Wempe’s Stunning Marine Chronometers By Tim Heywood: A Contemporary Spin On What Was Once A Military Secret
by Martin Green
The history of marine chronometers reads as an exciting thriller. For centuries sailors could reasonably accurately determine the latitude (north-south), by measuring the height (in degrees) of the sun above the horizon at midday. Unfortunately, due to the earth’s rotation, the longitude (east-west) is far more difficult. Every four minutes, the longitude shifts by one degree, so to determine this at sea, you need a very accurate and reliable clock to compare the time on board with that of a port where the longitude is known.
For centuries, making such accurate clocks that could withstand the harsh conditions at sea was the stuff of dreams. British Parliament even issued the Longitude Act on July 8, 1714, offering a hefty reward of around 1.5 million Pound Sterling in today’s money. Being able to determine longitude would help protect the merchant fleet, but continuous wars with other European nations, most notably France, made it a military imperative to solve the problem: there is little use for an impressive naval fleet that gets lost at sea or, even worse, runs aground.
From military secret to the same fate as the wristwatch
Today, determining the longitude anywhere in the world is not a problem anymore. GPS satellites offer precision that would make ancient sailors very jealous. Having a marine chronometer on board serves little purpose today other than as a backup system.
This makes having a marine chronometer on board your ship similar to wearing a mechanical wristwatch to know the time. There is far more precise technology available that is often also much cheaper, however doesn’t quite give the same feeling and experience. So it should come as no surprise that quite a few luxury yachts are still equipped with a mechanical marine chronometer.
Wempe has been making such marine chronometers since 1905. For watch manufacturers, they still offer a pleasant challenge, as a marine chronometer has to deliver incredible precision in challenging circumstances. You have not only the motion of the sea, which can be rough at times, plus significant changes in temperature. Combine this with the salty air and other environmental factors, and you realize that making an accurate and reliable marine chronometer is extremely challenging.
While the very first marine chronometers do possess a certain kind of beauty, they were more form follows function. They now have taken on a different role in the maritime industry, as with wristwatches, beauty has become increasingly important. This is why Wempe teamed up with renowned ship designer Tim Heywood.
Heywood is a household name in the world of super-yachts, having designed, among others, the 115-meter-long Pelorus, the 147-meter-long Lürssen A+.and with the 133-meter-long Al Mirqab built for Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, the former Prime Minister and Minister of Qatar, Heywood won the ‘Motor Yacht of the Year’ at the World Superyacht Awards in 2009.
For Wempe, Heywood created two marine chronometers, which are both powered by caliber Type 7. Wempe continues to develop its marine chronometers in both performance and visual appeal. The Type 7 has a maximum rate variation of only 0.3 seconds per day and a 56-hour power reserve. To ensure a constant flow of power to the Earnshaw detent escapement, it is fitted with a chain-and-fusée mechanism.
Wempe Marine Chronometer Cube and Marine Chronometer Coco de Mer
While the two marine chronometers that Heywood designed are similar, they each have a character of their own. A striking element is the blue dial with two openings onto the intricate movement below. Bold markers make it quite easy to read. To achieve perfection, the borosilicate glass that protects the dial side of the clock is cut from a single piece.
The Wempe Marine Chronometer Cube is the first creation by Heywood, and has a contemporary look and feel, yet with lots of references to the interesting history of this timing device.
The case opens three ways and is crafted of a special composite material created by laser sintering at Metrica, a specialized company making unique yacht fittings. It features no less than 16 layers of varnish. A gold-plated time zone map inside the lid is the finishing touch.
The Wempe Marine Chronometer Coco de Mer is visually perhaps even more astonishing. Heywood was inspired by the female form of the distinctive coco de mer nut, as a reference to ships, which are also referred to with feminine pronouns in English. This case is made of the same material, yet has a much more intricate shape.
The lid is not only coated with bronze on the outside, but the inside features gold leaf, making it even more spectacular looking when the three doors are opened showing the marine chronometer.
While such items of beauty will have quite some competition on board a (super)yacht, their historical relevance and incredible craftsmanship will ensure that they claim their spotlight in any environment.
For more information, please visit www.wempe.com/en-us/watches/maritime-instruments/marine-chronometer-cube-by-tim-heywood-marine-chronometer-th-cube?c=6170 and www.wempe.com/en-us/watches/maritime-instruments/marine-chronometer-coco-de-mer-by-tim-heywood-marine-chronometer-th-coco-de-mer
Quick Facts: Wempe Marine Chronometer by Tim Heywood
Case: Gold-plated brass; outer casing of special composite material; temperature- and climate-stable, 16 layers of varnish
Movement: Type 07 Manufacture movement, 14,400 VpH, Earnshaw detent escapement with chain-and-fusée assembly, 56-hour power reserve, 0.3 seconds per day maximum rate deviation
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; power reserve
Limitation: 50 pieces (Marine Chronometer Coco de Mer)
Price: €49,750 (Marine Chronometer Cube), €79,500 (Marine Chronometer Coco de Mer)