The existential crisis currently gripping the watch industry is no reason to throw in the towel. On the contrary, the best response to the crisis is surely to innovate! Slashing prices is not the only road to recovery for the watch industry. People, software, machines, and technicians’ hands are producing pieces capable of proving that the watch industry still has a bright future. It is teeming with ideas, and its story is far from over. It could even be on the verge of a real mechanical revolution, as Dominique Renaud and his incredible DR01 TWELVE FIRST proves, with its ‘blade oscillation’ and ‘rotary escapement with nine lost beats’. We will humbly do our best to explain this in more detail.
Just like this portfolio, innovation is about pursuing mechanical art, certainly, but it also involves all aspects of watchmaking. Watchmakers research the materials, they develop innovations for the structural design of their movements, they suggest new displays, they tint the sapphire glass and work with liquids, they experiment with shapes… in other words, these ‘extraordinary watches’ are the laboratory of the future. They don’t just connect pixels, they bring together materials, shapes, and mechanical expertise.
The advent of the DR01 TWELVE FIRST marks the start of a revolution that risks overturning the fundamental assumptions of traditional mechanical watchmaking. Look out, Dominique Renaud is back.
Dominique Renaud and Luiggino Torrigiani may be industry veterans with years of solid experience behind them, but they are as excited, enthusiastic and seemingly carried away by their own plans as young graduates throwing themselves into a promising startup.
It therefore comes as no surprise to find them ensconced in the heart of a technology hub, a hotbed of startups and training companies set up in the cavernous old IRL printworks in Renens, on the outskirts of Lausanne.
- DR01 TWELVE FIRST by Dominique Renaud
The two men can be found at the end of a corridor. Open the door to their laboratory and you are transported into another world. Suddenly, you find yourself in a genuine old-style watchmaking workshop. But this is not just clever interior design. The workshop is set up with all the machines and design tools that gifted watchmaker Dominique Renaud needs to build a watch from A to Z, using his hands and his head. “I’ve always seen things in 3D, ever since I was a child,” he smiles, almost apologetically. “That’s true,” agrees Luiggino Torrigiani. “In his mind, he can dive into a movement, slip between the gears and visualise the friction of a spindle as if he were actually there.” Looking at the DR01 TWELVE FIRST, it’s easy to see that Dominique Renaud must have made countless mental voyages to come up with its unprecedented spatial design. The “DR” is for Dominique Renaud, obviously, and TWELVE FIRST is because this is the first stage of twelvestage rocket that is on course to smash the fundamental assumptions of mechanical watchmaking for good. The process begins at the heart of the watch, with the supposedly essential sprung balance, which could well find itself on the scrap heap one day.
- Dominique Renaud new kind of regulator: the resonator blade.
A “spatially pivoting blade resonator”
“I want to open up new avenues for mechanical watchmaking, and with the DR01 I know that it’s now possible to combine improved precision with an exponentially increased power reserve,” explains Dominique Renaud. But in order to understand the immense possibilities of this watchmaking gambit, let’s begin at the beginning, by taking a closer look at the mysterious DR01, which looks a bit like a shipwreck washed up by the tide.
According to the laws of mechanics, in order to be optimally efficient the balance wheel must be as light as possible, and its pivots as tiny as possible, in order to cause the least interference from friction. In today’s traditional oscillators, the balance pivot measures approximately one-tenth of a millimetre in diameter. Any smaller and it might break. The escapement pivot of the DR01, on the other hand, measures one-tenth of this: one-hundredth of a millimetre! And it’s unbreakable.
This unbreakable microscopic “spatial pivot” can support a heavy balance with very high inertia, while the balance spring is replaced by a “spatially pivoting blade resonator”. Two, or even three or four razor-thin blades vibrate in harmony atop notched spherical rubies, producing minimal friction and hence losing a negligible amount of energy. The crossbowshaped component that holds the blades acts as a hairspring.
The balance itself, twelve times heavier than a traditional balance, pivots freely under the impulse of a free rotary lost beat detent escapement. In this type of escapement there are ten beats: one drives the balance and the other nine are “lost”. This makes it possible to work with high – very high – frequencies. But there was still one stubborn problem with the detent escapement that had to be solved: its susceptibility to shocks can make it miss a beat and throw it out of adjustment. Dominique Renaud’s answer is a safety system with a collar guide. The final innovation of this movement (which incorporates a number of radical innovations) is the vertically orientated seconds wheel, which acts as a natural dragging deadbeat seconds. The rest, from the gear train to the barrel, is 100% traditional. Dominique Renaud warns us that he’ll also be attacking the energy source and transmission. But that’s for another day, and another stage of his “rocket”.
- The traditional Swiss lever escapement and balance wheel
- The new lost beat detent escapement and blade resonator
Building a rocket
The advances that this unbreakable assembly represents, with its indestructible micro-pivot, its spatially pivoting blade resonator, and its lost beat detent escapement, are many, and can genuinely be described as revolutionary. A new era beckons for mechanical watchmaking. With a cumulative amplitude of 340 degrees between each burst, a record frequency of “easily” 12 Hz (84,600 vph), very low energy consumption, an “unprecedented” power reserve (we’re talking weeks…), and finally, superlative chronometric performance, the DR01 TWELVE FIRST marks the start of a new chapter. But it’s only the first chapter of a new book.
The shared ambition of Dominique Renaud and Luiggino Torrigiani is not to create another new brand; over the coming years they intend to bring out twelve different DR prototypes, which will systematically take aim at all the mechanical assumptions hitherto considered untouchable, demonstrating step by step the astonishing potential of this new form of regulator. “We’ll hand out the licences, it’s up to the industry to run with it,” suggests Luiggino Torrigiani. The ultimate end point of this cutting-edge research is eventually to industrialise the new approach.
“We chose to work with a very large balance for our first prototype, to provide a visual demonstration of the robustness of the concept. But the second prototype will be very thin, so that we can show its amazing potential.”
- DR01 TWELVE FIRST SAPHIRE GREEN by Dominique Renaud
A work of art
The DR01 TWELVE FIRST looks like a work of art, encapsulated in its rotating sapphire tube that, rather than being traditionally encased, is nestled inside a futuristic, angular C-shaped arch. The sapphire capsule can be rotated with a finger, inviting its wearer to admire the body and soul of this watch from every angle. This too is unprecedented – like a futuristic Reverso that can turn 360 degrees.
The production process for this extra-ordinary adventure is also unique, as is the financing model. The two men work not with subcontractors but with a group of “co-contractors”, whose names and contributions they are happy to acknowledge. The same logic applies to the financing: each of the twelve different prototypes of the “rocket” will be commissioned by a collector who, for the sum of 1 million Swiss francs, can customise it how they choose. You might think that’s an astronomical amount. And it is, but it is amply justified, not just by the intense R&D efforts that each prototype requires, but also because the collector will be the proud owner of a unique piece of a genuine revolution.
Has transparency become a sine qua non of our time? The fact remains that sapphire is now a favoured material in luxury watchmaking. It is hard, durable, and scratch-resistant. But it is expensive and terribly difficult to machine. And yet it offers crystalclear transparency, a delicate touch, and a subtle sparkle. In a sapphire casing, the complex interweaving of wheels, levers, bridges and the mechanical heart of the watch takes on a whole new dimension.
- VENTURER TOURBILLON DUAL TIME SAPPHIRE BLUE SKELETON by H. Moser & Cie
Presented at Baselworld for the first time in 2015, the Venturer Tourbillon Dual Time Sapphire Skeleton, a unique piece, was instantly purchased by famous Parisian retailer Laurent Picciotto, for the princely sum of 1 million Swiss francs. He then went on to order a second, as transparent as the first but this time featuring a nickel silver skeletonised movement with an all-over blued finish (created through CVD, a process where a chemical vapour applies a thin film). The result is a quite extraordinary piece that marries a classic movement with a totally sapphire case, in convex shapes that recall the 1960s. The clear sapphire contrasts with the blue movement, the rose gold of the tourbillon and delicate hands, and the red GMT hand. A precious mechanical palette of colours.
- BR-X1 CHRONOGRAPH TOURBILLON SAPPHIRE by Bell & Ross
The BR watch was presented for the first time at the Basel show in 2005. Its very military-style square design, inspired by on-board aviation instruments (as though a dial had been take from an instrument panel and added to your wrist) immediately drew attention. Going against all expectations, its bold and unusual design – that seemed to be targeted at a very specific category of buyer – was a hit, and inspired thousands of imitations.
- X-ray of the BR-X1 Tourbillon Sapphire by Bell & Ross
Twelve years later, the original BR has been through many iterations, all the while retaining its tough structural design and imposing dimensions (45 or 46 mm). Little by little, it has gained a good reputation in the watch industry, becoming a chronograph, receiving the additions of a tourbillon and a skull pattern, at each turn demonstrating its military origins or moving into the realm of jewellery watches. Today, it appears in the totally transparent form of the BR-X1 Chronograph Tourbillon Sapphire. Combining a flying tourbillon and a single push-piece, its totally transparent construction gives an unobstructed view of the mechanical workings of the watch.
- MCT SEQUENTIAL ONE S110 EVO VANTABLACK by Anish Kapoor
The polar opposite of sapphire! Vantablack is a black material composed of carbon nanotubes that trap light by absorbing 99.96% of the visible spectrum. Artist Anish Kapoor has acquired the exclusive rights to use it – creating debate among other artists who feel they have been deprived of this ‘colour’.
“When we discovered Vantablack a year ago, we were fascinated by its surreal beauty, the depth and dizzying power of its finish,” explains Pierre Jacques, CEO of MCT Watches. In collaboration with Anish Kapoor, for the first time MCT is offering this incredible shade of black to the watch industry. The result is a fascinating piece, a ‘black hole’ whose mysteries can only be grasped when seen with your own eyes.
- Seen here against crumpled aluminium, Vantablack removes any appearance of depth. It was first used for military purposes in aircraft and other stealth vehicles.
- HOROLOGICAL MACHINE N°8 «CAN-AM» by MB&F
The legendary and now defunct Can-Am motor sport racing series, a genuine laboratory for car manufacturers and designers, allowed for all kinds of extravagance in terms of engines, shapes and aerodynamics. So there was plenty to inspire MB&F when creating the HM 8, designed to rise from the ashes and reincarnate the ultrapowerful cars from the “anything goes” championship. Machined from blocks of grade five titanium, two ‘safety arches’ underpin the rounded yet angular structural design of the machine, entirely covered with a sapphire glass for total transparency over the movement. At the front, two backlit optical prisms vertically display the bidirectional jumping hours and dragging minutes. The blue and gold battle-axe winding rotor turns in the centre. The back of the device is finished with a taper. It’s the perfect wristwatch for pilots, removing the need to let go of the controls to read the time.
- SKULL POCKET by HYT
“Taking luxury watches beyond conventional horizons” is HYT’s “new playing field and realm of expression”.
For the first time, HYT is trying its hand at pocket watches, and is further paying homage to its historical inspiration with the introduction of a Memento Mori in the form of a skull, as was popular in the seventeenth century. Except that this Skull Pocket is fully in the twenty-first century, housing a luminescent module with two LED bulbs powered by a dynamo generator that converts mechanical energy into light. The fluorescent green fluid to indicate the hour follows the contours of the skull. At night, it takes on a pale blue colour. The seconds are displayed in the left eye, and the power reserve is shown in the right eye. The whole thing is made of titanium.
- VAGABONDAGE I, II, III THE THIRD AND FINAL PART OF THE TRILOGY by F.P. Journe
Through his Vagabondage Trilogy, F.P Journe is exploring the potential of numeric displays at his own pace. Released in 2006, the first Vagabondage I took its name from the watch’s wandering or ‘vagabond’ system of digitally displaying the time.
Its flat, tortoise shape is itself a detour from the rounder shapes generally favoured by the watchmaker. The Vagabondage II, created in 2010, displays the time digitally via jumping hours and minutes above a seconds subdial. The last watch in the trilogy, the Vagabondage III, has just been announced. This time, the hour (at ten o’clock) and seconds (at six o’clock) are digitally displayed in two separate apertures, while the minutes are displayed via a central hand. Priority will be given to collectors already in possession of the first two Vagabondage models.
For once, ‘crystal-clear’ is not just a metaphor: the hammers of the first minute repeater to be fully designed and created by Chopard Manufacture strike gongs made of sapphire.
- L.U.C FULL STRIKE by Chopard
The resulting chime is simultaneously pure, rich, full, and powerful. The transparent gongs come together with the watch’s sapphire glass and the hammers that strike them, visible at ten o’clock.
Gongs and glass are machined from a single block of sapphire, without welding, glue, or screws. It’s a real loudspeaker, and a major first.
- L.U.C FULL STRIKE by Chopard
- Gongs and glass are machined from a single block of sapphire, without welding, glue, or screws. It’s a real loudspeaker, and a major first.
It took 17,000 hours to develop this innovative movement, for several reasons: the crown turns in one direction to wind the movement and in the other to wind the minute repeater; its power reserve allows it to chime the longest sequence (12.59) twelve times; and a series of safety systems protect against accidental mishandling.
Europa Star will cover this in more detail in a future edition.
The fascinating physical phenomenon of resonance! While it is common knowledge among civil engineers that the resonance of the synchronised marching of an army can cause a bridge to collapse, the phenomenon was first observed in watchmaking by Christiaan Huygens, who noticed that two of his pendulum clocks suspended from the same beam synchronised their frequency. Two centuries later, Antide Janvier with his resonance regulator, and then Abraham-Louis Breguet with his double pendulum resonance clock, further explored the phenomenon. But it was not until the arrival of François-Paul Journe and his Résonance that the phenomenon was finally applied to a wristwatch. Since then, Rudis Sylva has been the only one to approach the subject, this time by linking together two toothed balance wheels. Now, Armin Strom , a modest yet excellent manufacture located in Biel, is offering his own interpretation of the phenomenon. Armin Strom has created a highly elegant solution that is magnificently presented in the Mirrored Force Resonance. To give a very brief summary, it houses a single movement equipped with two regulators whose balance wheels mirror each other, and which are linked together by a stunning steel resonance clutch spring in a new and unique shape (see diagram). The two regulators stabilise and synchronise with each other, and coordinate within ten minutes to beat at the same frequency. The result is improved working accuracy and a magnificent and intriguing spectacle.
- MIRRORED FORCE RESONANCE by Armin Strom
- The Mirrored Force Resonance houses a single movement equipped with two regulators whose balance wheels mirror each other, and which are linked together by a stunning steel resonance clutch spring in a new and unique shape
Europa Star will cover this in more detail in a future edition.
Previously unseen materials, new structural designs, innovative technologies… The story of watchmaking is far from over and fresh blood is already on its way.
Take Phenomen, for instance, a watchmaking start-up created in Besançon by Alexandre Meyer, an engineer who has worked at PSA (Peugeot-Citroën), and his partner, the designer Olivier Gamiette, who also comes from the PSA design office. They have been joined by watchmaker Bruno Laville and Emmanuel Meyer, a specialist in materials and processes. They are yet to create a finished watch but the team is working on innovative display complications and have begun researching materials to refine their movement, which will be Made in France. A phenomenon to follow closely…
Source: Europa Star TIME.BUSINESS/TIME.KEEPER Dec. 2016 - Jan. 2017