Louis Erard La Sportive Limited Edition Titanium
The Louis Erard La Sportive Limited Edition Titanium features an über-refined case made of Grade 5 titanium, a material usually found on costlier watches. Angus Davies appraises the composition of this limited-edition model.
When discussing the issue of ‘price’, an economist will mention ‘supply and demand’ and ‘price elasticity and inelasticity’. However, despite this jargon bamboozling many people, understanding the pricing strategy of some watch brands proves even more bewildering.
As a self-confessed horophile and watch journalist, I frequently handle watches. I will usually appraise a dial or an exposed movement with a loupe and form an opinion. Materials, complexity and finishing often influence the final selling price. Based on years of experience, I have always felt capable of estimating the retail price of most watches.
However, in some cases the selling price seems to bear little relationship to the cost of production. Indeed, there are instances where an inflated price is based on marketing hype rather than any intrinsic worth. Personally, I shun such overhyped and overpriced examples of conspicuous consumption, preferring to direct my editorial gaze elsewhere.
For the last few days, I have been wearing a press sample worthy of discussion. The Louis Erard La Sportive Limited Edition Titanium is housed in a Grade 5 titanium case and yet costs a mere £2900 (RRP as at 11.5.2020). The brand from Le Noirmont has led me to reflect on the notion of price, making me doubt my price-estimating abilities.
Grade 5 Titanium – the benefits
Usually, a watch with a Grade 5 titanium (Ti-6Al-4V) case attracts premium pricing. The unit cost of Grade 5 is much greater than Grade 2. Often this latter material, a pure version of the element, is employed on cheaper watches. Grade 5 is an alloy of titanium (circa 90%), aluminium (6%) and vanadium (4%), making it much stronger than its cheaper, Grade 2 counterpart.
Aside from strength, Grade 5 titanium offers an array of additional benefits. The alloy is hypoallergenic, hence it is often used in the medical field for hip replacements, etc. In terms of watchmaking, Grade 5 titanium often appeals to those individuals with a nickel-allergy. For this reason, those people who suffer an adverse reaction to 904L stainless steel, owing to its high nickel content, might want to consider a Grade 5 titanium timepiece.
Another benefit of Grade 5 titanium is that it is lightweight, hence it is widely used in both aviation and motorsport. Many watch owners appreciate the alloy’s low mass and the comfort it confers.
Lastly, Grade 5 titanium is corrosion-resistant and is unaffected by magnetism, both useful qualities in the world of watchmaking.
Grade 5 Titanium – machining a case
The machining of a Grade 5 titanium case using a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine is far more difficult than machining steel, gold or Grade 2 titanium.
Heat generation is a major problem when milling Grade 5 titanium as the alloy is very hard. The cutting tools have to operate at slower speeds to prevent unwanted hardening of the metal and avoid the milling tools wearing out prematurely. This heightens production times and thereby increases costs.
Furthermore, even when milling goes to plan, tools will wear out sooner when compared with other metals such as brass, steel, gold and Grade 2 titanium. This means that the cost of additional replacement tools has to be met, again inflating the production costs. Moreover, as the machines need to be stopped while tools are replaced, the case manufacturer will seek to recover the cost of downtime.
Often, those companies making cases will leave a CNC machine running, milling brass or steel overnight without any supervision. However, few firms will leave a machine milling Grade 5 titanium unattended. This is because titanium can catch fire during milling. Lastly, even if there isn’t a fire, the metal can overheat to the point that it harms the CNC machine.
Therefore, given the aforementioned factors identified when machining a case, brands will often source cases from specialist manufacturers. While the unit cost of 18-carat gold is greater than Grade 5 titanium, the cost of machining the latter alloy proves far greater.
The Louis Erard La Sportive Limited Edition Titanium is available in two dial versions, a grey/black variant and a blue/black option. It is this latter model which is currently affixed to my left wrist. The centre of the dial is presented in a petrol blue tint which tapers into a subdued shade of black near the periphery of the dial. Despite photographing this model many times, the blue dial area looks different in every digital image. Indeed, the dial readily transitions from one shade of blue to another depending on the direction of the prevailing light source, augmenting its allure. The quality of the dial befits a watch costing much more.
A 12-hour chronograph register is located at 6 o’clock, a small seconds display is positioned at 9 o’clock and a 30-minute chronograph register sits below noon. Each subdial is of equal size and features white numerals and strokes. A smooth track encircles each register, while snailed detail occupies the centre of each subdial. The subdials demonstrate a considered approach to the model’s design and illustrate the Maison’s fastidious attention to detail.
The hands and indexes are lined with Super-LumiNova, aiding readability in restricted light. Two apertures are positioned adjacent the crown, one revealing the day and a second, displaying the date.
Measuring 44mm in diameter, the Louis Erard La Sportive Limited Edition Titanium seems smaller than the dimensions stated on the brand’s specification sheet. Likewise, the case feels slimmer than its stated 15mm height.
The case band is modest, however, the underside of the case tapers downwards before meeting the case back. A consequence of this design is that the case band sits slightly away from the wrist, allowing the wrist to easily flex, conferring impressive wearer comfort.
A slender fixed bezel sits atop the case middle, revealing a slither of gleaming brightwork when viewed from the side. The domed sapphire crystal sits noticeably higher than the adjacent bezel. When wearing the watch it never feels unwieldy nor does it protrude annoyingly.
The ceramic bezel insert features a tachymeter scale which can be used to determine the speed of an object over a known distance. Ceramic bezels are normally the preserve of costlier watches, again illustrating the value of this Louis Erard model.
Normally, Grade 5 titanium exhibits a slightly dull appearance, however, not in this instance. While the upper lug surfaces and case band are satin-finished, the underside of the case and case back are highly polished. Most impressively, two bevelled edges, one on each side of the case running from lug to lug, sparkle beautifully. This finish would have necessitated skill and time on the part of the case supplier to ensure the highly polished surfaces remain discrete from adjoining surfaces. Moreover, the hardness of Grade 5 titanium would have compounded the complexity of this task, further heightening production costs.
A pane of sapphire crystal fitted to the case back affords views of the movement, the venerable Valjoux 7750 calibre. This movement needs little introduction, it is probably one of the most popular Swiss chronograph movements of all time. A benefit of the Valjoux 7750 calibre is that most watchmakers will be able to service and repair the movement as required.
The movement is equipped with a personalised oscillating weight featuring an openworked design, resembling a period steering wheel.
The dial of this watch is eminently legible and the timepiece proves incredibly comfortable to wear. However, it is the wonderfully nuanced styling that makes this watch stand out. For example, the blend of finishes suffusing the surface of each counter surpasses the ordinary, while the ‘extra-domed’ sapphire crystal imbues the watch with an appealing mien.
The profile of the case is very elaborate with its underside ergonomically nestling into the arm. The highly polished facets of the case tastefully enliven the overall aesthetic and demonstrate the brand’s near-obsessive eye for detail.
However, all roads lead me to the Grade 5 titanium case. Manufacturing a case in this lightweight alloy is not for the faint-hearted as it presents numerous challenges and is fraught with risk. Clearly, Louis Erard and its case supplier have surmounted all obstacles, delivering a remarkable case. Beyond its impressive execution, the case is made of an alloy which is usually the preserve of costlier watches. By releasing this model, Louis Erard, a comparatively small brand from Le Noirmont, has made me question the issue of price and has recalibrated hitherto accepted norms.
- Model: Louis Erard La Sportive Limited Edition Titanium
- Reference: 78119TS05.BVD72
- Case: Grade 5 titanium; diameter 44mm; height 15mm; water resistance 5ATM (50 metres); sapphire crystal to front; sapphire case back.
- Functions: hours; minutes; small seconds; date; day; chronograph
- Movement: Valjoux 7750; automatic movement; frequency 28,800 vph (4Hz); 25 jewels; power reserve 48 hours.
- Strap: Black calfskin with ecru stitching, black leather lining and titanium folding clasp
- Price: £2900 (RRP as at 11.5.2020)
- Limited Edition: 250 pieces