Fitted with a refurbished Valjoux 92 Calibre from the 1960s, Speake-Marin’s London Chronograph pays tribute to the English soul of the brand and flaunts some dandy design tweaks on the dial. Originally released in 2016 in a hyper-limited edition of just 3 pieces, Speake-Marin revisits the London Chronograph in 2018 in another limited edition of 15 watches. A winning combination of classic watchmaking elements, quirky design choices and a vintage movement make the London Chronograph a very fetching and practically unique model.
The heart of the matter
Before even addressing the design aspect of this watch, let’s take a look at the heart of the matter. The restored Valjoux 92 calibre inside the London Chronograph adds a genuine slice of watchmaking history to the mix and can be admired – no rotor blocking the show – through the sapphire caseback. A rare vintage chronograph movement purchased from a collector who had kept it in a safe for years, the 15 Valjoux 92 movements powering the London Chronograph make the watches even more exclusive and desirable.
Produced during the 1950s and 60s, the Valjoux 92 manual-winding chronograph movement was very popular and used across the board by titans of watchmaking like Patek Philippe, Rolex and especially Heuer, before it succumbed to the fate of most mechanical calibres, which in the face of the quartz invasion, were put out to pasture. As the successor of the Valjoux 23 family (including the Valjoux 72), the Valjoux 92 was similarly sized at 13 lignes (29.5 mm) but used very different technology. It was an oscillating pinion design, with two rather than three chronograph engagement wheels visible at the back and seven pillars versus the nine of all other Valjoux movements. Beating at a frequency of 18,000vph, the movement can store up to 40 hours of power reserve.
Not only Speake-Marin uses Valjoux 92 movements and restored them, but the finishing has also been improved with nice haute-horlogerie details, such as the polished chamfers on the bridges and the levers. Altogether, the movement is simply superb to look at, with its combination of classic design and traditional decoration.
The unmistakeable Piccadilly case
Although Speake-Marin is based in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the watches are true to the English soul and heritage of the brand and display a touch of good old British eccentricity. The models unveiled at the SIHH 2018 – including the Speake-Marin One & Two Academic – were a balanced mix of essential design elements associated with the brand and a refreshing contemporary touch. The London Chronograph is housed in the brand’s signature Piccadilly case. Practically immutable since its introduction in 2003, the Picadilly case is a cornerstone of Speake-Marin’s identity.
The 42mm drum-shaped case of the Piccadilly, with its pronounced straight lugs and stepped bezel, is crafted in grade 5 titanium with polished finishes on the bezel and contrasting brushed sides. A fluted crown with an engraved ‘topping tool’ motif, – a recurring theme of Speake-Marin watches – and two chronograph pushers complete the case for a look that nobody could ever confuse with another brand.
Flying the colours of the Union Jack
Decked out in patriotic red white and blue, the London Chronograph flies the colours of the Union Jack with pride. In a departure from the earlier model, this edition features a red sub-dial for the chronograph minutes (increased from 30 to 45 mins) and has abandoned the Gothic and Roman hour markers for black capital letters spelling SPEAKE. An intriguing 3D dial, the traditional horizontal alignment of the sub-dials is conditioned by the vintage Valjoux 92, but with a typical quirky Speake-Marin twist. Instead of lying flush on the dial, the red sub-dial for the minutes and its neighbouring white continuous seconds counter hover on top of the dial. Underneath them and smack in the centre of the watch, there is more animation with a cut-out topping tool on the centre-wheel that turns in synch with the hours hand.
Chronograph functions are indicated in red while standard time functions are indicated in blue with the distinctive heart-shaped blued steel hands of Speake-Marin watches. The bold colour scheme, the floating counters and dynamic centre-wheel add a lively note and that slightly eccentric British touch that characterises Speake-Marin watches. Perhaps the one thing I would quibble with is the excessive branding on the dial, especially the use of the founder’s surname for the hour indices.
As mentioned, the London Chronograph is a limited edition of just 15 watches and can be ordered on a rubber or calf strap or, more fittingly, on this lively red, white and blue textile strap. So, it’s time to take out your boater, put on your stripy summer blazer and walk your British bulldog to the riverside pub for a G&T (no ice). The Speake-Marin London Chronograph retails for CHF 17,200 (incl. Taxes). More details on speake-marin.com.