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Wound-Up Weird: The Story Behind Azimuth Watches

When 17-year-old watch collector Christopher Long first set foot in Alvin Lye’s vintage watch shop in Singapore, neither of them realized their mutual enthusiasm for horology would set them on a path to create one of today’s most interesting watch companies.

Both avid proponents of Swiss watchmaking, Long and Lye believed the industry had fallen into a rut of conventional and boring timepieces. Azimuth, historically used to determine direction and bearing, seemed like a fitting name for a company bent on taking mechanical watch design to new and undiscovered frontiers. Thus, in 2003, the two men founded Azimuth Watch Co. and in 2004 launched their first watch, the Bombardier 1, as part of a larger Militare-1 collection.

Azimuth Watches
(MabelAmber / pixabay)

While Azimuth’s initial military line of watches didn’t upend the industry, its simple, masculine design, authentic Swiss parts, and relatively low price tag (for Swiss luxury watches) gained a cult-like following in Denmark. At the same time, it also drew the attention and ire of some of the major Swiss watchmakers who subsequently sued the fledgling company for copyright infringement issues. Azimuth survived the onslaught, winning every case brought against it, and moved forward with its creative vision despite the obstacles thrown in its way.

Buoyed by its Danish popularity, Azimuth pulled up stakes in Singapore and moved its entire manufacturing operation to the heart of the watchmaking industry in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Long and Lye’s company soon grew into its quirkiness, designing unique and interesting timepieces, including one that literally turns back time.

Like many other Swiss watchmakers, most of the company’s timepieces use a modified ETA movement. Founded in 1856, ETA SA Manufacture Horlogère Suisse is a subsidiary of the Swatch Group and specializes in making watch movements for several companies, including Breitling, Hamilton, and Omega.

So what sets Azimuth’s watches apart from the rest? Collectors will tell you that it’s their movement complications and case designs that make them truly unique. Our watch repair experts at Times Ticking have had the privilege to work on several Azimuth models and here are a few of their favorites:

Mr. Roboto

Encompassing a long-time fascination with all things science fiction, Mr. Roboto represents a fusion of your typical 1950s toy robot and modern steampunk subgenre. The R1 version sports a whopping 43mm by 50mm rectangular case, and has its very own wind-up key, I might add. This man of 316L stainless steel keeps time with an ETA automatic movement and is water-resistant for up to 5 atmospheres.

Its left eye shows the hour, while the right eye is a GMT dial to set your watch to the right time zone. Finally, Mr. Roboto’s nose turns for the seconds and its mouth shows the minutes in retrograde, meaning that the minute hand moves in an arc instead of in a traditional circular motion around the dial. When the hand reaches 60 minutes, it jumps back and resumes counting from the beginning.

Other versions of the watch include the Mr. Roboto Bronzo, R1 models in smooth bronze and specially-made with hand-engraved bronze art, and the larger R2. In addition to measuring 47.5mm by 55mm, the Mr. Roboto R2 also has a slightly different look without the nose and the eyes placed closer together. Its most important upgrade, though, is a new heart – a fully in-house movement with a mystery sapphire automatic rotor that beats at a staggering rate of 28,800 vibrations per hour (VpH).

While the Mr. Roboto R1 and R2 versions sell between $5,000 and $6,000 each, both the plain and hand-engraved Bronzos can cost well into the tens of thousands.

Back in Time

If you’re looking for a bit of mind-bending nostalgia, then the Back in Time watch is for you. Of all the watch complications out there, this one is possibly the most intriguing. The Back in Time prides itself on being the first single-handed watch that rotates counterclockwise. Azimuth engineers achieved the stroke of mechanical genius by adding additional gears between the drivetrain and the hands.

Why would anyone want to put themselves through that kind of torture, you ask? It’s not that hard to read once you get used to it, and it’s a great conversation starter. At first glance, the Back in Time seems like any other dress watch. Only when you take a closer look do you see how different it is. Azimuth’s time-bending timepiece sits in a 316L stainless steel case, measures 42mm, and uses a modified ETA movement.

Surprisingly, the price tag for this well-dressed anomaly is just under $3,000.

Incidentally, Azimuth created special editions of the Back in Time for Singapore’s 45th national anniversary in 2010, and again in 2021 for the country’s 56th annual celebration. Long states the reason for singling out those two particular years is because those were the only two times to date where the numbers followed each other on the backward dial. The next time you see another national Singapore watch will be in 2032 for the country’s 67th anniversary.

Crazy Rider

Inspired by the 1960s film, “Easy Rider,” Azimuth’s Crazy Rider is all about fearlessness, freedom, and the open road. The first thing you notice about the watch is its asymmetrical shape. Azimuth designed the watch to look like a motorcycle engine, from its porthole-style bezel down to its chain transmission design and exposed screws. Contrast stitching on the leather strap adds to the overall “Hell’s Angels” motif.

The Crazy Rider comes tricked out with an in-house automatic movement reserve, a 316L stainless steel mid-case (PVD-coated in black or brown), an open case back, and three different bezel options: Stainless, PVD black titanium, or forged carbon bezel. The signature drive chain carries the hour hand around the watch dial, while a separate minute hand rotates from a fixed position on the right side of the dial. At 55mm by 38mm by 16mm, the Crazy Rider clocks in as a formidable piece of wristwear every big dog rider should own.

How much will this iconic luxury timepiece set you back? Just under $6,000.

Today, almost 20 years later, Azimuth still prides itself on making watches that turn heads. Once you own a piece of this Swiss-Singaporean company’s creative genius, you’ll want to make sure you find the right person to service it. Consider sending your watch to our Swiss-trained technicians at Times Ticking for all of your maintenance needs. Why? Because Azimuth watch repair, with its unique complications and designs, is not just a job for us. It’s a privilege.