The Harry Winston Opus 14: A Considered Collector View
By now, pretty much everyone who follows horological news has heard about and likely seen images of the Harry Winston Opus 14. This is the latest in the line of daring designs that began with Opus 1 back in 2001 and the first to emerge from Harry Winston since its acquisition by Swatch Group.
Much of the hard data – the 1066 component parts, four separate stacked dials including three interchangeable ones, the formidable 54.7 mm diameter – is already well known.
But how does this immensely complicated watch “stack up” after a bit of reflection?
What I love about the Harry Winston Opus 14
“We choose to go to the moon and do these other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” John F. Kennedy, speech at Rice University, September 12, 1962
It pushes the edge. Over the past several years, Swatch Group has shown no hesitation in taking on highly complex and original technical challenges. During the Opus 14 launch, Swatch Group executive Marc Hayek cited the Blancpain Tourbillon Carrousel as well as the Jaquet Droz Charming Bird, which was my pick for the 2015 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève’s watch of the year, as two examples.
He went on to note, “The good news with this watch is that we did not have to observe any fixed brand DNA or styling red line; in fact, the red line with Opus is that it has to be different.”
With Opus 14, Swatch Group has taken on the dare.
Its makers are enthusiasts. During the launch Hayek said on several occasions, “I just love watches!” The look on his face each time he said that and his obvious delight each time he gazed at the watch spoke volumes.
His clear devotion to this piece extended to his animated demonstration of its features to our collector group at the launch after party (see Live Photos Of Harry Winston Opus 14 Plus Comments From Marc Hayek) and his willingness to serve as my personal wrist model prior to the press briefing the following morning.
The same was true for the quiet pride that movement designers Franck Orny and Johnny Girardin demonstrated at the press briefing and during our collectors’ lunch with them on the day following the big launch party.
It’s a splendid automaton. While it’s presented as a watch and positioned as a jukebox, at the end of the day for me this piece is best viewed as an automaton. And as seen through that lens it’s a fine one at that.
The combination of vertical and horizontal movement we see in this piece was presaged by the Montblanc Metamorphosis pieces also designed by Orny and Girardin, but in the Opus 14 we see a different, and very creative, application: a multi-disc stack that goes up and down like a tiny elevator in combination with a swing arm that moves three of the discs onto, and off from, a tiny turntable.
In the photo above, the turntable is clearly visible at the upper right corner of the watch. The action is controlled by two turning rings; the outer engages the date disc when it is in place, and the inner ring connects with, and positions, the second time zone disc.
Two small indexing pins on each ring find indentations on the underside of the respective disc and engage, and then the turntable spins the disc into the proper position. You can also see the teeth on the outer edge of the turntable that engage with the pushers at the top of the watch to correct the date and GMT indications.
It works. Extensive work at the Blancpain laboratories went into making the movement robust and ensuring its function. While I’m not quite sure that “It works!” is an inspiring motto, it is certainly a reassuring one.
While a bit of care needs to be exercised to ensure that the selector lever for the discs is properly positioned and the spinning regulator has come to rest between activations, these precautions seem perfectly reasonable to me and will be natural to anyone who has operated a repeating watch.
It displays useful information in a legible way. At the end of the day, I like a watch to be readable. Far too many watches today, both traditional and avant-garde, seem to ignore the simple rule that they must impart information. Two time zones and a calendar are useful indications; the retrograde minute display both meets the limitations of the disc format and provides visual interest.
And, as a bonus, changing between the displays is quite a bit of fun.
What I’m less enthusiastic about
“I’ve always felt that stylists as you have in America are ashamed of a car and are preoccupied with making it look like something else, like a submarine or an airship…As an engineer, I revolt against this.” Sir Alec Issigonis, designer of the original Mini automobile, quoted in the New York Times.
It’s not a jukebox. At the launch, Nayla Hayek, CEO of Harry Winston, dropped a tantalizing hint that at some future date this mechanism could play music. “That would be fun,” she said.
If really true, that would be great. But at the same time, this initial incarnation falls short on that dimension. I also learned that the form of a musical turntable watch would have to be somewhat different than Opus 14 as the sound transmission qualities of the current case would not be strong.
I want watches, not lifestyles. Perhaps like Sir Alec Issigonis quoted above, I’m revealing my engineering background here. But the Hollywood-Walk-of Fame-meets-Route-66 styling, period positioning, and pop-star ambassadorship seem a bit superficial, and in some ways for me actually detract from what is a very interesting technical achievement.
The packaging is problematic. On or off the wrist, this piece is very large indeed; and without any curvature of the vertical aspect to soften the look, it appears even larger than it is.
One of the stock photos of Opus 14 shows what looks almost like a black DLC finish to the case, which could be one avenue to consider in visually cutting the apparent size, and could be great looking with the black dial. Black is, after all, notoriously slimming.
It’s a barrel-driven automaton with limited power reserve. One of the lingering memories of the launch was of various folks furiously winding the watch to restore the turntable’s power reserve, which has capacity for five in-and-out disc movements.
Admittedly, in real-world use one might not switch between the date and second time zone that frequently; but then again, one might! It would have been fascinating to sit in on the technical discussions where the relative merits and limitations of barrel-driven and lever-driven models for the complication were debated.
What about the finishing? For more than 400,000 Swiss Francs, I expect refined finishing in all regards. And while it might be argued that the rugged look of the movement and in particular the mainspring barrel are in keeping with the design theme of the watch, it leaves me a bit cold.
One of the tremendous strengths that Swatch Group brings to its work, to Harry Winston and to the Opus line specifically, is its strength in depth: the wide range of capabilities that enable it to create wonderful timepieces both effectively and efficiently.
We heard a lot at the launch about the Swatch Group elements that contributed to Opus 14, from the Harry Winston styling team to the Blancpain base movement utilized and the Blancpain Laboratory team that helped to translate the designers’ vision of the movement into reality and certify its practicality.
These are wonderful strengths, but my lingering impression of the Opus 14 is of a noble effort made by somewhat disconnected groups of technicians and marketers working in parallel, rather than by a fully integrated team or single passionate creator.
I’m also left with a bit of curiosity about what might have been: was the “aesthetic” disc originally envisioned as a sound-making mechanism in the movement? Perhaps that’s just this watch fanatic’s fantasy; but what a wonderful possibility!
For more information, please visit www.harrywinston.com/opus-14.
Case: 54.7 x 21.9 mm, 18-karat white gold
Movement: manual winding Caliber HW4601, automaton complication, 68-hour power reserve, two spring barrels (main and animation), silicon balance
Functions: home time with hour and retrograde minutes; second time zone, date, automaton power reserve, main power reserve; GMT, date, and customizable aesthetic discs positioned by swinging arm
Limitation: 50 pieces
Price: 428,000 Swiss francs