If you’re a regular reader of these “Borrowed Time” features, you probably have noticed that most of the watches reviewed here tend to be on the more complicated side —chronographs, world timers, even a mechanical alarm — not a coincidence, since a watch that allows you some additional features to play with often makes for a more engaging experience, not to mention more criteria on which to judge it.
So when Glashütte Original suggested I spend some time with the rose-gold version of its simple, elegant new timepiece, the Senator Excellence, I was at first a bit hesitant, despite my sincere appreciation of its aesthetics and its technically amazing in-house movement. What would it be like, I wondered, to critically examine a watch whose sole functions are to look great and to tell time as legibly and accurately as possible? There’s not even a date window! Ultimately, the chance to strap on this piece of German-engineered, gold-cased haute horlogerie for a week was too attractive an offer to resist.
Some would say, in fact, that the Glashütte Original Senator Excellence — the Saxon watch brand’s highlight piece from this year’s Baselworld watch fair — embodies what mechanical watchmaking really boils down to at its core: a simple, readable display of the time on the outside, powered by incredibly intricate micro-mechanics on the inside.
Where to start? As stated above, to a wearer who prizes timekeeping legibility, horological beauty, and wrist comfort above all, pretty much all of this watch’s design choices are beyond reproach: a round, 18k rose gold case with classically curved lugs, a stark, silvery lacquered dial with stick indices for hours and a Roman numeral XII and VI for the 12 and 6 o’clock notations. (Even the unusual, upside-down VI at 6 o’clock doesn’t jump out at you as out of place.) Just inside the outer minutes track, at 5-minute intervals and lining up with the hour markers, are tiny red Arabic numerals. You may, as I did, occasionally glance at the dial out of habit (and in vain) to check the date. But you’ll quickly find that you don’t miss it that much.
The classical poire hour and minute hands are in blued steel, while another blued steel central seconds hand, adorned with a counterweight shaped like Glashütte Original’s double-G logo, sweeps gracefully around the dial, its tip perfectly aligned with the outer edge of the minutes scale.
The gold case measures a modest but contemporary 40 mm in diameter. It has a slim, stepped bezel surrounding the slightly convex (it’s too subtly curved to call it “domed”) sapphire crystal, and features a combination of satin brushed and polished finishes. The caseback, which is secured by five screws, has a convex curve that increases wrist comfort and a sapphire window that showcases the movement.
The crown, engraved on its head with the double-G logo, is grooved and suitably small, though chunkier fingers might have some trouble grasping the crown to wind it. The good news is, you shouldn’t have to wind this watch much at all.
The reason for the previous statement brings us to the other side of the watch, and from the elegance outside to the technical mastery inside. Caliber 36, developed by Glashütte Original to be its newest in-house base movement and launched at this year’s Baselworld in this very watch, boasts a number of horological achievements, the most noteworthy in my opinion being its impressive 100-hour power reserve, stored in a single spring barrel. Developed specifically for use in the new caliber, the barrel has both a larger diameter than those in earlier movements and a smaller barrel arbour, which made it possible to lengthen the mainspring and sharply increase the number of winding turns.
Another goal for the movement’s designers was an increase in stability. To accomplish this, they reduced the traditional number of components, eliminating those that were the most potentially vulnerable to wear and tear, such as the winding system’s traditional detent click, which is rendered superfluous by the new bi-directional-wind reduction gear. They also added an innovative bayonet mount, similar to those used for camera lenses, to more securely position the movement inside the case — resulting in a construction that is extremely shock-resistant and also easy to assemble and service.
Glashütte Original Caliber 36 also represents another milestone for the brand, namely its first movement outfitted with a silicon balance spring. This high-tech material — used by just a handful of high-end watch manufacturers, including some of G.O.’s Swiss sister brands within the Swatch Group — renders the ultra-thin spring immune to changes in temperature and to magnetic fields, while contributing to the balance’s extremely isochronous oscillations. The bi-directional winding rotor is another factor in ensuring rate accuracy, keeping the movement consistently charged with energy. A regulator-free oscillation system makes it possible to adjust the rate using weighted screws directly on the balance rim. The company says the movement is tested and adjusted in six different positions – one more than a chronometer certification test would normally require.
So proud is Glashütte Original of Caliber 36 that it includes with each Senator Excellence watch a special certificate (as seen below), detailing the results of its 24-day testing period, over which it is tested and adjusted in six different positions. A special engraving on the caseback of each watch denotes that it has both successfully passed the company’s rigorous battery of tests and been decorated to its impeccably high standards.
Those decorative elements are many, and in clear evidence through the exhibition caseback: an openworked rotor with gold “GG” and gold edge; an engraved Glashütte Original cursive-script logo in gold on the mainplate; classical Glashutte ribbing and perlage on the plates and bridges; and the balance wheel, oscillating at a brisk frequency of 28,800 vph, visible through the rotor.
The simple, logo-engraved pin buckle is also made of rose gold, completing the package and fastening the watch, with its shiny black Louisiana alligator strap, to the wrist.
So what is there to say about this proudly and profoundly uncomplicated timepiece other than the obvious — that it drew admiring looks from watch aficionados and casual observers alike, that it was unfailingly legible and precise in its timekeeping mission, that it was never too heavy or too tight on the wrist? Well, there is the sheer practicality of that four-days-plus power reserve. Unless every day of your life involves dressing in a suit and avoiding all physical activity, the Senator Excellence doesn’t qualify as an “everyday” watch. Thus, you’ll probably want to leave it off your wrist for weekends and other stretches of recreational time. I can report that it was a very positive experience to take the watch off of my nightstand on Tuesday morning, after not having worn it since Friday evening, and discovering that not only was it still running, but the time on it was as accurate as the time displayed on my iPhone. When you can trust a mechanical watch as much as you can trust an electronic device to give you the proper time, that watch becomes much more than a really nice piece of horological eye candy. And let’s face it: how many smartphones can you use for four days without recharging them?
The Glashütte Original Senator Excellence is available at retail now; the rose-gold version reviewed here is priced at $17,700. Two models in steel cases — one with a silver-grained lacquer version of the same minimalist dial, the other with a black, observation watch-style-dial with Arabic numerals — retail for $9,700.