Generally, it’s laborious to even know the place to start when reviewing a watch. Do you begin with the model? The historical past? The watch itself? The hype it has created? They’re all “ins”, and but, none really feel fairly proper for the Tornek-Rayville TR-660. Whereas on its floor, one may describe the TR-660 as merely an homage (within the traditional sense) to a historic watch by a resurrected model identify, after not too long ago talking to Invoice Yao of MKII, and now Tornek-Rayville fame, I’m pretty sure that may do that watch a disservice. What issues isn’t the what right here, it’s the why. Why remake this watch? Why do it in a sure manner, paying shut consideration to some particulars, whereas altering lanes on others? Why deliver again a model that solely existed for a second in any respect? When you’re searching for a pure TR-900 homage, this isn’t it. Somewhat, that is the beginning of a brand new life for a model that hardly existed within the first place.
Okay, I assume some context is required. Blake Buettner did a wonderful job at telling the story of the unique Tornek-Rayville, the TR-900, when this new model was launched earlier this yr. Examine that out right here, however right here’s the tl;dr – within the Nineteen Fifties Blancpain’s Fifty-Fathoms outperformed different notable manufacturers in testing by the U.S. Navy. Quick ahead a bit, and the Vietnam struggle is in full impact. Watches are wanted for the Navy’s experimental divers and demolition groups, and the Fifty-Fathoms is a good selection, apart from the truth that it’s Swiss. A intelligent Blancpain distributor named Allen V. Tornek devised a plan to work across the “Purchase American Act” by rebadging Blancpains as Tornek-Rayville and changing some components with domestically sourced variations (proof of which is difficult to come back by).
The actual story is extra sophisticated, as these items are usually. Conveniently, Invoice Yao isn’t simply the proprietor of the Tornek-Rayville identify, he’s additionally totally a nerd for army watches, so right here’s some fascinating tid-bits I discovered. These weren’t simply rebadged watches, they had been basically comprised of scratch to suit a demanding army spec. A part of MIL-W-22176A was for the watches to be nonmagnetic (the again of TR-900s are labeled as such) – which is completely different from anti-magnetic. The watch itself, and all supplies it was comprised of, may don’t have any magnetic signature. So, the watches had been comprised of particular Swedish metal, the hairspring and steadiness wheel had been nonmagnetic as nicely, and different parts too. The lume on the dials wasn’t your commonplace tritium or radium both, somewhat it was Promethium 147, which has a half-life of solely two years.
Round 1,000 of those watches had been made and delivered in two batches, and few survived to this present day, probably as a result of many had been destroyed as soon as they had been returned (“IF FOUND RETURN TO NEAREST MILITARY FACILITY” is emblazoned on the again). Some digging round will lead you to “sterile dial” variations, which in accordance with MWR threads, had been probably Navy-refinished TR dials, with the intent to take away the damaging materials. Regardless, classic TR-900s fetch large costs from the excessive five-figures, and even into the low six-figures (I used to be really listening in to an public sale at Skinner a number of years in the past the place a TR-900 achieved a brand new file worth. You may genuinely hear the shock within the voice of the auctioneer when the ultimate worth was settled. I used to be there for a Speedmaster “Holy Grail” that rapidly went past my means).
So, what’s the purpose I’m getting at? Effectively, the TR-900 is usually very carefully aligned with Blancpain, for apparent causes. But, whereas the TR-900 shared a proper language with what was on the time the height of dive watch design (and to the mil-spec), it was constructed otherwise. It was a unique watch, and it wasn’t meant to be cherished. It was meant for use as a part of a sequence of particular gear that was and for particular duties after which disposed of. It was army gear. Hell, it was harmful. In different phrases, it wasn’t luxurious, and it wasn’t a luxurious product. The model solely existed to make these watches, which had been by no means accessible to the general public. In 2010, Invoice Yao launched round ten 42mm MKII Stingrays with Tornek-Rayville dials (therefore why the TR-660 is “Sequence 3”), however in any other case, the identify collected mud till July 2021.
Quite a lot of lore and mythology will get constructed up round historic watches. I do know as Worn & Wound is a part of that course of. There’s something undeniably fascinating about these tales. In regards to the experimental age of watches that led us to the pretty benign, over-specced watches we put on now. These watches are traditionally important. Maybe their 5 and six-figure worth tags are warranted as such – that’s laborious to decipher. However after they had been created, the aim wasn’t to be breaking auction-house information half a century later. It was to get a job carried out, and, one would assume, maintain the soldier it was strapped to alive within the course of. Furthermore, it was utilized by troopers from all walks of life, not simply those that may afford them. This final level, frankly, is what’s most necessary to the Tornek-Rayville of right this moment.
The place the Fifty Fathoms has grow to be a luxurious dive watch with a worth to match, the TR-660 has remained a device and, to cite Invoice, is “solely as costly because it must be.” It’s meant to be moderately accessible so that folks, just like the troopers who had been initially issued the TR-900, from completely different backgrounds can purchase, put on, and truly use it. At slightly below $1,000, within the scheme of watches, it achieves that aim. That establishes the why, but additionally responds to the truth that when launched, some decried that it was made in Japan and used a Seiko NE15 caliber, somewhat than European manufacturing and actions.
Whereas Swiss vs Japanese is a bigger argument that doesn’t belong right here (that is purported to be a watch evaluate, in any case), those that know Invoice Yao’s work know he doesn’t “low-cost out”. In reality, he’s notoriously deliberate (errr, sluggish going) in his efforts to create the perfect watches potential on the worth. Moreover, this isn’t a TR-900. It isn’t a duplicate supposed to only provide the “expertise” of a historic watch. It’s new. It’s constructing on the previous, which is evident within the design (maybe not at all times to its profit), however meant to be a contemporary begin for the model. One that’s directed by Invoice and the workforce – knowledgeable by the previous, however not certain to it. If that doesn’t give you the results you want, at this level there are such a lot of manufacturers with comparable tales from Benrus to Bulova to Blancpain, that you could find what you’re searching for.
Congratulations if you happen to made it via that intro. Now, let’s take a look at the rattling watch.