Photoessay: Some Hublots (and, how to shoot watches on location with available light…)

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I was recently at a Hublot event – both covering the new Basel 2012 watches for fratellowatches.com as well as meeting the CEO and marketing people (it never hurts to network in this industry). I didn’t want to bring the lighting equipment, and the photos were for a blog – not commercial use – so I figured that I could get away with a lightweight rig. I used the Olympus OM-D and Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 Macro, and available light. Most of the images were shot at ISO 1600 or above; even at larger sizes, they hold up pretty well. Needless to say, for web use, they’re fine.

But I digress – all I had was whatever lights were set into the roof of the showroom, and a dark watch display tray for use as a background. By tilting the tray and camera to look for the right lighting angles – sometimes to avoid reflections, sometimes to enhance them – I managed to produce a set I was pretty happy with, but yet manages to have a very different feel to what I normally produce in the studio. (They also have zero dust retouching, which you fortunately can’t see at this size – cleaning cloths are your friend!) Enjoy! MT

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Extended photoessay: A visit to manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre

For most horological afficionados, visiting their favorite manufacture is a necessary pilgrimage along the path. I’ve had the privilege to visit a few in my time, however living halfway around the world makes this a bit more of an expedition than is convenient. However, on my last assignment to Switzerland, I happened to have a free day, and the folks at Jaeger LeCoultre were extremely accommodating…

Enjoy the photoessay – it’s more of a story of how a watch is made, and a slight deviation from normal programming, but I think you’ll find it interesting all the same.

Images shot with an Olympus OM-D and Panasonic 20/1.7 and 45/2.8 macro lenses. Each image can be clicked on for a larger version.

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I was given this and a lab coat, presumably to keep out street dust (or perhaps add to the authenticity of the experience for some). Sadly, they didn’t issue me with any tools – perhaps for my own good.

That pass, gets you into here:

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Once past the obligatory heavy Eastern Europeans (presumably there to ensure you don’t leave with any watches you didn’t come in with), one is greeted by this sculpture a little further down the hall; signed by all of the thousand employees who work at the Manufacture.

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The old Manufacture, now the reception area and offices.

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Views from this place are incredible. It’s like working in a postcard.

Life of a watch starts in the prototype and R&D department; for understandable reasons, I wasn’t allowed to take photos in here – or even go in, for that matter. From a production standpoint, things begin here – in the parts fabrication department, where things are cut, stamped, shaped, machined, CNC’d, bent…

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The output of which can be seen here – Reverso case blanks, thousands upon thousands of tiny, perfect blued screws, and a whole bunch of spare gears (I believe these are offcuts that didn’t pass QC).

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Those cases marked in red (along with other parts) are then sent to the QC department, where a laser alignment rig checks that the parts are within extremely fine (think micron level) tolerances. You can see that rig at work here:

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Next up is finishing – parts are polished, grinded, striped, anglaged, perlaged, engraved, plated, and generally prettied up in yet another department. Two things surprised me: stripes and perlage are surprisingly fast to apply; polishing a Reverso case is not – in fact, it takes a lot longer than I would have imagined.

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Anglage.

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Rotor engraving.

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Setting microscopically small jewels; that pile of what looks like dust off to the top right is actually a pile of unset ruby bearing stones. Needless to say, it takes a microscope and hands of stone.

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Anchor setting room.

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Up some stairs, with a quick pause (note scenery) and through an attic doorway…

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…takes us to the haute horologie department.

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Don’t forget your protection. And those wrapped things at bottom left aren’t sweets, they’re earplugs.

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On a tray for visitors to enjoy as you enter. Sadly, no ‘Please Take One’ sign was to be seen anywhere.

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This part of the workshop is an incredibly quiet, calm environment; you get the feeling you’re in a high precision lab rather than a manufactory – which I suppose is pretty much what it is. You’ll notice that most of the employees are plugged into their iPods; the music and isolation help concentration.

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Assembling a Spherotourbillon.

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Ta-da! Look what I made earlier. This is possibly the only photograph to date with five of them in one place…

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Beginning to case up inside a negative pressure cabinet, so dust gets sucked out.

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Moving over to another bench, we find:

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The red and blue plastic is a protective layer to prevent scratches as the watches are cased, assembled, and final adjustments made.

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There’s also a Repetition Minutes a Rideau present – but not just any one, a blue one!

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It sounded great. I suspect the double case (the movement is actually based on the earlier limited edition series of 500 in pink gold) improves the tonal qualities of the chime significantly. It also looks absolutely stunning, though I’d gladly forgo the outer slide mechanism and just have the inner watch – apparently the inner case is about the same size as a regular Reverso GT, which isn’t very big at all.

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On the way out, we pass a Gyrotourbillon in final stages of regulation. The dial on the left (which actually looks complete) is a work dial, used for adjustment only. I’m told that it takes one watchmaker between 1.5 and 3 months to assemble one of these; the huge time difference is if after assembly, it doesn’t run to spec, then the whole thing has to be taken apart and the cage re-balance and re-adjusted.

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The gemsetting atelier is next.

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I’m not a huge fan of gem set pieces (they showed me bracelet links for a Master Tourbillon, which when completed, would retail for around one million Euros – the entire thing was covered in diamonds, including the dial); however, this particular piece was pretty intriguing – it’s called a ‘chaotic’ setting, and you actually can’t see where the setting ends and the stones begin. They use around 200-240 diamonds of various sizes to cover a ladies’ Reverso case.

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We appear to have found the Atmos division.

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I actually found this portion quite fascinating, as you seldom see so many of these in one place – and more interestingly, so many vintages; there were clocks here dating from easily fifty years go. I suppose it’s one of the few products whose fundamental parts have changed very little over time. Interestingly, they still cure the balance suspension wire; except these days, it’s done with weights and electric current rather than horse urine and time.

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Oh look, a Klimt! In all seriousness, this was an incredibly stunning piece which I think few have been lucky enough to see in person.

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View from the employee canteen.

I did also visit the museum, but wasn’t allowed to take any photos. Suffice to say there are some incredibly rare and very interesting pieces in there. And while all the Atmoses are running, charmingly none of them show the exactly same time 🙂 MT

I would like to say a personal thank you to Marina Shvedova, Janek Deleskiewicz, Cecile Tichant, Alexis Delaporte, Reena Tan, and all the patient employees whom patiently answered my endless barrage of questions.

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Photoessay: The C3H5N3O9 (Nitro) Experiment ZR012

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Despite being completely unpronounceable, this watch is just plain outright cool. The brainchild of Max Busser (MB&F) and Felix Baumgartner (URWERK), it is the first watch to use an eccentric planetary transmission system for the timekeeping mechanism – i.e. the same geometry as the Wankel engine. (Curiously, there’s only one ratio of inner to outer satellite that actually permits the three distinct chambers to be formed; any other ratio doesn’t seal at all). The minutes are read off the red tips of the upper ‘rotor’, with the hours on the level below. There is no seconds indication, but there is a power reserve on the back of the watch.

I believe these are the first photos outside the official press release, and I was told that the watch is a working production prototype – which means non-final parts and finishing, and some potential tool marks in places as befits an engineering experiment…

Many thanks to Ian Skellern at C3H5N3O9.

This series shot (hastily) with a Nikon D800E and AFS 60/2.8 G Micro. It wasn’t a commercial shoot, so please excuse me if I missed a spot or two. All images can be clicked on for larger versions.

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Photoessay: The Jaeger Le-Coultre Master Ultra Thin Moon

From the horological files. MT

Set shot with a Nikon D800E, several SB900s, the AFS 60/2.8 G Micro, and one shot with a Leica 35/1.4 ASPH FLE via adaptor – see if you can spot which one!

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On Assignment: The contents of my bag

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I thought you may all be curious to see what I’m bringing to Switzerland for my current assignment. Let’s just say there’s a hell of a lot of stuff here:

Primary system:
– Nikon D800E
– AFS 28/1.8G
– AFS 60/2.8 G Micro
– PCE 85/2.8 Micro
– ZM 28/2.8 plus Leica M to Nikon F adaptor

Backup system:
– Olympus OM-D with HLD-6 grip – I plan to do some walking around too, and I don’t want to carry the D800E.
– Olympus ZD 12/2
– Olympus 45/1.8
– Panasonic 20/1.7 G
– Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 Macro
– That little clip on flash thingy to trigger the SB900s in SU4 mode
– Nikon G to M4/3 adaptor

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Lighting:
– Nikon SB900 x3
– Custom made perspex diffuser and case, various cards, papers and laminates for backdrops and diffusion.
– Manfrotto 5001B compact light stands plus heads and flash stands x3

Support
– Gitzo GT1542T Traveller 6X carbon fiber tripod
– Manfrotto 468RC0 Hydrostat ball head
– Manfrotto micro positioning rail

IT
– Apple MacBook Air 11″
– Apple iPhone 4
– Western Digital MyPassport 1TB 2.5″ USB drive for backups
– Sandisk Extreme SD/CF USB card reader
– Chargers and universal adaptors

Other accessories:
– Spare batteries and chargers for both cameras
– 8 sets of Sanyo Eneloop AA batteries for the SB9000s
– Two sets of Kenko Pro DG extension tubes
– Adaptor plugs and multi strip
– SD cards; Sandisk Extreme HD 32 GB x4
– MAHA C801D fast AA charger
– Nikon SC-31IR flash deflector panel for D800E built in
– Rocket air blower
– Soft white cloths
– Blu tack
– Duct tape
– Magic tape (for removing dust)
– WhiBal cards
– Small lens pouches

Bags
– Think Tank Airport International v1
– Billingham Hadley Pro, without the internal dividers but with some small lens pouches and a camera wrap, packed into my check-in luggage
– Manfrotto MBAG80P for light stands and tripod

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Here’s most of it packed in. What you don’t see is the diffuser case, which is quite enormous and wouldn’t fit into the picture…

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Photoessay: The Maitres du Temps Chapter 3

This watch was an early production prototype photographed for my client, which is the Manufacture. [Puts on horological hat] It’s an interesting piece because it carries clear DNA from its creator – Kari Voutilainen (the dial) – whilst at the same time retaining the brand’s own DNA (the rollers). It’s a substantial but not oversized watch at about 42mm in diameter; contained inside are time functions, small seconds, date, synodic moon phase indication, day/night indicator and second time zone display. The latter two functions are hidden under panels on the dial at 12 and 6 that retract slightly into the plane of the dial and rotate out of the way, activated by the button concentric to the crown. The button at 9 advances the second time zone display (under the panel at 6). You can see the action of the panels in the final two images. Maitres du Temps is an interesting brand because it collaborates with famous watchmakers to create the various ‘Chapters’ – they do have an in-house execution and assembly facility headed by the noted Andreas Strehler, but each project always lands up different because it carries the DNA of the master watchmaker in charge of the project. Chapter 3 looks nothing like 1 and 2; they were of course designed by completely different watchmakers. Personally, this piece is by far my favorite – I think of it as classical, with a twist. MT

This series shot with a Nikon D800, AFS 60/2.8 G Micro, and several SB900s. As always, clicking on an image brings you to the Flickr landing page, from which you can view a larger version.

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Photoessay: The Speake-Marin Immortal Dragon

One of the more unusual watches I’ve photographed, the Immortal Dragon is both immaculately finished on the dial and the movement – the watch has both serious horological pedigree (being from the atelier of highly respected independent watchmaker Peter Speake-Marin and some pretty unique aesthetics. The dial was hand-engraved in relief by master engraver Kees Engelberts, and the watch is a piece unique destined for the Asian market in honor of the current lunar year of the dragon. MT

This series shot with a Nikon D700, AFS 60/2.8 G Micro, and Zeiss ZM 2.8/28 Biogon with Leica M-F adaptor and multiple speedlights.

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The complete set of images from my exhibition with Jaeger Le-Coultre and Leica

For those of you who can’t make the exhibition in person, here’s the next best thing.

For the making of, see this post. MT

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Amvox 5 chronograph detail

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Amvox 5 Chronograph

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The Deep Sea in a dial

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Trilobed chaton, Master Minute Repeater

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Master Minute Repeater

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Duometre a Spherotourbillon

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If only we could wear it upside down…

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The Spherotourbillon cage

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Balance

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Duometre a Sphertourbillon in recline

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Duometre a Sphertourbillon movement detail

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Duometre 40.5

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For the ladies

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Escapement – Gyrotourbillon II

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Caged – Gyrotourbillon I

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Follow the sun – equation of time indicator on the Gyrotourbillon I

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Swan Lake in a dial

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X-ray vision

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Gyrotourbillon II

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Gyrotourbillon II

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Three is the magic number

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Ultrathin

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Waiting to be wound

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Moon and stars a Rendez-Vous

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The world on your wrist

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Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

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Opening night of my joint exhibition with Jaeger Le-Coultre and Leica

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Last night was the grand opening party for my exhibition of fine art watch photography at Starhill Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Pending any unforeseen changes, the images should be up for the next month on the first (Adorn) floor, and were co-sponsored by Jaeger Le-Coultre and Leica. Some images from the launch party follow.

For my KL readers, I’ll also be on radio – a short interview – on Friday, 4th May at 1.45pm on BFM 88.9. For everybody else, there’s a podcast on bfm.my. MT

Sorry, no POTD today – was trying to rush these out for today’s post.

Some images courtesy KH Yeo (D700, 24/1.4) and myself (M9-P, 35/1.4 ASPH FLE).

[Read more…]

POTD: If you thought one watch was bad…

…try dealing with the reflections off two!

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Sarpaneva Korona K3 Northern Stars. Nikon D700, AFS 60/2.8 G Micro

Photographs involving multiple watches require extremely good lighting control, assuming you are not going to be compositing images (and sometimes, you have no choice). What looks great on one watch may not look so good on the other, and vice versa. You also need to be very, very careful with positioning your subject – not least because they may scratch each other! I use a small bit of tape or paper to act as a buffer, tucked neatly out of sight. MT