London-based Backes & Strauss watches is, in some ways, unlike many other luxury timepiece companies in that their focus is less on horology and more on the notion of selling stately jewelry (for men and women). The longstanding brand name is part of the Swiss Franck Muller Group of brands, but has its own unique identity and focus on providing totemic lifestyle signals for today’s “ruling class” (and those who might see themselves as fitting into such as class). As a handsome statement watch imbued with luxury appointments, the Berkeley Renaissance 43 is an excellent example, in my opinion, of what Backes & Strauss offers. Let’s take a look at this simple, attractive, and rare timepiece jewelry item for men.
In traditionally conservative England, as far as I know, men aren’t known for wearing much or any jewelry outside of key members of the ruling elite, and then with some modesty. When wanting to show off status and wealth, a timepiece has traditionally been an accepted way of doing so, given the culture’s own particular interpretation of masculinity. Aside from special occasions, even well-to-do women in traditional English culture are seemingly prone to preferring modesty and subtlety over brazen displays of status that might be more popular in other cultures. As a non-English outsider, this is more or less my assessment of studying the culture as a spectator, and I think this phenomenon has translated itself into some very interesting watch designs over the years.
English watch design has always focused on form, function, and refinement over flamboyance or ostentation. However, English watch designs, at their best, are inspired by the culture’s strong history of imperialism and technological innovation, as well as a rich architectural history. There is also a distinct focus on classicism, which we find imbued in almost every English watch design out there — be it for a sport watch or a dress watch. How does all this fit into the Berkeley Renaissance 43?
The design of the square-style case is inspired by a place known as Berkeley Square in the famed Mayfair district of London. The square is actually rectangular in reality, but it does have those beveled edges that offer an attractive and distinctive form. This is very similar to what Chanel did with the aerial view of the Place Vendôme, which inspired the shape of the Chanel No. 5 perfume bottle cap, as well the Premiere collection of watches. I will further say that getting a square case done correctly is a challenge — one that I think Backes & Strauss accomplished well with the Berkeley. The otherwise angular shape of the case is thoroughly softened with the curved mass of the weighty 18k rose gold case.
Backes & Strauss makes different sizes of the Berkeley cases and, as its name implies, the Berkeley Renaissance 43 is 43mm-wide. It’s got a good weight to it, and the company clearly doesn’t skimp on gold material (though they do certainly charge for it). You can get the Berkeley Renaissance 43 in an unadorned case, or you can opt for diamond decoration, such as the two rows of 4.16ct of diamonds on the bezel, as well as a 0.06ct diamond in the crown. The strap buckle has another 0.49 carats of diamonds in it. In total, this reference REN-BY43MMD2R.RG.BLRR Backes & Strauss Berkeley Renaissance 43 watch has 151 ideal-cut diamonds in it with a weight of 4.71 carats.
I like the dial design with its combination of baton and Roman numeral hour markers, but I do feel as though the numerals themselves have surfaces which are a bit too curved. In my opinion, they would play with the light better if they were a bit flatter. The broad, sword-style hour and minute hands are extremely easy to read, and I like the larger-than-life presence of the sporty-style lumed hands included in the mix of what feels otherwise like a dress watch. This adds a palatable sense of masculinity to the design and keeping the dial simple (just hours and minutes) helps the design remain elegant.
The dial has some other decorative elements and is treated to be blue in color and matched with a very attractive fitted blue alligator strap. Inside the watch is a manually wound base Swiss ETA movement that is visible through the rear sapphire crystal window. The movement is very simple and one that you can find in pretty basic timepieces. The movement is known as the ETA Peseux 7001 but is made more interesting by a hand-decoration treatment in the form of arabesque engravings on the movement bridge surfaces. I believe Backes & Strauss likes this movement because it is reliable, simple, and quite thin, making it ideal for time-only, thinner-cased watches.
Traditional watch collectors can bemoan the Backes & Strauss Berkeley Renaissance 43 for its luxury pricing and relatively simple movement and execution. That said, the value here for me is the simplicity, attractive design, distinctive looks, and stately presence on the wrist. It might not be the ideal timepiece for showing off to high-complication collectors, but it will do very nicely to impress a room of pretty much anyone else. Price for the Backes & Strauss Berkeley Renaissance 43 is $50,000 USD. See more at the Backes & Strauss website here.