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SDC Weekly 24; Dubai Watch Week
Luca Soprana's new watches, Banter with JC Biver, Stephen McDonnell goes deep, Treasure hunting, Finding longitude, and the chaos at OpenAI.
Hello 👋 and welcome back to the SDC Weekly. You’ll find the older editions of SDC Weekly here. Last week I briefly mentioned the Moser micro-rotor teaser… turns out it was a watch, and I got to try it on at Dubai Watch Week…
Wears nicely at 39mm… and at ~30k CHF, competitively priced as well. Limited production, and apparently highly in demand, so if you’re keen, you should expect to wait a few years. Last week I discussed the GPHG outcome, and someone has now posted a full explainer which confirms what was suggested last week.
In other news, I also got a few sneak peeks of new watches from Luca Soprana which I was allowed to share, so stay tuned for that in the next section… not a paid promo, I just like the watches - if you like them too, feel free to contact him directly.
Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself… let’s start properly!
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🐪 Dubai Watch Week
So, it is Tuesday morning, and as I sit down to write this section, I feel utterly clueless. Even as I was attending the event, I followed along on social media as well; so I will assume, as a reader of this post, you also followed the event on social media for the most part - because the feeds were flooded with content from Dubai Watch Week (DWW).
With that in mind, I didn’t want to bother regurgitating all the stuff you’ve probably already seen1. For some quick links, here’s a GQ post on the most exciting releases at DWW, and here’s one which includes a video of the rain and damage which caused DWW proceedings to stop for a while on Friday 17th Nov while they cleaned up and repaired all the damage. This unexpected thunderstorm in the desert also caused our skydive and helicopter tour to be cancelled… wasn’t meant to be, I guess!
A few other random stories I wanted to add to the mix…
I tried on the Akrivia-LV watch which I wrote about a while back. This was a prototype, and the chiming function did work (some folks said it didn’t) - with each passing minute, the chronograph would chime. The gold screws you see at 2, 5 and 8 o’clock are going to be removed in the final version, as Rexhep thinks they ruin the aesthetics. The lugs are also going to become more streamlined, to make it more svelte.
Overall, the watch is slightly thick but still wearable… the main problem with this watch for me, is that it is not purely Rexhep’s design language… it is Rexhep’s interpretation of the LV request to try and blend their design language with his own. Ultimately, it hides what Rexhep is best known for… his finishing.
Next I wanted to talk about the Rexhep Rexhepi Chronomètre Antimagnétique (RRCA). In this video I captured Rexhep talking about the design language, and his desire to make something of a ‘tool watch’. Of all the points he made, the stepped hand allowing for steeper curvature of the watch crystal was a nice touch… rather than curving it, the step stays aligned with the sector aesthetic and keeps it feeling more like a tool watch, too. I like that approach.
Next is the Rexhep Rexhepi Chronomètre Contemporain 2 (RRCC2) - this is Rexhep’s watch which I understand he’s been wearing as a long term test piece to monitor performance which will allow him to improve his future watches. Having never done a drop-test, my buddy Neeshu was happy to oblige. As Rexhep was putting this back on his wrist, Neeshu went in for a greeting and his timing was slightly off... the watch had not yet been secured on Rexhep’s wrist, and all we heard next was a loud *thud* on the wooden floor. Everyone within few meters collectively gasped… Rexhep picked it up, and it was still working perfectly. He laughed, and took it as a proof of durability… everyone felt relieved, and we moved on. Neeshu sighed with relief, and went back to the hotel to change his underwear.
The next memorable thing I saw was this Genus Watch. The head of the dragon tells the time on the central discs, the left arrow points at the hours, and the right arrow points at the single minutes. The video explains it all, and having seen nothing like it in recent memory, I thought it was pretty cool!
This meme watch I shared on Instagram was made by @suissemate and I decided to show it to the man himself, Jean-Claude Biver, when I met with him at DWW. Honestly, I had no idea what reaction to expect, but at first, he didn’t even notice the faces in the dial. After a while, I asked him to look closer, and he spotted it - I sh*t you not, he burst into laughter as if he had just seen a dancing baboon singing the national anthem of Switzerland. He appreciated the banter, and even quipped he should make one for his son. When I asked if he would go on record, he reminded me he was friends with Thierry Stern and it might not be received in the right spirit (bants, innit)… Fair enough, he isn’t wrong!
Still, that experience left me with a hugely positive opinion of the man. Long regarded as a salesman of the irrational, it would appear he isn’t up his own arse at all! He has a great sense of humour, but is also a straight talker - he says a lot of sensible things off the record, and acknowledges he definitely plays the luxury sales game. I appreciated his candour, to say the least.
My experience is not surprising of course… he’s a genius salesman, and it is no surprise he can be endearing on-demand. Many who know him personally or have had dealings with him, can attest to his approach being single-mindedly in pursuit of his own goals; in my case, it was to seek clients for his watch. In other cases, watchmakers have been seduced by his charm, to get them to work for him, or collaborate with him. So again, he’s just a damn good salesman, and it is unnerving to see it in action.
I also tried the Biver watches... Truthfully, the bracelet is decent... but the watches are 500K+, which is insane. They are well made - in fact, under a loupe, at least they’re genuinely well-finished… but the fact remains, they took an existing base caliber and reworked it. With no serious R&D costs, the finishing alone does not justify the price. The brand is non-existent, so that doesn’t hold value either. I acknowledge he’s targeting a league of buyers whose bank accounts he believes he can schmooze his way into - and having spoken with him for a while, I actually don’t doubt he will do just that.
Finally, I got to meet Luca Soprana. You can read about his most recent creation here, but today I will talk about his plans for the future. He showed me some pics of his next and final piece inspired by Derek Pratt’s work at Urban Jürgensen.
This watch will have an enamel dial, and be offered in steel (12 pcs, 115k CHF) and platinum (8 pcs, 137k CHF) - after these 20 watches are done, he will start producing watches under his own name. Speaking of which… take a look for yourself… Tourbillon is under 200k CHF and the time-only is around 40k CHF in steel (both also available in platinum).
So… what else do I have to say, if I am not talking about all the watches at DWW? Allow me some creative license for a moment.
Certain animals have the ability to significantly slow their metabolisms and enter a coma-like state called hibernation. While hibernating, animals consume far less energy, and this allows them to survive without eating or drinking for long periods of time. During this state, the animal remains completely immobile and appears to be sleeping or comatose. Animals usually enter hibernation in winter, when they can’t access enough food or water to survive, and this can continue for weeks or even months, depending on how much energy the animal stored before hibernating.
To do this, they must spend their autumns feasting, and storing fat to prepare for the hibernation. This model has some application to the human animal, too.
Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, explored the earth’s poles in the 1920s and 30s, and spent a solitary winter at a remote meteorological base on the Ross Ice Shelf in 1934, taking self-isolation to an extreme - in his memoir Alone, he wrote:
“The ones who survive with a measure of happiness are those who can live profoundly off their intellectual resources, as hibernating animals live off their fat.”
As Roff Smith explains, men who could tolerate and survive the hardships of living at the poles were the ones who had built up an internal register of ideas, memories, experiences, and references which they could draw upon in barren and depleted circumstances.
Sure, hibernating animals have a preprogrammed biological prompt telling them when to feed, and when it is time to hibernate… similarly explorers knew when it was time to prepare for an expedition.
Now, you might be wondering why you’re reading this in a section entitled “Dubai Watch Week?”
Well… We never can tell when we might find ourselves in a dark place, or experience a sense of malaise about the hobby. “What is it all for?” you might find yourself asking.
As humans, as collectors, what we can do is constantly feast in every single season, and gather up all the cognitive and emotional supplies we require to weather any dark period… if or when it does arrive.
We can enjoy every outing, engage in every laughter-filled conversation with aplomb, read every book voraciously, take in every mental model of how best to live and what to live for, and make many other such life-giving deposits.
Not a single morsel of life’s goodness is ever lost to us. Each one adds to our stockpile of rich, nourishing fat which will gladden our souls in the good times, and sustain it during the dark ones.
And that’s the value I took away from DWW… a dedicated watch enthusiasts’ event where I got to create wonderful memories with friends from around the world and renew or nurture this connection formed over a shared passion for horology. It was also a chance to spend some quality time with friends who I communicate with often, but see so infrequently. A special shout out to my friend @changingtimes001 who invited me to join him on this DWW trip, and who pestered me until I agreed! Really grateful for your friendship 🙏.
If that sounds emotional… you’re in for another surprise. Widely regarded as one of the best presentations at DWW this year: “The Trials And Tribulations Of Watch Innovation” was presented by Stephen McDonnell - while I highly recommend taking the time to watch this emotional deep dive into watchmaking and invention (~ 50 mins), my favourite section was this - video below (~3 mins):
What is mechanical watchmaking really for? What purpose does it serve? Why do people want to own high level mechanical watches? It is certainly not to tell the time… its purpose is art… it serves the same function as a fantastic painting or a sculpture… it enriches the life of the person who gets to share their life with the object, and transmits love and passion from the maker, to that person who owns it, or who is the custodian of it for however long… be it a watch or a painting… When you have a watch that I’ve worked on or designed, it is like you are wearing a piece of my soul on your wrist, because I have put my heart and everything into it, and that is not something I give away readily… Whenever you look at the watch on your wrist, I beg you please, don’t take it for granted…
Stephen McDonnell (roughly taken from the video3)
As an aside, this video is borderline ‘a cry for help’ - McDonnell repeats several times how stressful he finds his work (while also explaining how much he loves making watches and can’t stop doing it), and how he can barely bring himself to touch the watch he helped to create… he even goes on to explain how he is happy his kids aren’t into watches, because he wouldn’t wish his own hardships upon them… I found it strange to watch, because he’s clearly a genius with an insane work ethic, but he also seems to have some mental health difficulties - perhaps Max Busser should let him take a year off, to find his happy place?! See for yourself.
Okay, so for those wondering whether you should try and attend the next DWW in 2025… I’d say it is worth giving some serious consideration.
I don’t think it is a must - but there is certainly no event I know of which is as inclusive and informative as this one - so I’d say if you’re into watch collecting, and appreciate an opportunity to speak to watchmakers and industry professionals, then this is a no brainer.
How much you will enjoy this event is not directly linked to how ‘socially active’ you are as a watch collector. As you can see from this lecture by Stephen McDonnell, there are many such talks you can attend on your own, and brands you can visit on your own… enough to keep you busy, even if you don’t socialise at all. If you plan to do that, then you do not even need to go for the full duration, but then I would say the benefits can be narrowed down to the ease with which you can access people. You can easily grab Rexhep Rexhepi, JC Biver or Max Busser and have a chat about anything you like… This sort of access can be helpful to those who appreciate hearing directly from creators. Hell, I bumped into Philippe Dufour and Roger Smith at least 3 times, so even if you’re a fanboi who wants to grab a selfie, you can do that too.
That said, if you’re active on social media in the watch space, are an avid follower of independent brands and have lots of collector friends you have never met … then I have no doubt you will enjoy this event… and it will probably be even more enjoyable if you attend with a friend. Basically, two of us rolled around together, and even when we had no lectures to attend or scheduled appointments with brands, we could hang out and have a coffee, walk around and see random watches, or go somewhere else in Dubai to try and skydive, grab lunch, or head out into the desert and ride quad bikes on the dunes. If you go alone, this might be less appealing, but depends on your own personality. It is a safe city, and the only annoying parts are the traffic and relatively high prices (probably similar to London or Singapore).
If you plan to go, there are often events being organised in collector WhatsApp groups the week before, so don’t worry too much about planning each day. When the DWW registration opens up, be sure to register and sign up to the panels ASAP, as they do get full quite quickly. Other than that, feel free to comment with questions and I will be happy to answer them.
📌 Links of interest
From the November 20, Issue of Bloomberg Businessweek… A long read about the hunt for deep-sea treasure! There’s more treasure at the bottom of the ocean than in all the world’s museums, shipwreck enthusiasts like to say. Until now, it hasn’t been reachable, but one secretive hedge fund manager has made it his mission to dig up the riches from the deep. Thoroughly enjoyed the read, and although you may need to subscribe for free to access it… it’ll be worthwhile!
🧭 How John Harrison's remarkable timepieces helped solve the problem of finding longitude at sea.
🤩 Beyond Happiness: Why a Psychologically Rich Life Is a Good Life.
💨 The world’s fastest internet connection has been reported in China, a whopping 1.2 terabits-per-second (or 150 HD films per second)
💸 Watch market performance hits mainstream media.
🌌 AI is helping chemists unpick the mysteries around the origins of life and detect signs of it on other worlds.
🤖 Researchers 3D-printed a robot hand with working tendons.
💀 TikTok Is the New TV.
This is an old post which some of you may have seen already… but given I have not had a chance to publish anything in the last week, and given the hordes of new subscribers… I thought it would not hurt to reshare it - it is, thus far, the most popular post to date. Weird, since it isn’t even about watches… maybe that’s a sign to stop bothering with watches, and just write about anything and everything:
Let me know what you think when you’re done reading it.
In other news… On Monday a seemingly inert post was shared on Hodinkee, about a new platform serving up watch data for a subscription… and one user clocked them creating fake accounts and posting positive comments on the article. The amusing part being… a new site claiming to be a beacon of transparency was busted on as they published their announcement… for being untrustworthy. People never disappoint, do they?! I guess their closest competitor is Watch Charts? Fundamentally, there is typically a data gap between listed prices, and actual sales - and as we saw with the recent auction shenanigans, even those can’t be trusted entirely.
Speaking of Watch Charts, I metat DWW, and he gave me a present for my kid - isn’t it cute?!
Until next time!
Bonus link: Inside the Chaos at OpenAI
Pretty good explainer over at The Atlantic on the situation you may or may not have heard about… “the shocking, sudden ousting of OpenAI’s CEO, Sam Altman, arguably the avatar of the generative-AI revolution, followed by reports that the company was in talks to bring him back, and then yet another shocking revelation that he would start a new AI team at Microsoft instead”.
The details of Altman’s removal are still unfolding, but it is clear OpenAI’s convoluted corporate structure led to conflicting motivations and incentives at the top.
On Monday, more than 600 employees of OpenAI signed a letter saying they may quit and join Sam Altman at Microsoft unless the startup’s board resigns and reappoints the ousted CEO.
And here’s another Stratechery deep dive if you have more time, to make the point: no matter what happens with OpenAI, Microsoft is the big winner.
Here are a few clippings from the Atlantic article:
…OpenAI is not a technology company. At least, not like other epochal companies of the internet age, such as Meta and Google.
OpenAI was deliberately structured to resist the values that drive much of the tech industry—a relentless pursuit of scale, a build-first-ask-questions-later approach to launching consumer products. It was founded in 2015 as a nonprofit dedicated to the creation of artificial general intelligence, or AGI, that should benefit “humanity as a whole.”
That model didn’t exactly last. In 2019, OpenAI launched a subsidiary with a “capped profit” model that could raise money, attract top talent, and inevitably build commercial products. But the nonprofit board maintained total control. This corporate minutiae is central to the story of OpenAI’s meteoric rise and Altman’s shocking fall. Altman’s dismissal by OpenAI’s board on Friday was the culmination of a power struggle between the company’s two ideological extremes—one group born from Silicon Valley techno-optimism, energized by rapid commercialization; the other steeped in fears that AI represents an existential risk to humanity and must be controlled with extreme caution.
This tenuous equilibrium broke one year ago almost to the day, according to current and former employees, thanks to the release of the very thing that brought OpenAI to global prominence: ChatGPT. From the outside, ChatGPT looked like one of the most successful product launches of all time. It grew faster than any other consumer app in history, and it seemed to single-handedly redefine how millions of people understood the threat—and promise—of automation. But it sent OpenAI in polar-opposite directions, widening and worsening the already present ideological rifts.
We still do not know exactly why Altman was fired. He has not responded to our requests for comment. The board announced on Friday that “a deliberative review process” had found “he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board,” leading it to lose confidence in his ability to be OpenAI’s CEO. An internal memo from the COO to employees, confirmed by an OpenAI spokesperson, subsequently said that the firing had resulted from a "breakdown in communications” between Altman and the board rather than “malfeasance or anything related to our financial, business, safety, or security/privacy practices.” But no concrete, specific details have been given.
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I had to change the tense from 'don’t’ to didn’t … rewriting this stuff after the fact!
If you’re reading this much later, just sort the videos by date - his first one starts on 17th November 2023, and helpfully, all the DWW thumbnails are marked as DWW content!
Also included in links of interest section, a link to the “Harrison history” described in the video, about the time when watches were actually a necessity.