(Continued from Part 1) The importance of independent creativity
At BaselWorld, a good number of these small independent brands demonstrated the importance of their presence in the global watchmaking landscape. Because of their generally unbridled creativity, they serve as a stimulus and laboratory for the entire profession. Forced to propose technical and aesthetic innovations, they showed great creativity this year, as they broke new ground and mixed traditional horology with technologies from other areas. One example is Christophe Claret, who presented an amazing piece that answers to the sweet name of X-TREM-1. We use the term “amazing” because, for the first time in watchmaking, the indications of the hours and minutes are not connected to the movement. There is, in fact, no mechanical link between the retrograde display that is composed of two small hollow spheres encased in two sapphire tubes placed at each side of the middle case and the movement itself, which is regulated by a 30º inclined flying tourbillon and mounted on a curved plate. These two small spheres move by magnetic attraction, pulled along by two micro-magnets attached inside the movement by cables of woven silk.
Because magnetism is the worst enemy of mechanical movements, the two magnets have been configured in such a way that they exert their magnetic field in only one direction, which means that it does not interfere with the rest of the movement. A high user of energy, this magnetic display is powered by a dedicated barrel, while the second barrel is reserved for the tourbillon, which regulates the gears for the time indication. The energetically independent display gears are regulated by a paletts that is driven by a cam linked to the time gears that frees one tooth in the paletts wheel of the display gear train every 25 seconds.
An exceptional piece, in a limited series of eight for each version (white gold and titanium, rose gold and titanium, or platinum and titanium), whose retail price is CHF 264,000.
Fluids and gear trains
Another highly original piece that made a big impression at BaselWorld was the HYT watch with its hydraulic display. This wild idea came from Lucien Vouillamoz, whose background is anything but horological. He is, in fact, a nuclear physics engineer and even a theologian. Around him is a “dream team” composed of Patrick Berdoz, investor, Bruno Moutarlier, former industrial director at Audemars Piguet, and Vincent Perriard, a “wonder boy” and a wellspring of timekeeping ideas (formerly with Concord and TechnoMarine). These various skills and competencies were necessary to ensure that these “Hydro Mechanical Horologists” would succeed in making their first watch that dared to mix fluids and gears.
So, how actually does this new type of machine work? Two pumps in the form of bellows, which are very flexible yet resistant, are placed at 6 o’clock. Powered by a manual-winding mechanical movement that drives a cam instead of the hour hand, a piston activates the bellows, or the transmitting pump, thus gradually pushing the liquid mixed with fluorescein into a capillary tube that circles the dial. The hour is thus read as a function of how far the fluorescent liquid moves through the tube, while also forcing the transparent liquid back into the receiving bellows. When it reaches 6 o’clock, the fluorescent liquid moves back into its initial position before again beginning its twelve-hour course. The idea seems simple enough, but its realisation was anything but. Seven patents have been filed for its complexity. The difficulties also involve the nature of the very special component parts that had to be developed (namely the bellows in a plated alloy, and the molecular composition of the two liquids that touch but do not mix, as well as the capillary tube itself) and the “nanometric solutions” that had to be found in order to make the tube perfectly watertight. (A single micro-drop more or less would produce five minutes of error in the display.)
This hydraulic and mechanical machine is available in its basic titanium version for the price of CHF 43,800. Do these innovations, whether magnetic or hydraulic, have a genuine future? In other words, will they really open new horizons in the art of watchmaking? At HYT, they firmly believe the answer is “yes” and a development plan is already in place until 2015, with new special products: an H2 in 2013, an H3 in 2014 and an H4 in 2015.
These two innovations relate essentially to the technologies of display, and the same can be said of the very poetic new Opus from Harry Winston, twelfth in the series. Credit for this new Opus goes to the French watchmaker Emmanuel Bouchet who, along with the constructors Nicolas Dürrenberger and Christophe Lüthi, created Centagora in 2008, an enterprise specialising in the development of movements.
Their idea was brilliant—just as the earth rotates around the sun, why not have the hour revolve around the centre of the watch? The trio developed this “Copernican revolution” thanks to an agreement with Harry Winston, which made it the brand’s Opus 12. It must be said that this spectacular effect is all at once gripping, graceful and lyrical. Imagine a watch with no central hands but one that contains twelve pairs of super-imposed hands placed around the circumference of the dial. One of the hands is longer—the minute hand—while the hour hand is shorter. At each five-minute interval, the minute hand turns on itself and displays its blue face. As the hour changes, an intriguing aerial ballet begins. In turn, all the small hour hands gradually rotate around the minute hands, showing their blue face for an instant before disappearing until the “new” hour hand pivots around the large minute hand to place itself above it and show its blue face, thus indicating the new hour. The video below is the best way to experience this unique sort of animation:
Although the major display shows time to the nearest five minutes, a more exact reading can be seen with a small counter near the centre of the dial using a retrograde hand on a scale from 0 to 5 showing the minutes as they pass (with additional precision compared with traditional displays, since the passing of the seconds can be read off the scale in 15-second increments). Finally, a floating small seconds hand turns at the centre of the dial.
This complex and yet very readable Copernican ballet (accompanied by sound since we can distinctly hear the clicks of the hands as they turn on themselves) is conducted thanks to two crowns that orbit around the dial, whose toothed sections engage with the gears that drive the hands step by step. Powered by a manual-winding mechanical movement oscillating at 18,000 vibrations per hour, the Opus 12 is equipped with two independent barrels. One is dedicated to the animation and the other to the movement. Each has 45 hours of power reserve.
Aesthetically, the watch is also very attractive as the semi-transparent effects of its surface confer upon it a mysterious depth. The Opus 12 is available in 120 pieces made in Harry Winston’s proprietary Zalium alloy (plus twelve pieces set with baguette diamonds and twelve set with brilliants). The retail price is CHF 243,000, showing that, more than ever, this is a beautiful toy for millionaires.
At TAG Heuer, a brand that decidedly likes to explore, the emphasis is not so much on variations in the display as it is on a profound reflection on the heart of the matter of regulation in watchmaking. Whether through research conducted with scientific rigour on high frequencies, on magnetic fields (with the Pendulum regulator), or on the micro-blades of the Mikrogirder (on this subject, see Europa Star 2/12), one would think that, after having surpassed the threshold of 1/100th and then 1/2000th of a second, TAG Heuer would slow down a bit. But, no, not at all.
At BaselWorld this year, the head of research at TAG Heuer, Guy Semon, enjoyed showing off his latest invention, the Mikrotourbillon. It involves two tourbillons regulating two different chains (the “dual chain” that is found in the Mikrograph, the Mikrotimer, and the Mikrogirder). The first tourbillon is a “standard” 4-Hz assigned to the hours and minutes. The second is a 50-Hz tourbillon that oscillates at 360,000 vibrations per hour and that regulates the chronograph function of the watch, displaying 1/100th of a second (with 80 minutes of power reserve). At this oscillating speed, the tourbillon makes one rotation in five seconds. It is also the only tourbillon that can be activated and stopped at will.
While this is certainly evidence of high performance—which results in an original display—this watch is, above all, an example of chronometric research. Is this really the case? Or, in other words, does this ultra rapid tourbillon, used directly to calculate short time intervals, offer increased precision and better regulation? The few master watchmakers that we questioned on this subject do not dismiss this theoretical possibility, but nonetheless they remain circumspect. Whatever can be said—and Europa Star will return to this subject later—TAG Heuer has demonstrated an exceptional level of dynamism with its Mikrotourbillon, as well as its large competitive advantage in the domain of research on high frequencies, a subject that drew a lot of interest from the mechanical watchmaking community last year. At a retail price of CHF 220,000, some twenty pre-orders for the Mikrotourbillon were received at BaselWorld.
Bread and butter
As interesting as these advances are, however, they are not the bread and butter of TAG Heuer. For that, we must look at the chronograph on a much more industrial scale. Let’s begin with the Calibre 1887. It made the news when the brand only revealed that it had bought the blueprints from Seiko and transformed them once these revelations had already been made in the blogosphere. Production of the 1887 has increased this year to reach 50,000 units (on this same subject, see our editorial).
In parallel, TAG Heuer has started working on another chronograph calibre, totally in-house this time, under the code name 1888, which will first leave the production line at the end of 2013. This new integrated calibre will have a different architecture than the 1887, whose counters are placed at 6/9/12, while in the “1888” they are placed at 3/6/9. This new chronograph calibre will thus allow TAG Heuer to cover the full range of chronograph designs.
TAG Heuer’s other projects include ladies’ watches. Today, they account for around 25 per cent of the total and the goal is to increase this share to 35 to 40 per cent. The driving force behind this conquest is called Link Lady, a watch that is “easy-to-wear, sparkling, and feminine,” according to the brand’s ambassador, Cameron Diaz. They are pebble-shaped quartz watches, measuring 29.5mm or 34.5mm in diameter, whose dials are engine-turned in the form of concentric waves. A central attach connects them to the fluid bracelets that were redesigned for the occasion.
At the summit of the Link Lady pyramid, the Diamond Star is a small automatic timepiece whose oscillating weight—larger than the movement and in the form of diamond-studded stars—rotates as if suspended between two transparent sapphire crystals (29mm, 18-carat pink gold, 192 diamonds). The buzz at BaselWorld was that Cameron Diaz herself would come to launch this feminine offensive. It turned out to be true and the celebration in her honour was clearly one of the most popular at the show. (Continued... Part 3)
Source: Europa Star June - July 2012 Magazine Issue