A Tale of True Luxury

Part II

In which Watchbore attempts to review a watch

Since the first mechanical escapement 1000 years ago, watchmakers have met every social and scientific challenge with solutions that shaped our world. Time-measuring devices organized the first modern societies, established the heliocentric universe, mapped the globe, enabled scheduled transport, and determined the fleeting existence of gluons and quarks.

In keeping with their great tradition, watchmakers are once again rising to the occasion. This time they are tackling one of the most daunting problems ever to face humanity today, namely, what does one do when one has more wristwatches than left wrists?

The obvious solution, which will immediately spring to the agile minds of Watchbore’s intellectually sophisticated readership, is of course to join a Hindu sect in the hope of being re-incarnated as a multi-armed deity. Others of more limited mental scope and the normal number of limbs, such as Mr. Nicolas Hayek, head of the Swatch Group, take the less practical measure of wearing half-a-dozen or more brands simultaneously on both arms. The rest of us are condemned by habit to wear one watch at a time, allowing the others to die unattended.

As every TimeZoner knows, this causes intense anguish among those who loyally support the watch industry by owning more watches than they can wear, or even afford. But this year, an obscure Geneva watchmaker has come to their rescue with a watch of such radical concept that Watchbore has no hesitation in presenting to such of his readers who are still awake, an exclusive review of: the first ever wristwatch in the world which will go a whole ten days when fully wound up

The unprecedented 240-hour power reserve of the Ref. 5100 wristwatch, launched at the Basel show, is contained in the first rectangular movement to be constructed for this manufacturer since the 1950s. (See Cormac’s excellent post on the subject by clicking here).

To give even torque, the mainspring is divided between two barrels of unequal size acting in tandem. The barrels deliver their power to the going train through the arbor of the last barrel (fitted with a large toothed wheel) and not through its drum, as in conventional barrels. A differential gear links this arbor to the drum of the first barrel to give the power-reserve indication.

With 10 days power coiled in its steel springs, the movement has to contend with one kilogram of torque — more than three times that of an ordinary movement. Hence the massive look of the caliber, with its closely spaced bars and bridges. The barrels are held by a reinforcing plate beneath the barrel bridge. To dissipate the forces, the constructor, Mr. Jean-Pierre Musy, has provided extra-large parts, especially pivots and jewel bearings. The visible jewels are held in 18K gold bushings.

A. As required by the Geneva Seal guidelines, all steel parts are angled and polished, and their edges and upper surfaces are decorated by hand.

B. The sinks of the screws in the steel parts and bridges are polished. The screw heads and slots are angled and polished.

C. The engravings on the base plate and bridges and the Geneva Seal hallmark are guilded.

D. The teeth of the steel components are angled and polished.

E. 9 of the 29 rubies are held in the bridges in 18K chaton settings.

F. All bridges are angled and polished and their edges are hand-finished. Their top sides are decorated with Cotes de Geneve stripes, while their under sides are decorated with circular Perlage.

G. The base plate and dial train bridge are decorated with Perlage.

H. The teeth of the steel wheels and pinions are polished on a traditional hardwood grinding wheel.

I. The spokes of the brass wheels are angled and guilded.

J. The pivots and arbors are rounded and polished.

Another technical problem of movements with long going times is winding them. As those who perhaps unwisely purchased the eight-day watch launched last year will undoubtedly testify, winding more than six days of power reserve into the springs tends to defeat the strength of ordinary human fingers, unless the winding mechanism is sufficiently geared down, or the crown is huge.

In the ref. 5100, Mr. Musy has opted for time instead of brute force, and it will take a few minutes to wind 10 days into the watch. One needs to look at the power-reserve indicator to know when to stop winding because the crown disengages and continues to turn when the springs are fully wound.

A. Winding barrel

B. Gear train barrel

C. Crown

D. Winding train

E. Ratchet for winding wheel

F. Barrel arbor

G. Spring

H. Gear train

I. Gear train ratchet

J. 10-day reserve indicator

K. Gyromax balance

Black arrows: direction of function during winding

White arrows: direction of function during use (unwinding).

Mr. Musy, who, as one of Switzerland’s most talented horological engineers, is unknown to the watch-buying public, is a stickler for what he calls “le confort” — the provision of every convenience the most exacting owner will ever think of requiring (see A Tale of True Luxury, Part I).

For example, he has introduced a calculated amount of friction between the ratchet-wheel and the underside of the top-plate to mitigate, with an agreeable tactile sensation, the lengthy task of winding the watch.

Unlike the ordinary leather strap, that of the ref. 5100 will support the watch at a convenient angle when you lay it by your bedside. The watch is also adjusted in this inclined position, in addition to the five conventional positions of adjustment.

And in case, while setting your watch, you happen to drop it into the bath, a double seal in the winding stem ensures that water-resistance is maintained even when the crown is pulled out.

The movement, regulated at 21,600 v/h by a free-sprung balance with eight adjusting weights, runs in 29 jewels. Turning the weights reduces or increases the effective radius of the balance wheel, thus speeding or slowing the rate, as illustrated on the balance-cock. The balance is dynamically adjusted at the lowest possible amplitude.

The watches are delivered with a rating certificate which should show a performance well within COSC norms. Its long power reserve gives the watch some advantage in the tests where the movements are wound daily, as the springs are never allowed to unwind by more than 10%.

Measuring 28 x 20 x 5.05mm, the Cal. 28-20 movement is equivalent to a 13-ligne round caliber. Its volume, with 172 parts, is around 18% greater than that of the Cal. 240 Q automatic perpetual-calendar with 275 parts made by the same manufacturer. The rounded corners of the movement suggest that future versions will be fitted into round cases, perhaps with such complications as a perpetual calendar.

The winged case, a complex and highly polished arrangement of convexes and concaves is said to take 188 separate operations to complete. Applied gold numerals show the even hours, while the odd hours are indicated by three opposing pairs of lapped markers, variously angled according to their position on the dial. The design is not original, however, having been adapted from the 1952 Ref. 2554. By co-incidence, one of the original watches with this case is being sold by Antiquorum auctioneers in its spring sale (April 2, lot 356 estimated at between USD 14,000 and 16,000).

Three thousand pieces of the ref 5100 model are currently being produced: half of them in yellow gold, 750 in pink gold, 450 in white gold and 300 in platinum. In order to tell the platinum version from the white gold, a small diamond is set into the case at 6 o’clock. The retail price is expected to be between USD22,000 and CHF32,000, but their market value will be determined when the first Ref. 5100s join the manufacturer’s other commemorative models (the Pagoda and the 150thanniversary watches) on the auction circuit.

In conclusion, Watchbore looks forward to reading the learned comments of TimeZoners regarding a watch that is not totally devoid of interest.


Copyright © Alan Downing March 2000