According to Dominique Renaud, this new DR01 Twelve First watch is his answer to a call from watch lovers for “something new.” While the ambitiously complex new type of watch movement inside of the timepiece is certainly novel, it follows in a long line of experimental mechanical movements enterprising horological minds have been coming up with for literally hundreds of years. I recall recently visiting the Science Museum in London where you can see experimental time keeping devices from over the ages. Will the Dominique Renaud DR01 Twelve First be a unique experiment destined for a museum, or will this new type of movement with its “Experimental Rotary Escapement” prove to be a real revolution?
I will do my best to forgive Dominique Renaud’s people, as the product launch was almost as complicated and beguiling as the product itself. Despite loads of images, documents, and diagrams, so little of how the watch itself works and is constructed has been made clear. Dominique Renaud does, however, make it clear that each of the 12 pieces of the Dominique Renaud DR01 Twelve First watch will be customized to the whims of each buyer. When asking for 1,000,000 Swiss francs, a little personalization is more or less expected, right? If we’ve left out important details such as case size and materials, or even what the movement fully does – then direct your complaints to dominiquerenaud.ch… oh wait, the website doesn’t even exist yet at the time of writing, even though their e-mail addresses come from the domain. With that said, can we really blame Mr. Renaud, who just emerged from semi-retirement after roughly 15 years? When he left the watch industry, most brands didn’t have websites anyway.
Even if many of you aren’t familiar with Dominique Renaud, you will be familiar with his work. In 1986, Dominique Renaud and Giulio Papi created the watch movement-making and -designing firm Renaud & Papi. In 1992, Audemars Piguet acquired the majority share in the company, and it was renamed to APRP (Audemars Piguet, Renaud & Papi). Giulio Papi remains the guy in charge, and the legacy he and Dominique Renaud created is truly magical. Not only is APRP where most of Audemars Piguet’s most complicated watches are birthed and created, but the company also does work for a number of other brands ranging from small operations such as 4N to exotic movements for big brands like Harry Winston and Chanel.
Dominuque Renaud’s credentials cannot be discounted, and he is among the most intelligent “watchmaker engineers” alive today. The Dominuque Renaud DR01 Twelve First watch is really an exercise in producing an improved “regulation organ,” or rather, that part of the watch which is responsible for accurate time indication. Most watches today utilize a traditional balance wheel and escapement system which works rather well and benefits from being relatively flat. The major weakness in today’s most popular regulations systems is friction. Sure, gravity is an issue, but friction is the biggest issue. So when you see new types of regulation systems, many of them focus on reducing or removing friction.
For Renaud, it seems as though a particularly frustrating element of the traditional regulation system was the pinion which the balance wheel oscillates on. This pinion as a concept is essential, but in this new type of Blade Resonator system with its Rotary Escapement, the pinion becomes an “unbreakable spatial pivot.” In other words, the pivot as a component doesn’t exist, but is rather a plane which part of the blade resonator moves on. You’ll need to see the video to understand more.
A component that looks like a shaving razor has three “blades” which are tipped with PAC-MAN-style-cut synthetic ruby spheres. In these cut spaces in the spheres, the blades move back and forth, connected to a cylinder to emulate the oscillating arch of a balance wheel. Compared to traditional balance wheels, you can see how short the amplitude is. Moreover, connected to the blade resonator is an escapement system which emulates the benefits of a detent escapement with its direct impulse system. Only in the last few years have we begun to see traditional detent-style escapements show up in wrist watches. Arguably better for timing results overall, detent escapements are difficult to engineer into wrist watches because they can be so sensitive to movement and shock.
Nevertheless, Dominique Renaud seems to have engineered the Dominique Renaud DR01 Twelve First watch with traditional shock protection systems and that “unbreakable” spatial pivot point. I suppose it is unbreakable since there is no physical pinion, but I still wouldn’t want to drop one of these watches. Dominique Renaud speaks highly of the chronometric performance of the new system but fails to elaborate on actual performance or timing results.
With that said, if the Dominique Renaud DR01 Twelve First movement works well, it should be quite accurate. As mentioned above, the rotary escapement system has a low amplitude of just 30 degrees. This means a decrease in power taken from the mainspring, as well as less room for error. Furthermore, the movement operates at a frequency of 36,000 bph (5Hz). This taken together with the direct impulse escapement system does sound exciting for those who seek out exotic, yet high-performance mechanical watch movements.
Power reserve is said to be around two weeks. However, this 14 days of power reserve is still theoretical, according to Dominique Renaud. The movement uses a single barrel and this power reserve is calculated as a function of the system requirements. It is true that it appears Dominique Renaud himself is wearing a prototype of the watch, but I don’t think it is fully functional yet, as indicated by some of the press release language.
I can say that Dominique Renaud theorizes how his system might be used in other applications. Where the Dominique Renaud DR01 Twelve First movement has drawbacks is in size and shape. The regulation system exists inside of a sapphire crystal cylinder tube, which sits atop another sapphire crystal tube where more of the movement parts are contained. I will suggest that it will be at least another few months if not a year before a presentable prototype is available, and it is unclear when the 12 commercial examples will be available to buyers.
In many ways, the Dominique Renaud DR01 Twelve First movement looks like a clock movement made small and for the wrist. I would very much like to see this as a clock for my desk (even if I don’t think I’ll have a million dollars or more to spend on it). With that said, the Dominique Renaud DR01 Twelve First watch is designed as a wrist watch and it is certainly unique in its appearance. In the short technical animations, you can see how the entire movement system with dial rotates around in the case. If you can pull off the look of the case design on your wrist, then you’ll be in for a visual treat (especially if you are a movement lover).
What is really nice is that despite the ups and downs of the economy as well as the luxury watch industry itself, the allure of constant innovation and new designs keeps people like Dominique Renaud not only interested, but coming back for more after their retirement. Many aging watch makers I’ve known of work until the moment they die – which, for better or worse, is a testament to the allure of watch making and watch creating. As mentioned above, the Dominique Renaud DR01 Twelve First watch will be part of a limited edition of 12 watches with a price of 1,000,000 Swiss francs each.