Baume & Mercier is a classic brand that may not create the same enthusiasm as Rolex or Omega. BUT it is a brand that pleases a large audience because of its timeless elegance. For this reason, it should not be underrated and should be regarded as a luxury product with mass appeal, possessing a discreet and ‘reasonable’ appearance – it is a watch that is certainly not made for the hard-core watch lovers, but for people who just want to wear a beautiful watch on a daily basis. And we have to keep in mind that these people comprise the majority of customers. For that reason, we wanted to try a watch that every man could enjoy: this is a Baume & Mercier Clifton Retrograde Date, one of the most complicated of the Clifton range.
The Clifton range is large and composed of simple 3-hand watches, a chronograph equipped with a Valjoux 7750, a high-end edition based on a manually-wound movement made by La Joux Perret and a complicated calendar edition with retrograde hands. The Clifton collection is certainly the most elegant and modern made by Baume & Mercier. The other collections are more classical or inspired by vintage watches.
Because we love watches and complications here at Monochrome-Watches, we chose to review this Clifton Retrograde Date, a watch of reasonable cost that still features a complicated layout. It shows enough originality and indications on its dial to please any watch enthusiast and to create the illusion of a very complicated watch. Once again, the goal of the Richemont Group with B&M is not to compete with Breguet or Vacheron-Constantin, but to please a large audience, from young active men to more discreet but established people. Don’t expect any heightened eccentricity or a grand-complication from the brand. Instead, you’ll find elegant, archetypal and very well-made watches suitable for wearing on a daily basis. The Baume & Mercier Clifton Retrograde Date embodies all of these standards perfectly.
Classical really is the best word to describe the Baume & Mercier Clifton, even though that might not be the first impression for some. One aspect of this timepiece that I experienced during the review was others’ polarized reactions to it. On the one hand, it seemed to strike watch collectors and industry insiders as somehow too conventional. But on the other hand, the majority of casual enthusiasts saw the Clifton as an elegant and very high-end watch. Assessing its complicated layout, they also overestimated when guessing at its price-tag.
I’ve been wearing this watch during the summer, both with sporty and casual outfits and also during business meetings with formal clothes. And every time, the Baume & Mercier Clifton Retrograde Date found the right place on my wrist. A natural fit for weekends with its large stainless steel case, it was also elegant enough for a suit and tie combo. The association of a brown strap with a bright dial certainly prevents the Clifton from being ostentatious; it practically blends into the crowd. However, lots of small details – the shape of the case, the layout, the hands and indexes – lend it a more refined and high-end feeling. And aren’t details and restraint hallmarks of real luxury?
A closer look at this Clifton reveals deeper layers than the casual observer would attribute to a merely elegant watch. (Here comes the really interesting part for us!) Whereas the masses are wearing 3-hand watches, the Baume & Mercier Clifton Retrograde Date allows access to the world of complications, and for a reasonable price. It comes with practical features (day and date indications, power reserve function) but all displayed ‘differently’ than we’re used to seeing. No apertures or rotating discs here for the indications, but rather, hands. And each is moving in a specific way – one rotates; one is a gauge; one is retrograde and makes instant jumps.
The strength and main features of this Baume & Mercier is to create an interesting display, complicated enough to please people who get bored with simple watches – and for a fraction of the price of a Vacheron-Constantin. If you look at the dial, you’ll find that the functions are at least as complicated as a Traditionnelle Day-Date and Power Reserve (maybe even a bit more complicated, since the Clifton’s date is retrograde). But the VC will cost you more than 25.000Eur. Of course, the Baume & Mercier is in stainless steel; of course the finish is not as fine, and human hands did not exclusively craft all the final operations; of course the Clifton doesn’t come with an in-house calibre. But these are features for the real aficionados. For an everyman who wants to buy a nice watch, this Baume et Mercier will give him more than he might expect, with an overall quality that is truly pleasing.
Dial and hands
The dial and hands of the Baume & Mercier Clifton Retrograde Date bring a certain originality to its largely classical aesthetic. The treatment of the dial itself, meaning the colours and the materials, is really traditional. The face is made with an opaline base that is slightly grained in a sunburst pattern. This finish gives off nice reflections – much more satisfying than a plain dial that might easily prove boring. The indexes and the main hands (hour-minute-second) are made of gold-plated stainless steel, with a mirror-polished finish. The secondary indications (day, date and power reserve) are distinguished by blued hands and black inscriptions. Overall, it is a nicely made face, with an elegant look and a good contrast between the hands and all the inscriptions. It is easy to read and provides lots of practical information.
The originality also comes from the layout – three secondary indications and three distinct ways to display them. The day at 9 uses a typical sub-dial with a rotating hand. The power reserve at 6 relies on a ‘gauge’. Finally, the date is indicated at 3 with a retrograde hand. Even if these indications are all different, the dial remains visually balanced and not overloaded. On the contrary, it creates a pleasantly complicated effect and enlivens a dial that could have been empty and too classical.
Case and Strap
The Baume & Mercier Clifton Retrograde Date comes with a 43mm stainless steel case, and a see-through caseback secured by four screws. Before going into the design and the comfort, let’s agree that the quality, for a watch priced under 5.000-Eur, is very good. First, the 3-part case feels heavy and very well assembled. You can’t feel any spaces or gaps in its adjustments and joints. The case has several finishes: the bezel is brushed, as are the sides and the tops of the lugs. We also note a very nice mirror-polished rim that goes from one lug to another. The transition between these two finishes is clean and precise. It gives the watch a refined design.
The case is basically classical in shape, but nice details, such as the lugs, do create some unique departures. In our previous article about the Baume & Mercier Clifton Chronograph, we were already attracted by this blended aesthetic. At that time, our Executive Editor Frank Geelen said “I cannot help seeing a resemblance with the lugs of the Universal Polerouter, one of Gerald Genta’s first designs. These feature the same “shaved” and angled shapes. On the Polerouter website (check here), you can find pretty much everything about the Polerouter. I’m saying this because I’ve always found the lugs of the Polerouter (and later Omega Seamaster Professional models, which featured similar lugs) to be visually very pleasing.” After handling the watch for a few days, we can tell you that at first, those lugs really resemble the Polerouter’s; and then, once on the wrist, they are really comfortable and look great. In terms of design, the Clifton Retrograde Date is not especially eccentric and does strike a classical note. However, the finish and details excite perennial interest.
We might have preferred a 40mm or 41mm case size, which would be more in line with the concept of a dress watch. However, Baume & Mercier’s approach with the Clifton collection is more about producing a refined, modern and classical watch than it is about fitting into a totally “dress-watch” mould. And regardless of the size, Clifton is very comfortable and feels balanced on the wrist. Sure, it could have been smaller – but neither is 43mm at all shocking. Plainly put, this watch is up-to-date and answers the demand for larger timepieces.
The strap is made of brown, quality alligator leather with square scales and a matching stitching. It comes with a triple folding clasp with security push-pieces. Once again, nothing conspicuous, but an appealing excellence. Another of those details worth noting is the curved shape of the strap between the lugs, which is both elegant as well as rare in this price range.
Considering the price-tag and the level of complication that the Baume & Mercier Clifton Retrograde offers, don’t expect to see an exceptional movement here. It applies the same concept that Montblanc uses for its Meisterstück Heritage Perpetual Calendar and Moonphase – a simple and robust base movement with a complication module added on the top, in order to reduce the overall price of the watch. The Clifton Retrograde relies on a Sopord ‘tractor’, the 9094. It’s an ETA 2892 clone that will power the watch for many long years without any issue. It has 30 jewels, ticks at a modern frequency (4hz, 28.800 bph) and boasts 42 hours of power reserve.
The finishing of the movement is, as you would expect, classical: rhodium plated bridges with circular graining finish, straight Geneva Stripes on the personalized, engraved rotor, and blued screws. Nothing spectacular, but it is clean. The see-through caseback is not especially necessary with such a movement but it will please the non-aficionados to have a view of the engine.
What about a sister from another brand? The Baume & Mercier vs. the Montblanc Timewalker
Those two share lots of similarities – same movement, same layout, same size – and are made by the same mother company, the Richemont Group. However, each has its own different personality: while the Clifton Retrograde Date mingles easily among the elegant and refined, the Montblanc goes by more modern and masculine codes.
Both share the same movement: the Soprod 9094. So the indications on the dial are the same, as well as the layout – same retrograde hand for the date, same power-reserve gauge and same sub-dial for the day. Both are comfortable and well balanced on the wrist. But once you go beyond the shared DNA and inner structure, the respective designs of these half-siblings part ways. Where the Baume et Mercier has a 43mm case, the Montblanc comes in a 42mm case and has a thinner bezel.
The main design difference, though, has to do with colour. The Montblanc has a full black dial, with a matching strap. The dial is more modern, less classical in its shaping. Same goes for the case, with its typical hollowed lugs (take a look here for a closer view) and fully polished finish. The Montblanc is priced lower than the Clifton, at 3.580-Eur – the Baume & Mercier is priced at 4.690-Eur. Considering that both share the same specifications and movement, we say that the choice between the two editions is just a matter of taste (the Baume & Mercier may have a little advantage in terms of quality and details, which justifies the higher price). If you’re looking for something very modern and inspired by design, go for the Montblanc. If you’re more drawn to a classical aesthetic, and use your watch in a business environment, the Baume & Mercier may be more suitable.
The Baume & Mercier Clifton Retrograde Date is one of these objects that uses “default-mode” to its advantage. Let me explain. On the whole, there’s nothing at all wrong with it. It is classy, very well made, comfortable; and delivers useful indications within a complicated and original display. On the wrist, it is elegant and pleases the eye for a majority. But that’s also the main weakness of this watch. It is not shocking; it is good, but not outstanding; it will be seen as a fine timepiece, without question – but not as an iconic or timeless one. It is not a grail or dream watch. But keep in mind, this is the opinion of a watch lover and collector who is used to handling truly astonishing watches.
From a regular consumer’s standpoint, it’s clear that Baume & Mercier has embraced the concept of producing a high-quality timepiece with a non-aficionado market base in mind. The price is reasonable at 4.690-Eur, the details are pleasing, and the movement is robust and complicated enough to capture and keep its wearer’s interest. The Clifton Retrograde Date may not constitute a piece of haute horlogerie, but it is a solid choice for anyone who prefers to live outside of that world.
- The useful complications
- The interesting display
- A very good overall quality and attention to details (case, dial and strap)
- The elegant and refined look
- The 43mm diameter (a 40/41mm would be more elegant)
- No luminous material (even on the hands)
- A certain lack of charisma and audaciousness and thus, a watch that collectors and watch lovers will mostly find to be too classical