Chronomètre Artisans Subscription Edition by Simon Brette: Sensational, Superlative, and Simply Sublime Independent Watchmaking at its Very Best
The landscape is shifting beneath our feet, and all we can do is try to hold on for the ride because a new world is coming. Generational upheaval happens from time to time but is usually punctuated by some sedentary periods between when people can catch their breath and acclimate to the new status quo. Before the 19th century, this could be said to cycle every couple of decades, or even half centuries, as major changes came in very slow waves.
Violent, sure, but most people would only see one major shift in their life, perhaps two.
But today, we experience major, seismic shifts in the way the world operates every few years, sometimes even yearly. One reason is our proximity to world events, which are now only a tweet or viral TikTok post away. When I was young, growing up in the age of the then cutting-edge personal computer, my first two decades were largely defined by one big shift. I started my life with hardly anyone having individual access to a computer or the internet, and that changed to a world where not having the internet and at least one computer at home meant you were likely geriatric or a stubborn Luddite.
But once the internet took over, and the power of the personal computer left the home office and entered everyone’s pocket in the guise of a phone, and the world exploded with major cultural shifts to every few years. I remember a time before social media, YouTube, and being able to access anything you wanted online, and now most of my daily life is intimately connected to it.
Even my job requires daily Zoom calls with colleagues across the world, creating an intimacy with world events and the flow of time that is wholly divorced from what life was like when I would see my parents leave for work and know nothing of their existence until we all got home for dinner time.
The same speed of change is happening in the watch industry, partly due to the shifts caused by the global pandemic, and new incredible watchmakers are popping up left and right challenging the entire. No longer do only large brands like Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet drive horological innovation and creativity. This now comes from a litany of independent brands and individual watchmakers that are completely shifting what is expected of fine watchmaking.
Enter Simon Brette, a young movement designer with a history of working with Jean-François Mojon’s Chronode, MCT, and MB&F, who has now begun his own adventure of pushing the boundaries of traditional haute horlogerie. Brette launches his eponymous brand with the Chronomètre Artisans Subscription Edition, which sold out long before launch. The production version will follow later this year.
The Chronomètre Artisans Subscription Edition is an exercise in horological excellence and channels some of the greatest aesthetics seen across the industry, and some never before seen, coupled with Brette’s penchant for applauding the specialists helping to create the masterpieces.
Simon Brette Chronomètre Artisans Subscription Edition
It all begins with hours, minutes, and seconds, but that is where the Chronomètre Artisans departs from “the basics.” The movement was designed from the ground up after the design of the watch was finalized so that the look would be the driving factor. Even then, the horological effort that went into the movement is second to none. Both the dial and the case back show off the incredible skill of the team involved and the creativity of Simon Brette himself. The dial has openings to highlight the going train, with off center seconds as well as the keyless works just inside the minute track next to the crown.
Holding the pivots for the hours and minutes are beautifully finished titanium bridges running parallel to each other and angled towards eleven o’clock. The seconds track is printed upon a frosted sapphire ring floating just above the fourth and fifth wheel bridge, partially obscuring the bearing jewels and the expertly chamfered and polished wheels. On the opposite side of the dial we see the carefully designed keyless works and a rather massive intermediate wheel nestled among the levers and yolk.
The dial itself is an absolutely stunning chaotic pattern hand engraved in gold sparkling in a way I have never seen before. It provides the backdrop for the perfectly blued hands and sapphire hour and minute ring around the edge. Aesthetically simple, the proportions and choice of details usher a very classically inspired watch into the 21st century. There is no doubt that this piece belongs firmly to this decade. As far as the case, crown, and bezel go, they appear elegantly subdued, a perfect balance to the glittering dial, but that is a clever ruse.
The whole package
Designed after the movement and dial, the case took advantage of the design language already in place, using already established details to make the case coherent and integrated into the aesthetic at play. The lugs appear to be part of the case middle, but in fact are separate and invisibly screwed to the true case middle from inside the case. This allows both better finishing, easier machining, and a more cohesive visual.
As stated, the case takes cues from the movement, using polished concave bevels along the edges to mirror the polished concave screw heads (we’ll come back to those), as well as a concave crown. In steel this would be awesome, but in zirconium (the metal of choice for the subscription edition), it is amazing and such a fantastic detail.
On top of that, the case is only three core components and uses no visible screws to avoid being distracted from the intense beauty of what’s inside. This isn’t new, but opting to go for the seamless look and achieving it in this way demonstrates the commitment to the aesthetics, and those aesthetics come from the core of the Chronomètre Artisans, the movement.
Simon Brette is first and foremost a movement designer and had a clear idea of what he was trying to create when he set out to develop his own watch. It was a way to highlight the incredible skills of a variety of talented craftspeople, all while making a timepiece that could be compared with the best watches in existence. There was no intention of creating a budget-friendly entry-level luxury watch, it was about doing something neo-classically exceptional with a unique twist.
That meant that starting from a base movement was out of the question; there could be no component that was not specifically created for the Chronomètre Artisans alone, leading to a unique movement architecture alongside interesting brand-new details. The core concept was a marine chronometer movement if designed for a wristwatch in the 21st century, and I’d say he nailed it.
Mechanics at the core
The movement layout is fairly traditional at heart, with the large 2.5 Hz balance taking up a whole third of the movement real estate and flanked by two large mainspring barrels.
The symmetry is completed by the winding ratchet, a unique design with an internal leaf spring style click with a much larger ratcheting action. This was purposeful to create a more positive engagement with the crown and avoid the small cricket-like feel of ratchet clicks that catch every tooth.
For the connoisseur who both prefers and seeks out a manual winding watch, this is a watch that emphasizes that choice with haptic feedback designed to elicit a response akin to a tactile version of ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response).
The interaction with the movement is literally designed to pleasure, which makes sense as Simon Brette is French. All jokes aside, changing how the ratchet feels to make it intentionally slower and more tactile is a perfect example of the attention to detail in how we interact with the Chronomètre Artisans.
Details are important in other ways as well, and one look at the movement highlights that Simon Brette and his team were dedicated in producing a bit of magic. The finishing on the various components jumps out from the first moment, with a perfectly black polished and rounded bridge supporting the balance, something also found twice on the front of the watch. The mainspring wheels feature wolf’s tooth gearing and deeply concave polished surfaces broken up by radial brushing.
That detail has been seen on other watches (and is one of my favorite ways to finish a wheel), but it is joined by every single screw having a perfectly black polished deeply concave head. This is a feature that Simon Brette specifically hoped to achieve and needed to work with his team to discover a method for producing it. The result is nothing short of dazzling! You wouldn’t think such a small deviation from the normal flat polished screw heads would make such an impact, but it does.
I was told about the polished concave screws before I saw them, but I was not prepared for how awesome they are. The visual effect is much more impactful on the movement, especially when you notice the next detail, the gold chatons. Not the chatons holding the jewels (these are awesome too), but the screws themselves fit into perfectly polished gold chatons with an edge radius to counter the concavity of the screw head.
Finding a screw resting in a small ring of gold is something I would not have guessed I’d ever see, they add an entire other level of movement details elevating the Chronomètre Artisans once again. Another tiny detail is a small pin protruding from the rear of the movement just next to the ratchet and mainspring barrels, which is required for servicing the movement thanks to the design of the ratchet click system.
Since it would be difficult to easily release the power in the mainspring barrels when servicing, the movement was designed with a release lever just for this scenario showing that serviceability was on the mind of Simon Brette and his team during development. Of course, aesthetics were still at the forefront of the design, which is why it is just a tiny pin poking through the three-quarters plate.
This is also why the fourth and fifth wheel were relocated to the dial side of the movement, to clean up the area surrounding the balance and escapement and provide a nice little stadium space for the balance to stand tall. The result is a work of mechanical art on both the front and rear so you can enjoy it while wearing the Chronomètre Artisans and have something more for your own personal enjoyment when you take it off at home.
Simon Brette also wanted the watch to be an homage not only to watchmakers of today and yesterday but his own father who was an artisanal carpenter/cabinet maker by trade. Brette was raised around the concept of craftsmanship and independence and he wanted to honor that background.
In the side of the case opposite the crown extends a small, polished gold dovetail, retained between the case middle and the attached lugs. It alludes to the craftsmanship of the woodworker and the patience it takes to make a perfect dovetail joint, akin to the hand polished screw heads and barrel-shaped bridges.
It also reminds you of the entire context of the Chronomètre Artisans in the first place: a showcase for talent, skill, patience, and excellence. Every detail has been attended to, with nothing left unconsidered. The team, made up of twelve individuals and independent companies, have put their own hearts and minds into the Chronomètre Artisans as they were given the bandwidth to create what they believed should be in a watch. Even the dial, engraved by Yasmina Anti, is a shining example of patience and a desire to create something remarkably unique for the Chronomètre Artisans Subscription Edition.
Artisans responsible for the Simon Brette Chronomètre Artisans Subscription Edition
Matthieu Allègre: watch design
Yasmina Anti: hand engraving
Marc Bolis and Alyna Rouelle: micromechanical machining
Barbara Coyon: component decoration and finishing
Pierre-Alain Dornier & Cie: high- precision machining
Julien Ducommun & Cie: manufacturing, micromechanics and machining
Alexis Greco & Cie: component decoration and finishing
Luc Monnet: watchmaker prototypist
Anton Pettersson: watchmaker prototypist
It’s no surprise that the subscription edition is already sold out, and orders are already inbound for the production model that will launch later this year. It marks a point in the massive shift from big brands and their domination of grail pieces as it seems more and more independent watchmakers are creating watches that are bound to go down in history as industry altering. Simon Brette seems poised to play a role in that shift, and we are not in the same industry from just ten years ago when I began writing. The world is shifting, and I’m so excited to come along for the ride.
If you can hold on, let’s try to break this one down!
- Wowza Factor * 10 This is a solid ten through and through. I haven’t been as impressed and surprised by an entirely new watch from a first time brand in a long time!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 103 » 1,010.090m/s2 The amount of late night lust appeal this watch has is enough to send you to the moon and back!
- M.G.R. * 70.6 This is a movement that was designed from the ground up to be both classic and sort of groundbreaking for a new brand, and the fit and finish takes this piece among some of the best ever made!
- Added-Functionitis * N/A Looking at this piece for more than one second allows all thoughts of added functions to fall right out of your gaping mouth, so feel free to skip the Gotta-HAVE-That cream and just bask in the Chronomètre Artisans awesomeness!
- Ouch Outline * 13 Stepping on a pile of LEGO’s! Not many watches hit the high mark of a perfect 13, but this one had its name down since before it was even born. Nothing about the spirit and intent behind this piece would have made it any less than magnificent and I’d gladly run through a field of LEGO’s if it meant getting this on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * The screws, the dial!! There is so much to love about this watch but the detail of the dial and the polished concave screw heads made me go right out to shop for a ring!
- Awesome Total * 950 Begin with the number of hours in the power reserve (72) and multiply with the thickness of the case in millimeters (10.5), then add the number of components in the movement (194) and you will find an industry-shifting awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.simonbrette.com.
Quick Facts Simon Brette Chronomètre Artisans Subscription Edition
Case: 39 x 10.5 mm, Zirconium and rose gold
Movement: manually wound SBCA caliber, 72-hour power reserve, 18,000 vph/2.5Hz
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: Subscription Edition: 12 pieces (Sold Out)
Price: Subscription Edition: 50,000 CHF (price of the production edition has not been announced)