Form meets function at SIHH with these watches and their movements, featuring aesthetics that are uncommonly seen.
At its most basic, movement design is merely concerned with creating a functional product that has its components put together into a reasonably sized package. Go a step further, and these components may be finished (to varying standards) for a better looking movement that can be displayed through a transparent case back.
The fun really begins, however, when the very aesthetics of a movement are considered from the get-go in the design process. When this is done, the end result isn’t just a working movement, but one that’s also visually pleasing, with the potential to look radically different from the typical mainplate-and-bridges aesthetic. Chanel has demonstrated this to great effect with its in-house Calibres 1 and 2, which don’t just keep time, but also provide a feast for the eyes in and of themselves.
The challenge, of course, lies in additional layer of complexity that comes with factoring aesthetics into movement design. A smaller, slimmer bridge may look better, but its dimensions could affect its stability. Similarly, achieving a specific “look” may necessitate the rearrangement of components, which then affects the gear train and hand placement, as well as the ease of assembly.
Several maisons have flexed their technical muscles to create movements that aren’t just functional, but also architectural in design. These highlights were unveiled at SIHH earlier this year.
Ulysse Nardin – Calibre UN-250 in the Freak Vision
Naval architecture, anyone? The Freak is one of Ulysse Nardin’s most iconic lines, and the Freak Vision here carries on its predecessors’ unique aesthetic, with a maritime slant. The linearly arranged gear train here rotates once per hour and serves double duty as the minute hand, with the silicon balance wheel at one end highly reminiscent of the wheels used in paddle steamers. Meanwhile, the bridge itself is shaped like a boat hull, and “floats” above the rest of the movement, which has a layered yet minimalist architecture.
Panerai – P.2005/GLS calibre in the L’Astronomo
Skeletonised high complications in Panerai’s stable tend to follow a certain aesthetic. For a start, the components tend to exhibit softer curves, with their placements following a stacked arrangement to create a layered look. There’s also Panerai’s penchant for a grid-/net-like dial that lends a more technical look to the watch. These are all present in the L’Astronomo, which also has a tourbillon that rotates on an axis that’s perpendicular to the balance, for a decidedly different depth perception. What’s interesting this time is the date wheel, which is rendered in polarised glass; the aperture at three o’clock is also polarised, but in a perpendicular direction, so it ‘reveals’ the date by blocking light.
Roger Dubuis – Calibre RD103SQ in the Excalibur Aventador
Long a proponent of atypical designs in skeletonised calibres, Roger Dubuis’s latest work in the Excalibur Aventador’s movement combines several of its past accomplishments. The pair of inclined balance wheels at five and 10 o’clock hark back to the Quatuor, which uses four balance wheels to ostensibly give better chronometric performance. Meanwhile, a single large structure running from two to 7 o’clock houses the movement’s other major components. This structure’s angular bridges recall the manufacture’s Astral Skeleton concept, which has angular star-shaped bridges and components. What’s new this time are the two criss-crossed “strut bars” that directly reference the system used in car chassis – no prizes for guessing where the inspiration came from.
Audemars Piguet – Calibre 2951 in the Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon
With its multiple facets, the Royal Oak Concept’s case is the perfect frame with which Audemars Piguet can show off Calibre 2951’s edgy, angular design. The action begins from the dial, which has been reduced to a series of irregular teeth running along the inner edge of the bezel. Through this aperture, the movement is put on display; the open-worked barrel mirrors the dial (or what’s left of it), while a mix of curved and angular bridges arranged at different levels imparts a great sense of depth. The juxtaposition carries on with the mix of materials – white lacquer contrasts with brushed and polished metallic surfaces, again playing with light and the observer’s depth perception. Topping things off here is the extensive diamond-setting, right down to the upper tourbillon bridge, which makes this a bona-fide high jewellery piece.
Richard Mille – Calibre RM53-01 in the RM 53-01 Tourbillon Pablo Mac Donough
The RM53-01’s distinctive look stems from its design goal – to be visible within the watch, yet extremely tough and shock-resistant. The movement’s components are largely clustered in the middle, and attached to the main baseplate like a typical movement. A second peripheral baseplate, however, is where the magic lies – it’s attached to the inner side of the case, and linked to the main baseplate via cables, essentially suspending the movement within the case via a “web”. This suspension system is what gives the watch its resilience against shocks – even those experienced by Pablo Mac Donough in a game of polo.