New manoeuvres at the cutting edge of horology
Crystal-clear son et lumière
Twenty-five years is a short time in the venerable (aka glacial) culture of Swiss watchmaking, but nevertheless Chopard’s elite ‘LUC’ division has described a dazzling arc of mechanical innovation and industrial diversification in its quarter century. Back in 1996 (the pandemic lets them off a year, OK?), a youthful co-president Karl-Friedrich Scheufele took the reins from his father, who’d in turn bought said reins wholesale from the Chopard dynasty in the ’60s.
While his sister Caroline was establishing the Riviera’s go-to haute joaillerie side of things, K-F set about re-establishing a modern manufacture d’horlogerie in the spirit of LUC’s eponym and founder, Louis-Ulysse Chopard (1836–1915). This year’s Full Strike Sapphire, in just five examples, is a fitting culmination and celebration of accrued know-how: an outrageous evolution of the chiming ‘minute repeater’, switching from hammers that chime the hours (‘ding’), quarters (‘ding dong’) and remaining minutes (‘dong’) on two steel-alloy wire gongs encircling the movement to two sapphire-crystal gongs, machined intricately from the same block of crystal as the dome covering the dial. Oh, and tuned perfectly to C-sharp and F respectively.
Reviewing comparative sound-wave graphs, the volume and sonority over steel is obvious. For 2022 though, not only is the entire case now rendered in clear sapphire (with tolerances that assume a jaw-gritting rejection rate), but Monsieur Scheufele has recruited the expertise of Gautier and Renaud Capuçon – virtuoso cellist and violinist respectively – as well as the boffins of Geneva’s HEPIA acoustics laboratory to fine-tune the sapphire gongs for emotional quality. Something that, once dialled in, can be reproduced perfectly every time, given sapphire’s absolute physicality, over alloy wires. Happy silver anniversary, LUC.
The stars aligned
Ulysse Nardin was the chronometer-maker of the early 20th century. Long before GPS or electronic quartz technology, the merchant navy’s navigators still relied on steadfast, gimbal-mounted mechanical watches as a means of determining longitude – a system proved, famously, by Yorkshire’s John Harrison in the 18th century, over stargazing.
However, the stars are still our ultimate clock face. No matter the accuracy of today’s satellites or atomic clocks, the rotation of the Earth relative to the heavens is still the absolute baseline. It occasionally wobbles with our planet’s erratic magma core and necessitates the odd leap second being added to 31 December. Thus, when Rolf Schnyder (1935–2011) bought Ulysse Nardin lock, stock and winding barrel, his first move was bringing aboard a rising star of whom the young Monsieur Nardin would surely have approved: scientist, astronomer, horologist and all-round brainbox Ludwig Oechslin, discovered by Schnyder restoring an astrolabe clock in the back of a Lucerne boutique.
Oechslin’s 1985 trio of astronomical wristborne masterpieces ushered in the late-’80s revolt against electronic quartz, this year celebrated by Ulysse Nardin’s spectacular Blast Moonstruck in sci-fi black ceramic.
Putting aside the Copernican representation of our solar system in favour of an easier geocentric approach, it accentuates the idea of being at the heart of the universe. The northern hemisphere’s pole is sapphire-domed, while the moon phase in a round aperture is governed by an elaborate gear train that makes one circle of the dial in a lunar-correct 29 days, 12 hours, 41 minutes and 9.3 seconds.
Meanwhile, the true, orbital position of the sun is represented by a glowing disc in bronzite, and the time in any of the world’s 24 principal time zones can be ascertained at the push of a button.
Speed, distance, time
French-designed, Swiss-made Bell & Ross might seem to be going large on the ‘circle within a square’ format of cockpit instrumentation that it coined back in 2005, only with added pop-art pizzazz. But, this time, the watchmaker is making a deliberate bid for anything that moves that isn’t an aeroplane. And it isn’t as complex as it might first seem.
All it takes is a glance to the small user manual, printed on the left-hand side of the dial rather than buried in an actual booklet. It sets out, in colour-coded fashion, how the stopwatch, or ‘chronograph’, function’s central seconds hand can be used with the five concentric scales to calculate five separate activities on the fly, according to three fundamental data: the base unit (base), the function (function) and the unit of measurement (unit), calibrated logarithmically, but only requiring the ability to multiply in factors of 10.
To wit, the pulsometer counting the heart beats per minute on a 15-beat basis; the asthmometer monitoring breaths on a five-breath basis; and then three tachometers measuring speed, in km/h. Breaking from the supersonic world of jet-powered flight, their measurement is based on three different units: 100m, 250m or 1km – the runner, the cyclist, the sports driver.
Even if your fitness doesn’t improve, your arithmetic surely will.
This article is taken from Port issue 30. To continue reading, buy the issue or subscribe here