It’s not a secret, that for long periods of time, watchmakers are tensely looking for new complications that meet the needs of modern men. Traditional mechanical watches boast only few features with additional functions. From this point of view, mechanical watches certainly do not match electronic and smart watches. In order to spark the interest of watchmakers, a potential complication should meet several basic requirements: be compact enough to fit the watch case without critical increase of its size; be produced according to “analog” methods (various digital displays, driven by a battery are not a favorite choice among tradition’s venerators); and finally it should have some practical value in the eye of potential customers. Please welcome: the integrated altimeter or barometric altimeter that shows the altitude by measuring atmospheric pressure.
First place in the adaptation of this device to the watches belongs to the young brand Breva, which unveiled the Génie 01, a model equipped with an altimeter and barometer at the Baselworld in 2013. It’s a miniature weather station that fits perfectly into the case, measuring “only” 44.7mm in diameter and 15.6mm in thickness. At its heart is a proprietary movement developed exclusively for Breva by Jean-François Mojon of Chronode. We first saw the Genie 01 in rose gold during a polo tournament hosted by Breva in Geneva [link].
Two capsules created from a nonmagnetic material (one of them may be seen at 5 o’clock) are used to measure the pressure. Responding to changes in the capsule’s thickness, a lever transmits the current value of the atmospheric pressure (in hPa) and height (in meters) through a complex system of gears. Corresponding sub-dials are suited at 2 o’clock (barometer), and around the top of the dial (altimeter). The valve with Teflon membrane integrated inside the crown at 4 o’clock is used to allow air to go inside the case: it is necessary to turn (open) the crown to start the measurement. Two other crowns are used to set the indications, to wound the mechanism and to calibrate barometer and altimeter scales. The Génie 01 is available in white or rose gold; a series is limited to 55 pieces in each version, later a series of 12 platinum models was released. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price is CHF145000-150000 for gold versions (depending on the color of gold).
In 2014 Breva introduced slightly more affordable (MSRP – CHF120000) and simplified Génie 02 model without a barometer. As compensation, the altimeter received additional scale at 20m intervals, which just took place of the barometer at 2 o’clock. In addition, the brand created versions with the altimeter graduated in feet (used in the English system of measures).
This novelty debuted inside a 44,7mm case, in two versions, both limited to 55 pieces: the Génie 02 Terre with the case made of grey titanium and the Génie 02 Air in titanium with black coating. The caseback of the first model features printed heights of the ski resorts, while the second features names of the largest airports in the world – a nod to a difference of potential collectors – the Génie 02 is designed for skiers and Génie 02 Air – for pilots.
But the real revelation in the watch segment with an altimeter comes from the Oris Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter, unveiled this summer. It’s the world’s first automatic wristwatch to feature a mechanical altimeter, but we would prefer to name it “the world’s first affordable wristwatch with a mechanical altimeter». In accordance with the brand’s motto “real watches for real people», Oris set a very attractive price: only CHF3300 – for the Big Crown ProPilot Altimeter with a fabric strap, and 3500 CHF for the version with a metal bracelet.
Who said that a new complication should be characterized by an astronomical price? At the same time, the novelty is even more interesting according to the watch context, because the altimeter’s indicator is mounted coaxially (on the same axis) with the movement’s three hands. The Altimeter’s hand is laminated in carbon fiber, thus it’s 7 times lighter than the average wristwatch hand, and at the same time – 10 times stronger, it allows avoiding a backlash and delivers more accurate readings. Thommen, a Swiss aircraft equipment manufacturer, makes the miniature altimeter module that measures altitude up to 15,000 feet to an accuracy of +/- 20 feet.
We had an opportunity to test both altimeters, and their deviation set against the panel of the aircraft was very minor. Thus, a new complication, of course, has the right to exist, but buyers will have to decide if they need it in everyday life, and most importantly – how much they’re ready to pay in addition.