After the recent exploits of skydiver Felix Baumgartner (not the fellow from Urwerk, sadly), it seems man is still cocking a snook at gravity. It proves once more that we learned nothing from Icarus and his attempts to fly to the sun with wings made of feathers and glue.
What goes up still has to come down, so gravity still has the last laugh. However, in the watch world, with the increasing popularity of tourbillon watches, we have at least tamed gravity’s pernicious influence on timekeeping.
A tourbillon complication, very briefly, is a highly complex contraption that primarily corrects the effects of gravity, which prove a drag on accuracy. Tourbillon complications have become a signifier for watchmaking prowess, with any watchmaker wanting to be taken seriously producing tourbillon movements.
However, the investment in the highly technical process of making tourbillons does push the prices up, making them inaccessible to mortals of modest means. Frederique Constant, seeing a potential, has produced a tourbillon watch that excels in performance and technicality but also comes at an amazing price. Available in steel (HK$270,000) and rose gold (HK$290,000 – pictured below left), the Frederique Constant Slimline Tourbillon watch is an absolute steal. The Slimline Tourbillon is a classically designed watch inspired by the 1950s, with clean lines and a minimum of clutter, allowing the tourbillon to come to the fore. The Frederique Constant Slimline Tourbillon, limited to 188 numbered pieces and presented in a special box, is a wonderful piece of affordable luxury.
Despite Frederique Constant’s valiant attempts to democratise the tourbillon mechanism, more often than not the complication has an association with high-end horological pieces, which of course means high horological prices.
The independent Swiss watchmaker DeWitt has used complications like the tourbillon to stand out from the crowd, and the brand does this to maximum effect with the Twenty-8-Eight Tourbillon Skeleton.
A bewildering whir of cogs and springs, revealed by the skeleton dial face, the Twenty-8-Eight Tourbillon Skeleton (top right) is an aesthetic pleasure with echoes of the art deco sensibilities found in other DeWitt watches. Design touches include DeWitt’s imperial columns pattern, which adorns the flanks of the watch. The 43mm case comes in either white gold, as pictured, or rose gold, and has an in-house DeWitt DW8028 movement that is able to store 72 hours of power. The high jewellery version of the Twenty-8- Eight Tourbillon Skeleton features 36 baguette cut diamonds and 104 brilliant cut diamonds that populate the bezel, with the price tag for this watch HK$2.72 million. The non-jewelled rose gold version of the watch is priced at HK$1.89 million.
Taking the tourbillon to the next level is the slightly mad but most definitely genius French watchmaker Christophe Claret. There is no aspect of watchmaking that Claret has not already turned on its head, and so it is with the Soprano (below right), a tourbillon watch that also features a minute repeater with four cathedral gongs. The 45mm case comes in two iterations: red gold (HK$3.9 million) and white gold (HK$4 million).
It houses an open-worked dial that gives us insight into the workings of a Claret movement. The precision engineering is remarkable, with Claret fashioning brand new machines just to make certain parts. The overall design deliberately focuses the eyes on the exposed movement, but there are subtle hints at modernism, in the blue stitching and electric blue hints on the hands. Of course, all the open working and design has a purpose and that is to amplify the sound of the four gongs better. Both the red gold and white gold versions of the Christophe Claret The Soprano are limited to eight pieces.