September 19, 2019
by Rob Nudds
As far as low-key branding goes, the newest watch from the Musée International d’Horlogerie (MIH) is about as hushed as it gets. But that’s because the Montre MIH Gaïa, unveiled today, is not an exercise in branding or brand-building at all. It is the highly considered second product release from a horological institution looking to produce watches of interest to raise funds for the continued running of the museum and the necessary upkeep of its many horological treasures.
Montre MIH Gaïa follows the famous Oechslin/Paul Gerber annual calendar release of 2005. The follow-up to that minimalist masterpiece is just as aesthetically accessible, but much more affordable. That is assuming, however, this watch is put into full production at all: The Montre MIH Gaïa will only go be brought to life if there are enough interested subscribers between now and January 2020. Just think of it as a pre-Internet Kickstarter campaign (communicated via the Internet), and it all makes perfect sense.
So, why should people subscribe to this project? Well, aside from the warm fuzzy feeling you’ll get helping to maintain the Musée International d’Horlogerie, one of our industry’s shining resources, the watch is also a credible, attractive timepiece made entirely in La Chaux-de-Fonds. That kind of sourcing provenance is pretty rare. The result? A product of exceptional quality that exists for a good reason. Furthermore, the watch is literally inspired by the museum, so you’ll never forget your contribution to its operation. Early sketches of the case angles (especially those of the unusual, jutting lugs) show how architectural elements of the building itself were integrated into the design of the Montre MIH Gaïa.
The announcement has been made today to tie-in the watch’s unveiling with the presentation of the Gaïa award, which is awarded annually to significant figures in the industry in recognition of their contributions to watchmaking culture. This is the 25th edition of these awards and the trophy’s spherical design inspired the domed dial and crystal of the eponymous watch.
And it must be said that the rest of the design is rather elegant too. A 39mm stainless steel case, under 1cm thick (9.74mm), produced by local company Stila, will bear an original serial number engraved on the caseback, and MIH engraving on the crown. The MIH hasn’t revealed exactly how many pieces need to be reserved for this project to go ahead, but the total production, both during this subscription period and following it, will be capped at just 200 pieces (although it is worth noting that the MIH has officially named this piece the MIH Gaïa Series I, which suggests that should it meet with success, a near-identical follow-up could be on the cards).
The dial and central minute disc are colored by a PVD process handled by Jean Singer & Cie. The hour disc, visible through the 16-degree aperture is rhodium-plated, providing a clean contrast. Inside the watch, an automatic Sellita SW 400-1 beats away at 28,800vph, for a minimum of 38 hours on a full wind.
The calf leather strap is produced by Brasport S.A. and fastened by an ardillon buckle by Cornu & Cie SA. The buckle features a tool-free removal system and, as with the previous model from 2005, is engraved with the MIH logo and museum coordinates (47°06’03” N / 06°49’48” E).
During the subscription period (which runs until January 19th, 2020) a discount of CHF 500 off the retail price of CHF 2,900 will be applied. Upon ordering, subscribers will be charged CHF 1,000, with the balance due upon delivery during summer 2020. Should the Montre MIH Gaïa fail to achieve the necessary backing, all investments made by potential subscribers will be refunded.
Many times, watches produced with a “charity” element can feel a little contrived, but I think the MIH Gaïa has a shot at being well-received because the kind of charity it is peddling is 100% relevant to the watch’s existence, and that of our industry’s history. As such, it does feel much more congruous as a pitch, and it’s a genuinely good cause that I am sure many collectors will get behind. Money raised from the sale of the Montre MIH Gaïa will mostly be used to restore the Grand Magicien, an historic automaton made by Jean-David Maillardet of Neuchâtel and his son Julien-Auguste in 1830, and The Tellurium by François Ducommun, which was produced in the early 19th century. You can register your interest by visiting montremih.ch.