Altimeter watches are nothing new. They've been around for years and a quick glance at the internet will uncover some for as little as US$50. However, these altitude-measuring timepieces have one thing in common: they're all electronic. Now, for those who want to get away from the digital and have the money to do so, Breva Genève launched its Génie 02 Terre all-mechanical altimeter watch this week at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Swiss-made Génie 02 Terre follows on from the company's Génie 01, which was released in 2013, and was the first watch with a mechanical barometer. Now Breva is back with a variant that uses a similar design, but adapted specifically for measuring altitude.
The company says that such a watch would be useful for navigating in the mountains, because GPS leaves something to be desired in determining altitude under the wrong conditions and is unreliable in canyons or next to steep cliffs. However, shrinking a mechanical altimeter into a wristwatch took a fair bit of engineering.
Whatever the ruggedness of the mechanism inside, the Génie 02 Terre is tough enough on the outside with its titanium G5 case measuring 44.7 x 15.6 mm. The case is a bit overdone, as if its mass needs to balance out the large, busy dials. However, that's offset by the skeleton design, that shows off the watch's workings through the front and back sapphire crystals and highlighted by the display back treated with an anti-reflective coating. It's water-resistant to 30 m (98 ft) and has a natural rubber strap with a titanium buckle.
Admittedly, a first glance at the Génie 02 Terre is a bit confusing with its collection of nickel-silver sub-dials. At the 8 o'clock position is the reassuring hour and minutes display, but up in the 2 o'clock region is a more intimidating dial showing the altitude in either imperial or metric units, depending on the customer's preference. This is a bit tricky to read for those not used to analog readouts, and it becomes a bit more so with the large-scale, which displays altitudes up to 5,000 m (16,400 ft) and a tiny dial for marking seconds below that.
The Génie 02 Terre's 415-component, 45-jewel movement was developed exclusively for Breva by Jean-François Mojon/Chronode. It has a balance frequency of 3 Hz and a power reserve of 65 hours, which is also displayed on the dial. Around the movement on the back of the watch are engraved the names and altitudes of the ski resorts of Aspen, Vail, Las Lenas, Gstaad, St Moritz, Zermatt, Courchevel, Cortina, Kitzbuhel, and Lech.
But what sets the Génie 02 Terre apart is its altimeter. It's built around dual aneroid capsules made of a non-magnetic memory-metal patented by Breva, that is lighter and stronger than aluminum and has twice the ductility of steel. The capsules were specifically developed to measure altitude and Breva is very keen to point out that their design is very different from the barometer in the Génie 01.
The aneroid capsules are springy and work by expanding and contracting in response to changes in air pressure. One of the capsules is connected to a high-precision arm, which can be seen in the movement, that multiplies the expansion and contraction 200 times and transfers the result to the dials via a precision gear train.
Around the case are three chevron-engraved crowns. One is a conventional stem for winding the watch and adjusting the time, and the second is for adjusting the altimeter for changing weather conditions and calibration with local surface pressure.
The third is actually a valve to let air into the altimeter when in use. To protect the workings, this is equipped with an osmotic Teflon membrane to keep out moisture. There is a "Sealed" indicator on the dial to show when it is shut.
The Génie 02 is available in a limited edition of 55 units, but buying one will set you back a sobering US$132,000.
The video below introduces the Génie 02 Terre.