Quill & Pad’s Predictions For The Mechanical Exception Category Of The 2015 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève
by Ian Skellern
Welcome to the 2015 edition of Quill & Pad’s early Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) predictions in which we pick our favorites and explain why.
Our panelists are:
Ian Skellern (IS), co-founder and technical director
Joshua Munchow (JM), resident nerd writer
GaryG (GG), resident collector
What Makes Me Tick (WMMT), resident opinionator and storyteller
Note: as a GPHG jury member, Quill & Pad editor-in-chief Elizabeth Doerr is excluded from these predictions.
According to the GPHG’s rules, the Mechanical Exception category is for watches featuring a special mechanism such as an innovative or sophisticated display, an automaton, a belt-driven movement, or any other original and/or exceptional horological concept.
IS: The pre-selected watches in the 2015 Mechanical Exception category are the most difficult I’ve had to judge so far. And that’s for two reasons: the first being that ” . . . a special mechanism, such as an innovative or sophisticated display, an automaton, a belt-driven movement or any other original and/or exceptional horological concept” is quite a broad definition. And the second is the fact that all six of the watches pre-selected deserve to win in different ways.
JM: For the Mechanical Exception category we have a cornucopia of fantastical watches, and each one deserves to be recognized for multiple reasons. And yet those are the reasons why some stand above their peers and why this was a very difficult choice to make.
WMMT: Remember my article Is Independent Creative Horology Dead? The vast majority of the watches in this category could have been used to illustrate the lack of creativity I spoke of there!
I seriously don’t know how most of the watches got in here as they are more gimmick than anything else and, with the exception of a few, they take design elements from other brands.
IS: I’m casting my vote for the HYT H3 as best Mechanical Exception for the simple reason that it is the most “exceptional,” as in “exception to the norm.” With no hands, no dial, a non-round case, and electric green liquid in a tube running over what looks like a kebab skewer of dice (hour indicators), the H3 is as different from a normal watch as could be.
To make the hour numerals on the rectangular cuboids (those dice on the kebab skewer) large enough to see, HYT could on fit six numbers across the already wide face. That means that each set of six has to rotate every six hours and that rotation requires considerable precious energy. I like the fact that HYT developed a system that recovers energy from the retrograde system to power the rotation of the six-hour rectangular parallelepiped (and that’s not a word you will see often).
While the tube indication for hours appears to only contain yellow/green fluid, what looks empty is actually a completely transparent fluid that is separated by a meniscus.
The upper part of this living sculpture houses the bellows mechanism. The first, on the left, drives the progression of the fluid and therefore the time display. Its counterpart, on the right, compensates for this progression in the capillary. Less than one millimeter in diameter, this glass tube, operating in a vacuum, still contains two fluids: the first, a (water-based) yellow fluid, serves to tell the time; the second (viscous-based) translucent fluid works in opposition. A meniscus (curved surface tension) separates them so they do not mix because the yellow/green fluid is water-based while the clear fluid is oil-based.
JM: The winner is, to me, the biggest development, mechanically, from what we have previously seen in the industry. The Charming Bird is not new this year, and for this reason it came in at number two.
The winner for 2015 has to be HYT with the new H3. This features technology from previous models yes, but an entirely new architecture and a very complicated mechanism that goes far beyond what HYT has done and what many others are doing as well. Building on the science of microfluidics, HYT managed to completely change its own direction and with this model, having created another mechanical object that I deeply covet. And for that it is a winner.
WMMT: The flying balance bridge of the HYT model is greatly inspired by that of the MB&F Legacy Machines, and the hour counters use the same system as the Hautelance Vortex, which is also a nominee in this category!
For more details, please see Joshua’s article An Odyssey To Number 3: HYT H3.
Quick Facts HYT H3
Case: 62 x 41 x 16 mm, titanium and platinum
Movement: manually wound Caliber H3
Functions: fluid hours, minutes; power reserve, crown position indicator
Price: 280,000 Swiss francs
Jaquet Droz The Charming Bird
IS: While with just hours and minutes indicated by run-of-the-mill hands, albeit beautifully crafted blued-steel hands, the actual timekeeping part of the Jaquet Droz Charming Bird is as unexceptional as they come. But the category rules specifically mention “an automaton,” and this singing bird is as exceptional as any watch-based automaton that I’ve ever seen and heard.
Actually developing and constructing an automaton of this size and musical quality is an exceptional feat by itself, but where Jaquet Droz has really excelled is how the brand has managed to incorporate the singing bird into an elegant wristwatch.
Tiny pistons pump the air, which gets stored then released at different speeds through different shapes to create the bird’s melodious song. But that’s not all: three different cams open and close the beak, flap the wings and rotate the bird inside its dome. It’s a fantastic bit of technology, and I would neither be surprised or disappointed if the very aptly named Charming Bird takes the prize.
WMMT: My winner is The Charming Bird, which is true mechanical poetry. Everything in this watch is done with taste and panache, and considering what the watch does this could have been a recipe for disaster. Yet the outcome is a marvel. So well done, Jaquet Droz!
GG: You pretty much had me at “automaton,” Jaquet Droz! I suppose that I also have to confess that at the end of the day I’m a bit more drawn to new embodiments of classical watchmaking technique than to entirely new conceptions, so the Charming Bird is my winner in a close contest.
JM: My first runner up is probably the most complicated watch in this group, just barely, and it has been in development for a while. The Jaquet Droz Charming Bird is an incredible display of the skills and ingenuity of Jaquet Droz in developing automata and with material and acoustic science.
The amount of research that went into producing the complicated mechanisms (which create bird-like movement AND special chirping sounds) was likely no small feat. Having something like this on your wrist would simply be amazing and for that it gets the first runner up position.
For more details, see The Whimsical Song Of Jaquet Droz’s Charming Bird.
Quick Facts Jaquet Droz The Charming Bird
Case: 47 x 15.75 mm (23 mm high dome containing the bird), white gold
Movement: automatic Jaquet Droz Caliber 615 with silicon balance spring
Functions: hours, minutes; singing bird
Limitation: 28 pieces
Price: 410,400 Swiss francs
IS: My third choice was an extremely close call between Emmanuel Bouchet’s Complication One and the Hautlence Vortex. While the Vortex features technology first introduced five years ago in the HL2, it’s presented in a quite different configuration and a completely new case, so I’m comfortable treating it as an entirely new watch. And I think that the jury will find the mechanical exceptionalism of the Vortex more obvious than Bouchet’s Complication One, which requires a more intellectual approach (not that I don’t think the jury is capable of a more intellectual approach, it’s just that I’m not sure if enough jury members have the technical knowledge required to appreciate Complication One).
While the unusual rotating escapement of the Vortex isn’t technically a tourbillon, it certainly rotates the escapement like a tourbillon, though admittedly at a much slower speed: one revolution every six hours.
Minutes are retrograde over a 180-degree arc and are highly legible thanks to the sheer size of the semi-circular minute dial. Chain-driven jumping hours display in a window at the bottom left of the minutes, and a power reserve indicator is neatly set into the top right of the dial. All well and good, but none of the indications are exceptional enough to warrant inclusion in this category. It’s that spectacular escapement that attracts all the attention and is the reason the Vortex makes my top three.
GG: The thing that moves the Vortex up the list to number two for me is the very clever use of a repeater-style centrifugal regulator, visible at the center of the front of the watch, to provide a controlled release of the jumping hour and retrograde minutes indications.
I’ve had its sister piece, the HL2.4, on my wrist, and the orderly movement on each hour of the indications as the regulator spins away is mesmerizing. It’s also pretty cool that the escapement is tied to the moving belt for the hours and pivots 60 degrees each hour as the time changes.
WMMT: Sure the Vortex is an interesting watch, but it is a re-cased HL2 originally launched in 2011. So nothing really new here in my opinion.
For more on the Vortex, see The Hautlence Vortex: Is This The World’s Slowest Tourbillon?
Quick Facts Hautlence Vortex
Case: 52 x 50 x 18 mm, titanium, water resistance 30 meters
Movement: HLR 2.0 in-house tourbillon caliber with rotating regulator, automatic winding with micro rotor, 92 jewels, 3 Hz balance frequency
Functions: jumping hours displayed by a chain, retrograde minutes; 40-hour power reserve indicator
Limitation: 88 pieces
Price: 160,000 Swiss francs
Emmanuel Bouchet Complication One
IS: If I was selecting a watch to wear for myself out of these six, it would be the Emmanuel Bouchet Complication One because I quite like the fact that while it is brilliantly conceived and executed, it’s quite an intellectually challenging watch to understand. And I enjoyed the challenge.
I’m not choosing here for myself, though, but rather trying to second guess the jury. And I suspect that the sophisticated intricacies of Complication One will be lost on many, so it unfortunately does not make my top three, just a special mention.
JM: For my second runner-up I had to choose a watch that has intrigued me since I first saw it and still intrigues me to this day: the Emmanuel Bouchet Complication One. The point of this watch and its specific complication is not immediately clear, and I inquired with the man himself over its purpose, which made me love it even more. The large escapement on the dial is a “Because We Can” (BWC) complication that demonstrates exactly what happens in a regular lever escapement five or more times a second, but it does it every fifteen seconds. The work, style, and cleverness of this piece is what makes me love it.
For more, please see Complication 1 By Emmanuel Bouchet Featuring A Giant Swiss Lever Escapement.
Quick Facts Emmanuel Bouchet Complication One
Movement: manually wound Caliber EB-1963; 72 hours power reserve; frequency 2.5 Hz + 0.67 Hz; 283 components; secondary escapement dial-side; two independent gear trains
Case: 44 x 11.2 mm, 18-karat white gold
Dial: black onyx
Functions: hours, retrograde tens-of-minutes, minutes, seconds; day/night indicator; power reserve indicator on back
Price: 98,400 Swiss francs
Christophe Claret Maestoso
GG: While this piece perhaps doesn’t have some of the whiz-bang modern appeal of some of the other contenders, I am quite impressed by its inventive use of new techniques to overcome the inherent limitations of the classic detent escapement.
WMMT: I’m not a fan of the design, but a movement with detent escapement and constant force is exceptional.
For more on this piece, see The Collector And The Sea: How The Christophe Claret Maestoso Might Save A Life.
Quick Facts Christophe Claret Maestoso
Case: 44 x 52.11 x 13.59 mm, pink gold
Movement: manually wound Caliber DTC07 with 80 hours of power reserve, cylindrical balance spring and detent escapements
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 20 pieces
Price: 178,000 Swiss francs
DeWitt Academia Mathematical
WMMT: I like the DeWitt because it is original and I still haven’t figured out exactly how it works.
Quick Facts Academia Mathematical
Case: 42.5 x 14.3 mm, pink gold
Movement: automatic in-house movement with 48 hours power reserve
Functions: jumping hours, minutes
Price: 210,000 Swiss francs
Ian: HYT H3
Joshua: HYT H3
GaryG: Jaquet Droz The Charming Bird
WMMT: Jaquet Droz The Charming Bird