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20 Years of Watchmaking - The Push for Complications : Part 2

20 Years of Watchmaking The Push for Complications : Part 2

Faster, better and stronger: the new millennium ushered in an era of mega-complication*

The Great Complications Series

In 2001, a company that had previously been known more for its dazzling jewellery creations suddenly made its presence felt in the highest echelons of watch collecting. Harry Winston, in a daring initiative led by its timepiece-division CEO of the time, Maximilian Büsser, premiered the first watch of the Opus project. Under the Opus aegis, Harry Winston worked with some of the finest independent watchmakers of this modern age, introducing their unique styles of watchmaking to a larger audience. The impact of Maximilian Büsser and the Harry Winston Opus project can be compared to that of influential BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel, who brought fringe artists such as The Ramones, Joy Division, U2, Pulp, The Smiths, Nirvana, Blur and The Undertones into mainstream awareness. The first Opus featured the work of François-Paul Journe, who had established his own brand a scant two years earlier, and created for Harry Winston a triumvirate of highly complex timepieces – the Opus 1 Chronometer (a resonance double timezone watch), the Opus 1 Tourbillon and the Opus 1 Power Reserve.

L’essor des Complications : Partie 2

Reference 57260 © Vacheron Constantin

Over the years, the Opus series became the main argument for many in demolishing the vaunted status of the word ‘complication’. So many Opus creations, such as Opus 3 (Vianney Halter), Opus 5 (Felix Baumgartner) and Opus 7 (Andreas Strehler), Opus 9 (Jean-Marc Wiederrecht) and the stunning Opus X (Jean-François Mojon) displayed nothing more ‘complicated’ than the time, and perhaps an indication of power reserve at the most. There is no doubt that any of these watches could compete and hold their own at the very highest level of haute horlogerie, despite lacking a traditional high complication.

L’essor des Complications : Partie 2

Reference 57260 © Vacheron Constantin

No discussion of watchmaking complications in the new millennium can be complete without discussing Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Hybris Mechanica series, the most ambitious and longest-running attempt at expanding the boundaries of horology. The word hybris (alternately ‘hubris’) is a reference to ancient mythology and the inconvenient habit that Greek heroes had of displaying excessive levels of pride before their gods, which more often than not led to tragic ends. The Hybris Mechanica was a challenge that JaegerLeCoultre issued to the rest of the watchmaking world; a challenge to do better and one that was seldom, if ever, met by the other historic houses of horology.

L’essor des Complications : Partie 2

Grandmaster Chime 175th Anniversary Limited Edition © Patek Philippe

In 2003, Jaeger-LeCoultre presented the first timepiece of this series – the Atmos Mystérieuse – followed by the Master Gyrotourbillon 1 in 2004. Although the double- and triple-axis tourbillons from artisanal watchmaker Thomas Prescher had recently caused a sensation in the community of independent watchmaking enthusiasts, the Gyrotourbillon 1 was still noteworthy in terms of how a major watch brand with centuries of patrimony had ventured into such an unconventional realm considered risky by many observers.

L’essor des Complications : Partie 2

Opus 1 © Harry Winston

After a year’s hiatus, Jaeger-LeCoultre returned with the third instalment of the Hybris Mechanica series. The Reverso Grande Complication à Triptyque was presented in 2006 and demonstrated how avant-garde mechanisms could be harmoniously situated within the most classically designed cases. The next barrier to be broken was the line separating sporty watches from high complication, a feat accomplished by Hybris Mechanica 4, the Master Compressor Extreme Lab 1 of 2007. Each subsequent year had its own Jaeger-LeCoultre timepiece that would redefine the limits of contemporary horology, bringing new innovations to the table.

L’essor des Complications : Partie 1

Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A-010 © Patek Philippe

Choosing the most outstanding timepieces in the Hybris Mechanica series is a bit like choosing your favourite Beyoncé song: the range is embarrassingly rich and there is a very real likelihood that you end up paralysed with indecision. It is rather easier to address in isolation the individual mechanisms that made the Hybris Mechanica series such a complications juggernaut. The Gyrotourbillon, in all its five iterations, is indisputably at the top of the pyramid. Although not strictly a complication in the traditional (and narrow) definition of the word, the Gyrotourbillon – together with its sister mechanism, the Spherotourbillon – has nevertheless had an impact on the canon of modern watchmaking in a way that no complication has had. Despite merely being a flying tourbillon (it is testament to the impressive accomplishments of the JaegerLeCoultre Hybris Mechanica series that a flying tourbillon can be associated with the word ‘merely’), the rotating escapement of the Master Ultra Thin Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon, the 11th Hybris Mechanica watch, is unprecedented in its construction. What is the point in reproducing a tourbillon in the conventional way, especially within the Hybris Mechanica series? Jaeger-LeCoultre showed that being good wasn’t good enough. One had to go beyond.

L’essor des Complications : Partie 1

© Hublot

The minute repeater itself, widely considered the apex-level complication, has also received several advancements in the Hybris Mechanica series, not the least being the articulated ‘trebuchet’ hammers to optimise chime quality, gongs with square cross-sections (a feature that was subsequently adopted by a number of other striking watches) and the ‘crystal gongs’, featuring the integrated gong-and-crystal structure that was subsequently used to magnificent effect in the Chopard L.U.C Full Strike. While the field of complicated watches continues to evolve, the first two decades of the third millennium will go down in history as the era of some of the most creative watchmaking the industry has ever seen.

*On the occasion of GMT Magazine and WorldTempus' 20th anniversary, we have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years in watchmaking in The Millennium Watch Book, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English, with a 10% discount if you use the following code: WT2021. 

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