Beauty on the inside More than meets the eye
They don't look it, mostly because they don't carry complications. But these watches are really sophisticated, in more ways than one.
It's a trope, but it's mostly wrong. Complication has come to mean sophistication in the watchmaking realm. But there's a type of watch out there, generally three-handers that may feel kind of plain, which hide their true nature. And it's much more complex than it looks. It's a game played by a certain kind of watchmakers, who deal in unfathomable beauty of the inner kind, or one that's hidden against the skin.
Bovet Monsieur Bovet © David Chokron/Worldtempus
First off, all complications don't show. Some stay discrete, private, accessible only to those in the know or from the right vantage point. For instance, the slide of a minute repeater isn't very conspicuous, especially since it's mostly located on the case's left side, which ends up hidden under the cuff (sorry lefties). It takes a certain amount of knowledge to see that the ref. 5018G from Patek Philippe chimes. Some tourbillons are concealed, like that of the Alfred Helwig Tourbillon 1920 by Glashütte Original. Only if you flip it, or if you come real close to the dial and read what's inside the small seconds, can you really grasp what this piece is about : the exceptional.
Glashütte Original Alfred Helwig Tourbillon 1920 © Glashütte Original
It's hard to get a glimpse of it, especially from afar, and it requires looking at the case back. It is the finishing ethos of a watch brand. The various levels of polishing, beveling, grenage, circular or vertical graining, olive-cutting and the general sophistication of a component's shape constitute a vocabulary which defines a certain strata of watchmaking. The time Vacheron Constantin spends embellishing their bridges, the care required by deBethune's polished titanium are sure signs of extreme sophistication. The beauty of a dial is the more noticeable side of the same coin. Yet it takes close examination to truly grasp the work behind a Urban Jurgensen guiloché dial, or the depth of a Breguet enameling.
Grand Seiko SBGD201J 8 Days Spring Drive © David Chokron/Worldtempus
The major source of sophistication that goes unseen lies inside the movement, in its very nature. According to a narrow definition, a complication is any indication that comes on top of minutes, hours and seconds. So any watch which doesn't boast extra hands, sub-dials or crowns may feel wanting. It can be everything but. Here's a telling example : except its design, there's not much going on with the Chronomètre FB2 by Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud. Its back, though, reveals this timepiece is a monument of chronometric complexity, with a fusée and chain transmission followed by a one minute remontoire handled by a Reuleux triangle, which is unheard of.
Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud Chronomètre FB2 © David Chokron/Worldtempus
Long running times are another matter. A power reserve indicator roughly looks the same if it goes up to 48 jours or 48 days. Yet between 2 and 8 days, there's a world of difference when it comes to implementation. The plot thickens if a watch runs for a very long time but doesn't shout it, or barely mentions it. Most Panerai eight-days timepieces only point it out in small print. Blancpain doesn't feel the need to remind you that the Villeret Ultraplate 6605 runs for 4 days. No more do Grand Seiko with their SBGD201J, which boasts artful hand finishings, more than a week's autonomy and an underlying Spring Drive regulation. When one takes a look at a Monsieur Bovet, how can they guess it runs for seven days and is a reversible timepiece ? More often than not, it takes a much closer look and a prejudice-free mind to truly take stock of a watch.
Blancpain Villeret Ultraplate 6605 © David Chokron/Worldtempus
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