Round, Schmround! The Maurice Lacroix Square Wheel Cube
Gears, man, gears. They are by far my favorite application of the simple lever.
A gear is a toothed wheel that meshes with a similar toothed wheel or rack to create rotational movement. I think anybody who has read anything about machines, and definitely anyone who has read about watches, knows what a gear is.
But what many don’t realize is that a gear is not a simple machine, since it uses two components to create movement.
To the primary wheel and axle multiple small levers (in the form of teeth) are attached, thereby providing the ability to “lever” teeth on another gear into moving out of the way. Since it is round, this process continues perfectly around the circumference without fail.
This is why the gear is such a beautiful invention: it can create so much with practically so little. A few evenly spaced bumps on a round object and you have the beginnings of a gear. And that gear can be used to transfer motion in a multitude of ways.
But what if that gear isn’t round, what if it was, say, an oval. Or, even stranger yet, a square? It would still work, but the math and geometry become much more difficult. These types of gears have actually been around for a long time and are appropriately called non-circular gears.
Before fancy computers could design them automatically, very smart engineers had to calculate how to create these weird concoctions. Why, do you ask, would one ever need a non-circular gear anyway?
Speed variation, dwell periods, the ability to stop and start motion with a permanently fixed gear setup (extremely useful before electronically-controlled conveyor belts or linear actuators) are some of the many uses for non-circular gearing in the industrial world.
So, while you may not know about their existence, non-circular gears have been helping the world go around for a long time.
Square gears in watchmaking
A while back, they made their way into the watch world in the shape of the Maurice Lacroix Regulator Roue Carrée (carrée being French for square). This piece featured a square-and-clover-shaped gear set driving the hour pointer, which was later incorporated into the Roue Carrée Seconde where it drove the seconds pointer (bet you could have guessed that, huh?).
Following its initial presentation, there are now two other variations named the Square Wheel and Square Wheel Cube. I had the honor of taking the Cube for a test drive and must say that it was an enjoyable experience.
Ever since the first Roue Carrée came out in 2010 I have lusted over the odd set of gears visible above the dial, so being able to finally have some time with an example was very cool for me.
As I’ve mentioned to almost anybody who will listen, I simply love gears. And I love clever examples of how they are used. So it would follow that for the first hour I had with the watch I sat hunched over my desk with a loupe simply watching the meshing of the irregularly shaped teeth that make up the tri-lobe clover and square gears.
I actually had to wait impatiently as every one of my coworkers took a minute to do the same.
It was fitting that they drool over it too because non-circular gears are not easy to make. Since they aren’t based on a single standard tooth profile, each tooth must be even more precise for it to mesh properly with a tooth of a completely different shape (thanks to the clover and square).
The more carefully shaped teeth are unique to their position and any error makes them practically useless as the simple lever they are meant to be. This makes non-circular gears akin to the more sophisticated older brother who no longer plays with Legos.
Who am I kidding? Everyone plays with Legos!
So after they had their fun and I finally had my time alone with the piece, I started to look past the gears and actually appreciate the design as well.
Pictures of this piece can be deceiving since it is a very busy dial with a very highly polished set of blue silicon gears; the dial’s “presence” can only be fully enjoyed in person, I think.
The geometry of the repeating shapes glimmers and mesmerizes as you search for the time, which is definitely secondary to the show going on at the bottom.
The design is actually broken up with an irregular pattern removed around the area where the gears are situated. This helps to draw the eye to the gears but also provides an asymmetrical dial that is seen less often these days, especially with such a geometric foundation.
This is good since the gears aren’t simply polished, but polished in a slightly faceted manner to create a pattern similar to that found on the dial. If the surrounding area wasn’t clean and clear, the overall effect would either be lost or be overwhelming to the eyes.
In this case, it helps keep this piece from making your eyes go fuzzy. I had a few people comment on the dial and how it was almost hard to look at, but they all agreed that it was a very cool pattern and enjoyed it for its uniqueness.
The hands, hour markers, and power reserve indication are kept slight and minimal, making time-telling a secondary purpose of the piece. I would love to see a piece from Maurice Lacroix with the exact same markers and hands but with a black enamel dial and no other ornamentation (and also without the gears) because I think they are a fantastic combo for a supremely reserved piece.
They are also perfect for this piece since everything else is so captivating; it would be tragic to busy the dial with oversized markers and hands. KISS (“keep it simple, stupid”), which Maurice Lacroix head designer Sandro Reginelli definitely did.
The case fit very well on my normal-sized wrist, and it felt beautifully made in my favorite noble metal, stainless steel. Flipping it over revealed a clean case back and three-quarter plate movement.
If you don’t remember how I feel about the three-quarter plate style of movement, check out Ode To Three-Quarters: The Glashütte Original PanoMaticInverse. Overall, the watch was a delight to wear, but even more impressive to witness. I was very sad when I had to pack it back up a week later, though I made sure to show it a great time on the town while I had it.
The real beauty of the piece lies in the gears, and that is the whole point. There are not many other places in the world can you have geometry like that being put to use on your wrist. For that reason I love the Square Wheel Cube, if not also for the awesome cubist design, which tickles my obsessive tendencies. I bet you could stare at it for as long as I did and still find it mesmerizing. Just look at it!
And then come back for the breakdown!
• Wowza Factor * 7.4 Cubism surrounding non-circular gears shaped like a square and clover, holy moly!
• Late Night Lust Appeal * 25.6 » 251.050m/s2 Simply watching those gears go around and around will keep you up until the wee hours of the morning.
• M.G.R. * 40.1 Solid movement with an interesting function for the seconds pointer, gives any movement junkie a good time.
• Added-Functionitis * Slight Power reserve, oh power reserve, where would we be without you? With a dead watch, probably. And for that I recommend regular-strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream for the enjoyable swelling.
• Ouch Outline * 7.65 Accidentally grabbing a hot frying pan. Sounds silly and yet we accidentally do it all the time. But to be able to strap this on, I would take one for the team (and by team, I mean my watch collection).
• Mermaid Moment * 60 Seconds Only one minute of those gears going around and meshing in ways you didn’t think were possible would be required before you started thinking about setting a date.
• Awesome Total * 405 Add the movement number (Caliber ML156) to the number of components in said movement (249) and you get a very respectable awesome total.
For more information, please visit www. mauricelacroix.com.
Case: 43 mm, stainless steel or red gold
Movement: hand-wound Caliber ML156
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; power reserve
Price: $13,900 in steel