The Richemont Group as a whole has embraced innovation in materials science in watchmaking on a lot of levels, but one area in which it has – until recently – remained very conventional is in the key regulating elements of the mechanical watch. These are the balance spring, lever, and escape wheel. The Swatch Group, as well as other brands such as Ulysse Nardin (an early pioneer in the use of silicon components) have enthusiastically embraced silicon escapements and balance springs for their ability to sidestep some of the classic problems of achieving rate stability: lubrication and magnetism.
A silicon balance and escape wheel can run without oiling, and thus will not experience the rate variations caused by age-related changes in oil viscosity. A silicon balance spring is completely unaffected by magnetism, which can over time cause the temperature compensation properties of standard Nivarox-type balance springs to change; of course, a strong enough magnetic field will magnetize a standard metal balance spring outright, causing the watch to suddenly begin to run wildly fast on its rate, or even stop completely.
There are other ways than silicon to get around these problems – Rolex, for instance, uses an amagnetic niobium alloy balance spring in its Parachrom balances – but on the whole, the pursuit of technical improvements in escapements has, in the last 20 or so years, revolved around silicon, and today silicon manufacturing technology in watchmaking has progressed to the point that millions of watches with such components come on the market each year, from companies as diverse as Tissot, Omega, and Patek Philippe.
This is one of the major reasons that the launch of silicon components in watches by Baume & Mercier aroused so much interest amongst horological gearheads – the use of such components by Richemont Group brands, especially those with a strong foundation in technical watchmaking, like Jaeger-LeCoultre, Panerai, and IWC (who made an Ingenieur with a niobium alloy balance spring capable of resisting magnetic fields of at least 500,000 A/m, in the late 1980s) could potentially revolutionize the position of such brands relative to the competition. The other major reason the announcement got as much attention as it did, of course, is that the launch of advanced escapement technology might have been expected at JLC, Panerai, or IWC – but instead, it was launched at Baume & Mercier.
The very first release was the Clifton Manual 1830, in 2017 – this was a gold-cased watch with a hand-wound movement and while a fascinating sign of things to come, it was also a fairly expensive timepiece for Baume & Mercier: $14,350 at launch. The Baumatic, however, which was announced in early 2018, was a horse of a different color – a thin, steel, self-winding watch with a five-day power reserve; priced at $2,790 at launch for the COSC-certified chronometer model – a fraction of the cost of the Clifton Manual 1830 – it was immediately appealing as a classically styled Swiss wristwatch with some very interesting technology under the hood.
Though the price of the Baumatic COSC has been tweaked slightly since launch (it now lists for $2,990) the rest of the package remains the same, and retains the same appeal. In its externals, the Baumatic COSC very much gives the impression of a no-nonsense timepiece, oriented towards keeping and telling time with maximum clarity, although there is more to the design of the watch than just the purely pragmatic delivery of information.
Take the dial. The elongated triangular markers and extremely finely pointed alpha hands, as well as the neat, crisp minute markers and Arabic numerals at the five minute marks, all contribute to making the time instantly readable and moreover – and just as relevantly from the perspective of an owner who will likely be interested in the accuracy and rate stability of the watch – they make it very easy to set the watch accurately as well.
The crosshairs on the dial, which divide it into 15-minute quarters, are a subtle aid to legibility as well, and further emphasize that the sense of devotion to duty that you get overall from the Baumatic COSC. During the week I had this watch on the wrist, I never found there to be any issues with readability except of course, under low light conditions. It is perhaps an issue that in a watch clearly intended for everyday wear, that there is no luminous material, but the absence of Super-LumiNova does contribute to the appealingly classical character of the watch.
The date window, of course, is a somewhat divisive feature, but I think its absence can really only be plausibly argued for either as a personal aesthetic choice, or in cases where the date seems somewhat functionally superfluous (one thinks of dive watches, for example). It can also be argued against when it’s placed improperly, as happens when a movement with a date ring is placed inside a case of significantly larger diameter, which brings the date window too close to the center of the dial. This is not the case in the Baumatic COSC, however. The date window is rectangular, with slightly flattened numerals in the single digits, and has a slightly retro-modern feel that plays against the classicism of the rest of the design very well. It seems, in short, a well integrated part of the overall design rather than a feature that sort of wandered in to the party uninvited. I think there’s also a pro-date window argument to be made in the case of a watch meant to be worn on a daily basis – your mileage may vary of course but I personally find it rather useful to have the date available at a glance.
The sense of unostentatious, subtle, but definitely present quality and attention to detail carries over into the case design as well. The Baumatic COSC is a relatively slim watch (40mm x 10.3mm) and the narrow bezel, which reaches nearly to the edge of the case itself, further contributes to one’s sense of wearing something very much like a high-grade, mid-20th-century wristwatch. The lugs have a subtle curvature that adds just the smallest grace note of ornateness and helps keep the whole thing from becoming too coldly technical for its own good, and the alternating brushed and polished finishes (brushing on the case flanks, mirror polishing elsewhere) helps to emphasize the case geometry in a pleasantly lyrical fashion.
On The Wrist
Timekeeping performance in this sample model was excellent, and well within COSC specs; it’s always nice when a wristwatch chronometer lives up to its chronometer certification. The Baumatic COSC actually exceeded expectations considerably; I set mine on a Monday to the time available on the HODINKEE app, and in daily wear over a six-day period, the watch gained just two seconds per day. Given the optimized-geometry silicon escapement components and silicon balance spring, this is I think in general indicative of the performance you could expect from the watch over the longer term as well.
You do have to have the watch serviced from time to time, of course – at some point, though it will take years, the mainspring will lose its oomph and though there are no lubricants on the escapement, there are oils elsewhere in the watch that will need to be renewed. But as you get closer and closer to the time when you must take the watch in for service, you very likely won’t see the age-related changes in rate stability and accuracy you would be apt to see with more conventional methods and materials. This is true, of course, of any watch with silicon components (all other things being equal) but it is worth pointing out in terms of Baume & Mercier’s ability to offer this added value to its consumers, in an attractively designed and very affordable watch.
Wearing the Baumatic COSC is an exercise in incremental appreciation. Where the model may struggle a bit is that it’s overall a rather subtle piece – it doesn’t have the immediate wow factor going for it that some other more extroverted watches have and there is nothing in particular about it that knocks your socks off at first glance. This however is not to say that it’s not a beautiful and quite appealing timepiece, but merely to observe that like many valuable and potentially long-term relationships, the allure of the Baumatic COSC as a partner is something that tends to reveal itself over time rather than right up front.
I felt the watch, for all its many interesting traits, a little underwhelming at first but as the days went by I started to appreciate its combination of technical excellence and pragmatic but thoughtful design, more and more – it’s a watch that lives very much in the details and by the end of the week, I began to find its rather diffident devotion to getting its job done quite emotionally appealing. What one wants in a daily-wear timepiece, after all, is the same steadiness and loyalty that you find in a good dog (if you’re a cat person, peace be upon you and perhaps we can agree that dogs are maybe more proverbial for those qualities than cats) and the sense that both of those qualities are present seem in the Baumatic COSC less and less mere technical properties, and more and more part of a kind of personality, as time goes on.
At its sub-$3,000 price the Baumatic COSC does not have a tremendous amount of competition, feature for feature, especially if you are looking for a watch with a more classical orientation. Tudor occurs to me as one obvious alternative in terms of the use of silicon components at a relatively affordable price; its closest competitor to the Baumatic is the Tudor North Flag, at $3,550 on a strap, which has a silicon balance spring, balance bridge, and power reserve indication. It is of course a watch with a much sportier feel, very much in line with the tool-watch essence of much of Tudor’s offerings and which is so intrinsic to the watch’s appeal. For someone with more classical tastes, the Baumatic COSC will be the more appealing alternative (and the Baumatic is less expensive as well). I should note, also, that the Tudor caliber MT5621 does not use silicon for the lever and escape wheel – ultimately the Baumatic COSC and the North Flag are watches that, while inhabiting similar price points, have very different aesthetics.
At a much lower price than either is the Tissot Ballade, which can be had for less than $1,000 (the line was the subject of a Value Proposition story from HODINKEE Managing Editor Stephen Pulvirent) and which has an 80-hour power reserve and silicon balance spring; the Ballade however uses standard materials for the escape wheel and lever. Like the Baumatic COSC, the Ballade is a certified chronometer and as Stephen pointed out, represents fantastic bang for the buck. Having examined both watches, I feel you get noticeably better fit and finish from the Baumatic COSC (and you had better at twice the price of the Ballade); the improvement in these aspects, as well as the impression one has that the Baumatic COSC has a more clearly defined design identity (if the Tissot has a fault it’s that it feels a bit generic) will for some clients with a more exacting eye for detail make the extra cost worth it.
Naturally, if you take silicon components out of the picture and you are looking for a precision-oriented daily wear watch, the alternatives are rather broader and in such a circumstance I think the Grand Seiko quartz 9F models are an extremely attractive alternative. SBGX261G, on a bracelet, is a mere $2,200 and it leaves pretty much any other watch at the price in the dust in terms of fit and finish – however, of course, it is a quartz watch, and battery-powered timepieces are, no matter how good, anathema to many watch enthusiasts.
Baume & Mercier is a company whose identity has seemed somewhat in flux in recent years – it has occasionally flirted, maybe ill-advisedly, with high complications, including a tourbillon, a perpetual calendar, and even a five-minute repeater. I say ill-advisedly not because any of these were particularly bad watches, but simply because they seem out of character for a company whose stock-in-trade is appealing design, Swiss provenance, and accessible pricing. The Baumatic COSC, however, gives Baume & Mercier something new: real technical and chronometric appeal that sits squarely in the sweet spot of come-one-come-all pricing. Though it seemed a little cold at first, over time it’s a watch that really began to show its charm and as a quiet but faithful companion while coping with life’s travails (like magnetic fields and temperature variations) it was a most satisfying Week On The Wrist.
For more on the Clifton Baumatic COSC, visit Baume & Mercier.