An Enthusiast Collector’s View Of The Grieb & Benzinger Blue Merit
De gustibus non disputandum est, as they say: there is no arguing about taste!
In particular, I’m not one to tell people what they can do with their belongings. If you, for instance, want to take your Ferrari, paint it pink, and put a giant Hello Kitty decal on it, that’s your privilege.
That doesn’t mean that I have to like the item in question. In this instance, I am referring to the Grieb & Benzinger re-interpretation of the classic A. Lange & Söhne Pour le Mérite Tourbillon christened Blue Merit, which premiered right here on Quill & Pad just yesterday in The Blue Merit: Grieb & Benzinger Makes An Ultra-Rare A. Lange & Söhne Tourbillon Pour Le Mérite Rarer Still.
This timepiece sees a sober-sided Saxon movement from the 1990s re-cased in platinum and treated to a festival of skeletonization, engraving, blue platinum coating and guilloche.
Like many about to criticize some perceived excess and wanting to avoid appearing hopelessly out of touch, I am keen to assure our gentle readers that in many matters relating to this watch, I am no prude.
I not only like, but also own, a number of watches featuring engraving – and actually commissioned a custom engraving of Chronos, the Greek god of time, to appear on the case back of one of my watches. Ditto skeletonization and other decorative measures: in my watch box both a Vacheron Constantin squelette wristwatch and an Audemars Piguet skeletonized pocket watch with a jeweled bezel peacefully coexist side by side.
And, in the matter of utilizing classic or new-old stock movements, I’m the proud owner of a Voutilainen Observatoire, which is based on a vintage Peseux 260 movement originally intended for timekeeping competitions. I’m also a fan of many of Kari Voutilainen’s other watches, including those that are based on vintage repeater ébauches and other old stock movements.
So why don’t I love the idea of this particular timepiece?
* It’s just too much for me. Here I will confess that I’m not a super fan of the house style of this boutique brand, and this watch seems consistent with its usual approach to me. The engraving and guilloche in particular are not to my taste with many different patterns competing for the same small space. And while the bridges have been cut and reduced in size, it is not the type of skeleton work I am used to seeing from the likes of Vacheron Constantin, for instance. As a contrast, take a look at this Breguet perpetual calendar tourbillon squelette – to my eye a lovely example showing an almost lace-like web of skeletonized elements:
* It’s out of character in my opinion. For those familiar with A. Lange & Söhne, how many times have we read about the characteristic nature of Saxon watchmaking with its typical three-quarter plate? This treatment changes the watch into something it was never intended to be. A counter-example from the world of automobiles occurred in March 2005 when American movie director, financier, and car collector Jim Glickenhaus decided to buy a Ferrari Enzo and convert it into his dream car. He commissioned the original designers of the Enzo – Pininfarina – and worked with them to incorporate the design cues from one of the great historic Ferraris, the 330 P4, which was already in his stable of vehicles. The result was so faithful to Ferrari’s character that the Prancing Horse’s chairman deemed it worthy of wearing the Ferrari badge along with the model designator P4/5. A long way from that Hello Kitty decal!
* This treatment forever alters one of a small number of examples: only 200 of these pieces were ever made, and although that’s more than two or three, it seems a shame to lose one of them.
* In marketing strategy the question is often, “What’s the restless discontent among consumers that is solved by this product?” In this case, it’s not clear to me that A. Lange & Söhne has left a big gap. If you want a hand-worked Lange watch, the brand already makes them, particularly in the form of the Handwerkskunst series. The most recent release in this series, based on the tourbillon perpetual calendar movement with an engraved dial and striking blue date numerals, is one of the most beautiful watches I’ve seen in a long time. And, in my view, it is absolutely faithful to what makes a watch by A. Lange & Söhne a watch by A. Lange & Söhne.
* There’s no need to open the movement to provide a glimpse of the tourbillon or fusée and chain. Those hallmarks of the Pour le Mérite are already visible in the original watch.
* The G&B work makes this classic and important watch seem less majestic than the original. This was one of the first four models that launched the “new” A. Lange & Söhne enterprise: Günter Blümlein commissioned it, Giulio Papi and other legends worked on it, and Walter Lange himself wears one as his daily watch. His wrist, in fact, is the middle one in the photograph below, with two of my collector buddies proudly joining in.
* It’s too soon to use this movement in such an undertaking. To me, this isn’t the same as finding a vintage ébauche and incorporating it into a new piece, which I would better understand. This is a contemporary watch of significant standing being changed in a fundamental way.
* I’m a stickler for a specific sort of correctness. In another life, I campaigned a car on the concours circuit, where the cardinal rule is that your car must be “correct” – meaning, in as close a configuration as possible to the moment it was made. Not everyone, of course, subscribes to this view – and there are many highly reputable aftermarket tuners such as Koenig who have taken cars like the Lamborghini Diablo and Ferrari F50 and modified them to reflect their own visions, the car owners’ desires, and perhaps the wish to shake things up a little with more daring expressions of the mechanical arts. As a collector, though, one of my guiding lights is a search for authenticity; and as I’ve considered this piece I’ve come to realize that for me, some part of “authenticity” is anchored in a particular view of adherence to the original form.
Now I’m not saying that this watch is remotely close to the Hello Kitty level that this post began with. In fact, it is quite clear that a lot of time and effort has gone into creating the Blue Merit.
And I am fairly confident that there will be some – perhaps more than some – who see this variation as equal or even superior to the original version. More power to you, say I! I’m just not seeing it your way this time.
If you missed the original article, please check out The Blue Merit: Grieb & Benzinger Makes An Ultra-Rare A. Lange & Söhne Tourbillon Pour Le Mérite Rarer Still for more on this polarizing timepiece.