Andreas Strehler — Bespoke Horologist
Future historians of watchmaking will no doubt argue endlessly over who were the most important watchmakers of the early 21st century. Many will no doubt agree on George Daniels, citing Derek Pratt and Anthony Randall as followers of his school; others will champion F. P. Journe, while minorities would certainly be found for Svend Andersen, Philippe Dufour or even Vincent Calebrese and Franck Muller.
To this elite group of contemporary watchmakers, Watchbore would like to propose one more name: that of Andréas Strehler.
Complicated to be simple
Strehler belongs to the minimalist school — researching the simplest and clearest way for a timepiece to perform its prime purpose. His ideas are so logically satisfying that they leave you wondering why they had not been thought-up before. Like, why not use the hours- and minutes-hands to indicate the date and the month as well? Push a button in the case of the watch to bring the minutes-hand to the date on a 1 – 31 scale around the dial. The hours-hand moves simultaneously to indicate the number of the month on its 12-hour scale. Both hands move between time and calendar indications by the shortest route. Strehler has a patent pending on the mechanism, and despite the offer of a heavy bribe, declined to reveal to Watchbore how it works, leaving him to imagine that it is by way of heart-cams, as in chronographs.
Another simple idea of practical interest to Watchbore, is Strehler’s wearable pocket-watch designed to be carried along with keys and small change in a side pocket. He has modernized the traditional pendant-bow for a chain from the belt, and made the cases of Damascus steel, hot-forged and folded to reveal the characteristic wavy grain. This is the steel of which Saladin’s legendary sword was made — keen enough to slice with equal ease through floating silk or an armored Crusader.
A communication between cycles of time
Strehler’s most intriguing horological demonstration is a symbiotic combination of a pocket-watch and a desk calendar, that recalls Abraham-Louis Breguet’s sympathique. watch-and-clock pair. But it is entirely different, with an original twist and a host of clever features.
The perpetual-calendar indication is on the desk calendar, but its brain is contained in the detachable pocket-watch, which only shows the time. Put the two together, and a sensing mechanism reads the day, date, month and year from the pocket-watch, updating the indications on the two dials of the desk calendar.
The trick is that the pocket-watch does not track the calendar as such, but measures the elapsed time (for up to 21 days) since it last took the date-reference from the desk calendar. The desk calendar contains its own mainspring and perpetual-calendar mechanisms, which keep the calendar updated while it is connected with the watch. When the calendar spring needs winding (about twice a year), a pump-winding stem jumps up.
The pocket-watch has a sun disc in an aperture in its back to show the diurnal cycle, as well as a dot on the dial which appears when the elapsed-time memory has reached 18 of its 21 days. Beyond that time, the reference date on the desk-calendar has to be reset manually.
When the crown of the pocket-watch is pulled out to set the time, the elapsed-time mechanism halts so that days are not added by moving the hands past midnight.
Your personal watchmaker
Andreas Strehler makes between three and 10 timepieces a year for private clients, who come to his Winterthur workshops for an original horological solution or a custom watch. He is currently making some wristwatches with the time-to-date mechanisms on order.
His demonstration watches have a distinctive and contemporary graphic style, but he does not seek to impose it. “It is up to my clients to decide on the watch I will make for them,” says Strehler. “They can choose the type of movement, the materials and the style.”
Aged 30, Strehler is the youngest of the elite group of watchmakers. He graduated from the Solothurn watchmaking school and set up on his own in 1995 after working for Renaud & Papi (now the complications workshops for Audemars Piguet). The “Zwei” watch and the calendar and watch combination demonstrate the latest additions to his growing horological repertoire.
For the moment he has no ambitions for expansion. “I work fastest and best alone,” he says.
©Copyright: Alan Downing, April 2000