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TIME PIECE


I


n an idyllic Swiss village not far from the Rhone River, there’s a small miracle in progress.


Dressed in white coats, hovering over microscopes, and sealed from the outside world in their airlocked laboratory, this team of men and women look like scientists at first glance – but they’re engineers, artists, craftsmen, gemologists. Working to miniscule scales, they are creating some of the finest, most complicated watches on earth – timepieces that will fetch hundreds of thousands of pounds, maybe more. They’re the masters of watchmaking; creating the next generation of chronographs – miraculous, yes, but the real wonder is that they’re here at all. Because, if common sense had prevailed, their work would be obsolete. Ask any horologist


who invented the first mechanical watch, and you’ll never get a straight answer: The history books are muddied with conjecture, but one thing remains certain: The 1770s were landmark years for the craft. Hitherto, portable timepieces – hand- wound, and powered by a mainspring – had been heavy, temperamental, inexact.


VACHERON CONSTANTIN The striking, angular Maltese Cross is the hallmark of Vacheron Constantin – the world’s oldest continuous watchmaker. The design was actually inspired by the shape of a rate-stabilising movement inside its most complicated timepieces. With infinite


its rotational


symmetry, this insignia was said to symbolise the brand’s unerring quest for precision.


ROLEX Rolex is the only watchmaker in the world to have its very own gold foundry, which produces the purest 18ct gold alloys


for all of its watches. Located in Plan-les- Ouates, Switzerland, the foundry creates yellow gold, white gold and Everose


gold – a bespoke pink gold alloy developed in-house by Rolex.


‘Over the next 125 years, portable


timepieces became the hallmark of the elite’


If you wanted precision, you were better off with a pendulum clock. But a small band of talented engineers were making strides. Swiss-born Abraham-Louis Perrelet led the effort, inventing in 1777 the self-winding mechanism – powered by the movement of the watch wearer, rather than a hand-wound spring. “Just 15 minutes of movement is needed


to power it for eight days,” claimed a report by the Société des Arts in Geneva. Revolution indeed. Other watchmakers, including Hubert Sarton and Abraham- Louis Breguet, forged ahead with their own designs


– the self-winding and development mechanism of spread


through Europe. It wasn’t perfect, but it was progress.


Over the next 125 years, portable timepieces became the hallmark of the


elite. Men favoured pocket watches, while wristwatches were more fashionable for women – marketed as


bracelets, and often adorned


with diamonds, precious gems, and intricate hand-painted designs. However, few new patents were filed during this time: Watches grew in opulence, but not in accuracy. But a watershed moment came in


SAVILE ROW STYLE MAGAZINE 49


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