Louis Moinet Ultravox Hour Striker: Chiming Horology’s Mechanical Past
Do you remember when you were a little tike, wandering through the cobblestone streets of your local village, chatting with vendors selling their wares, throwing coins into the fountain in the square and making wishes? Do you remember how your mother would always tell you that you “must be back” by the time the clock tower struck 7, and on hearing that telltale chime you would sprint up the alleyways to make it back home just as your mother stuck her head out the window to call for you?
Don’t remember that? Me neither.
But I am sure someone had that childhood somewhere in Europe, time marked using the sonorous ringing of the bells from the highest tower in town. Clocks that strike the time were a staple of industrious cities before the proliferation of the personal clock.
Many cities still have central clock towers, often on a church steeple, which continue to provide the public service of keeping time and ensuring those within earshot are aware of the passage of the day. The chimes signaled when to get up, when to eat, when to pray, and when to rest.
For hundreds of years, a chiming clock that struck the hours was integral to many communities and led, at least indirectly, to the ubiquitous use of modern alarm clocks. Over time, clocks moved toward a more decentralized place in society, but the need for regular alerts not only persisted but grew, especially as life became busier.
Personal chiming clocks and watches filled the space once occupied by tower clocks and have led us inevitably to today, where independent watchmaker Louis Moinet has produced a watch that continues the centuries-old tradition of chiming the passing hours.
The watch in question is the remarkable Ultravox, a sonnerie in passing chiming the hours and providing a show while striking. The Ultravox is Louis Moinet’s first hour striker and it deserves a closer look.
Louis Moinet Ultravox: chime the time
The Ultravox made its original debut in the summer of 2018 in honor of the 250th anniversary of Louis Moinet’s birth in 1768. Louis Moinet (the man) had a history of creating truly stunning horology, including chiming clocks. So it seemed fitting for the brand to create something new along those lines, and the result was the modern brand’s first hour-striking timepiece.
The Ultravox is straightforward to understand: a two-handed watch displaying hours and minutes that automatically chimes at the top of each hour or on demand using the pusher at 10 o’clock. The second pusher at 8 o’clock allows the wearer to silence the chime if discretion is preferred – though once you hear the chime it’s difficult to imagine silencing it.
In lieu of a dial, the entire face of the watch highlights the chime-in-passing mechanism, something I greatly appreciate as mechanics have always been my primary interest. The layout of the mechanism with all its racks, levers, cams, and springs is laid out clearly to allow the operation to be visually followed, beginning with a little activator finger (called a flirt) attached to a small wheel just above the central pivots.
At the top of the hour, the flirt activates the large hammer-shaped lever (the “whip” with the words “Sonnerie au Passage” engraved on it), which in turn releases the rest of the mechanism.
Elsewhere, a finger (or beak) on the hour rack drops onto a stepped hour cam, which gives the mechanism the appropriate position to chime the current hour. The stepped hour cam is switched by the initial activator finger in the minutes leading up to the hour. On the other side of the dial near the hammer, the blade-style governor wheel spins at a quick but constant speed, using air resistance to limit the chiming rate.
Unlike a regular repeater, the hour rack isn’t engaging with the hammer, but instead is counting revolutions of the running mechanism while a circular trigger wheel underneath the rack is catching the hammer trip to chime the gong regularly and consistently. This simplifies the construction and adjustment of the counting part of the mechanism and the chiming part of the mechanism because one part doesn’t have to do double duty and can be adjusted separately.
Instead, the rack slowly counts off the chimes with each half-revolution of the two-toothed counting wheel below. Once all of the positions on the rack have been counted, the mechanism re-engages and slows to a halt. It is a wonderful ballet to witness, and the sound of the chime is strong and clear.
Louis Moinet and special consultant Eric Coudray of TEC Ebauches did a fantastic job with the mechanism.
Louis Moinet Ultravox: design changes, big ones
Interestingly though, between the launch of the Ultravox in summer 2018 and January 2019, when I first saw the piece, the mechanism layout had changed entirely. I’m not talking about an adjusted shape to a lever here and a modified bridge there, but a wholesale redesign of the mechanism, altering nearly every part and changing how it functioned.
A side-by-side comparison of the initial press release and live photos and the most recent images (including my own) confirms the changes. The basic function is still there, but most components had moved and changed shape, some eliminated and many added.
One change from the initial mechanism did away with a tri-lobed wheel once crucial to the function of the mechanism. This seems to be a result of separating the counting and hammer trigger functions.
The entire assembly was rotated around the dial counterclockwise, and nearly every visible component became something different or utilized differently. The changes are nearly total: it is a different mechanism built on the same concept that operates almost entirely differently to its predecessor.
And Louis Moinet didn’t mention any of that.
To be fair, I don’t think Louis Moinet is hiding anything, I just think the communication of the change isn’t clear. The press release is terribly lacking in details on the operation, construction or development, so it is fairly easy to see why the changes might have been overlooked.
I’m guessing the change is largely thanks to the involvement of Eric Coudray of TEC Ebauches, who, according to Louis Moinet CEO Jean-Marie Schaller, reworked the mechanism to improve its function and reliability.
The launch model was an earlier version of the mechanism designed in-house that had been finished and was sort of working, but the brand wasn’t happy with it. Since there were no videos of that early model watch, it was very likely not quite up to snuff. It is now.
Louis Moinet was already working with Coudray and TEC Ebauches at that time, but it is unclear whether he was responsible for the first version; the reworked version from Coudray may still have been in production and so the previous mechanism might have been shown at launch. Then at some time in the intervening months, the newly reworked and optimized mechanism was completed and just slid into its rightful place without so much as a nod.
Looking over the brand’s social media accounts there also wasn’t any passing mention of the change; it feels like this slipped through the cracks.
From a publicity standpoint, brands often make much bigger deals about less, so it feels to me like a missed opportunity to hail the reworked mechanism as a dramatic improvement and to sing the praises of those involved. Regardless, the mechanism is a dramatically different one than at launch, and I would agree that it is indeed much better just from seeing it function.
The operation is smooth, the chime consistent, and the component layout feels much more logical for reliability and adjustment’s sake. Out of all the Louis Moinet pieces I’ve ever seen, the Ultravox takes the top spot for me just due to how visible and understandable the mechanism is.
The Ultravox hits all the right notes mechanically (see what I did there?) based on what intrigues me about watches in the first place: the mechanics.
It is interesting that no mention of the change was ever stated, but I can forgive that fact given that the piece is as awesome as it is. It features two micro rotors on the rear of the movement to power the time and chime functions separately and is still a wearable size for a large wrist, maxing out at 46.5 mm in diameter and 14.5 mm in height.
The Ultravox is by no means a delicate little flower, but it could have grown larger very easily if care wasn’t taken at every step.
Overall it is an awesomazing watch, and I was extremely grateful to have some moments with it. I look forward to hopefully getting at least one more hands-on experience before all of the 28 limited pieces are in collectors’ hands.
One thing is for certain: the Ultravox definitely deserves a listen!
Now let’s break it down to the important facts!
- Wowza Factor * 9.67 I seriously love looking at that mechanism go!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 97.6» 957.129m/s2 When comparing the old mechanism to the new, this watch gave me plenty to lust over!
- M.G.R. * 69.2 I mean, of course it would be a high scorer in the geek rating, look at that mechanism!
- Added-Functionitis * Mild This, like many things, requires a caveat that while it only has one added function, that function is seriously impressive. But with no date, power reserve, or anything other than hours, minutes, and chiming hours I’m afraid you really only need children’s-strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream even though that mechanism makes my eyeballs swell!
- Ouch Outline * 11.8 The dull but persistent ache of a bad tooth! Seriously, when something hurts inside your mouth, suddenly you realize that it’s harder to concentrate than if you had broken an ankle! At least for me, any ailment that affects my mouth is more annoying than many aches and pains. But if enduring this gets me the Ultravox on my wrist, so be it!
- Mermaid Moment * Ooh, I like it when you show me! Just seeing the entirety of the mechanism makes me want to try on a tux and book a DJ!
- Awesome Total * 728 Start with the number of jewels in this awesome movement (52) and multiply by the number of pieces in the limited edition (28), then divide the number of different mechanisms have been see in the watch (2, seriously) and the result will be a melodiously awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.louismoinet.com/collection-ultravox.
Quick Facts Louis Moinet Ultravox
Case: 46.5 x 14.5 mm, pink gold
Movement: automatic Caliber LM56 with twin micro rotors and hour strike mechanism, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, 38-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, hour chime in passing
Limitation: 28 pieces
Price: CHF 150,000