Details: What fine watchmaking is all about
A beautiful watch is all about details. I am reminded of this each and every time I pull a new watch from it’s box, or unbuckle one of my own cherished timepieces. As silly as it sounds, I catch myself frequently staring at the smooth, distinct beat of a second hand, or observing the subtle play of light on the metal surfaces of a finely wrought watch case. The obsession only grows when I flip the watch over, and am able to examine through a glass back the fine work done by skilled and obsessive watchmakers who care far more about perfection than most of us ever will. Interestingly, in the old days, fine movements were hidden behind solid backs; watchmakers considered the display of their craft almost vulgar – it was enough that he or she who built the watch knew. That fact is truly amazing – the ultimate loving toil was extended to things only a watchmaker would ever see.
I am blessed to own two watches that I find epitomize the detail that I find so fascinating about watchmaking art. The first is the Royal Oak ref. 15300 by Audemars Piguet. I can spend minutes without end just turning this watch in my hand, examining the interaction of light between the various expertly faceted surfaces on case and bracelet. It is difficult to understand the mesmerizing quality of a Royal Oak watch until one has a chance to handle it, and then, understanding comes very easily. The craftsmanship is simply remarkable. But that is only half of this watch; visible through the back is Audemars Piguet’s manufacture caliber 3120. Louping it reveals a modern movement construction that benefits from the love and tradition of the traditional watch knowledge passed down from generation to generation in Le Brassus. A tangible reminder of the great history of this House is embodied in the beautiful solid gold rotor, which features the finely rendered family crests of the Audemars and Piguet families.
In the case of my Chopard L.U.C. “Twist”, I just can’t stop obsessing over the movement inside. Having followed the story of Chopard’s manufacture movements since the 1990’s, I simply could not pass up the opportunity to own a watch with the caliber 1.96. In fact, I sacrificed a Patek Philippe ref. 5107 I had worn for several years to get the Chopard, an act some would lament as heresy, but I know better. The 1.96 remains to this day, probably the most lavishly decorated movement I have yet to see in a production watch without high complications. Both the 315 Caliber movement in my Patek, and the 1.96 in the rival Chopard bore the prestigious Geneva Seal, and while the 315 was undeniably very fine, the 1.96 simply surpassed it in my eyes. Polish on the edges of the bridges was immaculate and even more luxurious than it’s competitor; jewels settings glittered with a fine polish and the black polished steel of the swan neck had me transfixed. The finisher was the comparison of the winding masses; while the 21-k gold rotor of the Patek, bearing the Calatrava cross was aristocratically beautiful and spoke of great acheivements, the 22-K microrotor of the Chopard, with it’s polish and immaculate flowing decoration had an indescribable charm and playful flourish that made me smile. It still does.
Reading back over the last few paragraphs, I have to chuckle a bit. Maybe non-watch people are right when they shake their head at the craziness of those of us who obsess over expensive watches. For those readers who are watch-obsessed, what I have described will ring all too familiar. For those who are doing the head-shaking, I applaud you for your patience in dealing with the rest of us, and hope you have gained a bit of insight into the perspective of a “watch idiot savant”.