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Wristwatch MONTANA MASTERPIECE

At the beginning of the twentieth century America produced the majority of the world’s watches. Companies like Hamilton, Elgin, and Illinois manufactured timepieces that set the standard for craftsmanship and reliability.

Three of the six diplomat stamps.
 
united states postal service2006_6_23
Wristwatch MONTANA MASTERPIECE

At the beginning of the twentieth century America produced the majority of the world’s watches. Companies like Hamilton, Elgin, and Illinois manufactured timepieces that set the standard for craftsmanship and reliability.

Today you can count on one hand the number of companies manufacturing watches in the United States. The Montana Watch Company is among an elite group of horologists who are keeping alive the tradition of homegrown, handcrafted wrist and pocket watches.

Each timepiece—the company produces no more than 500 a year—is assembled and hand-finished in the firm’s Livingston, Montana, studio. Cases, machined from a single piece of stock, are available in a choice of metals, including steel, silver, gold, and blue titanium. The watches are powered by mechanical movements regulated and decorated in-house.

Recently the Montana Watch Company introduced the elegant rectangular-cased Model 1930. This style of case, known as the “tank,” was originally designed by Louis Cartier. Inspired by the horizontal section of Renault tanks, introduced during World War I, the prototype was presented to Gen. John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, in 1918. By the 1930s the tank, with its Art Deco architecture, was completely in vogue and has remained a favorite ever since.

Like all of the Montana Company’s watches, the case of Model 1930 can be decorated with hand-finished techniques such as engraving and gem setting. The timepiece can be fitted with several straps, including American bison. Very appropriate.— Stuart Leuthner

Fifties Furniture THE SIDE TABLE AS SCULPTURE

In the late 1950s the famous American sculptor Isamu Noguchi set aside the material for which he’s best known and fabricated a few pieces from a very different one. “It seemed absurd to me to be working with rocks and stones in New York, where walls of glass and steel are our horizon, and our landscape is that of boxes piled high in the air,” he explained. “After some experiments, I asked the Aluminum Company of America to supply me with … sheet aluminum and, thus armed, set to work.” In addition to aluminum sculpture, Noguchi designed a few small side tables in the metal, and one of them is the most captivating piece of furniture I’ve seen from the age that spawned the International Style called Modern. While its geometric form, a trisectioned hexagon on three sharply tapered legs, distills that design idiom to its essence, the table also makes a witty personal statement. Noguchi, whose father was Japanese, fashioned something that seems to have been fabricated of folded paper, an allusion to the ancient art of origami that was part of his heritage. The elegantly simple prismatic table is now available in a reissue from Vitra, a European manufacturer that specializes in furniture from major designers, and reiterates its era’s less-is-more doctrine in visual language that elevates applied to fine art.— David Lander

Stamp SOBER SUPERHEROES

Probably no stamps have proven more popular in 2006 than a set issued to commemorate the action heroes of DC Comics. For months now Batman and Green Lantern and Wonder Woman have been superheroically leaping over post-office counters, dispensing thrills and justice to patrons forced to attest that every last envelope they want to send through the mail contains nothing liquid, fragile, hazardous, or perishable. But the consumer patience demanded by our present postal situation should make customers consider purchasing a much less flashy series of commemoratives than the DC Comics set—namely, the Distinguished American Diplomats Collection , which arrived at the post office on May 30.

Among this quietly tireless group of civil servants—none of them household historical names—is the stalwart Charles E. “Chip” Bohlen (1904–74), an early advocate of “containment” and President Eisenhower’s first-term ambassador to the Soviet Union. Bohlen and his philatelic counterparts dashed around the globe in pinstriped pants instead of tights and capes, but they got some awfully dangerous jobs done—in Bohlen’s case, the half-century-long effort to win the Cold War without our having to hear the great thermonuclear “POW!” and “BAM!” that we dreaded for so long.— Thomas Mallon

Department Store 110-YEAR-OLD GLAMOUR

The opening of a major downtown department store has always been a public event, but when the setting is a historic architectural treasure, and the location is San Francisco’s Union Square, there really is something to celebrate. On September 28, 2006, San Francisco’s new and expanded Westfield Centre flung open its doors after more than 10 years of planning, building, and public anticipation. The anchor stores Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom share 1.5 million square feet of retail space with dozens of gourmet dining spots, boutiques, and a multiplex movie theater. But what sets this complex apart from the others is the fact that it incorporates the Beaux-Arts facade, grand rotunda, and soaring 200-foot glass dome from the old Emporium, which was once one of the city’s most popular department stores. Inevitable comparisons to the 2003 reopening of the city’s other Beaux-Arts treasure, the Ferry Building, are being made in hopes that this center will be a similar success in bringing the crowds downtown.

The original Emporium opened on May 25, 1896, catering to middle-class San Franciscans who couldn’t afford the fancier stores like City of Paris or I. Magnin. The facade and a partially damaged dome were all that survived of the Emporium from the 1906 earthquake and fires, but the store was rebuilt to its former glory. It closed for good in 1996 and after much controversy was spared demolition but sat unused for many years. Having been restored to circa 1908 magnificence, the “new” Emporium is bringing some much-needed glamour back into the San Francisco shopping experience. —Amy Weaver Dorning

Retro Car The TOUGH CAR OR THE FUN CAR?

Retro cars are all the thing in Detroit—and no surprise. With sales slumping, why shouldn’t the Big Three want to look back to the good old days? But history and retro are words not applied to the models that channel past star cars. Heritage is the fashionable substitute.

The best recent retro efforts are Dodge’s Challenger and Chevrolet’s Camaro , both unveiled in January and set for production in 2008. The Challenger is almost a replica, slavishly loyal to the original muscle car. But the Camaro is something very different. It suggests a sculpture of the original. “Milled from a single billet of metal” is a phrase often heard in Detroit, today referring to the look produced by computer-driven machines robotically translating drawings into three dimensions.

Such translation is akin to other modes of history making, like stories of battles or biographies. Designers, like storytellers, must focus on one aspect of a car to revive. In the case of the Camaro, the choice was between the muscle car side of its legacy and the less intense pony-car side—the tough car or the fun car. It was a choice of memories, made in a competition between studios ordered up by the General Motors design chief Ed Welburn. The winning look came from Studio X, headed by Tom Peters, who designed the most recent Corvette.

The result pleased the buffs, because it is everything they liked about the original—and more. It is a rolling rendition of their memory cars. The swelling bulge in the grille, the muscular fenders, the side vent all suggest V-8 power and rubber-burning rear-wheel torque. The head and taillights on the original car were circular. On the new one, they are semicircular and seem to wear a hooded, intent expression—older and, if not wiser, at least not so wide-eyed innocent. But set beside an original, like most retro cars, the new one seems oh so serious. Lost is a sweetness of line, a confident, unselfconscious grace—and the exuberant, ignorant energy of youth. Gone in fact are all the things most missed about the original era. Phil Patton