Yet here they are in the Year Of Our Lord 2016, not only in business, but with a new high profile partnership with Apple Records, a quite large range of watches (not all of which are hits, but a surprising number of which are rather appealing) and a price point that puts a variety of timepieces within easy reach for just about anybody.Raymond Weil has always been something of an underdog, right from the beginning. Founder Raymond Weil started the company in Switzerland, in 1976, which is pretty much when the Quartz Crisis really started to hurt the industry, and you wouldn’t have given it very good odds on surviving more than four years, let alone 40. On top of all that, they’ve somehow, whether through good luck or good management or both, managed to remain family-owned and independent. (In fact, they’re in the hands of the original founding family; the current CEO, Elie Bernheim, is Raymond Weil’s grandson.)
This particular version (there are a total of 23 Freelancer models in current production, both time-only and chronograph) is a 3 register chronograph with date. The Freelancer Collection has been around since 2007, and I think this is probably the most attractive member of the family I’ve seen so far.The movement is a Valjoux 7753, with an additional pusher at 10:00 for quick setting the date. The dimensions are pretty much what you’d expect: 43.5 mm x 13.7 mm, which is to say a little on the big side but not in manhole-cover territory.
The single biggest problem with designing an automatic chronograph in this price range is that you don’t have a ton of options when it comes to making it stand out from the rest of the pack – in other words, most of them look like they were designed with economy in mind, which is not the kind of thing that exactly makes your heart do that little skip of pride you want it to do when you look at your wristwatch.
The nice thing about this particular version of the Freelancer chronograph is that it’s a little triumph over the weight of a limited design palette. There’s an almost irresistible desire on the part of designers in this price point to try to jazz things up, for lack of a better word and thankfully, in the Freelancer chronograph Raymond Weil’s managed to resist the temptation. You’ve got a clearly readable design; there’s no nonsense about monkeying with the shape of the crown or pushers to make them seem, you know, “sporty” and the circular engraving on the dial manages to add texture without seeming like a slapped-on afterthought.
And, of course, there’s the panda dial, which along with the generally laid-back feel of the rest of the watch gives the the whole thing a nice retro vibe without seeming pushy about it. This is the sort of watch design there used to be a lot more of – solid mechanics, good looks without unecessary histrionics and above all a price that let you enjoy the darn thing without making buying a watch seem like an exercise in high-risk long-term investing (or short term, if you’re an habitual flipper).
No, it won’t stir you to your deepest depths with the orchestral sweep of, say, a Vacheron Cornes de Vache, but there’s nothing wrong with a piece of fun popular music with a catchy riff, either (just ask the Beatles). A very nicely made, vintage-leaning panda dial automatic chronograph that asks for (relatively) little and gives a lot.