Although on its own a lovely watch, the story of the design and fate of this second Minerva TimeZone limited edition watch has become a vital part of the watch itself.
The basics of this watch are: a round, 36mm by 10mm thick stainless steel case with integrated, slightly curved lugs, housing a 10 1/2 ligne, 17 jewel handwound movement with indirect center seconds, beating at 18kbph. The painted dial features simple elongated arabic numerals at 3, 6, 9 and 12, with triangular markers in between, all applied, and dauphine-style hour and minute hands, all in pink gold-plate. In addition, the seconds-hand features a neat little cap which covers the center wheel pivot. This description suggests a perfectly ordinary example of the what one might be presented at a jewelers if one were shopping for a simple, middle-market, slightly dressy but robust-enough for everyday wristwatch. That is, if one was doing one's shopping in, say, 1952.
As a lover of vintage watches, it is hard not to love Minervas, and perhaps doubly so this one. The current products from this manufacturer are, for the most part, actually 50-year-old watches which have been updated with some of the real intervening progress in watch manufacture (and a few nods to modern taste). To wit, a slightly bigger, mirror-bright and three-piece stainless steel case, a thoroughly-finished and largely hand-decorated movement behind sapphire crystals front and back, and reasonable shock and water resistance.
Fifty years ago, Minerva was a small, perhaps just above mid-market manufacturer, and these current handwounds reflect that lack of pretence. The movements designed by then-owner Andre Frey in 1943 (Cal. 48), including subsequent iterations featuring a date-indicator hand (Cal. 50) or indirect center seconds (Cal. 49, as here), are almost unchanged from the originals. In the intervening years, the ranks of such simple designs have thinned considerably, and perhaps time has elevated the regard in which these movements are held. In any case, that they are now rather elaborately finished and lovingly displayed does not seem out of place, and while prices are of course much higher now, the same money inflation-adjusted would have bought pretty much the same realtive quality of watch so many years ago.
In looking for some of the inspiration behind these case and dial choices, I spent time checking through many internet vintage watch dealers' offerings, and the TZ LE's design clearly reflects that era and level of manufacturer. The watches most frequently displaying similar features were made by Omega and Movado, and the specific models which kept showing up were early-50's Omega Seamasters. I can't really speak with authority, but I would think that such watches were much as I have imagined them; perhaps just above mid-market, meant for sophisticated but everyday wearing.
The additional circumstance which makes this watch even more special is its beginning as a personal project of Richard Paige of TimeZone and Jean-Jacques Frey of Minerva. The details of this accomplishment are spread across several pages available at www.timezone.com , but briefly, the TZLE is a watch designed by a watch-lover who loves Minervas, and a manufacturer who appreciates and values watch-lovers. The case was produced from period tooling, matched to appropriate dial and features, while the movement was granted its finest finishing ever in company history. Just a few months after the public announcement, Minerva was sold to a third party, and weeks later day-to-day control passed from Mr. Frey. What had been perhaps a high point in the rather unlikely survival (and revival) of this tiny company became its final point. While there is no indication that there will be any shortage of actual Minerva watches for quite a while, (indeed, at this date TZLE's are still to be had) and the firm's new owners may yet make something of their purchase, the permanent loss is of a company, and its ethos and people, clearly trying their best to enhance the quality and value of their product , because it was theirs, and because they loved it , and because they valued their customers who appreciated them and their efforts.