Beauty, and the Handwound Movement…
The more I look at and study watches, the more I find refined simplicity to have a growing appeal: The simplest, most elegant ultrathin automatics, and of course the time-only manually-wound movement free of superfluous complications. No doubt “haute” complications have their place within horology as paramount works of the watchmakers craft, but for most of us the world of Grande Complications, carillons, and even perpetual calendars is a closed one where we are only spectators.
Indeed, we find ourselves wandering through a vast wasteland of layered modular complications that attempt to mimic in some way the mostly inaccessible works of haute horlogerie. Browse through a current glossy watch magazine and you will find a mind-numbing repetition of watches equipped with generic chronograph modules, big-date modules, power-reserve modules, jump hours, and retrograde this or that, all of which have bonded to one of the generic automatic ebauches spawned in ETA’s vast cauldrons — the Frankenstein’s monsters of our age.
It also seems that all but the most elite of the watchmaking masters and manufactures have converted wholly to the religion of the rotor. Nearly 600 years of hand-winding by key or crown has been supplanted by a tyranny of “automatic” winding, forcing many collectors to succumb to the Scylla of the mechanical watch revival — the electric “automatic watch” winding appliance. Even the beauty of classical integrated complications is obscured by winding bridges more often than not.
I would like to take a “time out” from all of this in the oasis of simplicity, to celebrate the purest and most essential form of the mechanical timekeeping heritage — the handwound movement. Here are a few of those forms which for various reasons I personally find appealing. In addition to four simple handwinds (two vintage and two current), I have chosen to add two of the aforementioned classic complications which when integrated into the basic handwound
Behold Lange calibre L941.1, the challenge of Saxony to the best and brightest of Geneva and Le Brassus — a challenge that has
Not only is this the finest 3/4 plate calibre in production, but also one of the finest handwinds of our time. It remains the most accessible offering in the small A. Lange & Sohne collection, used in the 1815 and as a base movement in the 1815
This vintage movement reflects not only the close tie between handwound pocket and wristwatch
Perhaps due to my background with pocket watches, I find this to be most beautiful wristwatch calibre ever manufactured by
Here is the face of an artifact from the end of the golden age of
The 23-300 is one of very few movements manufactured by Patek Philippe to use both an overcoil hairspring and a free-sprung Gyromax balance, and of which it was the only 10”’
Sadly its five-bridge form, which was characteristic of Patek’s handwound
Blancpain is the most controversial of the fine watchmaking houses for many reasons — like its youth contrasted with its marketing claim of vast age, but no doubt its single greatest controversy is the movement above, Blancpain calibre 64-1. The only certified chronometer in all of the Blancpain collections, and their only regular production steel-cased watch fitted with a sapphire display back, it is omitted from mention in their literature with a modesty bordering upon shame.
The 64-1 is based on one of the last of a long line of Peseux handwound
While many speak casually of generic movements being “modified” by watch companies – referring to little more than basic functional finishing and a few decorative Geneva Bars, this is a rare example of what real watchmaking skill can actually do to transform a basic ebauche into a first class movement. It is sad to see it relegated to obscurity, and I expect that it will eventually be replaced by a 10 1/2”’ or 11 1/2”’ handwind by F.
Our first complication is often a feature taken for granted, but when executed correctly on a traditional savonnette calibre it adds a wonderful depth and grace to the movement — indirect center seconds. I feel that the angularity of the basic calibre is softened and enhanced by the masterful addition of the center seconds bridge and the exposed indirect seconds wheel.
On its own, the basic calibre 10 1/2”’ No. 48 is unique and well-loved, with a following that is reminiscent of the Pythagorean cult of antiquity. Originally designed by Andre Frey in 1943, it was only later that the addition we see above finally resulted in calibre Minerva calibre 49. This particular iteration of the movement is one of a limited production of 49 pieces per annum. Like most movement designs of this vintage, it beats 18,000 times an hour.
While these movements were traditionally given a flat matte and gilt finish, the “display-back revival” has seen their cal. 48 top plate finished with Geneva Bars and rhodium plate, and now the 49 has been given the luxury treatment throughout — probably the most luxuriously finished movement ever produced by Minerva. It is a notable accomplishment for this small manufacture in
Our second and final complication, a single-button chronograph, is integrated into a 3/4 plate calibre like the Lange L941 at top — as are most of the handwound Lemania chronographs. Despite its apparent complexity, the depth of the integration means that there is almost no additional
This highly-crafted chronograph movement by Patek Philippe expatriate Roger Dubuis is based on the little seen Lemania calibre 2220. The movement runs at 18,000vph and I have seen it fitted with anywhere from 16 to 21 jewels — like any ordinary
I have always had a particular preference for single-button chronographs. They are obsolete even within the anachronistic context of mechanical chronographs, and they lack a real function offered by the two-button chronographs that have all but replaced them, but there is an elegance, a charm — a simplicity that they have that eludes their younger siblings.
What the future holds for mechanical watches is at best uncertain. As an anachronism and a form of traditional art and craft, it poses both great expense at entry and for maintenance. Master watchmaker George Daniels has speculated that the rising costs of the latter will eventually make the “fruit salad” complications, which are so sought after today, prohibitive to own over the long term and eventually obsolete. I imagine that this would lead once more to a precarious existence for the mechanical watch, or to a return to the simplicity of the basic automatic “gentleman’s watch” which was the standard just before the dawn of quartz.
While movements like the ones we have seen above would certainly have a place within such a scenario, I feel that their economic advantages are really the very least that they have to offer. I hope that others can discover the true appeal and intimate connection offered by the simple handwound watch, and an understanding and appreciation of the classic beauty of the handwound movement.
Music I by Gustav Klimt; scan by Mark Harden
Lange calibre L941.1 by Danny
IWC calibre 83 and Audemars Piguet calibre 3090 by Gisbert Joseph
Patek Philippe calibre 23-300 by Mark Passey
Blancpain 64-1 by Mike Margolis
Peseux flag by Pascal Gross
Minerva calibre 49 by David Gruber
Roger Dubuis calibre 50 by Jing H. Goh
Used with permission.
Copyright © Carlos A. Perez 2000
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