Gavin Douglas and his Custom-Made Habring² Chrono-Felix with Black Dial
What happens when you mix the Japan Shellman edition with the contemporary Chrono-Felix?
Today’s instalment of The Collector’s Series focuses on a watch that might look familiar. Several weeks ago we wrote about this very nice Habring² monopusher chronograph that we, here at MONOCHROME, liked a lot. It was a limited edition from the Japanese retailer Shellman, and this particular one was for sale as a pre-owned watch. At some point in the process of designing our own Montre de Souscription with Habring², we had also seen that Shellman edition, and oh did we like it! Since the launch of our collaboration with Maria and Richard Habring was planned for last week, Gavin kindly agreed to postpone his interview in the Collector’s Series until after the launch of our Montre de Souscription. Of course, I’m head over heels in love with ‘our’ Habring², but Gavin’s version with a similar dial as the Shellman edition is just drop-dead gorgeous!
Frank Geelen, MONOCHROME – Do you remember when you first laid eyes on this Austrian brand?
Gavin Douglas – It was around the time their Doppel-Felix won its GPHG category in 2018 – that was when I read up on their history, and a hook was anchored in my mind that this was a watchmaker to get serious about at some point. It was actually watching Richard Habring’s lecture at HSNY (a year later than it was recorded, to my shame) that flipped the switch in my head from ‘will get at some point’ to ‘must have it now’. And that’s when I acted, around December last year.
What was it that triggered you so much?
It was the aforementioned lecture that convinced me that Richard and Maria Habring, the owners of the company, were the real deal – it was an honest and fascinating communication of a journey from start to the present replete with unpatronizing technical details, and I took a real liking to them.
Of course, I also appreciate that there’s a very experienced and somewhat famous watchmaker at the helm, Richard, and the brand is known for producing complications like Split-Seconds Chronographs for a fraction of the price these types of pieces typically cost (which I think is their philosophy). And from all my research into the quality of their pieces, they don’t cut corners. You’ve got to admire that.
Was it always this particular model that stood out to you?
Ah, now this is where there was a change from what I initially wanted to the watch I finally asked for. It was always their 38.5mm Chrono-Felix I wanted, as I have a real love of monopusher chronographs, and initially, I placed an order for their ‘Panda dial’ Chrono-Felix, as it was the model which got me at ‘hello’. It had to be a monopusher chronograph and one that was still relatively slim, so there wasn’t anything else that had my heart right from the beginning.
But as a collector, I realised that the more I looked at my collection, it became evident a black dial would be more suitable. Then, when looking through their archives, I saw it: the Japan Shellman edition they made in a limited series in the past. Was it possible that I could have that dial on their more modern model? Of course, it was because they’re ace.
I love this model both from a technical perspective and from an aesthetic one. Technically, Richard, as the main watchmaker of the company, is a master of the chronograph, with his history at IWC and his time building his own selection under their name along with Maria, who handles the business/marketing/quality side, and no doubt has input into the design. The number of changes they have had to make to create their own chronographs makes them very special; so far removed from the original plan of relying on ETA, which ended relatively abruptly.
They have built up a network of suppliers and forged close relationships that allowed them to continue with their dream, which means they are what could be termed a mostly ‘horizontal’ manufacture (a model the majority of the industry followed until consolidation [or supply chain limitation] afforded opportunities for change [or necessity dictated!]), as with these specialised custom parts being made for them it enables them to make more models per year in Austria, rather than Richard making all the parts himself (although he does have to craft some parts), otherwise it would vastly reduce the number of models available per year, and vastly increase the price – which would probably go against their philosophy.
Aesthetically, the dial I chose has two of my favourite visual aspects: Breguet numerals and leaf hands. With the spiral tachymeter at the centre and telemeter at the periphery, it all adds up to a beautiful homage to 1930s/1940s chronograph design.
And where did you buy it?
I bought it from Stewart’s Watches in Leicester, where the owner, Robert, helped me every step of the way. He’s had a relationship with Habring² for a few years now, so I couldn’t have had a better person to talk to about what I wanted.
Does your watch get a lot of wrist time? If so, on what occasions, if not, why not?
I’ve only had it a couple of weeks, so I’m in the honeymoon period where nothing else in my collection gets a look-in. At the moment there doesn’t need to be an occasion: I wear it automatically! And at the moment it’s my most precise watch, which I didn’t expect, but is testament to Maria’s/Richard’s quality control.
Do you ever get reactions (from family, friends, other collectors, strangers) if you wear or show the watch? Tell us about these, please.
Everyone who has seen it has instantly liked it. None of my friends or family is into watches like I am, so it’s difficult to convey how special it is on many levels, but the dial and monopusher system universally delight.
Do you care to tell us what you paid for it?
Let’s just say that it was a little more than the standard retail price of the Chrono-Felix, and I was pleasantly surprised at how little. And I have absolutely no plans to sell it!
How would you describe your watch collection so far?
It’s reached a certain level of maturity (a Vacheron, a Parmigiani, an Omega, and a Glashütte Original have come and gone), but a collector with more avant-garde tastes may raise an eyebrow at its lack of surprises, as there’s something of the ‘greatest hits’ to it – although my intention was to go for icons where possible. There’s a Rolex Sub 124060, a Lange & Söhne Saxonia Thin, an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 15500ST, a Breguet Classique 5157, a JLC Reverso large Duoface, and a 1960s Rotary that belonged to my grandpa. The Habring² represents something entirely new and signals an intent on the direction I mean to go over the next few years.
Are there any more watches you would like to buy?
Yeah, I’m always telling myself, ‘THAT’S IT, GAVIN, NO MORE,’ but I’ve said that before each of the past three watches I’ve added, so I’ll lock my superego away for the moment and say that if fortune shines, it’ll probably be an uncomplicated high-level independent piece that will represent the crown jewel of my collection. The Grönefeld Principia in steel with salmon dial is my current obsession. When? Not this year, that’s for sure.
Do you have any tips for other collectors who want the watch you possess?
I’ll give you a tip: don’t ask for one, don’t even try – I want to be the only owner of this particular model in its larger case size!
Seriously (ho ho), either ask your local retailer that stocks Habring² (a rare thing, admittedly) or approach Maria directly through the contact form on their website. There’s a reason I got to have this watch so smoothly – Maria is excellent at communicating with the customer; you’ll always get an answer even though they must be very busy, and she shows understanding and patience, which makes the process special more personal.
It’s possible this model that was made for me could become either another limited run, or even a standard option in the future, but I couldn’t predict with any confidence if this exact dial will be available. They are a popular name among watch enthusiasts now and make such small volumes annually that there will be a wait, so refer to my final sentence below on patience.
Do you have general tips for people who want to start collecting watches?
Read all the blogs, learn everything you can. I’m not in touch with many other collectors yet, but it’s something I fully intend to do soon. A great source for facts of lore can be the archives on Timezone – Carlos Perez’s articles in particular; and if you’re interested in a particular watch, try to find a video on YouTube of Tim Mosso from Watchbox review it – the man knows everything about watches and has a verbal IQ in the stratosphere. But if you’re just starting out, it’ll take years to come close to having a comprehensive knowledge of the brands, their history, and then the complexities and art of the mechanical soul, so have patience and enjoy it every step of the way.
Be prepared to make mistakes with certain watches you buy early on. You will lose some money selling the pieces you jumped too quickly to get. And you’ll sell those to get the ones you kidded yourself you didn’t want. I think I may be projecting somewhat, though!
And if you decide you want one of the pieces out there that are hard to get: love the chase. It’s a frustrating feeling being told you can’t have something when you want it, but you’ll love it even more when you finally get it.
You sound like someone I’d love to have coffee or drinks with talking about watches.
Definitely agree on Tim’s video reviews. He is the closest thing you can get to experiencing a watch you want before deciding to buy — in today’s digital age. Have to check out those Carlos Perez articles in TZ. 🙂
Thank you, Kelui! I’d advise starting with Perez’s article ‘Deconstructing the ideal’ to get an idea of what his beliefs in quality are, then maybe ‘On the ebauche tradition’ for his opinion on ‘in-house’. ‘The decay of the Angel’ in three parts is a fascinating look at how the oldest of the trinity dropped its standards (and is still apt twenty years later).
All his articles are very well-written and not beholden to the wrath of any advertiser or brand.
I’m generally not a fan of black dials, but this looks lovely. I’m expecting the delivery of my salmon dial Doppel Felix in November, and already considering which Habring2 model to purchase next. Maybe the Foudroyante-Felix just for the sheer spectacle 😊
Which version are you going for – date or telemeter? Very nice either way.