November 25, 2022

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The history of commissioned timepieces is a long and colorful one; at some point I may do a comprehensive study. But as I sit here typing I can immediately conjure up pieces from the Breguet Marie Antoinette to Henry Graves’ series of Patek Philippes to various, more recent royal commissions ranging from unique Vacheron Constantin calendar minute repeaters to Rolexes with imperial seals printed on the dials.

Group commissions are perhaps a more recent phenomenon but go at least as far back as the set of six unique Voutilainen Masterpiece Chronograph IIs ordered by our NorCal Gang in 2010 and the special edition club watches produced for the PuristS 10th Anniversary convention in 2011. These days, both big brands and independents are issuing a steady stream of small editions for groups, with the ability of independent makers to order very small lot sizes of items such as dials, hands, and cases as a major enabler.

Special Edition: Laine GG3 for 49 Crowns

I recently met with Adam Eisendrath, founder and chair of San Francisco-based collector club 49 Crowns, to learn more about the group and to check out two customized watches they commissioned from Swiss-based Finnish independent Torsti Laine: a 38 mm Laine V38 and larger 40.5 mm Laine GG3.

If you don’t follow Torsti Laine yet, you should: he’s a talented young watchmaker currently focusing on three highly customizable references at attainable price points. Among other distinctions, his resume includes a degree from the Finnish School of Watchmaking, winning the 2014 A. Lange & Söhne Watchmaking Excellence Award, and experience working with both A. Lange & Söhne and Kari Voutilainen.

Smaller version: 38 mm diameter Laine V38 customized for 49 Crowns

When I asked Eisendrath about the choice of Laine and the design particulars for the club’s inaugural watch, he responded: “Why Torsti? We have a lot of fans of Laine and his quality of work and price point. A few of the members are particular fans of boutique brands and bespoke watches and turned some of the other members onto the Laine brand.

When the idea for a club watch was floated, many of the members liked the idea of a totally bespoke piece, doing something that you might not normally see for a club watch. Working with our 49 Crowns designer Pao Chiu, we created the ‘Fog Dial,’ a grey fumé dial with Breguet hands and a subtle nod to the Golden Gate Bridge that cuts through the 15- and 45-seconds markers in the seconds subdial. The watch also includes custom and handprinted hands in the same International Orange color as the paint used on the Golden Gate Bridge.”

True San Francisco: fog-inspired dial, International Orange hands, and Golden Gate engraving on the Laine GG3 for 49 Crowns

And the club itself? Eisendrath continued: “49 Crowns is the largest non-affiliated watch club in the United States. Our membership includes over 400 collectors and enthusiasts. Our demographics are diverse, and we have as many executives and CxOs of Facebook, Google, Apple, and other major local companies as members as we do diesel mechanics, pilots, and professionals in the medical, financial, and legal fields.

“The community began in May 2020 as the pandemic started shutting down in-person get-togethers and venues. I wanted to create a place where the community could thrive virtually during the pandemic, and a WhatsApp group was the perfect solution. It helped keep the community together and even grow it so that when in-person get-togethers became possible again we had a tight knit and familiar group already coming in and feeling comfortable.”

Dial detail, Laine GG3 for 49 Crowns with Golden Gate and International Orange hand

“The name 49 Crowns is a reference to where the group was founded, San Francisco, whose dimensions are 7×7 miles, or 49 miles squared. While we are based in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have active members all over the world including New York, Boston, Paris, and Tokyo. The club has over 400 members on the mailing list with over 200 active in the WhatsApp chat and sub-chats and a growing number of women collectors.

“The goal was to create a community with the concept of ‘We’re all pilgrims on the same ship, some people just have nicer watches.’ And of course, the most important first rule: no a**holes allowed!”

Nice watch for nice folks: bespoke Laine V38 for 49 Crowns

Armed with the background on the club and watch, I got on with the pleasant task of capturing the two limited edition pieces in photos.

Due to its larger size, the GG3 made a more substantial first impression on me. As on its V38 sibling, the deeply blasted grey fumé dial with its exposed Breguet numerals commands attention, and those orange hands really pop in any and all light conditions. I also quite liked the matching texture and colors of the strap; I can imagine fitting other straps, but personally would probably always come back to this one pretty quickly given its coherence with the rest of the design.

Immediate impression: 49 Crowns GG3 from Torsti Laine

The movement side of the GG3 is quite dramatic as well. Laine offers three options for movement finishing on the GG3: a classic frosted finish (Classic), an etched calligraphy pattern (Calligraphy), and the etched style of the 49 Crowns piece as seen in the photo below called Signature.

Rear view of the Laine GG3 showing the Unitas-based Caliber LA18.1

The Unitas-based LA18.1 has real presence and completely fills the case. And I very much liked the 49 Crowns’ designer’s choice of polished escapement bridges rather than the brushed ones that appear on the stock GG3. As for the deeply etched pattern on the main bridge it does jazz up the look, but as a matter of personal taste, given the choice I probably would have opted for the frosted finish. But after all, those differences in preference are one reason our hobby is so much fun!

I’ll get to a side-by-side comparison of the two watches shortly, but even in isolation the smaller V38 version of this watches succeeds on its own merits. The dial remains proportional; even though due to the use of a smaller movement the seconds subdial is a bit closer to the center of the dial than on the GG3, it isn’t jarring and the slightly broader outer chapter ring with larger dots than on the GG3’s keeps the overall look balanced.

Smaller but still balanced: dial side view, Laine V38 for 49 Crowns

The Vaucher Caliber 5401 movement used for the V38 has the clean look and attractive finishing we’ve come to expect from Vaucher, and Laine adds a bit of flair with the etched tungsten micro rotor bearing the 49 Crowns logo and accompanying scrollwork.

Customized Vaucher Caliber 5401 movement, Laine V38 for 49 Crowns

Side by side with the 49 Crowns Laine watches

As seen from the front, the family resemblance of the two watches is obvious; this view does help to show just how much smaller the V38 appears in person than the GG3 as well as the more wide-open look of the latter with its generous spacing between elements.

Side by side: Laine GG3 (left) and V38 for collector group 49 Crowns

The reverse view is considerably more differentiated, with clear distinctions in movement architecture and finishing as well as an obvious difference in movement diameters and the corresponding bezel widths. And of course the 5401 is an automatic movement while the LA18.1 is manually wound.

Movement side views of Laine V38 (left) and GG3

One weakness of using ebauches from different providers for different references within the same brand is that it’s difficult to establish a characteristic look or personality when basic architectures vary so widely. I’d be hard pressed to tell you what the “Laine movement look” is based on seeing these two watches side by side; perhaps going forward Laine might do well to consider how to establish a single characteristic style even within the constraint of using different suppliers for his base movements.

Laine watches for 49 Crowns on the wrist

 It was great fun shooting these two watches in the light tent, but they looked just as good on the wrist in natural light. I suspected that the 38 mm V38 might seem a bit small on the arm, but after a few seconds of wearing it looked entirely natural on my fairly broad wrist.

Individual wrist shots, Laine GG3 (left) and V38 for 49 Crowns

When I (very carefully) strapped on both watches at the same time, I was hard-pressed to choose one over the other. I envy the 20 owners of these pieces and trust that they will find them as satisfying to own as I did to handle and photograph.

Group shot: Laine GG3 (left) and V38 for 49 Crowns on the wrist

I welcome your views on these two pieces and on group commissions in general, including your own experiences, in the comments below. In the meantime, happy wearing!

For more information on Torsti Laine, please visit www.lainewatches.com.

Quick Facts Laine GG3 for 49 Crowns
Case: 40.5 x 11.3 mm stainless steel; domed front crystal and exhibition back with sapphire crystals; anti-reflective treatment on both sides of front crystal and interior of rear crystal
Dial and hands: etched deep grey “Fog” fumé dial with Breguet numerals in relief and Golden Gate theme in subdial; hand-painted steel hands in International Orange
Movement: manually wound LA18.1 movement (Unitas base); 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz frequency; etched Signature engraving on main plate and polished escapement bridges
Functions: hours, minutes, subsidiary seconds
Price: CHF 9,300, with adjustments for additional customizations requested by individuals
Limitation: subscription watch for club members; 20 total subscriptions across the V38 and GG3 references
Production year: 2022

Quick Facts Laine V38 for 39 Crowns
Case: 38 x 9 mm stainless steel case; domed front crystal and exhibition back with sapphire crystals; anti-reflective treatment on both sides of crystals
Dial and hands: etched deep grey “Fog” fumé dial with Breguet numerals in relief and Golden Gate theme in subdial; hand-painted steel hands in International Orange
Movement: automatic Vaucher Caliber 5401; 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency; power reserve 48 hours; etched Signature and 49 Crowns logo engraving on tungsten micro rotor
Functions: hours, minutes, and subsidiary seconds
Price: CHF 10,900, with adjustments for additional customizations requested by individuals
Limitation: subscription watch for club members; 20 total subscriptions across the V38 and GG3 references
Production year: 2022

You may also enjoy:

Visiting Torsti Laine, Independent Finnish Watchmaker In Switzerland, And His Festival Of Color

Commissioning A Watch: My Journey With The Kari Voutilainen Masterpiece Chronograph II

Commissioning A Bespoke Grönefeld 1941 Remontoire: A Collector’s Personal Experience (Video)

J.N. Shapiro Infinity Tantalum: Fractals, Infinity, And Mastery Of Technique

 



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