Pieces of eight: watches that embody the octagonal

Would you agree that the octagonal form is the answer to timeless watch design? Read on

Who could have ever fathomed the relevance of a single numerical digit on the aesthetic appeal of watches? But to be fair, Douglas Adams did say that the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything was 42, so why can’t the secret of timeless watch design lie in one figure, namely the number 8. Might not seem so obvious at first, but if one were to think about the two most common and essentially basic shapes of watches, one would come up with circles and rectangles (squares can be classified as the latter too). Now imagine if we were to combine the two, ideally what we’d achieve is something of a shape that would have short arcs of curvature that met each other at defined angular edges. These then could be shortened or lengthened to accommodate as many sides as one desires. And it is precisely here one finds that the number 8 is utterly relevant — for so many watches seem to take on the octagonal form. Here is but a short list of some of my favourite watches that embody (and elevate) this shape.

Patek Philippe Aquanaut: Gerald Genta’s timeless design has been reinterpreted and revisited almost endlessly and yet this watch remains the epitome of simplicity and elegance. At first you may not notice the eight edges, seamless as they appear, but when you find yourself in a debate over whether this watch is round or rectangular, you’ll see the eight sides to this story. While here, mention must also be made of the Nautilus, which has a somewhat similar facade.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak: Another classic shape on this list and a watch that manages to have a chunky and a sleek version with the same façade and yet never look out of place. More sporty than formal, it is the most versatile watch on the circuit, balancing complexity of movement for the serious aficionados and commercial appeal of brand name (and size) for the more nouveau fans.

Jean Richard Terrascope: A lesser-known brand, this is not as much an eight-sided piece as it is a brilliant design blend of a circle within a square, which creates the effect of an octagon. Extremely sporty, their ranges are called Terra, Aqua, and Aero, all suffixed with -scope, thereby defining the styling patterns. A serious brand with in-house movements and remarkably affordable.

Lum-Tec G/V: These are high-function watches with extreme fluorescence, which means that in the dark they almost appear to light up with intense luminosity. Great in situations where you will be in low-light conditions for prolonged periods (cave-treks, deep-sea diving) and the watches are built strong and sturdy, anticipating exactly such outings.

Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB 1.3: A very boutique, upscale and respected watchmaking brand, this piece combines two half hexagons screwed onto ceramic lugs to create a seamless octagon in platinum. It’s a Tourbillon, but also a constant force device regulated using a fusée-and-chain transmission (comprising 790 parts) which can take an entire day’s work to assemble. That’s just for the transmission! Luckily, a small window on the side allows you to appreciate this mammoth-yet-minute effort in all its visual delight.

Burberry The Britain: This is sincerest form of flattery that I have seen yet for the Patek Philippe range, if you catch my drift. But where Burberry scores over the more serious watch brands is in the packaging, having given this watch more options in colours and finishes than any watch brand could have imagined. The movement, as expected in such attractive watches, is secondary. But since this list is about the shape — and there is a uniqueness to the Britain’s facet — this one belongs here rightfully so.

Bulgari Octo: Yet another pretty reinterpretation of the classic, one with the signature Bulgari stamp of opulence. The edges here appear inside the circular bezel all encased neatly in an eight-sided frame. The watch is elegant no doubt but it is also a serious timepiece with an in-house movement. Perhaps the most laudable of recent watches to revisit this format.

Casio G-Shock GA-2100: An unlikely entrant for some, but few people may know that the original G-Shock DW-5000 design that was launched back in 1983 was an eight-edged indestructible timepiece encased in layers of cushion and shock-absorption. This shape revisits us now as the GA-2100 and has playfully been dubbed the ‘Casioak’, a cheeky reminder of the similarity in shape. But don’t let the seemingly affordable price tag even once denounce its pedigree or relevance; their availability is rare and certain versions will command a market price many times over retail.

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