Baume & Mercier Hampton Review

by Dave Laichtman 0

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3.5

Neither fish nor fowl, the Hampton stands alone bravely. It will thrill those searching for a genre-busting watch such as this, but the balance of staid buyers content with purchasing from their preferred levels of the traditional hierarchy may wish Baume & Mercier had pushed this watch further in their chosen direction.

Our Rating:

Baume & Mercier Hampton Review

Imagine an impossibly long sheet of foolscap whereupon an anonymous, omniscient scribe has inked the name of every contemporary watch model. The model names are not ordered randomly, rather each is accorded a score calculated as the sum of three equally weighted categories: average retail price, horological virtuosity, and utility. Watches are listed in descending order of score, those with the highest scores uppermost. Towards the top of the sheet, perhaps still on the surface of a sufficiently ostentatious desk, a line of delineation indicates a separation of category; all those watches named above are accorded the appellation of “luxury watches”. Down below, hidden amongst the furls coiling across the Berber is a second line; those watches named below are designated “beater watches”. Those watches betwixt said lines represent the vast array of pieces not qualified to enter either aforementioned category. Some gray area is present. Superbly-wrought, yet still attainable-by-mortals options such as the Seiko Automatic Marine Master hover precariously about the upper line, while offerings typified by Citizen’s  Eco-Drive Promaster Diver, competently-crafted watches that are affordable without being disposable, do likewise at the lower delineation.

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Absent from this dogmatic hierarchy however, is any crosspollination between the highest and lowest tridrants. The distance along this constructed spectrum appears overlong for any practicable combination thereof. But lo! Just as Capulet and Montague patriarchs ultimately trothplighted brotherhood, so too does a certain watch sub-genre bespeak surreptitious canoodling. Whether by chunnel or wormhole, the two spectral extremes have combined to beget the Baume & Mercier Hampton watches. Behold the “luxury beater”!

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One of the dimmer stars in the Swiss constellation, Baume & Mercier has nevertheless quietly produced a panoply of superlative, yet unostentatious timepieces for nigh unto two centuries. The appearance of the Hampton instantly communicates the watch’s upper-echelon standing. Falling somewhere between the lubricious lines of Franck Muller’s curvilinear cases and the absolute perpendicularity of Cartier’s Tank Americaine, the Hampton’s simple rounded case lines cannot be mistaken for the silhouette of a lower-tier watch. The generous convexity of the crystal, geometrically complex with its bidirectional Lamé curves distorts the dial with wonderful unpredictability when viewed from acute angles. Skeletonized hands aim their stiletto points at the flawlessly mirrored surface of applied numbers and markers. The Art Deco dial combines a stylized cross patée with radial pinstripes in the gentlest ecru: subtleties that require close inspection to notice, no pretender this. The perfect symmetry of the minute Greek PHI on crown, dial, and clasp accurately represent this watch’s aesthetic ideal.

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The Hampton has one foot in the luxury category as evidenced by its refined elegance. But to straddle the spectrum and assume the luxury beater moniker, it must possess other qualities. Its high-polish stainless steel case combines that metal’s durability with ease of scuff removal. I have used a textured pad and polish to remove single, deep mars, as well as refurbish surfaces worn from general use. Besides beauty, the pseudo-rectangular shape serves too to maintain a low profile, the body of the watch exempt from those rigors and dangers braved by thicker or wider watches. Furthermore, the dismal secondhand market for Baume & Mercier, while not going so far as to permit absolute recklessness, renders the protective custody of a safe deposit box or vault folly. As the case back is emblazoned with Baume & Mercier’s angular ichthys, a modicum of dust and water resistance is assured, sufficient to keep it from damage during anything short of complete submersion. The closure continues this practicality with a clasp so secure it would never consider opening without having been so beckoned.

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Certain design choices are somewhat baffling however. The crocodile print leather strap, while amply padded, and not visually objectionable, offends the sensibilities of any who rightfully expect that a watch bearing the luxury moniker in any form would not stoop to cosmetic subterfuge. Also the presentation box gives pause: handsomely surrounded by cedar-hued wood, and nestled in a bed of midnight velvet, the Hampton is an unmistakable icon of understated excellence until the lid of base cardboard makes its appearance and raises eyebrows by contrast.

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Thus the Baume & Mercier Hampton does show that a contemporary watch can claim places in two drastically different arenas. A unique half-caste, it deserves to find a ready niche of admirers. As all hybrids must, it does suffer from representing neither progenitor’s archetypal qualities. Certainly my effusive praise of the visual design clashes with what can only be a gentle nod of acknowledgement to the reliable but unremarkable ETA movement. Likewise, positive assessment of the practical utility of case material, shape, and water resistance pales in juxtaposition with purpose-built divers or field watches. So too are the worry-preventing aspects of secondhand depreciation and affordable replacement no comparison to the disposability of bottom-tier quartz and digital watches. Neither fish nor fowl, the Hampton stands alone bravely. It will thrill those searching for a genre-busting watch such as this, but the balance of staid buyers content with purchasing from their preferred levels of the traditional hierarchy may wish Baume & Mercier had pushed this watch further in their chosen direction.

(Photography credit: Karina Statinaite)

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