The Maurice Lacroix Masterpiece Gravity: My, How Things Change
There is an old-school Maurice Lacroix fan in my immediate family. My “better” half (in his dreams!) acquired his first Maurice Lacroix – the original Cinq Aiguilles – way back in 1995; it was his first “real” watch. The second one – the now-classic Masterpiece Double Retrograde – joined his small arsenal of wrist adornment in about 2005.
For me, it is precisely these two watches that have formed the quintessence of the brand over the decades: classics with a bit of a modern twist.
Perhaps that’s the reason I’ve had a hard time adjusting to the “new” Maurice Lacroix of the last few years, a brand that now concentrates a bit more on the modern than the classic.
But, much to my delight, at Baselworld 2014 it just clicked for me again. All of a sudden I understood that what was doesn’t have to be what is, and that change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just something to adjust to.
At Maurice Lacroix there have been numerous changes over the last decade or so. Employees have come and gone. Desco von Schulthess AG sold the brand to DKSH. And, of course, sourcing components from industry suppliers has become quite difficult, mostly due to the Swatch Group restricting the supply of ETA movements and components (the latest Comco information might see all Swatch Group/ETA supply deliveries stop by 2018).
But perhaps some of the biggest outward changes were made by product manager Sandro Reginelli, who altered the look of some beloved classics quite radically. Let’s back up a bit to see why.
Back in the early 1980s, the world was craving quartz watches. However, Maurice Lacroix’s then-product manager, René Baumann, was certain that the future of the company lay in mechanical watches with classically styled dials and cases. This idea was not far from what others like Chronoswiss’s Gerd-Rüdiger Lang were also successfully implementing at the time.
“Fascinated by the long tradition of Swiss watchmaking craftsmanship and, in particular, by mechanical watches, it was my vision to create unique timepieces that would fascinate wearers time and again through attractive and additional functions as well as through timeless design that combines traditional and modern elements in the best possible way. I was able to fulfill this dream with the Masterpiece Collection,” Baumann said not long before his retirement in 2003 after about thirty years working for Maurice Lacroix.
Before retiring, he spent a great deal of time training two young men to take over. Not to take over where he left off, that much was clear, but to invent and evolve two distinct sectors of creativity within the company. Patrick Graells became product head for the Masterpiece Collection (after a subsequent stint at TAG Heuer he now works for Greubel Forsey).
At Baselworld 2006, Graells’ vision of modernizing Baumann’s work was highly visible: he had begun evolving the Double Retrograde line – by then a real signature timepiece for the brand. Like much of Maurice Lacroix’s mechanical collection at the time, its movement was based upon the Unitas 6498 (a movement manufactured by ETA).
While ten years ago, the move toward movement independence seemed more like a natural progression based on a booming market for luxury watches, today it is basically a necessity because of the aforementioned supplier situation. Graells initially kept the Unitas base plate and added new bridges (including a three-quarter bridge) and a swan-neck spring for fine adjustment.
The Masterpiece Double Retrograde remains in the collection, today outfitted with Caliber ML 191.
Sandro Reginelli, Italian by birth, is a lively and refined personality with a marked interest for aesthetics and design. In May 2003, he assumed responsibility for the other half of Baumann’s previous work: the standard collections. After Graells’ departure a couple of years later, he took on the whole collection as product manager, and (for my perception at least) radically changed its visuals.
The traditional look of the Masterpiece collection with its stamped guilloche and fluted bezels had been replaced by daring, modern designs, including lots of black and geometric shapes. Some traditionalists like me needed time getting used to the new look.
By 2008, the ETA situation had changed the brand’s long-term goals – as well as just about everyone else’s. The ultimate aim had to be to become more independent by producing manufacture movements.
The first instance of Maurice Lacroix’s inward change was, of course, chronograph Caliber ML 106, the premier movement fully designed by the company (with the help of A.H.C.I. member Andreas Strehler) and manufactured using custom components made by various specialist suppliers. It features a 60-minute counter instead of a standard 30-minute totalizer, and is currently utilized in the Masterpiece Le Chronographe Squelette.
The latest example of Maurice Lacroix’s independent idea of movement architecture – this time designed by Maurice Lacroix’s head of movement design, Michel Vermot – comes with the Caliber ML 230, which is highly visible inside the high domed crystal of the Masterpiece Gravity. I was fortunate in having the opportunity to wear this timepiece for a while.
Let’s have a closer look at it, starting with the design. As far as departure from existing models in the collection goes, this couldn’t be a bigger one. Some have pointed out a certain resemblance to the Breguet La Tradition line. Actually, for me, the only resemblance there lies in the unrestricted view of the oscillation assembly and the resulting need for off-center subdials for the time. That is where I believe the comparison stops.
Reginelli calls the look of the Masterpiece Gravity “contemporary expression.” I would tend to agree with him: the 43 mm case in satin-finished stainless steel, the high dome of the boxed sapphire crystal, and the unusual exposure of components and mechanisms speak to this.
The high visibility of the escapement and the balance is deliberate and meaningful. It is meant to display that this is not an off-the-rack assembly, but rather designed by Maurice Lacroix’s own team and manufactured in collaboration with specialist suppliers Atokalpa and Sigatec.
Yes, Sigatec. And, yes, this does mean there is silicon in this assembly. Five components, in fact: the balance staff, the pallet lever, the pallet staff, the escape wheel, and the pinion belonging to the escape wheel; all of the most friction-influenced components of the regulator. The traditional components beating right alongside these futuristic parts are manufactured by Atokalpa (a sister company of Vaucher).
Interestingly, Vermot and Reginelli allude to Maurice Lacroix’s long past (it was founded in 1975) by setting the timepiece’s frequency at 2.5 Hz / 18,000 vph – also unusual for a modern silicon-outfitted timepiece, as this technology is ideal for use in high-beat movements thanks to its friction-free lack of need for extensive lubrication.
“Its design follows the requirements of the movement,” Reginelli explained.
It is interesting to note that the openworked bridge positioned at 11 o’clock seems to be functionless. I would call this added component one of Reginelli’s artistic expressions – in essence a design choice to balance out the visuals.
The Masterpiece Gravity is available in two versions: 43 mm stainless steel or anthracite-colored PVD-treated stainless steel. I will say right here and now that 43 mm is not my sweet spot as my wrists are pretty small. However, I will also say that the incredibly intelligent folding clasp did not make this an issue whatsoever. That large case sat rock solid on my wrist.
The case height of 16.2 mm thanks its heft in great part to the high sapphire crystal, which – combined with the absence of a bezel – makes the “dial” seem like a great microcosm of mechanics that just happens to tell the time.
I particularly like the off-center design and the clous de Paris guilloche-style stamping on the three-quarter main plate that doubles as the dial. It’s a really interesting additional element, particularly paired with the very legible blue of the hands in the hour-and-minute subdial and the red numerals on the subdial for seconds.
Turning the case over, we first spy a relatively easy-to-miss engraving “Basel 2014.” This alludes to Baselworld 2014, where the watch was first introduced. I’ve never seen that exact engraving anywhere else on a watch and found that to be an interesting, unusual choice.
Next we see the movement with all of its well-appointed, industrial-style finish including côtes de Genève through the large sapphire crystal case back. This finish fits perfectly with the overall style of the watch, and the large openworked rotor helps the movement provide 50 hours of power reserve.
This is a lot of watch for the money. But that should come as no surprise given Maurice Lacroix’s traditional humane pricing structure. The Masterpiece Gravity now forms the tip of the brand’s pricing pyramid.
While the mid-level price range has always been Maurice Lacroix’s sweet spot, and will remain its core in the future, the Masterpiece Gravity represents a very respectable segue into the world of haute horlogerie.
For more information, please visit www.mauricelacroix.com.
Quick Facts Masterpiece Gravity
Case: stainless steel or stainless steel with anthracite-colored PVD coating, 43 x 16.2 mm, high boxed sapphire crystal
Movement: automatic Caliber ML 230 with inverted design with visible oscillating system; silicon components; 18,000 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, subsidiary seconds
Limitation: 250 pieces in each color