It’s true that this week in Geneva is a huge rush and comes with its fair share of stress. Missing an appointment isn’t an option, so it is nice when the opportunity comes along to sit in a nice comfy chair and have someone show you a series of fantastic watches in a quiet and relaxed atmosphere.
So it is with high anticipation that I take my seat in the very swanky Beau Rivage hotel, which is situated in the centre of Geneva next to the lake.
Maitres du Temps
As you would no doubt be aware, we are very big fans of Maitres du Temps and look forward to every opportunity we get to interact with this highly regarded Atelier. If you missed our in-depth special on this unique brand make sure you read it here!
Resulting from the collaboration of some of the greatest watchmakers alive, Maitres du Temps is tasked with bringing together their ideas and fusing them into a seamless solution. Each watch is expressed as a separate “Chapter” in an on-going story and while there are common elements, significant differences exist between the available “Chapter One” and “Chapter Two”.
The projects themselves were also ground-breaking in the manner in which the watches were created. Traditionally the movement is created and then the watch case is fitted around it; this makes great commercial sense because it means you can create a range of case styles that use the same movement and spread the development cost across the whole range.
However, this inevitably leads to design and functional compromises being made, which was not something that was to be contemplated by the “Maitres du Temps”. Instead the movement and case were designed in tandem so that neither form nor function suffers at the hand of the other.
Released in 2008 combining the skills of Christophe Claret and Peter Speake-Marin, the Chapter 1 is a very serious watch. The first thing that strikes you is the considerable weight of the case. The way to get around this is to choose the titanium version rather than the white or rose gold. It is much lighter – and think of the fun you’ll have explaining how difficult it is to put a mirror finish on titanium.
On the wrist, the slightly curved case makes it extremely comfortable, despite the weight of the gold versions. The case is high, but the sculptured sides means that a shirt cuff is unlikely to catch on the side and become annoying.
The Chapter 1 is a unique collection of complications: mono pusher chronograph, tourbillon, day and moon phase rollers, retrograde GMT and retrograde date. The challenge is to make all of this functionality readable; it certainly has to be considered a success in this area, especially when contrasted with other multi-complication chronographs.
The moon phase and day rollers are at first sight a nice touch but they are also much more complex. The moon phase is in fact a roller with the white moon element applied to it, which revolves inside a blue static sleeve – I can’t imagine how complex the tolerances are to build them.
The day roller is easy, right – that’s just the day of the week printed on a roller? Well no, actually: first you have to move the horizontal movement of a watch movement through 90 degrees to power the rollers with all the attendant friction and power expense that that entails.
Also, the rollers do not instantaneously switch at midnight; in fact the change takes about 30 minutes from 23:40 until 00:10. It all looks as if there’s a bit of a compromise going on somewhere – there must have been some very long and complicated meetings to work that out.
Just when you think you have seen it all, however, there is still more! The icing on the cake comes in the form of the blond American Oak wood presentation box in which the watch comes, and the magnificent leather briefcase that the box is stored in. When I saw these I started reaching for my credit card – who needs the deposit on a house when you can have a fabulous watch, box and briefcase? (I hope my wife doesn’t read this!)
The most recent model from Maitres du Temps, “Chapter 2″, has a similar tonneau case to “Chapter 1″ but actually is very different. The collaborators this time round are Peter Speake-Marin and Daniel Roth, who were aiming to produce the most readable triple calendar wristwatch on the market. It is said that it is so clear that you can tell the time on someone else’s watch from across the room.
The “Chapter 2″ does away with the tourbillon but gains an automatic movement and retains the two rollers (now with day and month). It has bright, diamond cut, solid gold hands, small seconds and a two-disc big date indicator at the 12 o’clock position, which finishes off the watch very nicely. Now this really speaks (no pun intended) to me.
Lighter than the “Chapter 1″, this seems more like an everyday watch and a little bit more wearable. The automatic movement is rated at 40 hours, but in reality lasts a bit longer than that a result of the quality and engineering tolerances used.
As with many high-end watches, it is the little touches that really set it apart. The 22K solid-gold winding rotor has a beautiful basket weave pattern (panier guilloche) engraved upon it, and is unlike anything I have seen before.
It turns out that this is the result of using the skills of a retired master engraver known to Daniel Roth, who was persuaded to help them out only three days before he was due to dispose of all his tools. Talk about good timing.
Like the “Chapter 1″, this watch has two rollers, but the similarities end there. The rollers and big date are now instantaneous, so now the watch has to store enough energy during the day to move all of the date functions at the same time – sounds like more late-night meetings.
Even when this issue was resolved though, the rollers continued to challenge the makers. So rather than opting for cheaper surface printing, the day and month lettering is deeply engraved and then in-filled with white in what, I am reliably informed, is a very difficult process.
The Final Word
Overall I had been looking forward to this meeting with Maitres du Temps for some time and I was not disappointed. Collaborations run the inherent risk of conflict and compromise, leading to a potentially disappointing outcome. It is a testament to those involved that whatever issues came up during the design phases have only enhanced the end result. The technical problems faced were, I am sure, considerable, but the watches have coherent designs, operate smoothly and look incredible.
If you are compiling a dream watch collection these should be on the list.
Category: Recommended Reading