When you look at this watch, you might think that someone opened a wooden drawer in the attic of a venerable manufacture, found a dusty box and opened it to reveal a well-preserved late-1930s watch. A representative of the brand’s heritage, which would become the base for a re-edition. Except that here, we’re talking about Raymond Weil, a brand founded in 1976, which has 1) never produced such watches and 2) never been truly considered by watch enthusiasts. But this new Millesime Small Seconds, which took the industry by surprise when it won the 2023 Challenge Watch Prize at the GPHG, is on a mission to change the brand’s perception.
Despite a difficult conjuncture in the middle of a watch industry crisis, Raymond Weil (1926-2014) decided to found his own watch company in 1976. He would later be joined by his son-in-law Olivier Bernheim in 1982 to create what remains to this day a family-owned business under the direction of Elie Bernheim, the third generation leading the company. Raymond Weil first specialized in accessible luxury watches, mostly powered by quartz movements, yet in recent years, has moved to a production more and more focused on mechanical models such as the Freelancer collection.
So what about the recent Raymond Weil Millesime collection? With it, the brand explains that it wants to pay “homage to the rich heritage and traditions of horology while celebrating the simplicity of refined design“. The name itself, millésime, is the French word for vintage. The intentions are clear. But what is really surprising is that this watch collection is purely an exercise of style, a statement to create a watch that is retro-styled without being properly vintage-inspired since it wasn’t built around anything pre-existing – think vintage re-editions the Longines way, for instance. Here, the idea was to put the brand on the map to give it visibility through a different design, even though such a model has never existed in the brand’s collection before. And, one thing needs to be said, the result is full of charm and very appealing.
The Raymond Weil Millesime collection is composed of five references – three central seconds models in salmon, blue or silver (the latter with a gold PVD-coated case) and two small seconds watches, both photographed here. All of them are classic examples of vintage design meeting modern features, a recipe that has proven highly effective in the past 10/15 years and that continues to meet success. The main difference here is that there was no blueprint watch to serve as a base. The Raymond Weil Millesime has been designed from scratch to look cool and retro, which also meant that the design team freed itself from the constraint of respecting an original watch. The goal was thus to appeal to a different, more seasoned audience and to gain legitimacy. Was the objective met? Let’s find out.
The Raymond Weil Millesime Small Seconds is built around a case that mixes modern features and retro charm. At 39.5mm in diameter and with a small-ish length of 46mm, it meets contemporary industry standards and expectations from most watch enthusiasts. While I’ve long been an advocate of 36mm cases for vintage dress watches, I don’t represent the majority here, and a sub-40mm case seems to hit the sweet spot – a great compromise between elegance, vintage appeal and modern presence. And being just above 10mm in thickness, it wears beautifully in casual and formal environments.
The design of the case also has a few things to say. There’s nothing generic in this case, despite the clear inspiration from the past. With its flat coin-edge bezel and three-part case, it falls directly into the so-called Calatrava category. The Millesime Small Seconds is packed with pleasant details, such as the vertically brushed top surface of the bezel and a combination of polished and satin-finished surfaces on the flanks. The watch is topped by a box-shaped sapphire crystal, once again mixing modern practicality with retro charm. The rounded profile of the tips adds a softer touch, and the presence of drilled lugs will make strap-swappers happy (and I’m sure that this watch will prove extremely versatile). The 50m water-resistance is decent, no more.
The main highlight of all watches in the Raymond Weil Millesime collection is the dial. Vintage-inspired yet with a sleek modern twist, animated yet highly legible, full of charm and smart in its approach… Designing a dial is a complex exercise, especially when transitioning from a vintage watch to a modern re-edition. Proportions are key and balance isn’t easy to meet. But since RW didn’t have to respect its own heritage, it was free to be creative. And the result is an appealing dial, no doubt about that.
The dial, whether the silver or anthracite version, shows no fewer than three textures – vertically brushed, smooth opaline and concentric grooves on the periphery – helping legibility and also playing nicely with the ambient light. There’s also a not-so-classic crosshair in the central portion. While often seen in vintage watches, it’s modernly executed here, engraved on the dial and rendered in a tone-on-tone style instead of being printed in a contrasting colour.
The three-step sector track on the periphery not only adds depth to the dial but also makes time reading easy – even if the precision seconds track on the outer edge doesn’t really make sense on this small second version… The design of the small seconds at 6 o’clock is also neat, and its rather central position has been nicely compensated by the outer tracks. All in all, the dial Raymond Weil Millesime is really pleasant. I could potentially discuss the size of the Raymond Weil font or the automatic mention in the small seconds, but none of these are deal-breakers, in my opinion.
The movement powering this RW isn’t its most appealing part. There’s nothing wrong with the calibre RW4251 per se, but we’re talking about a Sellita SW 261. It’s a Swiss-made automatic movement with 4Hz frequency and 38h power reserve, with rather minimal decoration. It’s mostly notable for its reliability and ease of service. The real highlight of this watch lies in its design, not in the mechanics.
The Millesime Small Seconds comes standard on a grey or black calf leather strap closed by a pin buckle. As said, the holes in the lugs and the 20mm width will make it easy to choose something a bit bolder, even though the grey strap against the silver dial works particularly well.
At EUR 1,950 or USD 1,895, the Raymond Weil Millesime Small Seconds isn’t only appealing design-wise, but it’s also a decently priced watch with great attention to detail and a pleasant quality feel. It is situated in a highly competitive market, though, with the Longines Heritage Classic Sector Dial (EUR 2,500) or the Furlan Marri (CHF 1,350 with taxes) first coming to mind, but also more accessible watches such as the Baltic HMS 003 (with a lower-grade movement, though). What’s certain is that this well-designed Millesime collection is bringing attention to the brand, which is what matters.
For more details, please visit www.raymond-weil.com.