Oscillon Fundamentum: Sublime Handmade Simplicity: The Ultimate Sleeper Watch
When a master craftsperson eschews modern tools and equipment in favor of entirely analog and manual machines, they enter into a timeless world of nearly superhuman feats of skill. Or at least that is how it appears to the masses.
Skills, for any subject, can be incredibly mystical to those who are unfamiliar with the processes and techniques. Lack of exposure to what occurs when a master engraver picks up their burin, or when a master cobbler works a piece of leather can create the impression that their hands are doing something almost unnatural.
Working with tools and materials is a simple concept, but the gap between amateur and master can be a gulf wider than the Atlantic.
I could quickly teach someone about the basic concepts of machining a piece of metal and how to hold the workpiece while carefully cranking the handle on a manual mill, but there is no quick and easy way to convey the feel of machining too slow, or how a slightly dull tool cuts just a bit differently.
Diving into concepts of material properties and how they react to temperature, cutting fluids, or tool coatings is enough for some people turn these topics into their entire careers.
Master machinists (of which I am not) need to understand all of these ideas plus a thousand more, and the same goes for many hand skills related to other forms of craft. People can become specialized with a small set of skills enabling them to create amazing things, but a rare few master all the skills necessary to produce entire categories of objects.
A master machinist can create amazing components out of a variety of materials, ensuring every part is exactly to spec. But a master prototypist can create amazing products out of machined, welded, printed, cast, and hand worked components incorporating electromechanics, hydraulics, pneumatics, soft goods, and even finishing everything in a variety of ways with an array of processes and coatings.
It takes mastery of entire swaths of skillsets to advance to making more than individual components. That is what some of the best watchmakers attempt to achieve.
In the same vein as modern legend George Daniels, some watchmakers set out to learn all of the more than 30 individual skillsets to create pristine handmade watches. Some even go so far as to attempt to do everything entirely by hand on manual machines and with hand tools to avoid any digital aid in creating a watch.
At its most fundamental level (pun definitely intended) the Oscillon Fundamentum is a basic, time only watch that should fly perfectly under the radar and appear to many as a simple, classically modern watch.
The dial and hands don’t give much away about its value, provenance, or the sheer effort required to make a single example of the watch. The tapisserie dial, polished indexes, subdued hands, and monochromatic finish all combine to make a watch that blends in and lays low.
The case is purposefully (and pragmatically) mundane without highly unique or esoteric flourishes designed to impress from across the room. The extremely well executed Fundamentum revels in its ability to hide in plain sight, playing the role of horological undercover agent on the wrist.
However, flipping the watch over reveal that this is no basic watch, though the movement at first appears to be a rather straightforward bit of watchmaking. It isn’t overly fancy in architectural design, but the finishing is clearly top notch and the layout makes it clear that there is more going on here than just a great movement.
That all comes down to how it’s made using traditional, manual fabrication techniques that were industry standards a century ago, but are now rarely (if ever) seen. Every single component apart from the sapphire crystal, rubber gaskets, and synthetic jewels, is made in the most manual method possible without any computer-controlled equipment, even avoiding machines that have the capability to automatically reproduce a part. That became standard for the more mass-produced watches of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as automation did not require computers.
But Oscillon takes their core values very seriously and uses slow, manual machines with skilled operation, producing extremely high quality components. Pivot shafts are shaped by hand on a pivot lathe, pinions are cut tooth by tooth on a pinion cutting machine, wheels are crossed out (have the central spokes machined) and springs are shaped on a Pantograph machine, wheels, plates, and bridges are turned to size on a manual lathe, and the dials are engraved on a brocading machine that is a combination of a rose engine and a Pantograph.
Slowly, deliberately, with feeling
Each of the processes for making the components are not new, they are not cutting edge, and they are not secret, but they are extremely rare. These methods are only practiced by a handful of watchmakers in the world and, while it is becoming a bit more common with some young, up and coming watchmakers, it is still far from the norm.
Automated machinery, CNC technology, and modern techniques are all essentially excommunicated from the workshops of Oscillon to maintain purity of purpose.
In Ian Skellern’s original article on the brand, Oscillon l’Instant de Vérité: The Most − If Not The Only − Fully Handmade Watch Available Today, he dives into the duo behind the brand and their initial cause for creating watches entirely by hand.
Dominique Buser and Cyrano Devanthey, the co-founders of Oscillon (and who run Urwerk’s skunkworks prototyping atelier), wanted to create their own watch all the way back in watchmaking school in the early 90’s.
As time in education tends to go, the pair were inspired and eager but soon understood that they had a long way to go before having the skills and equipment to undertake their dream.
Fast forward 18 years and a few jobs later, the pair were working together doing R&D for one of my favorite watchmakers, Urwerk. The time in between had given each a solid base of knowledge to draw from and a collection of high-quality machines they could use to build a watch completely from scratch by hand (or as much was feasibly possible).
In 2012 the journey began in earnest and after four years Oscillon launched the l’Instant de Vérité.
That watch followed all the same principles still being used today, but the movement was much more experimental. The front of the watch defined the Oscillon aesthetic as the Fundamentum looks very similar, but inside was a movement that helped the brand start with a bang.
With a max capacity of 5 watches per year, it took the brand 5 years to work through orders before beginning on the Fundamentum.
Distillation of effort and function
In that time, Oscillon honed its techniques and methods so that when it went back to the drawing board to build a very simple time-only watch, it would be sure it did not have to cut corners. Each component is produced and finished to the highest standards, ensuring that they meet extremely tight tolerances for fit and function and are visually as perfect as possible.
The simplified movement no longer features a wild constant force “tensator” mainspring, or the bowtie-shaped balance wheel, instead opting for a simple gear train demonstrating meticulous attention to detail.
Individual bridges and cocks support the balance, escapement, fourth wheel, third wheel, and center wheel, providing an array of shapes and finishing styles to highlight the going train. The inset into the escape wheel cock and the bridge holding the third and center wheel are perfectly chamfered and black polished with 7 internal corners between the two.
The ratchet click is the very delicate “crossbar” variety seen on Philippe Dufour watches, showcasing the clear inspiration for the design of the movement.
In fact, a close look at the Dufour Simplicity and it is obvious that this movement is more than just a tiny bot of the inspiration, the two movements are made in a very similar layout and finishing style, giving a deeper understanding of exactly what type of watch Oscillon is looking to create.
The movements definitely have their own style to them, but using the Dufour Simplicity as a bit of a guidebook on how to make a superbly finished handmade watch is a smart move.
Why handmade matters and why it doesn’t
Given the brands connection (as discussed in Ian’s previous article) to the Time Aeon Foundation, which has as its primary goal of “preserving and transmitting traditional watchmaking skills and knowledge” it is obvious that Philippe Dufour and Greubel Forsey would influence the development of an Oscillon watch.
If the first l’Instant de Vérité watch was akin to showing up to a party with a bullhorn, the Fundamentum is then smoothly conversing with each person at the party and creating a meaningful connection with them.
It distilled the high-minded concept of the brand and produced a piece that didn’t rely on pomp and circumstance but on pure purpose and function. The watch works perfectly as a wristwatch and displays the absolute highest level of watchmaking skill and finishing while reminding people just how modern some of the “classic, handmade” watches are out there.
It isn’t done in contention with others, but in solidarity to show why brands that do some of the traditional processes and use more modern techniques for others are not better or worse, just different.
If Breguet had access to a modern CNC machine there is no doubt, whatsoever, that he would be pushing the boundaries of what seems possible even today, because he was an inventor, toolmaker, and scientist first and foremost.
Breguet invented both tools and new mechanisms and used the latest techniques to create amazing watches. But he did so using some tools and equipment that makes what Oscillon uses look like space age magic. It’s all relative based on time and place.
The desire to create a watch entirely using manual processes without the aid of computer technology keeps this watch firmly planted in historical watchmaking and increases the effort to make a watch by at least a few factors of 10.
But even these processes would have made things so much easier for the likes of Breguet or Janvier who didn’t have access to some of the more modern machinery specifically designed to make constructing these components easier than before.
But this doesn’t diminish the manual hand made aspect, the watches are crafted with the utmost care and attention to detail, and the simplicity of the design is part and parcel of that effort. If creating a mechanism that functions takes up 90% of your effort then making it precisely and finished to the highest levels would be impossible.
Oscillon has made a watch that watch lovers can wear that it has few rivals in the modern world, especially for the applied aesthetic, and feel secure that it follows in the footsteps of some of the greatest in watchmaking history.
I love taking a dive into brands like Oscillon and the people behind them. It makes it clear that the Time Aeon Foundation isn’t alone in transmitting the traditional techniques to the next generation, but it does show that there are still painfully few working in that area.
More young watchmakers have come up in the last half-decade to uusing more traditional methods and the genre of watchmaking is growing, though given the extreme demands for production it can’t be rushed.
And that, I dare say, is a good thing.
With that, let’s try to break this piece down!
- Wowza Factor * 7.1 This watch is all about the understatement of being “in-the-know.” What appears to be a mild mannered three-handed watch is actually one of an extremely few number of pieces in the industry that is created entirely by hand with manual machines, but it won’t attract the gaze of the average passerby.
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 98.7 » 967.916m/s2 Once you realize that this watch is made entirely by hand you can spend the entire night, weeks even, trying to wrap your head around all of that awesome watchmaking mastery!
- M.G.R. * 71.3 The movement is lovely and finished pretty much flawlessly, but it becomes drastically more impressive when you learn about how it was made!
- Added-Functionitis * N/A When you make every single component of a watch by hand you don’t even have to worry about skipping the Gotta-HAVE-That cream because it’s its own medicine at this point!
- Ouch Outline * 10.9 Waking up with a terrible crick in your neck! All it takes is a misplaced pillow and you’ll be sore all day. Even then I would gladly wake up like that if it meant getting the Oscillon Fundamentum on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * You made it how?! This is so rare that you probably can’t name more than a handful of other watchmakers committed to this level of watchmaking effort, at best. But that best is sure enough to push you over the edge towards commitment!
- Awesome Total * 625 Begin with the number of components in the movement (115) and multiply by the number of watches Oscillon can produce a year (5), then add the water resistance rating in meters (50) for an exceedingly simple awesome total!
For more information, please visit https://oscillon.swiss/#fundamentum.
Quick Facts Oscillon Fundamentum
Case: 38 x 9.8 mm, 316L stainless steel
Movement: manually wound Fundamentum caliber, 45-hour power reserve, 18,000 vph/2.5Hz
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: Limited by production capacity of 5 watches per year
Price: CHF 155,000