The Romain Gauthier Insight Micro-Rotor: Complex Simplicity Begets A Deeper Truth
Complex simplicity is something that is difficult to find practiced in the modern industrial era of cheaply manufactured goods.
It is, it should be said, a mainstay of modern design and a guiding principle for creating meaningful art and engineering.
But it also is hard.
I would describe complex simplicity as the optimal implementation of features with the least amount resources.
The goal is to make something that is almost irreducibly complex while also incredibly elegant. It isn’t the opposite of complexity, but rather the next level of effort after creating something very complicated.
In other words, trying to simplify the idea while maintaining the details.
Making something complicated is hard too, of course, but strangely enough it is easier to add five average parts instead of taking the time and effort to discover a way to do the same thing with one or two cleverly designed parts. Of course there are examples of this everywhere in design and engineering, but they tend to go unnoticed because they aren’t flashy and overly complex, but instead ingenious solutions to complex problems.
Sometimes, great examples of complex simplicity aren’t in breaking new ground but simply reacting to an ever-growing complexity that seems superfluous for the task at hand. In watchmaking, this can be seen by the brands or watchmakers that create “simple” time-only watches in ways that extol the virtues of complex simplicity instead of mind boggling complexity.
Don’t get me wrong, those timepieces are awesomazing and can make me go weak in the knees, but seeing a watch that does everything it needs to do with the bare essentials and gives the impression of complexity through its simplicity . . . now that is something special.
A piece that caught my attention at Baselworld 2017 doing just this was the Romain Gauthier Insight Micro-Rotor, the first automatic watch from the talented engineer and a prime example of complex simplicity.
The Insight Micro-Rotor looks relatively simple, and compared to the Logical One it is, but the genius behind Romain Gauthier and the Insight Micro-Rotor is how every detail is carefully considered and pared back until only the essentials remain.
All while looking simply fantastic.
That Romain Gauthier is an extremely talented engineer, there is no doubt. More importantly, he is a very talented mechanical designer that takes the best of what has come before in classical watchmaking and the best of what is new and blends them seamlessly. Previous Romain Gauthier watches have showcased this talent well, but I think the Insight Micro-Rotor is the best example yet of what is possible when the best of both worlds is combined with every effort to keep it simple.
The Insight Micro-Rotor is a “simple” time-only watch featuring the vertical linear alignment of dials and the balance layout of Logical One, only now the displays are centered and flanked by a gleaming micro rotor. The micro rotor is visible from both front and back thanks to Gauthier’s tendency to make the movement visible from the dial side.
But this is where the telltale signs of intelligently restrained design become obvious.
Many watchmakers make the movement visible from the dial side, some like to go as far as they can to show every detail possible, sometimes bordering on making a skeleton watch. Given the see-through nature of the micro rotor window, that might not have seemed out of place. But Gauthier knew that going the direction of showing too much would have been folly.
Instead, the dial is kept very simple with only one other opening providing a peek into the keyless works.
Not much, just a glimpse.
Other than that it is all bridges and main plate surfaces. No crazy skeletonizing, no wacky bridge shapes (stylized yes; wacky no), just good, clean components with “simple” finishing (I’ll come back to that in a bit).
The same can be said for the rear of the movement as well: it is largely made up of clean surfaces with just a few cutouts for views into the movement. There are only five wheels partially visible, though they themselves are skeletonized beautifully.
The overall visual style of the movement and layout of the Insight Micro-Rotor is elegant mechanical exposure without resorting to overexposure. The movement doesn’t need to be on display any more than it is since – after all – it is “just” a time-only movement. Not that this can’t be something special, but Gauthier treated it as special in its own way, mainly with the best finishing you can get.
Gauthier can well be considered Philippe Dufour’s artistic heir, in that they share similar artistic styles (like radius edges instead of chamfers, for one) in regards to simplicity with a focus on quality. For more on that, see Why Romain Gauthier Is The Logical Heir Apparent To Philippe Dufour.
The finishing in a Romain Gauthier watch is top notch.
No, scratch that. The finishing is the best you can get, on par with any and every one of the greats. And the simple design of the movement allows for this superb finishing to really and truly shine. Not to mention that the finishing choices actually help the finishing to shine more brightly than if a variety of textures were chosen.
I love when different styles of brushing, graining, perlage, polishing, and engraving are used to embellish a movement, but sometimes the combination of too many techniques dilutes the visual impact of any one, no matter how impressive it might be .
When the textures are kept simple, the perfect execution of those textures can actually be noticed and this is the case with the Insight Micro-Rotor. The hand-applied frosting keeps everything from being overwhelming, while the edges, countersinks, and key details are polished to a flawless shine. This allows the satin brushing on the bridges to provide a middle contrast without being too stark of a difference.
Impressively, the finishing is all hand done, showing just how skilled the Romain Gauthier craftsmen and women) are, since no matter how closely you look under a loupe, it’s hard to find any imperfections.
Adding to that are the perfect enamel dials, a feature still is relatively rare in the watch world due to the difficulty in creating blemish-free parts and the high scrap rate.
The only thing that I am disappointed with on the Insight Micro-Rotor is the balance wheel, but not for the reason you think.
The balance, which rotates at the bottom of the dial just below the subsidiary seconds dial, is a beautifully finished and interestingly designed piece of art. The eight curving arms create a look of bulging pillars holding the rim in place. Four beautifully designed eccentric weights rest on the rim as well, adding to the lovely appearance and becoming a point of delicate perfection in the clean dial.
But you can’t see it.
Well, you can’t see it if the watch is functioning, which really is a shame.
I think this is the reason why so many people still love tourbillons – because a balance is oscillating, creating a blur of motion, so no matter how awesome the design or perfect the finishing, you never really see it. At least with a tourbillon you can see the cage rotating slowly and appreciate the craftsmanship and finishing.
Of course I don’t want the watch to be non-functional, but after seeing photos of the watch not running and seeing it in person fully functioning, I have to say it loses just a little something with the blur of the balance.
I guess the complex simplicity of the watch brought this to my attention more starkly than I have ever noticed since other watches usually have other distractions. This isn’t a real problem, but more of an existential complaint about sacrifices. Sometimes we sacrifice something beautiful because the world needs to move on.
Now that I’m all misty eyed and melancholy, I’ll bring myself back to the watch at hand (or wrist, as the case may be). The Romain Gauthier Insight Micro-Rotor is awesome for its simplicity, finishing, and that tingling feeling you get when you hold it. There is something about holding an object that has been so entirely considered and doted upon during construction that it feels perfect. The sense of honor at being in its presence doesn’t come with most things in life; it is a special experience that lasts only for a moment or two and then leaves an impression on your very being.
This reminds me of a story. When I was a child there was a tree in the middle of a hay field a few miles from my house. I’m not sure what kind, could have been oak, maple, something typical of the central Minnesota area. The tree stood alone in the 20 hectares of rolling grass, and it was simply perfect. It was exactly what you would think of if you were asked to draw a tree in five seconds. It had perfect proportions and was shaped like something in a painting. We always called it the perfect tree and I knew that others generally called it this as well. It somehow held a position in the community as a revered bit of nature.
One day it was struck by lightning and one-third of the tree was cleaved off by the strike. From then on it was just a tree, and we lost the perfection we had seen in it. But to this day, more than twenty years later, I still remember the moments driving by and being awed by that “perfect tree.”
The feeling I had from that tree is similar to the feeling I get when I hold something like the Insight Micro-Rotor (seriously). It isn’t something necessarily precious, but it is something meaningful. It’s a connection to possibility and a reminder of the lives of those that breathe life into objects.
Somehow through my ruminations on the Romain Gauthier Insight Micro-Rotor, it has become much more than the sum of its parts, and in a way, a part of me.
Okay, wow, that was a bit intense, so how about the breakdown!!
- Wowza Factor * 9.65 If you know what you are looking at, the wows that come from this watch are hard to beat. And if you feel what I felt, they turn from wows into existential joys!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 97.9 » 960.071m/s2 The lusting of this watch is something deeper, right down in your soul. The simplicity creates a fire inside for the perfection life so often lacks.
- M.G.R. * 62.9 Again, it isn’t about complexity but the simplicity by which it is created. And dang if it doesn’t make you geek out in a totally different way!
- Added-Functionitis * N/A Time only has never been such a misnomer. While the Insight Micro-Rotor may only tell you the time, it tells you deeper truths about the universe in general. Still, no need for Gotta-HAVE-That cream!
- Ouch Outline * 10.7 What do you mean there was a ghost pepper in there! Anyone that isn’t much of a fan of spicy food should run far away from a ghost pepper! And yet, I would gladly (and accidentally) ingest another bit of one if it meant getting the Insight Micro-Rotor on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * A moment in eternity! The moments with it are all too brief, but the memories last a lifetime! The memories alone caused me to book a caterer and hire a DJ!
- Awesome Total * 950 Multiply the number of components in the movement (206) with the water resistance in atmospheres (5) and then subtract the number of hours of power reserve (80) for a surprisingly meaningful awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.romaingauthier.com/insight-micro-rotor.
Quick Facts Romain Gauthier Insight Micro-Rotor
Case: 39.5 x 12.9 mm, red gold or platinum
Movement: automatic in-house manufacture Romain Gauthier caliber with micro rotor, 80-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph; highest level of haute horlogerie finishing
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 10 pieces each in red gold with white enamel dial, black enamel dial or blue enamel dial; 10 pieces each in platinum with white enamel dial, black enamel dial or blue enamel dial
Price: 75,000 Swiss francs (red gold), 88,000 Swiss francs (platinum) (excluding taxes)
Also published on Medium.