The sea has been instrumental for the development of modern watches as we know them.
As most of the watch lovers know, watches are fundamental to calculate reliably the exact position of a ship at sea — but to do that, they have to be extremely precise (the so-called “chronometers”). Yes: telling the exact time could have been an issue of life and death back then.
The need to obtain the maximum precision possible was because, before the GPS, ships had to trace their route and position at sea through calculations based on precise measurements of celestial bodies at an exact time.
If the timing was not perfect, they could be getting off-route, and so, finding themselves in places they would have been better to avoid (and crashing on rocks and natural formations, as it often happened).
The issue of reaching this ultimate precision was so urgent that in 1714, the British government offered an enormous prize of £10,000 to £20,000 — a sum which today would be comparable to 2 to 4 million — for the first one who could devise a way to calculate the precise longitude aboard a traveling ship. And John Harrison, a Yorkshire carpenter, designed a series of clocks, developing concurrently several of the features that were used to create precise watches — like the bi-metallic balance wheel and the caged roller bearings.
It was only in 1761, with his H4 design, that he finally hit the mark (and pocketed the prize), with a surprisingly small design which looked like an oversized pocket watch, based on a fast-beating balance wheel controlled by a temperature-compensated spiral spring: the architecture of the modern chronometer design was born.
Since then, the maritime chronometers have become much more precise. As of today, they are still used as a backup system aboard ships, achieving a precision of around a 0.1 second per day. This kind of performance is accurate enough to pinpoint a ship’s position within 1–2 miles (2–3 km) after a month’s sea voyage.
That said, it comes as a no surprise that several Swiss companies — even if coming from land like Switzerland, which is untouched by the sea — have developed such a great dedication to the liquid element. One of the most renowned is Ulysse Nardin, which is well-known for the quality and precision of its marine chronometers.
But another one, as you will see, is Corum.
A relative newcomer into the luxury watchmaking club, Corum was founded in 1955. The birthplace being the cradle of Swiss horology — La Chaux-de-Fonds — and the parents were Gaston Ries and his nephew, René Bannwart. The first watches came out of the company just one year later.
The company production has always been of very high standards, often in limited editions (like the uber-precious “World Premier” series, featuring tourbillons and minute repeaters).
Its first claim to fame was a watch displaying on the dial a $20 gold coin, which proved to be an instant best-seller, and launched the watchmaker into the lofty realms of haute horology.
As it is said — but we could never be sure how true are these tales, which are often recounted relaxing around a table after a few good drinks.
The introduction of the “coin-watch” was a brilliant and unexpected solution to a practical, and very stringent, problem. Corum’s dial supplier could not deliver the dials before the presentation of the watches to the Basel trade fair, something which was a true disaster for the fledgling company.
So, the “dynamic duo” at the helm of Corum saved the day with this clever, resourceful creative thinking stunt.
The company managed to survive the quartz crisis, remaining independent until bought in 2013 by a Chinese group, the Citychamp Watch & Jewellery Group, which also owns another well-known Swiss watch brand: Eterna.
But what has all of this to do with the sea?
Corum & The Sea
Perhaps, the fascination of the founders for the liquid element — and specifically, for sailboats and races.
The Admiral’s Cup race was first held in 1957 — just two years after the founding of the company — and the Corum Admiral’s Cup watch — its longest-lasting line of timepieces — was launched on the market just three years later, in 1960.
The first Admirals Cup watch had little to do with the current models.
It was square, water resistant, and had a sailboat engraved on its back. Over time, its endless iterations have given it the current shape, with its signature dodecagonal case design and brightly colored maritime flags — the so-called nautical pennants — decorating the dials.
The race, for the timeframe when it was held, was the most important international yachting regatta and was conducted from 1957 to 2003.
It was normally a biennial event (so, occurring in odd-numbered years) and allowed competition from national teams. The first participants were the UK and the USA, only to be joined by many other nations during the course of time.
Corum has always been double-tied with the race as a technical partner, and also, sponsoring some of the participants — one of which, the Corum Saphir, managed to win the race in 1991.
It was almost a tradition, for the brand with the golden key, and it went on until the race was suspended.
The Corum Admirals Cup of today is described by the company as a “sport-chic” timepiece. Which is a subtly different definition from the luxury sports watches we all know.
Indeed, the Admirals Cup watches are chic timepieces, but with a sporty inspiration thrown in, and not the other way round, making them quite unlike pieces like the Nautilus and the Royal Oak, which share with them their marine inspiration.
And for sure, the current lineup of models of the collection, which counts over 72 different timepieces for both men and women, offers you a lot of variety, spanning from the simple timekeeping functions to the more sporty, like the chronograph, to the most esoteric, like the tides calculator.
As a matter of fact, the pennants are not just there for display only: they have a hidden meaning. Which is, they use the International Code of Signals (ICS) for indicating letters and numbers using flags.
The ICS system was developed before radio communications were invented, so ships could communicate with one another using flags.
And not surprisingly, the pennants just tell us the hours.
But if you are not into this somewhat playful mood, and so you do not want all of these bright colors dotting your dial, the collection offers you also several skeleton models, as well as other models where the dial is closely patterned as to remind the wooden deck of a ship — something which reminds the motif adorning the Omega Aqua Terra line.
So, the Admirals Cup is not really a sports watch. It is more a dress watch using sporty elements for a contrasting — and different — feel from the usual, and as such would be very fitting for a cocktail at the yacht club or for an important meeting downtown.
Admiral’s Cup Technical Details
To go a little bit more into the technical details of the collection, the size of Admirals Cup watches goes from the smallest Ladies’, at 26 mm, to the largest men’s, at 48 mm.
The cases are round, but the most iconic ones display the signature dodecagonal design. The materials for the case are definitely varied, from simple stainless steel up to rose gold, yellow gold, and two-tone, as well as the titanium and rubber combo on the Admiral’s Cup Challenge Regatta 2007.
The Admirals Cup line mounts a full spectrum of movements, from quartz to mechanical, which are based on what the watchmaker calls the CO395 movement, development of a trusty ETA 2895, tweaked to perfection by the Corum technicians, and fitted when needed, by different modules.
A beating heart which is visible through the glass case back to provide some visual enticement.
The watches are complemented by wristbands and bracelets of every shape, material, and color, from rubber to stainless steel to leather.
Rather odd, for a watch that oozes “sea” from every angle you take it, is the water resistance: just 50 meters. But as we have already said, this is a marine watch, not a divers watch. If you want something more on this department, you should better resort to other manufacturers which are more in line with your desires — or resort to another delicious line from Corum, the Bubble.
Who’s it For?
The ideal owner and wearer of the Admirals Cup line is the self-styled Captain, following the immense pull of the winds at dusk while the white sails of his wooden yacht are tense on the mast. That is, exactly the kind of person Ernest Hemingway would have envisioned in his literary exploits — and who would probably keep his watch more out of the water than into it.
But as popular, old and iconic the Admirals Cup line is, it is not the only one available from the Swiss manufacturer. There is another line which is as well known as the Admiral Cup — and stemming from a liquid inspiration as well: the Bubble.
From the surface of the ocean to its depths, the watchmaker confirms its dedication to water and its shapes: the Bubble, introduced around 1980, was originally inspired by a prototype for a dive watch that could go to extreme depths and emerge unscathed by the pressure.
Corum played along with the shape, in its most striking characteristic: the glass. Which is domed. And when I say domed, I mean very much so — 8 mm of curvature, giving the Bubble its distinguishing shape and style.
Of course, such a glass would perform, willingly or not, as a lens — and the company played along, creating watch faces that would look interesting, quirky and even a bit funny through the distortion effect of the glass.
The timepiece was designed to be fun from the beginning — which for a luxury watch brand like Corum is one hell of a feat — and this distinctive character had a great appeal to tickle the not-so-boring soul every watch addict out there secretly hides and sometimes, as in this case, is happy to unleash.
Eventually, Corum fell into the trap which often plagues high-end companies: it began to take itself a bit too seriously, forgetting that watches — and watch lovers — possess a tricky trait of character which appreciates a fun aspect.
Because of this stance, the Bubble was discontinued at the beginning of this century, when the company launched itself into an almost endless production of high-level limited editions — but in 2015, after the buyout, the Bubble line was reinstated in the main lineup of the company and revamped with new, lovely models. Which are representing a funky alternative to regular dress watches, and with a price that is for certain reasonable, especially for a watch and a brand with this kind of legacy.
The current array of the collection, composed by 71 different references, is truly mesmerizing, and spans a huge set of diameters, from the tiny 17 mm to the humongous 52 mm, mounting both quartz and automatic movements.
Even the bigger ones, though, wear quite well on the wrist thanks to their short lugs and very fitting shape, which literally embraces the wrist.
But do not try to hide your Bubble under the cuff of your shirt, as it won’t go there.
If you are in for a “regular” watch, then this collection is not for you.
The Bubble series is really one of a kind and gives you the possibility of releasing the secret desires you have always tried to hide.
And this seems the real quid why the Bubble feels so popular between watch freaks: they feel strangely attracted by its soft and curvy lines, without understanding really the reason why.
Not really for the movements — which are pretty adequate, being the watchmaker’s version of industry-standard ones, but not exceptional, especially in the light of the current rage for manufacture movements. Nor by the materials used in the production, perfectly machined and finished, but not overly so. Despite its deep-water inspiration, the Bubble is water resistant up to 100 meters, nothing out of the ordinary.
So, what is it that makes it so sexy? If it’s not the movement, the materials or the complications?
Whatever the reason, this watch rocks, and charms in a very subtle but powerful way. And when you try it on, it is very difficult to let it go.