Arnold & Son True Beat Tourbillon Escapement Reviewed by Tim Mosso: The Best Tourbillon that You are Unlikely to have Heard Of
by Tim Mosso
The Arnold & Son True Beat Tourbillon Escapement (TBTE) embodies two of the Swiss watch industry’s greatest talents: craftsmanship and AstroTurf.
Beautifully built but tenuously tied to an historical dead guy, the True Beat is comically pitched but a triumph on substance. With essentially no history but outstanding modern credentials, this tourbillon proves that talent alone can yield a great watch.
First, let’s set the record straight. John Arnold of Great Britain lived and died between 1736 and 1799. He was an important horological innovator and visionary, but the modern company bearing his name is a child of the 1990s. In the same sense that Ibanez guitars are Japanese and Royal Enfield motorcycles are Indian, the Arnold & Son brand of our era is solely Swiss.
As the custodian of the Arnold name since 2010, engineering outfit La Joux-Perret of La Chaux-de-Fonds deploys its prized copyright as the house brand. Whereas most of La Joux-Perret’s work amounts to commissions from its watchmaking clients, the Arnold & Son brand operates alongside Angelus as an in-house outlet for LJP’s considerable talents.
History is as history does. If your brand relies on the cumulative knowledge cultivated over two centuries of unbroken enterprise, that’s great. But if an upstart can achieve the same quality in the space of two decades, that’s also worth celebrating.
The new-for-2015 True Beat Tourbillon Escapement (TBTE) is an exquisite example of the kind of timepiece that gets lost in the noise of the larger marketplace. On paper, it’s exactly the kind of watch all collectors of financial fortune claim to love… before they lose their nerve, return to the fold, and write a six-figure check to some Richemont brand.
With only 28 pieces created in rose gold and cascading tiers of embellished hardware, the TBTE is both rare and fine in the best sense.
At 44mm, this is a large watch, but it doesn’t wear that way. As with Roger Dubuis’ quirky triple lugs and Breguet’s starkly thrusting appendages, the TBTE case employs a house style that’s almost universal across the A&S range.
Unlike the former pair, Arnold’s solution delivers watches that wear smaller than their rated sizes. Think of this watch as a 42mm, and you won’t be disappointed. At 12.4mm, the TBTE also sits low on the wrist.
Case construction and finish are impressive. Tapered lugs break sharply from the bowl-shaped flanks, and exquisite welded-lug fabrication ensures that the hand-ground seam between the surfaces looks to have been cut with a razor.
Differential finishes in satin and polish adds sophistication and contrast. The crown boasts mirrored polish and media-blasted recesses for good measure.
Arnold & Son often puts its parent’s engineering prowess on display with an open dial that effectively turns the caliber A&S8503 into the face of the watch. At the center, twin half-brushed broadsword hands in rose gold arc towards a black chapter ring laced with applied 18-karat hour indices.
Despite the “open” architecture, there is no challenge to reading the time on this watch. While no sweep seconds hand is present, the 3Hz tourbillon at six o’clock has a one-minute circuit.
Dial depth is outstanding. At its base, the lathe-cut guilloché main plate serves as a feast for the eyes and a platform for the superstructure. The drivetrain unfurls in a vertical fashion from twelve to six along four transverse bridges that alternate in a left-right sequence.
Each of these features at least two of mirrored anglage, media blasted graining, and brushed satin. The bridges for the skeletonized mainspring barrel and tourbillon are black polished, evacuated, and internally beveled.
Each bridge is located by pegs that extend from the base plate, and each peg is mirror-polished on its exposed head. Driving gear for the keyless works (winding, setting) and driven gear for the motion works (hand movement) sit inside the frosted structure at three o’clock.
All of the major wheels feature mirrored interior bevels – a feature notably absent on many six-figure products of the Swiss “Holy Trinity.”
A circumferential mirror stretches from the hour track to the base plate and animates the dial with dazzling effect.
Kinetic is the aesthetic. Architectural beauty aside, the TBTE combines a jumping center seconds hand and a tourbillon regulator. As the tourbillon scrolls, the seconds leap.
Winding and setting actions are visible through exposed intermediate wheels. This is a watch for people who wish they could wear their “Holy Trinity” and Lange hardware upside down.
All the guts are on display, and Arnold gilds the lily with a “wolf tooth” ratchet wheel above the mainspring. This is a time-honored pocket watch feature that looks cool and offers tangibly smoother meshing between the intermediate driving wheel and the ratchet wheel atop the barrel.
The reverse of the TBTE reveals a second beating heart in the form of the seconde morte escapement. Since the historical John Arnold built marine timekeepers, the TBTE employs an anchor-shaped counterweight for the deadbeat lever.
This tiny steel component is finished with a deft hand and impressive detail. As small as it is, the micro-bevels and pointed convergence of beveled edges are stellar.
LJP engineers rely heavily on a skeletonized center bridge that carries the deadbeat, the underside of the drivetrain, and parts of the keyless works. Arnold designers fitted an ethereal, blade-like tension spring that arcs from the flanks to act on the deadbeat pallet.
The setting lever, clutch, and springs of the keyless mechanism are visible against the underside of the crown. As with the counterweight of the deadbeat, the keyless set is finished marvelously while keeping tiny facets straight, sharp, and in contrast where polish gives way to satin.
As with its dial side, the base plate is anthracite-colored and elaborated by guilloche. A small recess for the keyless works adds micro-perlage engine turning. At the center, the battle axe-like multi-bridge is reminiscent of MB&F’s signature, but nothing else about the TBTE feels off-brand.
Enormous time was spent finishing this movement. With virtually every topside and underside component exposed, the TBTE gives its makers nowhere to rest.
Even haute horlogerie brands are notorious for scaling back the ambition of decorative contrivance when solid dials, large bridges, or complication modules cloak the hardware. The only clear compromise on the A&S8503 is the lack of sharp internal angles where bevels converge.
While these “interior” angles often are employed as a litmus test for the finish of a watch, there’s simply too much that’s right about the TBTE to dismiss it for that solitary omission.
What about value? There’s the rub. When the value equation includes the inevitable questions about dollar value, the TBTE is hard to rationalize in any but used condition.
Despite scarce production between 700 and 1,000 units per year, the Arnold & Son brand struggles in secondary markets. From a retail price of $162,000, the TBTE falls to a preowned price between $60,000 and $65,000.
This is purely a function of the obscurity of the brand, a lack of effective marketing, and the snob appeal of major rivals at the TBTE’s price point. F.P. Journe, Audemars Piguet, Lange, and Patek simply tell better stories to people who write the checks.
However, if the measure of a watch is the time and energy invested by the craftsmen who made it, then the TBTE can stand with the best. Today’s marketplace groans with collectors burned out and cynical from over-exposure to a few watches from a handful of brands; it’s heartening to know that objectively awesome hardware still lurks at a discount in the shadows of the hobby.
John Arnold and his sons are long dead, but the TBTE is more impressive for having sprung forth from new generations of scintillating talent.
That story – and not the potted history – is the one today’s Arnold & Son needs to tell.
Quick Facts: Arnold & Son True Beat Tourbillon Escapement (TBTE)
Functions: Hours, minutes, deadbeat seconds, 60-second tourbillon
Case: Rose gold (as shown), 44mm x 12.4mm x 50.6mm: 22mm lug spacing
Water resistance: 30 meters
Dial: Open with finger bridges and exposed main plate
Movement: Caliber A&S8503, manual wind, 72-hour power reserve, 26 jewels, 3Hz, deadbeat seconds by secondary lever escapement
Retail Price: $162,000
Preowned Price: $60,000-$65,000
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