The meeting of fine art and micro-engineering
For me, one of the finest things in the world is wearing a really great wristwatch. The best watches combine creativity, craftsmanship, artistry and of course, a really intricate mechanical movement.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a quartz or digital watch, but they simply can’t compare with the technical brilliance of the best mechanical movements. When hundreds of miniscule moving parts work in perfect harmony, it’s a joy to behold. Combine that with art, and I’m hooked.
Just in case you're not with me, I've put together a list of some of the world’s finest pieces to show you exactly what I mean. These watches combine the best of both worlds – fine art, and superb engineering.
1. Grand Sonnerie, Gerald Genta
Gerald Genta is a name that is legendary among watch enthusiasts. The man himself, who passed away recently, created some of the most inspired watches the world has ever seen. The brand lives on, and the Grand Sonnerie watch (pictured below) is a fine example of how engineering can look (and sound) like fine art.
While designing this watch, the engineers actually studied the properties of metals, and created a new one called Magsonic. Then they created software to test the metal’s sound qualities in order to make sure that the sound quality of the Sonnerie chime was like no other watch on the planet. There are around 850 individual parts in this movement.
2. Steampunk Tourbillon, Romain Jerome
In case you are not familliar with Steampunk, it is an art movement inspired by the 1920’s steam-powered revolution. It combines machine parts, rusted iron, cogs and pistons and vintage elements with a futuristic feel. It’s very popular in art circles these days.
Swiss watch manufacturer Romain Jerome has created a timepiece to celebrate the Steampunk movement, and it did it with style. The huge (50mm) dial is open-worked to reveal the perlaged mainplate and blackened bridges. It’s a feast for the eyes, and engineered to retro-perfection.
3. Art Piece 1, Greubel Forsey
In horological circles, Greubel Forsey is a brand that is known for combining fine art with precision micro-engineering. Recently it has been heavily into collaboration, and Art Piece 1 is a collaboration that has gone the extra mile. British artist Willard Wigan creates micro-sculptures that are small enough to fit on the head of a pin. In 2007 he was awarded a knighthood by Prince Charles, and one of his works is inside this watch.
There is a 23 X magnifier worked into the crown so you can admire the micro-sculpture embedded in the intricate design. At first glance it looks just like a speck of gold, until you look a little closer. I love the fact that it is paired with Greubel Forsey’s signature 30 degree double tourbillon which itself an engineering tour de force.
4. Shakudo, Blancpain
The ancient art of Japanese Shakudo involves engraving on metal alloys of copper and gold. It’s an incredibly time-consuming technique, and there are very few masters of it.
As part of Blancpain’s Métiers d'Art collection, this spectacular piece incorporates the craftsmanship of some of the world’s greatest artisans. The image of the Hindu god Ganesh on the dial is actually more of a sculpture than an engraving. (In Hindu mythology Ganesh is the bringer of wisdom and good fortune.) The movement in this watch is an in-house made caliber 15B which is only 2.2mm thick.