December 5, 2013
by David Bredan
My first stop was at Chopard where I saw their watchmaker trying breathe new life into what appeared to be a very intricate movement. The piece turned out to be the L.U.C. 1.96 QP, which is an in-house made, modular, perpetual calendar movement. Modular means that there is a completely functional base movement with the basic functions of hours, minutes, seconds and maybe a simple day of the week. Then, there is a module (seen on the image above) which is much like a special extension for the base movement. It contains one or more complications and is installed on top – or under – the base movement.
Unsurprisingly, it is a rare occasion to see such delicate manufacture movements like this out in the wild, especially without having to practice excessive care while handling them. That means that these show-pieces need not be treated with the extreme cautiousness that is required by calibers that go into watches that will eventually be sold to the public. In other words, you can go up, hold it in your hand, take a close look and you won’t lose an arm and a leg if it gets dirty or slightly scratched. I asked the watchmaker if it was possible to separate the module from the base movement because I was greatly interested in learning about how they managed to connect these two components. In no time the base and the module were taken apart for me to see the connection points and how the system worked. We don’t quite have the space here to go into the details here but be sure to check the gallery at the end of this post as there you’ll find more images of this stunning caliber.
At Zenith‘s booth, a watchmaker from the UK service centre of the brand was working on the El Primero automatic chronograph movement – namely the 4021 version of it. The El Primero is one of the most important automatic chronograph movements and one we wrote about many, many times over the years. This time all its components were laid out on his desk, allowing one to take a close look at the quality of finish on each piece. Meeting someone who has decades of experience with a particular movement is a rather scarce opportunity and so (after asking what in hindsight feels a few too many questions) I managed to learn a great number of special details about this fantastic movement – ones that we will certainly share with you in the future.
So let me give some quick advice to first-time attendees. Should you visit one of these smaller shows, what I recommend you to do is bravely ask the exhibitors whatever fascinates you about the movement or the brand – regardless whether you are familiar with minor technical details or merely have an appreciation for mechanical art. I was amazed by the straight-forward, unequivocal nature of answers I received from the representatives of each and every brand.
That should be plenty enough of watchmaker stories for now as several other crafts were also beautifully represented at the exhibition. One such instance was when Jaquet Droz decided to show its in-house engraving techniques to the public. On all three days a master engraver from the brand had been working on different parts that would make up the dial of the Petite Heure Minute Relief Seasons watch. As he sat there he was constantly looking through a microscope, hand engraving a bird that is less than an inch in height and is carved from a single piece of gold. The bird is used for a ladies watch that has two ‘3-dimensional’, hand-engraved birds that appear to be flying between the sapphire crystal and the engraved pearl dial. It is yet another stunningly beautiful achievement of Swiss watch making with yet another awkward name. Sometime, at one of these exhibitions, I wished that we would get to sit with the staff who are responsible for making up collection and model names for different brands – I’d have a few questions to ask.
Weird names aside, there were some truly amazing achievements on display at the show, often taking shape right in front of our very eyes. Working under a microscope or with a loupe is inevitable when it comes to achieving perfection at the minuscule scale we all know is present in the case of fine watches. However, in a world of micron-accurate drills and CNC machines it is important for high-end brands to demonstrate the ‘human effort’ that is required for the creation of their timepieces. The reason for this is that for the more astute buyers of luxury products there needs to be a strong sense of top-tier craftsmanship in every product they purchase. Now, brands are well aware of this and are constantly seeking new ways to demonstrate this in practice and not just in marketing circumlocutions. Such presentations bring the spectator closer to not merely the brand, but to the diverse craft of watchmaking as well – and this helps for a much stronger impression than any 30-second ad on television could hope to provoke. It is all about enhancing appreciation through experience – and this show performed exceptionally well at that.