buyers that likely wouldn’t consider a pricey luxury alternative – did we hear millennials…?
Most of Baume’s watches offer buyers a deep level of customization, from case size and colour, dial and hand colours, strap materials and personal engravings. These come in three distinct styles: Retrograde with hand-driven day and date complications, Small Seconds with sub-dial seconds and date complication at 6 o’clock, and Moonphase with day and date sub-dials, and a moon phase at 3 o’clock. There are over 2,000 possible customization options among this portfolio. Prices range from USD 560 to USD 630 and all are unique, contemporary and accessible with Ronda or Miyota quartz movements. There are also two special edition models, both designed as regulators (separated hands for hours, minutes and seconds), including the 41mm aluminium Iconic and 42mm wooden HRS. Other than the 1mm difference in diameter, the styles are largely identical, but the HRS Limited Edition was built in collaboration with HRS (Human Recreational Services – footwear and apparel company) and pro skateboarder Erik Ellington, who donated used skateboard decks (along with some friends) for Baume’s wooden HRS cases. Only 100 HRS Limited Edition watches will be produced, all with unique colour palettes as they come from different parts of different decks. Both the Iconic and HRS models trade quartz movements for Miyota automatics.
CASE AND DESIGN
The 42mm case has an aluminium core with an outer wooden shell, again from used professional skateboard decks. Baume calls this, “the fusion of two cultures, skateboarding and horology”. There are three different areas for colour combinations: front, sides and back. My watch has a deep green front surrounding the sapphire crystal, natural wood sides and pink (with blackish inner ring) back. You don’t get the customization options from their other lines, but a wide variety of colour combinations are available from the remaining stock of 100 watches.
The aluminium and wood construction makes the case very lightweight, and the one-piece lugs require the strap to wrap around them as opposed to the use of traditional spring bar pins. Pushing this unique design even further, the crown is placed at 12 o’clock, reminiscent of a pocket watch. An exhibition caseback displays the Miyota 82D7 automatic and the merging of glass and wood give it a very contemporary vibe. HRS is tastefully printed in the centre of the rear glass. The crown doesn’t screw down and the case is only water-resistant to 30 metres, so it’s safe from splashes and rain, but I wouldn’t recommend swimming with it. Even if was resistant to 300 metres, I’d keep the wood away from chlorine and salt to be safe.
DIAL AND HANDS
The dial is partially skeletonized and has a regulator configuration similar to the Chronoswiss Regulator Classic Date or Garrick Regulator we recently looked at. Regulators date back to the early 18th century when master clocks were used to set the time on newly produced watches. The hands were separated from each other for easy reference, with the minute hand most prominent. Although not a necessary feature today, regulator setups are still interesting and add complexity to the aesthetic.
However, as is the case with the Baume HRS, there can be a bit of a learning curve when checking the time – especially when targeting non-watch customers. Most of us are used to at least the hour and minute hands being centralized, whether in the middle of the watch or together in a sub-dial, and it can be a bit jarring to see them completely separated. Baume’s dial makes it even more complicated, providing a 24-hour sub-dial for the hour hand instead of the standard 12-hour. If you’re not experienced with 24-hour “military” time, it can take a few seconds to figure things out. For example, if the hour hand is between 16 and 18, and the minute hand is between 15 and 20, it’s not intuitive enough for new users to instantly register the time. Once you’re used to it, however, it’s genuinely cool.
Starting with the hour hand, it’s positioned roughly at 6 o’clock and again surrounded by a 24-hour sub-dial. The hand itself is directly over the skeletonized portion of the movement, giving it a futuristic effect. The minute hand is centralized and just below the 24h marker on the hour sub-dial, also within the skeletonized portion. The outermost minute track is marked every five minutes with white printed Arabic numerals. The seconds sub-dial is positioned just above and to the right of the minute hand, roughly between 1 and 2 o’clock (if this were a conventional dial, that is), and is partially covered by the 24-hour sub-dial. Only one number, 60, is printed at the 3 o’clock position (instead of the traditional 12 o’clock). The seconds sub-dial is actually an extension of the main dial that surrounds the open centre.
The Miyota automatic has been embellished with Geneva stripes in the exposed area and is nicely finished. BAUME is printed in white at the top of the dial with RESERVE 42H to the right of the hour sub-dial. AUTOMATIC is printed just above the 12-hour mark at the bottom. At the lower left is UPCYCLED TIMEPIECE, emphasizing its reuse of various materials. The dial itself has a sun-satin black finish with simple stick hands in silver. Everything combines into a watch that’s anything but conventional (and certainly not boring). My only complaint is legibility as the hands tend to blend into the background. The exposed silver movement contributes to this, but especially indoors, they can all be hard to see. With a piece like this, however, I accept that it’s a bit of form over function and am happy overall.
Baume went with a Japanese Miyota 82D7 automatic calibre, which is a decent, reliable workhorse that’s easily serviced. However, these movements are often sourced to keep prices down and I’m a little surprised that the HRS is well north of USD 1,000. For that price, I kind of expected a Swiss ETA (or Sellita) automatic. As a comparison, Tissot’s Le Locle Regulateur has an ETA 2825-2 automatic, stainless steel case and leather strap for USD 795. I will say that Baume’s unique case materials and skeletonized regulator modification admittedly add complexity to production. Still, seeing a Swiss conglomerate such as the Richemont Group moving to Miyota is a surprising decision (to say the least), but then again, the targeted group isn’t hardcore watch aficionados.
The Miyota 82D7 has 21 jewels, beats at 21,600vph (3Hz) with a 42-hour power reserve. The movement is also finished with Geneva stripes on the exposed front and back. Accuracy is rated at -20/+40 seconds per day, which falls below the maximum variance allowed by a Standard grade ETA automatic (+/- 30 seconds per day). In my testing, the watch was only 11 seconds fast per day over a one-week period. Functions include hours, minutes and seconds (hacking), and it can be manually wound.
The straps on all HRS models are made from cork, which is not only very comfortable out of the box, but also a cool, sustainable material. They’re held onto the one-piece lugs with recycled buttons and the length can be adjusted in two positions on each side. The one I have is a natural/beige colour but black is also provided in the retail box. It secures to your wrist with a pin buckle in black aluminium. The straps are stitched and feel a bit like leather but are definitely unique. As mentioned earlier, the combination of materials – wood, aluminium and cork – make this watch very lightweight on the wrist. That’s highlighted by the soft texture of wood against your wrist, making this one of the most comfortable watches I’ve ever worn.
Baume watches are a world away from parent company Baume & Mercier. Although the Richemont Group is known for its high-end brands, I’m a fan of the decision to add a more accessible, edgier brand into the mix. As I said in my recent Chronoswiss Regulator Classic Date review, I’m also a fan of regulator watches. The HRS with its 24-hour sub-dial does have a learning curve, but the added complexity also makes it cool and contemporary. Similar to driving a manual transmission, once you get it, you tend to really appreciate it.
With the case cut from a wooden skateboard deck, cork strap, 12 o’clock crown and unusual regulator dial, this watch is as much a piece of modern design on your wrist as it is a timepiece. It’s also a poster child for recycling and sustainability (upcycling) with wood, cork, aluminium and buttons. I often like form over function (not that this isn’t a well-executed watch) and applaud Baume for designing such an intriguing piece. And while I appreciate that it’s a limited edition, I still would’ve liked a lower price point, especially with the Miyota 82D7. Even the smaller, more standard Iconic model with an all-aluminium case is north of USD 1,000. The overall package is well executed, however – but not so different from microbrand offers seen on Kickstarter or e-commerce websites. The Richemont background should partially explain this higher price.
You can purchase a Baume HRS Limited Edition Automatic for USD 1,350 and have a choice of many colour combinations, although they’re selling fast given the limited production of only 100 watches. They ship with both the natural and black cork straps, and in a cool cork pouch. Baume offers free worldwide delivery, a 30-day return window and 2-year warranty. You can purchase the HRS Limited Edition at Baume’s website or a handful of pop-up stores worldwide.