Laurent Ferrier, the right watch at the right time

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September 2011

Any watchmaker worthy of the name must obviously master the ‘hidden springs’ of time, or in other words, the mechanical measurement of time. A question of technique, it is also a question of art and taste, things that can be learned and acquired. But there is one thing that cannot be learned. This is what some people would call ‘luck’, or perhaps it would be more precise to call it ‘intuition’. Intuition cannot be calculated. It is the art of arriving at the right time, at the right place, with the right proposition.
This is what has happened to Laurent Ferrier. Hardly had he unveiled his first watch last year, at the age of 60, when a planetary buzz immediately began to spread. From being an unknown, Laurent Ferrier was soon thrown into the watchmaking spotlight, even winning a Grand Prix d’Horlogerie in Geneva for his ‘Galet Classic’ timepiece officially introduced that same year. This had never before been seen.
The great intuition of Laurent Ferrier was to have arrived—after the crazy years of excess in the mechanical and design realm in all categories, years of overstatement marked by the violent crisis that we know—with an obviously lucid proposition: a watch in the shape of a ‘pebble’ with the highest level of purity possible, featuring three hands and Roman numerals (like hundreds of others), but pushing the notion of understatement to the point of even hiding the double spring tourbillon that animates the case back of the timekeeper. (The placement of the tourbillon at the back also protects the movement from ultraviolet radiation that can alter the lubrication and thus hamper the chronometry.) It was seen as the absolute opposite to the flamboyant designs that prevailed at the time. But this characteristic alone would not have been enough if this ‘Galet Classic’ had not been ‘perfect’ in all aspects—technical, aesthetic and chronometric—and if it had not displayed such obvious watchmaking qualities.

Laurent Ferrier, the right watch at the right time Laurent and Christian Ferrier, GALET CLASSIC

To the point of overkill
This watch is definitely not the result of some sort of marketing analysis that foresees a return of classicism. Rather, it springs simply from the passion of a man who has accumulated a very great amount of timekeeping savoir-faire (most notably, his many years spent at Patek Philippe) and who, as he himself says, “wants to make a piece containing all that I have learned in watchmaking.” His ‘marketing plan’ can be summed up then in a few words: “we will make a watch and, afterwards, we will see.” Well, now we have seen.
And what we have seen is a timepiece whose smallest detail has, as Laurent Ferrier declares, been pushed “beyond good, to the point of overkill,” regardless of whether this detail is aesthetic or technical. Inspired, in the truest sense of the word, by grand classic timekeeping, Laurent Ferrier has thus sought to perfect his piece in all its aspects, starting with the notion that chronometry can be improved, not hindered, by paying attention to the beauty of its execution. From an architectural point of view, the entirely original movement that drives the Galet Classic Tourbillon Double Spiral is characterized by its two large single block bridges that provide superior solidity and robustness without, in any way, diminishing their elegance—Ferrier insists that he wants his timepieces to be wearable. This double bridge encloses a tourbillon of remarkable refinement.
The opening allows the wearer to admire not only the rigor of its decorative finishing—hand-chiselled tapered angles, rounded steel parts, perfect polishing—but also to see the beating of the opposing double spring (a Straumann), chosen for its contribution to the piece’s chronometry. Centred, the double spring lets the same amplitude be reached in a vertical and horizontal position: an import-ant chronometric contribution (the delta—coefficient of variation—of all Laurent Ferrier watches is less than 4 seconds, while the COSC has established a delta of 10).
On the upper part of the movement is another detail, perfectly emblematic of Laurent Ferrier’s approach to watchmaking: a pawl with a long blade for winding the piece (in place of the modern pull spring), as was practiced in earlier times, adjusted to the hand, and which procures exceptionally smooth winding. This is not only felt at the finger tip but also heard…
Under its rigorous allure, the Ferrier Galet is an extremely sensual watch—to look at, to touch, and to wear. There is the delicate refinement and beauty of the lance-shaped hands and the translucent grand-feu enamel dial.

Galet Secret
Encouraged by their watch that is immediately recognizable by the most conversant collectors as well as by its peers (Philippe Dufour, the reference in the field, never stops singing its praises), Laurent Ferrier and his team rapidly presented two other realizations. At the beginning of this year, the brand revealed its Galet Secret, a piece equipped with the same double spring tourbillon movement, which has a patented mechanism allowing a second dial to be revealed. Concealed under the first dial, it becomes visible when the two sapphire crystals are moved by 240° (either on demand or in a programmed manner). The first piece features a magnificent enamelled night sky by Anita Porchet. Dedicated to decorative watchmaking arts, the Galet Secret collection is composed of only unique models, encompassing such crafts as enamel, miniature painting, stone setting, copperplate engraving, etc.

Laurent Ferrier, the right watch at the right time GALET SECRET

A high performance micro-rotor
Yet, it is the third piece, presented at BaselWorld this year, which fully demonstrates the creativity of Laurent Ferrier and his team (collaborating closely with his son, Christian, a highly skilled watchmaker in his own right, as well as with Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini from La Fabrique du Temps, which Europa Star will discuss more in detail in an upcoming issue).
With the Galet Micro-Rotor Entre-Ponts, Laurent Ferrier presents his basic automatic movement—hearing ‘basic movement’ makes us think that future developments are not precluded. The micro-rotor permits the creation of a very flat mechanical movement. On the other hand, it has the disadvantage of having an inferior winding compared to a central rotor. It requires two rotations, or about 300 instead of 150, to wind the barrel for one turn of the ratchet. With this in mind, Laurent Ferrier and his associates reflected on how to globally improve the efficiency of the movement’s energy management downstream, which they saw as the only way to compensate for this winding flaw.
Since the Swiss lever escapement, while it is ultra-reliable, loses a lot of energy at the source (between 20 and 40 per cent), the team turned towards the ‘natural escapement’ that had been imagined by Breguet. One of the advantages of this escapement with its double impulses sent directly to the balance is to provide two impulses per oscillation, “a little like a swing that is pushed from two sides,” explains Laurent Ferrier. In his day, however, Breguet did not have the necessary materials, the means to precisely mill the parts, or the indispensable lubrication to make the escapement function properly. (It is composed of two escape wheels that send impulses directly to the balance.) Breguet himself had thus abandoned this avenue of research. Today, however, with the opportunity of having the palettes made in silicon and nickel phosphorus, as well as escape wheels in Liga (thus offering superior precision), Ferrier and his team succeeded in optimizing the efficiency of this free escapement and therefore in reducing the torque required to wind the barrel spring, which improved the winding of the movement at the same time.
The energy optimization does not stop there, however. The micro-rotor itself is equipped with an upper bridge and is held between two jewels, which enhances stability and optimizes its winding power. Another particularity is that the winding system uses a pawl—and not a ball bearing which is “too noisy and too little in keeping with the art of timekeeping” for Laurent Ferrier—and acts uni-directionally, which is more efficient. Finally, the micro-oscillating weight is fixed on its axis between two O-rings, following the principle of the silent block. Taken together, these innovations improve the winding power of the micro-oscillating weight by about a third and allow it to have a working reserve of 80 hours.

Laurent Ferrier, the right watch at the right time GALET MICRO-ROTOR ENTRE-PONTS

Protestant purity
From a design standpoint, this movement with its excellent chronometric qualities is clearly visible and finished in an outstanding manner: bridges decorated with the Côtes de Genève pattern, circular-grained plate, hand-chamfered sides, beveled gear arms, polished screw heads, handcrafted re-entrant angles, hand polishing, etc.
It comes in a case made of solid white gold or subtle red gold, with clean and smooth surfaces like a pebble. It has a ‘ball’ type crown and its dial—inspired by the class watch that Laurent Ferrier made in 1968 at the Watchmaking School in Geneva—comes silvered or in slate grey, vertically satined, with a small seconds at 6 o’clock, and is wonderfully readable, punctuated with long tapered applied hour markers. Its unassuming appearance is thus very refined.
With this timepiece, we can say that Laurent Ferrier represents the best of Geneva timekeeping. It is born, as we know, of a restrained, discreet, and virtuous Protestantism, that translates into watches by simplicity, purity, and technical high quality—everything to fulfill our needs today for a bit of austerity. But the number of pieces produced is not high. In 2011, Laurent Ferrier will deliver some 30 watches, all tourbillons plus the two Galet Secret timekeepers that have been made up to now. In 2012, the young brand expects to create 150 Galet Micro-Rotor timepieces and some 40 tourbillons.

Source: Europa Star August - September 2011 Magazine Issue