Community Articles September 20, 2002 admin
A Review of the Minerva Palladio
Model “S” Chronograph
By Time Flies
I acquired a Minerva Palladio S after finding my eye returning again and again to this watch. For a while I did not make a decision to purchase this watch, believe it or not, due to its price. It seemed to be much too inexpensive for what it claimed and seemed to be. In particular, I found the watch extremely attractive as a rendition of a timepiece from a bygone period, but yet modern in a way. These two design philosophies seemed at odds with one another – the essence of vintage with some modern sense to the piece. But, again and again, I kept looking at pictures of this watch and kept pestering Richard Paige about it. Finally, I accepted some of my own advice that I have often passed out on this Forum – go with your heart and not be guided by the expectations of others. I felt an attraction to the watch that I cannot quite describe. It seemed to have the elements that I have been looking for in a mid-sized chronograph – refined dial, excellent casework, blued hands, oval pushers, a back fastened by screws, and a beautiful lug design. Still, I was bothered by the seemingly low price of the watch. I had been in contact with Mr. Michel Schmutz (the U.S. Minerva distributor) on a previous occasion and was struck by his integrity and helpfulness. I also knew that Richard kept saying “Greg, I’m telling you, Minerva is one of the last of its kind, a true Swiss manufacturer and their watches are gorgeous”. The last straw was reading the interview with Mr. Jean-Jacques Frey, President of Minerva, here on TimeZone (See Bulletin Board Post #140). Mr. Frey related a story of, what seemed to me, to be one of honesty and sincerity in approach to watch making. That’s it, that’s the prelude. The deed was done. I ordered one from Richard Paige.
Upon receiving the watch from Richard, I opened the box with the typical excitement of a new purchase. But, when I saw the watch for the very first time I responded with an excitement reserved for only a few other watches I have purchased. “Now, this is a Swiss watch”, I recall saying to myself. The integrity of the design, the refinement of its implementation and the quality of the finish work struck me at once. In fact, the case polishing was nothing short of the quality I have experienced with much higher priced marques, JLC included. It was obvious that there was “heart” in the creation of this piece. There was no question that Minerva has high aesthetic standards. But, seeing such a beautiful piece of work on the outside, made me want to know more than what I could glean from the Minerva brochures. I spoke to Richard and he urged me to call Mr. Schmutz in Boulder, Colorado. I did that and we spoke about Minerva and the Palladio series for almost an hour. Michel was terribly knowledgeable and answered most of my technical questions. But he went a step further. He said he would contact Mr. Frey of Minerva and inquire about other specifics which he felt could be best answered by Mr. Frey. Five days after that phone call, I received a letter from Mr. Frey which gave detailed answers about the movement in the Palladio and the construction philosophy. This letter included an invitation to visit with Mr. rey if I should be in Switzerland. I hope I may take him up on that in the near future.
So, the following review contains objective observations and subjective impressions of mine as well as facts from Mr. Frey and Mr. Schmutz. I will note those where appropriate. Images can be seen on the Minverva web site (www.Minervawatches.com). But, these images do not even come close to representing the gorgeous piece I am reviewing. This is definitely a case of “you must see it to believe it”.
The Palladio series of watches are Minerva’s chronograph line. I own the “S” series watch which is a basic chronograph with three subdial registers. The other watch in the Palladio line is the 24 Hour version of the Palladio and this watch is different in that it has a 24 hour time subdial and uses a Minerva created modification to the base Valjoux 7750 to create this 24 hour implementation.
The Palladio “S” come in several dial colors – black, blue, silver and white. I have the white dialed version and selected this since it is so indicative of early chronographs with blued hands and the fine chapter markings of the late 40’s and early 50’s. This watch reminds of me chronographs of that era. It is reminiscent of early Breitling, Heuer, Longines and others when those brands were excellent chronograph makers. But, this watch is all Minerva. It is not a copy of anyone or anything. It reflects the companies long tradition in chronographs and stopwatches.
I will now, finally, discuss the watch details.
The three piece case is stainless steel and is 37 mm in diameter and is 11.5 mm in depth. The back is attached by six screws with engravings including the Minerva name and arrow trademark, a model number, serial number and notations about the country of manufacture and that it is water-resistant. The chronograph pushers are oval in shape with collars, integral to the main case, surrounding them. The crown is 5 mm in diameter and is signed, once again, with Minerva’s arrow trademark. The lugs are gorgeous and are significant of the detailed thought that Minerva gave the overall design. They are downsloped with a side faceting. It is this faceting that makes the lugs remarkable and add to the look of carefully conceived quality. Another quality of the lugs, that I very much appreciate, is their length – they are only 7 mm long and make the eye concentrate on the case and dial and not oversized appendages. Width between lugs is 18mm. Now, for the exciting part — the polishing on the case is absolutely excellent, nothing short of superb. As noted before, it reminded me of JLC. Maybe not quite JLC, but terribly close, and of all the watches I have owned, the polishing of my JLC’s and this Minerva are the best. This may be a testament to Mr. Frey’s note to me which said that they use one of the finest case makers in Switzerland. Mr. Schmutz added “that Minerva is totally Swiss, 100% Swiss parts, and made by the some of the oldest and most respected specialized specialty houses”. Mr. Frey went on to say ” We wish to add that we are pleased to only use Swiss made stainless steel cases, fine dials with genuine applied chapters and steel hands, all produced by old companies with traditional know-how in the special field”
You must see the case to understand. But, there is no question that this case is a piece of fine craftsmanship and a testament to sincere and dedicated watchmaking. I would like to add that the case is wonderfully conceived. When you look at the watch you see dial, not hunks of metal around it. The case radiuses are perfect in that the dial is emphasized and thus a 37mm watch actually looks larger than other watches with beefier cases of the same size.
The dial is another highlight for me and was one of the primary characteristics that first attracted me to this watch. The fineness of the black markings against the white dial really impressed me when I actually saw the watch. This is one dial you love to look at with a loupe. First, I quote the Minerva literature -” The dial is crafted to very high standards, with applied chapters for the hour markings, the smaller dials or ‘counters’ being recessed and snailed with polished rhodium-plated or gold-plate fillets”. My reaction to the dial is certainly in line with the description, but I would like to add – WOW! It’s refinement is tremendously well done when you consider the width of the enumerations along the outer tachymetre chapter and the minutes and seconds chapter hack-marks. The applied hour markers are rhodium with and inlay of phosphor (likely not tritium enhanced since there is no “T” designation on the dial – not unlike most all other manufacturers moving away from tritium use due to supply and regulation problems). But, you do not buy this watch to “glow in the dark”, but rather for you to “bask in its beauty and honesty”.
The crystal is sapphire with a slight convex shape and is not glare proof treated. There are no crystal protrusions or any exposed edges which would be prone to chipping.
The hands – well the hands – oh, those beautiful blued hands. The deep bluing of the main and subdial hands is simply something that makes me want to keep looking at this watch. The hour and minute hands are so refined, so blue, so elegant. They are leaf shaped and the bluing is along the edges with phophor applied – but it is the bluing that catches the eye. The second, minute and hour counter hands are blued only and the slim, needle-like second hand is a joy – blue, very thin, long. I love the hands. The dial contains a date aperture at three o’clock and the date is displayed black lettering against a white date wheel background. Unlike so many date apertures, this one blends into the dial, so much so, you almost do not see it – I do not know how else to describe it. Finally, there is no extraneous “scribbling” on this dial – it simply states “Minerva” in script and almost unnoticed is “Automatic” in the finest block lettering under the script “Minerva” that it appears to be an underline of the word “Minerva”. Very classy, very classy indeed. Again, this is another indication of the attention Minerva has given to the asethetics of the whole – the way the watch should look as a total package. No gimmiks, no clutter – just a fine presentation.
The strap supplied with this watch was black buffalo. It is so supple, it reminded me of ostrich in its flexiblity and softness. I loved the strap and I usually do not care for leather straps. The buckle is highly polished stainless steel with the Minerva trademark signature engraved on it. Since the blued hands are so gorgeous, I thought a dark navy blue strap may just set this watch off in a very classy way. When I was speaking with Mr. Schmutz, I discovered that Minerva has a dark navy blue croc strap and I ordered one. It is now on the watch and it is simply the perfect match. The straps are of extremely high quality. I don’t think I will be switching to one of my cloth or nylon straps for this watch. The marriage is perfect right now.
I knew the Palladio “S” series watches used the Valjoux 7750 and I also read that their version of the movement used 26 instead of 25 jewels. But I thought maybe this was a misprint. I wanted to know more about the movement and inquired of Mr. Schmutz and he indicated that while he could speak to the specifics, he thought it would be appropriate for Mr. Frey to respond to me. So I will quote Mr. Frey’s response to me:
“…the Valjoux 7750 for the “S” version is supplied to our company is assembled with the finest finish, i.e., 26 jewels instead of the standard 25 ones, movment blank is decorated with Geneva stripes and rhodium plated (and) blue steel screws. The rotor is decorated, rhodium plated and gets a gold-plated engaraving (of) “Minerva Watch Company” by a specialized supplier. Before Proceeding to the casing we test the accuracy and make final adjustment of it.”
“At the end of the production process, 100% of the Palladio chronographs are tested a last time, regarding their accuracy and proper function of the chronograph mechanism, either by the undersigned (Mr. Frey, himself) or his father – in the company since 1940 and still with a sharp eye! This procedure is of course only possible due to the small amount of wrist chronographs Minerva is supplying each year, about 500”
I can’t relate it any better. Mr. Frey has told his story. Only 500 chronographs per year and tested by the President or his father! What history. What sincerity. An honest watch which is gorgeously executed. I am proud to own this watch and it is a thrill to look at. The refinement is astounding given it’s price. This watch lists for $1,650 and as I mentioned to Richard Paige recently “This watch would list for around $3,000 given its quality and the low number produced by a traditional Swiss house, but you are not paying for advertising or hyped mark-ups”.
I would like to make a couple of final remarks. First, this review was written after the watch has spent a few weeks on my wrist. Second, I am not a timing nut. I check the accuracy of my watches but do not obsess on that dimension. My Palladio “S” is +7 seconds per day and consistently so. I have not done detailed accuracy or mean daily variation testing and have no interest in those things despite my otherwise compulsive nature. That is not why I buy a mechanical watch – I am not trying to get the watch to zero variance and perfect accuracy. That is not why I enjoy them. For me, a great watch that keeps time very well is what I am after. So, I cannot provide more information than this on accuracy. Third, the watch is water resistant to 3 atmospherest. Fourth, this watch is a real transition piece – it can be worn in a wide variety of ways – from sport coat to jeans. Finally, I am not a “chronograph person”, per se. I buy chronographs when the gestalt of the watch – that assemblage of dial, hands, case, and so on, say “this watch needs to be a chronograph – it is one – in the most honest way”. This watch, like the Speedmaster Professional, the old, original Breitling Navitimers, the original Heuer’s, and a few others, say I am a chronograph. And, I love them for that reason. Minerva, with its long history in timing mechanisims via its stopwatch heritage is well qualified to create just such a chronograph. And, they have done that extremely well.
Lastly, I would like to say thank you to Richard Paige for his continued honesty in recommendations, to Mr. Michel Schmutz for his warmth and enthusiastic assistance and to Mr. Jean-Jacques Frey, President, Minerva Watch Co., for his generous contribution of time and the great courtesy he extended to me. I thank you all, for you have made this watch even more special and it is a timepiece that I will be proud to pass on to my son as a symbol of traditional, small Swiss house watchmaking.
The author’s comments in this review are his own opinions. The best available facts were used to compile this information at the time of writing. Manufacturers change specifications and some manufacturers do not reveal detailed information about engineering details and manufacturing processes. I cannot be responsible for any inadvertent inaccuracies that may have occurred in the research and writing of this article.
Copyright 1998, 1999, G. J. Buhyoff