Behind The Lens: Fonderie 47 Inversion Principle
In this edition of “Behind the Lens,” we take a look at a watch that you may not have heard about yet: the Inversion Principle tourbillon by Fonderie 47. There’s a story to be told about both the brand and this particular watch, and we will touch on it as we go.
But in keeping with the “Behind the Lens” theme, I’ll primarily emphasize the visuals: the visible design elements of the watch and their links to the Fonderie 47 brand, as well as some of my observations on what it was like to photograph this watch.
Even amateur photographers get the blues
I had the incredibly good fortune recently to get my hands on three examples of the Inversion Principle. The occasion was the delivery of the first working watches from watchmaker David Candaux to Peter Thum, CEO and co-founder of Fonderie 47, and the subsequent delivery of the first white gold piece to its happy new owner.
Courtesy of Peter, I was given a couple of hours to snap away with three examples of the watch: the working models in white and red gold, and the red gold prototype. The only problem: the finished watches were both wound to several days’ power reserve, and there was no way to stop the ticking of the movements.
When I got back to my home light tent, I was pretty downcast about the prospect of showing the central tourbillon of the Inversion Principle as a blurry mess. I shoot with fixed lights rather than strobes, and the relatively low brightness of the fixed fluorescents translates into longer exposures.
What to do? It was time to apply some of my teacher Ming Thein’s Socratic methods to myself as I began to ask how I could provide the appearance of freezing time given my constraints.
An hour of learning experiments later, I was able to find a combination of light proximity to the watch, aperture, shutter speed, watch position, tilt-shift lens angle, and ISO setting that let me come close. The first photo in this article is the cleanest result, but I was pretty pleased with the illusion of stopped time in many of the other photos as well.
Other perspectives on the Inversion Principle
Flipping the watch over gave some relief from the “moving movement” challenge and also began to reveal some of the linkages to the story of the Fonderie 47 brand, which were incorporated into the aesthetics of Inversion Principle by watch designer Adrian Glessing.
Fonderie 47 was co-founded by CEO Peter Thum with a radical premise: that the sale of luxury goods could both deliver profits to investors and address a tough social problem: the proliferation of assault weapons across Africa.
Even the name Fonderie 47 is a direct reference to the AK-47, the most prevalent assault rifle used in areas of conflict around the globe.
Profits from every Fonderie 47 item sold funds the destruction of a specified number of assault weapons; in the case of the Inversion Principle watch, each piece delivered comes with a list of the serial numbers of the 1000 weapons whose destruction was funded by the purchase.
Looking at the back of the watch, we can see the black spring barrel cover in the shape of Fonderie 47’s logo: the lip of a crucible in which weapons are melted down and re-purposed (“fonderie” is French for “foundry,” a place for melting and casting metal). The black medallion itself is made of steel from one of the destroyed assault rifles, and the serial number of that weapon (in this case 56-3701F42) is engraved beneath the caliber designation on the back plate of the movement.
Also visible on the rear of the watch is one of the two indicators of the six-day power reserve (the other is visible through a sapphire window in the case band), whose surrounding bezel is reminiscent of the shape of the rear sight of an AK-47.
Not all of the visuals refer to the destruction of weapons, however: for instance, the soleil striping that emanates from the black medallion and covers the rear plate is very much in the tradition of the Vallée de Joux, where the movement was designed and constructed by independent watchmaker David Candaux.
The major visual themes appear elsewhere on the watch as well: can you see the reference to the crucible’s pouring spout on the buckle edge on the left side of this photo?
I had fun setting up and taking this shot to show the handsome, chunky buckle in the context of the watch itself while at the same time ensuring that the soleil finishing of the movement plate was in clear evidence.
At the dinner at which the first white gold Inversion Principle was presented to its happy owner, David revealed additional points about the visual and mechanical design of the watch that we can see as we return to the front of the red gold piece.
The bold, curved bridge of gold that splits the front crystal in two is shaped to resemble the view through the front sight of an AK-47. The ring atop the three-minute flying tourbillon has three pointed indices (one of which is visible here pointing to the 52-second marker); taken as a complete piece, the ring resembles a rifling tool used to place the spiral grooves within the barrel of a gun.
Even the choice of jumping hours and retrograde minutes was quite intentional, meant to remind the wearer of the percussive recoil of a weapon being fired.
All of these visual design choices, of course, placed real demands on the design and fabrication of the watch’s mechanisms. For instance, that attractive and unusual retrograde minute indicator that covers an astounding 240-degree arc proved extremely difficult to make in a way that neither required too much power from the mainspring nor jarred the delicate parts of the flyback mechanism too much, and led to some delivery delays as Candaux worked out solutions.
Back to photography! I did have the red gold prototype watch on hand for the shoot, and the good news was that, unlike the other two watches, it was not running. The bad news was that the numerals were the wrong color: black, as on the final white gold version, rather than the vivid blue of the production red gold pieces. Having considered a few potential approaches, I decided to go monochromatic, capturing the image above.
My time with the watches was almost up, and the new owner of the white gold piece certainly couldn’t be kept waiting! I captured a few detail shots that didn’t require the entire watch to be in focus and then finished with a pair of captures of the white gold Inversion Principle.
I tried hard to show the appropriate contrast between the brilliant rhodium movement finish and the white gold case, as well as giving a sense of the translucent dark grey insert that surrounds the hour display and gives a peek at the adjacent numerals on the dial behind the insert. Easier said than done, I must say!
Many thanks to Peter Thum for the opportunity to photograph the Inversion Principle, and to David and Caroline Candaux for their patient explanations of the watch and its workings.
Case: 42 x 14.6 mm, white or red gold
Movement: manually wound Caliber F47-001 with central three-minute flying tourbillon
Functions: instantaneous jump hours (set/adjusted with crown pusher), retrograde minutes; power reserve indications on back and side
Limitation: 20 pieces
Disclosure: The author was an early angel investor in Fonderie 47, is enthusiastic about the brand’s social mission, and continues to hold minor equity positions in both Fonderie 47 and its sister company, Liberty United.