Time Pieces Part 4

Time Pieces 4 

Exceptional as Standard – stories of unique watch design

 
a.  Organic – whose hair would you use?
b.  Bootleg – where’s the rotor?
c.  Clever – solving the manicure problem
d.  Asymmetry – the long dark night of the designer
 

4.a  Organic – whose hair would you use?

MG is not a house of extreme complications.  Others such as Greubel Forsey have that market well covered.  Having said that, the complications that we do make are well worth the effort to make them.

The pusher system on many of our pieces delights collectors whenever I explain it.  Everyone needs an Armbanduhrenpräzisionshandaufzugsmechanismus.  Official.

The subtle power reserve indicator is minimal distraction, maximum use.  Just the job.

The peripheral jumping date window and similar GMT arrow do their jobs beautifully, quietly, unobtrusively.

Date changes at midnight with a satisfying ‘snap’

The self winding mechanism of the Hamatic took four years to engineer – yet is arguably the simplest, most efficient energy capture device in horology today

But our Tourbillon is undeniably just showing off; which, again, is as it should be.

Breguet invented the tourbillon in 1795 and patented it in Paris in 1801.  He made it as a way of negating the effect of gravity and thus making wall-hung chronometers ever so slightly more accurate……  Useful in 18th and 19th century maritime navigation.  Zero practical use in a modern wristwatch though.

Today, the purpose of owning a tourbillon is to show – fairly overtly – that you are a watch-hound with a ton of money.  Our tourbillon does that very well!

Seen my watch?  Not quite as under-the-radar as some Grossmanns

A technical tour-de-force, the original press release took 2,431 words to describe its 245 parts – obviously in intricate detail.

Here’s the paragraph describing the special features.  Deep breath…..

Flying three-minute tourbillon with screw-secured driving wheel and V-shaped balance bridge (design patent pending); Sweep minutes, off-center hours and seconds with stop seconds; replacement of the missing minute scale segment from 25 to 35 minutes with a separate scale swept by the extension of the minute hand on the opposite side (patent pending); Stop seconds at the balance wheel rim with a pivoting fine-hair brush (patent pending); asymmetric-arm lever escapement with counterweight and lever banking pin; Grossmann balance with suspended balance spring, adjustable with poising screws in the rim; newly developed mainspring barrel jewel bearing; brake ring on the fourth-wheel arbor made of very hard, oily guaiacum; ARCAP train wheels; Grossmann winder with pusher to deactivate the hand setting mode and start the movement; modified Glashütte stopwork with backlash; pillar movement with 2/3 plate and frame pillars in untreated German silver; hand-engraved 2/3 plate and tourbillon cock; broad horizontal Glashütte ribbing; 3-band snailing on the ratchet wheel; raised gold chatons with pan-head screws; white sapphire bearing jewels; separately removable clutch winding mechanism

…..  and breathe again.

My lack of technical knowledge keeps me briefer.  Here’s why I think this piece is worth every penny of its circa £150k price tag.

It’s a thumping great watch.  The oversize balance wheel which gives this piece the same slow heart beat as most of our pieces occupies a lot of real estate.  With the tourbillon aperture positioned right up to both the centre of the watch and the edge of the bezel, the case diameter still has to run to 44.5mm.  We don’t make them in platinum because you’d barely be able to raise your wrist.

Flying tourbillon!  No missing the tourbillon aperture

So there’s no missing the tourbillon aperture – which for a tourbillon owner is important!  The more so because the V shaped flying tourbillon bridge is eccentrically shaped and also unusually calming to watch.  It’s rotation takes a leisurely three minutes.

But the aperture also cuts into the minute scale between 25 – 35.  To compensate for this, the cunning German designers put an extra long tail on the minute hand and positioned a subscale in the upper mid section of the dial so that you can still read the time accurately between 25 past and 25 to the hour.  #patented

28 minutes past

But this isn’t nearly the coolest part of the watch.

Two key features of the mechanism are organic.

Firstly, a critical part is made of wood.  The brake ring which causes the second hand to sweep seemingly in one eternal, smooth drift uses guaiacum, or lignus vitae.  This material was often used in marine chronometers in the 18th / 19th centuries and is perfect for its role here.  It is hard; easy to shape very exactly; very stable and resistant to temperature and humidity shifts; and – crucially – self lubricating.  Buried deep in the mechanism, this part would be a nightmare to service if made from today’s conventional materials.  But since the wood is naturally oily, we estimate it should last 400 years between services.  I’m happy to guarantee this!

Organic.  Spot the brush

Secondly, the stop seconds mechanism uses a tiny pivoting brush to interrupt the motion of the balance wheel and the tourbillon cage.  For this mechanism to work accurately, the hair must be rigid enough to stop the mechanism, but also elastic enough not to damage it.  The engineers that came up with the idea had no idea what a delicate balance this would prove to be…..

The first prototype used one type of hair – let’s say it was horse.  This proved too rigid.  “No problem” – they thought – “we’ll use badger”.  Too elastic.  And on and on, until all of the road kill on the mountain roads around Glashütte had been tried, tested – and discarded as unsuitable.

Then came the difficult meeting where the engineering department, the prototypers, the designers, the marketing folk and CEO Christine met to review the project.

The engineers reported that every single type of hair available had been tried and had failed.  In a moment of frustration, Christine told them that she was having a haircut the next day and they could <expletive deleted> use hers.

Two weeks later they were back in her office to report that it worked perfectly.

Entirely by accident, they discovered that only human hair would work.

So if you want one of these magnificent pieces of horological extravagance for yourself, you can choose whose hair to use in the mechanism.  It can any one of your human loved ones.  And for £150k I’d even fly the lucky person into London to have their hair cut by Kate Middleton’s hairdresser, Richard Ward – all expenses paid.

It just can’t be one of your pets.  Sorry.

Whose hair would you use?

Richard Ward – hairdresser par excellence and thoroughly kind man.  Can we get you a coffee?

Number.  As in anaesthetic.

Exquisite finissage as standard

White gold yes, platinum not recommended

Black dial limited to ten pieces – two still available as of today.  #4 or #6

One-offs from the NYC Christie’s collection, 2018.  Titanium works!

German engineering virtuosity.  Note the chamfered holes in the balance wheel.  Tiny changes in chamfer angle adjust the weight balance infinitesimally.

 

4.b  Bootleg – where’s the rotor?

I heard @andifelsl – CEO of Swiss watchmakers, Horage (horage.com) – describe Moritz Grossmann as the Breguet of his generation.  Grossmann stood on the shoulders of his predecessors, no doubt, but he also left a wealth of innovation and learning for subsequent generations.

Today’s Moritz Grossmann staff try to be true to Grossmann’s legacy.  We imitate his watchmaking technologies where we can and we use plenty of his aesthetics too – albeit in what we hope is a thoroughly modern way.

Sometimes this means making things the hard way:  for example our use of his index adjuster – which is a swine to make.  But it’s always worth it – the same index adjuster is very easy to service, as well as easy on the eye.

Grossmann index adjuster assembly, hard to make, easy to adjust

Grossmann was all for sharing ideas and to improve watchmaking worldwide.  He understood that raising the bar was partly about new thinking, and partly about taking others’ ideas and spinning them anew.

Which brings me back to Breguet.  We have recently taken one of his ideas out of retirement in the most spectacular fashion.

Several years ago, people asked why we didn’t make an automatic watch.  The truthful – though not very diplomatic answer – is that we thought them to be too damn ugly.  Rotors – be they big or small – occupy a lot of a case back and interfere with the aesthetics.  Since we’re all for outstanding, no-compromise finissage, that seemed to put self winding mechanisms out of the question.

Then one of the bright sparks in Glashütte had a blinding glimpse of the obvious.  You don’t have to use a rotor for a self winding mechanism.  Breguet invented the first self-winders back in about 1780, and they operated with a pendulum mass, not a rotor.

Breguet #1/8/82.  The oldest surviving Breguet, showing the self-winding pendulum mechanism.  Pic:  screen grab from Breguet.

Any self-winding pocket watch in Grossmann’s day would have used this principle.  I’m told they weren’t super-efficient – not bad for capturing energy when out horse riding during the day, but not so good when playing cards in the evening.

The invention of rotors in the twenties – efficient to wear and easy to industrialise – snuffed out pendulums pretty much entirely.  I believe the last wrist watch to use the principle went out of production about 60 years ago.

Until now.

From idea to demonstration model took two years back and forth between engineering and prototyping.  The mechanical challenges of creating a movement built to capture energy from small wrist movements – e.g. whilst typing as I am now – yet not shake itself to bits with more vigorous movement is challenging enough.  Making it a thing of beauty is part two of the challenge.

Prototype Hamatic movement shown in Basel 2018.  Photo @peter_naid

The result was the prototype shown in Basel 2018, and it caused quite a stir.

But to make the piece robust enough for release was another eighteen months of hard work.  The final mechanism looks just fantastic.

One challenge was to create enough mass in the pendulum.  This was achieved with the addition of a solid gold weight.  At one stage it looked like platinum or even more exotic metals might have to be used.  But clever design reduced the friction that the pendulum suffered and this in turn reduced the load.  The next challenge w=as to buffer the weight sufficiently to absorb the energy of larger movements.  Two large, but elegant filigree springs were added – easy to see in the case back shot below.  They not only damp the impact, but make the pendulum rebound capturing yet more energy

Production version of Hamatic movement .  See the springs?

So now we have a movement that captures energy from really small movements.  As little as 5o of displacement captures useful energy.  6 hours of normal wear is enough to fully wind the piece and give 70 hours power reserve.

The dial side is understated classic, and complements the bravado of the movement beautifully.  Hands are to die for as usual.

Hamatic dial side – loving those hands as usual

I showed this piece at a Watchmakers’ Club event to no lesser judge than the wonderful Richard Stenning of Charles Frodsham.  He said it was the best new movement he had seen for some time.  All the people I have shown this to agree with him……

……. which makes me wonder what GPHG were thinking when they forgot to shortlist it in December 2019.

All together now:  “life isn’t fair”.

Crazy hands

Photogenic

Shadows

Lustrous, solid silver opaline dial

4.c. Clever – solving the manicure problem

My skiing buddy and MG Chair, Theo Staub is a great socialiser.  And he can spot an opportunity.  This story explains how a dinner party tease, turns into an award winning answer to a problem the world didn’t even know it had.

Imagine the scene:  intimate dinner for Swiss friends; gentle views of Lake Zürich – and merciless ribbing of the Swiss entrepreneur who had recently agreed to take the reins of a German high-end watch company.

One of the ladies says to Theo:  “Of course Theo, these mechanical watches that you are involved with now are very beautiful.  But.  I could never wear one because I would ruin my manicure winding it!”

Theo spotted the potential immediately:  a mechanical watch that a lady can wind without any risk to her nails.  Gold dust.

Back in Glashütte, he issued the challenge to the factory – “who has a nail-friendly idea for winding a wristwatch without using a normal crown?”

The answer was lots of people.  Several ideas came in and each was rewarded with a small bounty.  Two were taken to prototype phase.

And one became the Tefnut Twist:  the ladies’ watch you can wind between manicures.  The genius idea came from Christiane Schneider.

Christiane Schneider.  Ideas person with a clever Twist

Like all genius ideas, Christiane’s idea is super simple:  move the winding point to the bottom of the case, attach the strap to the winder and wind with the strap.  Not unlike the way you would wind a pocket watch – just with a big piece of lizard skin for leverage.

Twister. See the strap lug at six o’clock at 90o to the case?

From idea to production took a clever engineering – mostly from Mike van der Burg.  The winding point had been shifted, but the rest of the mechanism was to remain as unchanged as possible.  Complex gearing is required to deal with the enormous amount of extra force from the strap winder, and transmit that force to the regular movement without risk of damage.

And the beauty of the two variants of the production watch is truly stunning.  The Classic is a feast of guilloché.  The Fancy is an asymmetric design marvel.

Fancy. Stunning jewellery and impeccable horology at the same time

Eve’s Watch Magazine awarded the Twist the award for best innovation in ladies’ watches, 2017.

And it was shortlisted by GPHG in December 2018.  Chanel won.

All together now:  “life isn’t fair”.

Iolite crown.  No design stone left unturned. (ex MG website)

Rose gold or white gold?

 

4.d  Asymmetry – the long dark night of the designer

Design genius can come from different sources – but you need to stay awake to the unexpected.  Design inspiration can hit like a lightning bolt too.

MG were hosting a dinner in Singapore for watch collectors and other locals from the luxury business.  One of the guests was Michael Koh, a Singaporean artisan and jeweller whose thing is finding new ways of presenting gems in beautiful, sculptural settings.

He saw one of our new pieces at that time – the TEFNUT 36.  It is a very elegant, very straightforward design. Undeniably simple, its charm is the sub-second dial at 7 o’clock.

TEFNUT 36, new born.  Just the strap and ready to go.

Legend has it that Michael left suddenly, and without saying goodbye.  Nobody knew what had happened.  Had he been taken ill?  Or received a text with some bad news?  Whatever had happened, he had clearly disappeared.  Let’s hope all is well….

What happened was this.  Michael saw the plain design of the 36 with its cheeky 7 o’clock second dial, and his imagination exploded with a jewellery piece based on the same framework.  Rather like Harry Potter walking into JK Rowling’s head, fully-formed, Michael’s vision was immediate, complete and compelling.  He went straight from the dinner to his design table and stayed up all night committing the design to paper before he lost it.

First thing the next morning, he got in touch and brought us the finished design.  Did we want to collaborate and bring this piece alive?  Of course we did!  It was, and is, one of the most beautiful ladies’ watches ever conceived.

Sleeping Beauty – Ocean Blue. Heat treated diamonds give a uniform, piercing blue.  Originally, satin straps were used.  Beautiful for a while.  Lizard is more forgiving.

Michael’s genius is that he took the asymmetry of the sub-second dial and multiplied it several times over.  The overall effect is balance and beauty, but everything about the piece is off eccentric.

The centre of gravity is the dominant moon image at 3 o’clock.  This drags your attention right.  So does the circular guilloché design framing the moon in mother of pearl.  The vanishing point is the centre of the dial, but ring is truncated at 9 o’clock and stretched out towards 2 and 4.

The numbers are entirely obscured from I – XII, but pop out beside the guilloche ring on its shorter side into a huge scoop in the dial.  Your mind asks how can that be?  Then you work out that it’s because the case is profoundly wedge shaped.  Thin at 3, thick at 9.

Wedge shaped case – pic Moritz Grossmann

This exquisite design innovation is emphasised with a ring of fine diamonds (brilliant cut, top Wesselton) that are largest at 9 and grading to smallest at 3 – a motif that is repeated with a smaller ring of diamonds around the moon.

Often, the last thing that people notice is that the lugs only attach to the case on the 9 o’clock side – and that the stubs of the lugs are decorated with more jewels to match the colour of the watch – either garnet or iolite.

Floating lugs

We named it the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ in honour of Michael’s long night at the design table.  It’s gorgeous in all of its colour ways.

You see the importance of staying awake?

Sleeping Beauty, waking up.

One thing we didn’t understand however was that the moon design is not ok in Islamic society.  Putting a face on a crescent moon defaces a religious symbol.

So, with appropriate apologies for inadvertent offence, we went back to the drawing board and came up with a design variation, originally created for Seddiqi and Sons.

A desert dune scape in lacquer and mother of pearl marquetry replaces the moon symbol.   Then we added a soft, gold Milanaise strap.  This piece is called ‘1001 Nights’ in honour of another long, night-time flight of imagination, this time fictional.

Scheherazade and Michael Koh.  Twin geniuses of the wee hours.

The 1001 Nights was short-listed by GPHG in 2019.

Chanel won – again.

All together – again.  “Life still isn’t fair.”

1001 Nights.  No two pieces entirely alike – that’s mother of pearl for you.

Rose gold if you’d rather.

Hello Beautiful. Pic @ Justin_Hast_