Raúl Pagès Soberly Onyx: Unexpected Bests
You find some of the best things in life by accident. Well, not exactly by accident, but perhaps unexpectedly – such as the day you decide to take a left turn instead of a right on your way home, you know, just to try a new route.
The next thing you know you discover a new Sushi joint that becomes your go-to restaurant from then on.
Don’t like sushi?
How about it’s 2:00 am and after an endless train of clips on science, music, and odd topics on YouTube you click on an interesting-looking video with an intriguing title and suddenly you are watching an obscure documentary that inspires you to take up the fast-paced southeast Asian sport sepak takraw (yes, it’s a real thing).
And sometimes you discover something you immediately know is great and get to see its rise in popularity and know that, as the hipsters say, “you liked it before it was cool.”
Thanks to the extreme popularity of social media this happens all the time, every day. Trends begin on social media, and tomorrow’s new comedy stars or reality celebrities rise from obscurity. The first few followers are the ones lucky enough to see the climb all the way from the beginning.
I’ve even had this experience myself a few times by following people or things that end up being hugely successful, watching their journey toward the mountain top. It truly is satisfying when the rest of the world starts paying attention to that person or thing you’ve had your eye on for a while.
The most recent example for myself is the rise of watchmaker/automaton maker Raúl Pagès. I’m not quite sure exactly when I learned about him or how, but I remember exactly what sparked my interest when I stumbled upon him: progress shots of a new automaton he was working on.
I immediately started following him and looked at everything I could find, but I already knew this A.H.C.I. candidate was someone to pay attention to. As his Tortoise automaton became popular on social media, he followed up with his first wristwatch: the Soberly Onyx.
Not only does it cement Pagès’s name as a premier watchmaker (those who knew him previously would say he has always been a premier watchmaker), but the watch just looks so dang cool.
Why the watch?
Pagès is an extremely skilled watchmaker and restorer, having worked for years with Parmigiani Fleurier restoring priceless historical pieces. He spent a good amount of time working on older automatons including the famous Frères Rochat Singing Bird Pistols, so it seemed natural to build his own automaton. Upon successfully finishing the Tortoise, he set his sights on a more universal object and a functional design: his first watch.
Pagès is a craftsman for sure, but also a purist. He knows the pointlessness of handmade mechanical watches in the digital age, but appreciates the art, skill, and uniqueness that goes into them. He spent years restoring historical watches and seeing the incredible talent of past masters, so it followed that he was inspired to step out on his own to create a watch that would bear his name.
With his background, it made a lot of sense to start with a top-notch vintage caliber instead of designing something from scratch; sometimes there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The Soberly Onyx is built around the Cyma 586k caliber, which was a manual winding movement beating at 2.5 Hz (18,000 vph) and sporting a 48-hour power reserve. It is a super solid movement in a nice size for incorporation into a modern-sized wristwatch.
The movement was stripped down to components, many of which, including the old balance assembly and the main plate and bridges, were discarded. Every component left was refinished, including hand-beveling the spokes on the gear train wheels and graining and polishing all edges.
The main plate and bridges were recut in nickel silver and beautifully beveled and polished. The screw holes were deeply countersunk and polished, with new screws added to fit the addition. A new ratchet click was black polished to perfection.
Inventing where it counts, sorta
Where Pagès decided he definitely wanted to add his own special touch was to the balance assembly. He handmade a 13.4 mm balance wheel following the principles outlined in THE modern watchmaking bible, Watchmaking by George Daniels.
The balance design comprises a four-spoke layout with gold regulating weights on each arm. The balance is free-sprung, relying on a hand-shaped blued hairspring with a Philipps terminal curve.
He also added a fine adjustment as the large adjustment lever on the original balance assembly was eliminated when he built a new balance cock.
The great thing about building your own balance assembly is adding features that weren’t there in the first place. This watch has been brought into the modern era with the addition of a shock absorption jewel for the balance, making it much more stable and capable of handling everyday wear. The shape of the balance cock is the largest visual departure from the original caliber aside from the extensive finishing of all parts of the movement.
It shows much more of the balance and reduces visual clutter, as did removing all of the engraving from the movement. There is literally nothing on the movement betraying the fact that the caliber was restored and refinished from a previous iteration. It looks as if it had always been this way.
The Cyma 586k caliber is a great movement for such a clean watch, and the details help it stand out. There are no blued screws, no filled engraving, nothing to add too much color. Most components are polished and bright white, only the gold chatons, red ruby jewels, gold wheels poking out from under the bridges, and the whisker-thin blued hairspring provide any contrasting color.
And it is really just the right amount, as these elements stand out as centerpieces in the monochrome expanse of the movement.
As much as I love the simple and clean movement providing just the right sense of motion and calm to my engineering mind, the design of the watch is actually where it’s at.
The case is straightforward and simple, flowing right into the dial. Utilizing design principles from Art Deco, the dial is subdued and at the same time very stark. It is largely deep black thanks to the onyx, with the seconds subdial providing a very subtle black-on-black detail. However, it is the hour markers and logo plaque that shine.
The hour markers are set within a ring of 12 sections in frosted, polished, and beveled white gold. At 12 o’clock, a plaque chops the top of the dial off, creating a strong (tortoise?) shape dissecting the roundness. The Pagès logo is on the plaque, but in very thin script so as to keep the dial clean. The hands are polished steel in, again, a subtle Art Deco style.
The second hand is black-polished to aid in keeping that almost ringless and protruding subdial even more minimal.
The entire mood of the watch is strikingly confident and at the same time humbly simple. According to those who know Pagès, this is much like his personality, making it a perfect embodiment of the man behind the machine. This could not have been a more successful first watch to bear his name.
When it comes to distinct and elegant watches, there are a lot of options in the market, but this newcomer still has stood out with a look that could become iconic in its own right. Perhaps with a slightly more stylized case to match the dial and movement, it could stand next to the greats and no one would bat an eye.
I think the ability of someone to have such a strong first showing is a rare thing in the watch game, as many either play it too safe, lack design direction, or blow way past “enough” and end up with gaudy mismatched design failure. It’s rather easy, especially when you want to incorporate details you like from other designs, with the end result always in danger of looking cobbled together.
Pagès definitely created some gold with the Soberly Onyx, and after so many years of restoration work behind the scenes he certainly deserves recognition. My hope is that this bolsters his independent watchmaking efforts and that the future sees even more awesomeness from his workshop.
In the meantime we can all use the Soberly Onyx to time the Tortoise Automaton on its slow crawl into our hearts!
It is a tortoise, however, so while you wait, check out the breakdown!
- Wowza Factor * 8.8 The Soberly Onyx wows on a level that most can’t due to the fact it has taken the watch-loving public by surprise.
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 85.8 » 841.410 m/s2 Even though it’s some serious lust, it’s a smooth pull all through the night because of that super-clean onyx dial!
- M.G.R. * 55.2 Rebuilding a vintage movement is always nerdtastic, and this is an incredible example.
- Added-Functionitis * N/A I told you this thing was simple and straightforward. No need for any added indications, so you can skip the Gotta-HAVE-That cream and just enjoy the darkness.
- Ouch Outline * 10.5 Smashing your nose with a bandsaw blade that sprung open! If you aren’t aware, bandsaw blades are usually stored twisted into a coil. This means you have to carefully uncoil it before use. Sometimes it likes to spring open with surprising speed and if your face is in the way, well, it doesn’t care. But I’d do it a dozen more times if it meant getting the Soberly Onyx on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * 7 hours, 31 minutes, 9 seconds. It takes this long for the simplicity and cleanliness to fully absorb into your bloodstream, at which point full on mad love takes over. Better call a minister!
- Awesome Total * 798 Add the base caliber number (586) to the number of parts in the movement (112), and the depth rating in feet (100) and the result is anything but a sober awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.pageswatches.com/soberly-onyx.
Case: 40 x 9.3 mm, white gold
Movement: manual winding handmade caliber based on a restored 1950s Cyma 586k with 42-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: 10 pieces
Price: 48,000 Swiss francs