Honouring Time

JUL 19, 2017

Simon de Burton considers haute horology with respect to wisdom and knowledge and looks at the commitment to the craft passed down through the ages

During the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, the men who were considered the wisest in the land were scientists and mathematicians such as Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Keplar, Galileo Galilei and Christian Huygens - all genius astronomers whose study of the stars and the motion of the planets enabled man to devise an accurate method of measuring time.

Their knowledge and wisdom formed the basis of modern horology - and to look into a mechanical watch is to see a manifestation of their brilliance. Take, for example, the celebrated perpetual calendar models made by Patek Philippe which rely on mind-boggling calculations that enable them to display the date correctly, regardless of short months and leap years. Some, such as the recently introduced Reference 5320, have the potential to remain accurate for more than a century so long as they are kept running.

Yet watch making doesn't rely only on mathematical knowledge, but an entire range of crafts that have been passed down through generations. And some continue to be executed just as they always have been – such as the intricate hand-finishing found on Chopard's new L.U.C XPS 1860 Officer with its 'honeycomb' engraved dial and case back, the latter hinging open to reveal an equally detailed movement.

But for a 21st-century take on traditional horology, take Officine Panerai's remarkable LAB-ID Luminor 1950 Carbotech, which features a mechanical movement that draws on the latest developments in material science and incorporating ultra-low friction materials that don't require additional lubricant. Just 50 examples will be available.

But ask many watch enthusiasts to name the contemporary watch maker who best represents the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of hundreds of years of horological research and there's a good chance that they will cite Frenchman Francois-Paul Journe, whose meticulous study of past masters enables him to create beautifully-finished, traditional-looking watches which often showcase new mechanical developments in-line with his motto 'Invenit et fecit' - invented and made.

One of Journe's classics is his Chronometre a Resonance that uses two balance wheels that 'resonate' with one another to enhance accuracy. It's brilliant, but Journe would be the first to admit that he wasn't the first to discover the theory behind it. That was down to the legendary Abraham-Louis Breguet who experimented with resonance during the 18th century - but no one could deny that it was Journe's Breguet-like knowledge and wisdom that brought the idea into the 21st...