Often when we think of a wristwatch, we come at the concept with some rather preconceived notions of how the watch should function and how it will indicate the time. This is fine, because as a tool, we need to know how to rely on our watches to be used as designed with a minimum of fuss. As with any tool, however, there are ways to massage the standard format to take things in more unique directions. For watches, we see that quite a bit in the digital side, but nowhere near as much in the analog side of things. The latest entry into the genre of “analog time twisters” is from Bonhoff, known simply as the Bonhoff IP-3.0.
I will admit, that name (well, a model designation, really) does not particularly roll off the tongue, and I’ll refer to it in the remainder of this article as I did when I had it on my wrist – it’s the Bonhoff. With an inaugural watch of this nature, I think it can hit that stride of just going by a single name (we’ll let any subsequent models work out the confusion for themselves). At first glance, you might be tempted to think of the Bonhoff as some sort of artistic statement on timekeeping with large parts of the dial being obscured. And while it is indeed artistic in its own right, there is no hidden social commentary, just a unique way that the man behind the watch, Hannes Bonhoff, came up with to tell the time.
Those circles are indeed the key to telling the time on the Bonhoff. I’ll attempt to explain it in words here; for those more visually-oriented, I’ve include a video from the brand that explain it below. Simply put, you utilize the bezel on the watch to start rotating the circles around. As you move the bezel, the small central circle (which is slightly off-center) starts to move, as does the larger circle surrounding it. When that small circle (on the crystal) completely overlaps the circle printed on the dial, you have the hour indicated, and you look over to the white mark at the edge of the bezel to see the hour. In the same manner, when you have the larger circles aligned, you can read off the minutes. Yes, this means that you have lost the at-a-glance capability most watches have, but you have certainly picked up something for your fingers to fidget with throughout the day.
This is the one big drawback to the Bonhoff, at least for me. I rely on looking down at my watch quickly to read the time. With the Bonhoff, of course, that is really not the use case, you know? With this, it’s more of an intentional action, checking the time. One thing that I did think was kind of cool is that you could use this as a very low-tech sort of timer/silent alarm. By this, I mean you can set the bezel to a time in the future (somewhere within the next hour). Then, as the circle makes its way around, and they align, you know you’ve arrived at whatever point in the future you wanted to be aware of. Of course, this relies on you (a) watching the dial and (b) remembering what you were timing, but it is something you could do. Sort of like an artistic take of your standard timing bezel.
There are also some interesting technical things with the Bonhoff. The first is showing up in that photo above, with the strap that wraps around the case, obviating the need for lugs. Bonhoff stated he did this because standard lugs caused interference with how he wanted the bezel to work. As an additional benefit, this allows the 44mm case (which is 13.9mm tall) to sit remarkably tight to the wrist. This means it wears much smaller than those dimensions would suggest. Add in the weight of 92g, and you have a watch that definitely wearing like a smaller piece. I also want to call out how that strap is made – apparently it requires a 2 meter length of thread (yes, just one piece) and a total of about an hour to create.
The strap of the Bonhoff hides that almost 14mm height very well. The height is of note for a few reasons. First off, it’s partially due to the automatic movement, the ever-familiar ETA 2824-2 élaborée with a custom rotor. This movement is visible through the caseback, although at first it seems it isn’t very visible. This is due to the custom rotor that mimics the front face, with an opening that moves around as the rotor spins. Speaking of the caseback, that is one of six (yeah, six!) sapphire crystals that make up the assembly. When I asked Bonhoff for more details around the levels, I got the schematic (below) and this statement:
The top black disc is sandwiched between two sapphires sitting in the bezel. Then comes the case front sapphire followed by the minute and hour sapphire discs and the dial underneath. The sixth sapphire sits on the case back. That amounts to a total of 12 anti-reflective coatings with the two outer surfaces treated with the industry standard hard coating for increased scratch resistance.
As you might imagine, this sort of assembly brings a lot of complexity to the watch, which is totally hidden once you get to actually using the watch. Aside from the uniqueness of reading the time, this hidden complexity is what really appeals to me. When you can have all sorts of craziness going on behind the scenes and not have it impact your usage of the watch? That is some clever engineering and design.
As you might expect, that sort of cleverness does not come inexpensively, especially when there are only 48 of these initial models being made (24 each in white and black, where the color refers to the top disc color). These numbered launch editions will be available at the introductory price of around $3,900 (for those inside the EU, with VAT your price is €4,300). If you find yourself on the fence about this model, there will also be a regular production model coming along as well, which will have some simplifications made to the assembly, and will likely also see the pricing go up a bit (no word on that at this time). I cannot be sure what other craziness might be coming out BaselWorld this month (which is where this Bonhoff headed off to), but this is by far my leading contended for the most complex simplicity I have seen so far this year. bonhoff.watch
- Brand & Model: Bonhoff IP-3.0
- Price: ~ $3,900
- Who we think it might be for: You want something that has a more artistic interpretation, but still have some pretty serious technical chops
- Would I buy one for myself based on what I’ve seen?: In the end, no. While a fun watch to spend time with, the lack of at-a-glance puts the kibosh on this one for me
- If I could make one design suggestion, it would be: If a future version could eliminate the crown at 3 o’clock, that would be an additional slick refinement
- What spoke to me the most about this watch: Design aside, it’s how the complex construction is just completely hidden away in the case and strap assembly
Tech Specs from Bonhoff
- MODELS: BONHOFF IP3.0B with black top disc and BONHOFF IP3.0W with white top disc (numbered launch editions of 24 pieces each)
- FUNCTIONS: interactive display of hour and minutes with time on demand function (invented and patented by Hannes Bonhoff)
- STRAP: hand-made and hand-stitched integrated leather strap (invented and patented by Hannes Bonhoff)
- CASE MATERIAL: ELI-grade titanium (a purer version of grade 5 titanium developed for increased toughness and biocompatibility) with partial DLC coating
- CROWN: water resistant double-O-ring crown made from ELI-grade titanium with DLC coating
- CRYSTALS: six sapphires (front sapphire is domed) with anti-reflective coatings (hard coatings are applied to the two outer surfaces)
- DIMENSIONS: 44.3 mm diameter and 13.9 mm height at the highest point in the center
- MOVEMENT: swiss-made automatic mechanical ETA 2824-2 élaborée with custom rotor visible through the exhibition case back
- WATER RESISTANCE RATING: 3 ATM (suitable for everyday use; splash and rain resistant; not suitable for showering, bathing, swimming, snorkelling and water related work)
- PRICE: 4300 Euro (incl. 19 % VAT in Germany)