How a movie muscleman spawned a trend that bulked up the wristwatch
From the Print Edition:
Gen. Tommy Franks, Nov/Dec 03
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"There are models out there that are large to be large, but for us functionality is part of the design," says Lisa Roman, director of marketing for Breitling USA. Most of Breitling's promotional material focuses on the company's history of producing aviator's watches, such as the Super Avenger. "More complicated movements need larger cases. For example, our new Bentley Motors watch with the added chronograph capabilities of its 30-second chronograph is driven by our new caliber 25 movement. The Emergency Mission at 45mm is housed with an electronic transmitter. So size is integral to function."
Some big watches, however, are unabashedly 100 percent fashion statements. Beverly Hills attorney turned jeweler Ali Soltani began his own brand, Ritmo Mundo, in March 2002 with a love for mega-wristwatches. "It's a lifestyle watch," says Soltani, whose family owns the chic Rodeo Drive jeweler David Orgell. His newest Ritmo Mundo, the Palazzo, has a whopping 52mm diameter case and sells for about $1,800. All his watches are made in Italy with French or Swiss movements. "It's nice to wear a $1,200 or $1,800 watch that is inspired by those that cost $20,000 or $30,000," says Soltani.. "There is no need to reinvent the wheel. I call it the adult Swatch, for lack of a better phrase. We could afford a $20,000 watch, but it's nice to have a few that don't break the bank."
A new monster watch brand seems to appear every few months, and Italy is a key breeding ground. "Large watches have been around for a long time already—especially in Italy," says Bédat. "Certain brands less established are producing very large watches, so they are easier to stand out from the rest. Some brands became famous and trendy due to the size and unique design they offered."
Two small, relatively new Italian brands making waves with grandi orologi are Anonimo Firenze and TCM. The former takes its inspiration from Panerai. with watches such as the Militare, and the latter resembles the IWC Big Pilot, with its Air First.
Anonimo Firenze began manufacturing in 1998 with the intention of maintaining the watchmaking traditions established in Florence by Panerai, which had moved its production facilities to Switzerland in 1997.
"We like to say that the Swiss make watch movements and we make watch cases," says Anonimo Firenze founder Federico Massacesi. "We have maintained the great tradition of making sports and military watches in Tuscany with Anonimo. We are grateful to Panerai."
The story is similar with TCM (Tierra Cielo Mare), which the Milan-based company Lo. Fo. Ce launched as a watch brand in 2001. "Air First is similar to IWC Pilots because we worked with IWC for many years," says Silvio Arati of Lo. Fo. Ce, whose largest Air First pilot's watch measures a massive 55 mm in diameter. "It was like a small family and we helped develop the Italian market for them as well as creating new watch designs. So it was [natural] for us to start our own creations."
Regardless of design origins, monster watches are here to stay. The only question is how much larger they can become. "There is a limit to the size of a watch," says Nadine Iskenderian, marketing and public relations manager for IWC. "Some companies appear to be competing for the production of the ever larger watch; however, in reality there comes a point where the watch is uncomfortable to wear."
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