Writing on his excellent Substack The Fourth Wheel, the watch journalist Chris Hall recently considered the names brands give to their products. Among those singled out for Chris’s approval were Breitling’s Galactic, Junghans’ Chronoscope and Rolex’s Migauss (“Love the new-age-of-technology vibe”). Alas, it was a thumbs down for Speake-Marin, the high-end independent brand that had recently announced its entry into the luxury stainless steel watch market with a model it called Ripples.
“It’s a very silly word,” Chris wrote. “It makes people think of ice cream, or chocolate bars, and it sounds quite a lot like dribbles, or triples, or nipples. People at watch-geek gatherings will ask ‘What’s that? And you’ll have to say ‘It’s a Ripples’. See how the grammar of it trips you up. A Ripples? A Ripple? The Ripples?”
Brace yourselves, then, for a new release from the mid-range watch brand Hamilton – the singularly-titled Hamilton Jazzmaster Face-2-Face III.
What part of that name is the most troubling? The substitution of a number for a perfectly good word, as per a 1980s rap group? The use of a Roman numeral to flag this is the third itineration of a family, the sort of thing the grandson in an American business dynasty might find themselves saddled with at birth? The word ‘Jazzmaster’? Or perhaps the combination of all three?
The watch itself is as thought-provoking as its title. It features a double-sided dial concept – one that tells the time and has a chronograph function, the other featuring three measurement scales. The stainless steel case is housed in a hinged ‘cage’, and rotates on its horizontal axis so the watch flips over (hence ‘Face 2 Face’). It contains two movements, one for each side. Which side you choose to display is determined by the job you’d like the watch to perform.
The non-time-telling side features an inner track printed with a tachymeter (to measure speed, or any activity within a one-hour period) and a pulsometer (for measuring heart rate).
All the scales are printed counter-clockwise since the chronograph – which Hamilton calls a “passing through chronograph seconds hand” – rotates ‘backwards’ on this side of the case. The pushers are also flipped – so the lower pusher starts and stops the chronograph function, and the upper resets it.
The Hamilton Jazzmaster Face-2-Face III comes with a backstory.
Between 1892 and 1969 Hamilton was an American company, before a series of mergers and acquisitions bought it under the control of the Swiss giant the Swatch Group – home to Omega, Breguet, Blancpain, Rado and others. Today Hamilton does brisk business with accessibly-priced models across all the categories you’d expect – dive watches, field watches, pilot watches.
But its story also has a couple of quirks.
One is a long history in producing watches for Hollywood, for which it has amassed more than 500 credits, more than any other brand – Elvis wore a Hamilton Ventura in 1961’s Blue Hawaii, while the plot of 2014’s Intersteller hinges on a Khaki Field Murph, partly designed by the film’s director Christopher Nolan, a more compact reedition of which was one of our favourite watches of last year.
Hamilton also has form when it comes to throwing out leftfield ideas.
The aforementioned Ventura was the world’s first battery powered watch and came in a “shield-shaped” (ie: triangular) case. It’s 1972 Pulsar put a red LED display into a solid gold case and sold the resulting ‘space age wrist computer’ for £1,700 – at the time more than a gold Rolex.
Into that left-field bucket we may add the Jazzmaster Face 2 Face.
Jazzmater is the brand’s line of “contemporary, modern watches”, a broad category of automatic dress watches, some of which come with conspicuous details like power reserve indicators or ‘open’ dials that show off sections of their movement, and mostly sit in the sub-£900 bracket.
Hamilton’s website currently offers 402 different Jazzmasters (though some have been discontinued), with multiple dial options – more than 1,000 individual models.
The brand released the first Jazzmaster Face 2 Face in 2013, and it was a peculiar thing from the off. With its elliptical case and eccentric dial, it most closely resembled Audemars Pigeut’s Millenary collection. The flip-over case certainly made it stand out, though it was by no means unique – for the steep and un-Hamilton-like price of £4,000+ you could have picked up one of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s more classic and enduring Reversos instead.
A sequel followed in 2016 – the Jazzmaster Face 2 Face. The case had now expanded from 44mm to a whopping 53mm, leading one YouTube reviewer to describe it variously as “borderline comical”, “a round wrist-puck of a watch” and “a wall clock”.
And here’s a third model, now with added hyphens in its title – the Face-2-Face III. The case size is back to a more manageable 44mm, the shape a more reasonable elliptical design. Otherwise the model’s selling points are all present and correct – the flippable double-sided dial, the “passing through” chronograph seconds hand, the multi-layered trio of measuring scales. (The preceding Face 2 Face II also had a telemeter scale, used to measure distance to sound, which has not been included this time. No great loss since the one and only use anyone can ever come up with for a telemeter is to measure the distance to a lightning strike during a storm.)
What’s it all about? A wonderful experiment in head-turning watchmaking from a brand with form in that area? A wild provocation? A third go round-the-houses at something that first baffled people a decade ago?
If nothing else, it’s certainly a talking point.
Perhaps surprisingly, back on Substack, Chris Hall had some love for the Jazzmaster name. “In spite of the fact it isn’t even the most famous product with this name [that would be the Fender line of guitars]. In spite of the fact it has nothing to do with the watch’s design or function. In spite of the fact that jazz doesn’t make me think of precision timekeeping.”
Then again, The Beatles was a crap name for a band. So what do we know in high luxury store?