Cuervo y Sobrinos, the Swiss brand with Cuban roots, expands its Historiador collection with this new Flameante model with an elegant salmon dial. Like all Cuervo y Sobrinos designs, the mood is markedly retro. In the case of the Historiador Flameante collection, the inspiration is taken directly from a Cuervo y Sobrinos model produced in the 1950s. With its slim profile, distinctive lugs and hand-wound movement, the ‘flaming’ dial of the watch catches the eye immediately.
Cuervo y Sobrinos is an oddity in the world of Swiss watchmaking: it is the only Swiss brand with Cuban roots. Established in Havana in 1882, the brand was revived in the late 1990s and has carved a niche with models that lean heavily on vintage design cues. In line with more contemporary tastes, the cases are larger than the original vintage pieces which inspired the collections. Most of the Historiador family watches are equipped with modern, Swiss mechanical movements. There are recreations, like the Historiador Landeron chronograph, originally produced by Cuervo y Sobrinos in 1948, which is equipped with a revamped and fully restored Landeron 248 movement.
Cuervo y Sobrinos is all about recreating the mood of the Golden Age of La Habana in the 1950s when socialites and celebrities flocked to the exotic island playground. By day, the luxurious Cuervo y Sobrinos watch boutique in downtown Havana attracted illustrious visitors like Caruso, Hemingway and Churchill; by night Hollywood stars and jet-setters would flock to El Floridita for a daiquiri and on to the Tropicana nightclub until sunrise.
The Cuban Connection
We are accustomed to reading about the birth of Swiss watch brands, often starting life in remote hamlets and then blossoming into fully-fledged brands, proud of their distinguished ‘heritage’ and ‘patrimony’. What we’re not so accustomed to reading about is a watch brand with Cuban roots, pre-Castro roots, needless to say. When Italian entrepreneur Marzio Villa (head of Diarsa, a watch distribution company based in Madrid) came across Cuervo y Sobrinos, he knew he’d stumbled upon a tiny gem of a company.
The story starts in Cuba in 1862 when a Spanish immigrant, Don Ramón Cuervo, opened a jewellery and watch repair shop in Havana. Twenty years later, the business expanded with the incorporation of the owner’s nephews to become Cuervo y Sobrinos. As the most luxurious establishment on the island and the premier Cuban luxury brand, Cuervo y Sobrinos specialised in the sale of prestigious imported timepieces and even established its own manufacture in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1928 to keep up with demand.
The inter-bellum years in Europe spelled hardship for watch brands and enterprising Swiss producers looked abroad for new clients. Rolex, Longines, Patek Philippe and others were so pleased with the prosperous clientele in Havana that they engraved the name Cuervo y Sobrinos on their watches (hot collector’s items today). By the 1950s, Havana had established itself as a luxurious playground for the rich and famous, and the Cuervo y Sobrinos boutique enjoyed the patronage of illustrious visitors like Caruso, Gary Cooper, Hemingway, Einstein and Neruda.
The Cuban Revolution and the rise of Fidel Castro put an end to the partying. The Cuervo family fled Cuba, the brand was nationalised in 1965 and even produced a watch for the Cuban army. After decades of slumber, an Italian antique watch specialist on the island called Marzio Villa to study the feasibility of resuscitating the brand. Not only did the brand boast exotic Cuban roots, but the Italian specialist had got his hands on some original sketches and movements hidden inside a safe in the original shop. In 1997, Luca Musumeci and Marzio Villa revived the brand and exhibited at Baselworld in 2002 with a line of retro-style watches named after Cuban cigars. In 2018, it was acquired by a team of investors. Massimo Rossi is the CEO and the company has its headquarters in Capolago, in the Swiss canton of Ticino. The original spirit of the brand – a strong Cuban identity, vintage styling and Swiss craftsmanship – is intact.
The word ‘flameante’ means ‘flaming or blazing’ and is used to describe the Historiador models decorated with this eye-catching pattern on their dials. This model with a salmon dial is the ‘hottest’ of all the Flameante models to date, an attractive colour than evokes the colours of a Havana sunset and which contrasts nicely with the polished steel case. Swirling from the centre of the dial, the dancing flames animate the dial no end. Depending on the ambient light, the colour of the dial changes from warm amber tones to delicate pinks and oranges, accentuated by the darker/lighter areas on the dial produced by the dynamic design.
The only area that is not engraved with flames is the small seconds counter at 6 o’clock. Standing out from the elaborate background scenery, the small seconds counter is snailed and features the ‘Flameante’ inscription printed in black. Eight retro dagger-shaped indices are applied to the dial with Arabic numerals at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock. The minutes chapter is composed of black dots, and the brand’s logo (a shield) is applied at 12 o’clock followed by the brand name and the year 1882 below. To enhance legibility, the hour and minute hands are treated with a streak of Super-LumiNova at their tips.
Consolidating the vintage identity of the watch is a double-curved sapphire crystal over the dial. Not only is it a historically accurate feature of watches from the 1950s, but it also allows light to flood the dial plane enhancing legibility and highlight the attractive pattern.
A case with charisma
As mentioned, the 40mm diameter of the polished stainless case is more in line with contemporary sizing, although the ultra-thin height of 6.2mm recalls the slim profile of vintage watches. The proportions work well as a dress watch, and the case slips nicely under the cuff – which doesn’t mean that the case is simple!
The bold jutting lugs, a design feature inspired by the tailfins of American cars popular in Havana in the 1950s, imprint the watch with its singular identity. Due to their prominent silhouette, the lug-to-lug measurement is on the large side (over 50mm), making this watch larger than the 40mm diameter suggests, even on an 18.5cm wrist (as photographed). But the fact that they are tapered and curved help balancing the watch.
At the heart of the Historiador Flameante is the ultra-thin (2.5mm) CYS 2052 calibre, a manual-winding movement based on an ETA 7001. Beating at a frequency of 21,600vph, the movement has a power reserve of 42 hours. The sapphire crystal caseback reveals the Côtes de Genève decoration on the bridges, the circular graining on the main plate and the blued screws.
Availability & price
The Cuervo y Sobrinos Historiador Flameante “Boutique Edition” Salmon Dial comes with a dressy matte black Louisiana alligator strap with a steel folding buckle. The watch retails for EUR 2,900 and can be bought online on the brand’s webpage here.
More information at Cuervo y Sobrinos.