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In-Depth: Andersen Genève Montre à Tact for Only Watch 2019

Friends, craftsmen, and a good cause.

Only Watch founder Luc Pettavino is a very persuasive man. Every two years, he manages to convince small watchmakers to risk neglecting paying customers, and instead to spend a lot of time and effort to exercise their creativity in building a one-off timepiece – and then give the resulting watch to the Only Watch charity auction.

Most watchmakers regard it as an honour to be asked for a contribution, after all, the list of participants include boldface establishment names like Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet. While Luc also receives many offers from brands, he wants to curate an interesting mix of watches for each Only Watch auction, capped at a maximum of 50 watches or so each time – he alone decides what’s in and what’s out.

A few brands have been dedicated supporters of the charity since the very beginning, and they are usually invited to return year after year. In the inaugural Only Watch auction in 2005, lot 1 was the unique Eros “Navigation Pleasure” wristwatch. It was the work of Andersen Genève, the brand founded by Svend Andersen, a 77-year old veteran independent watchmaker best known for co-founding the Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants (AHCI).

When Luc visited Svend at Baselworld earlier this year to solicit a contribution for Only Watch 2019, he received a swift “yes”. With the watch required to be finished for a world tour starting just three months after Baselworld, quick decisions were necessary at Andersen Genève to create an attractive watch.

Tactile and tactful

Svend Andersen and Andersen Genève owner Pierre-Alexandre Aeschlimann – who acquired the company in 2015 while keeping Svend on board – wanted to highlight horological craftsmanship in the brand’s Only Watch creation. So they decided the watch best suited for that was the Montre à Tact, inspired by Abraham-Louis Breguet’s 19th century watch of the same name.

Montre à tact translates as “tactile watch”, getting its name from the wearer being able to tell the time by touch. By feeling the position of a pointer fixed on the lid of the watch, the wearer could deduce the time from the pointer’s position in relation to studs set onto the rim of the case representing the hours. It was developed as a matter of manners, for visibly consulting a watch while in polite company was judged rude by the Parisian society of the late 18th century.

abraham louis breguet montre tact

Montre à tact pocket watch by Abraham-Louis Breguet, c. 1800. Image – National Museum Stockholm

Andersen Regina Montre a tact

Andersen Genève Regina, montre a tact for the lady set with 529 diamonds. Image – Andersen Genève

Svend introduced his own Montre à Tact in 1999, equipping it with a lateral time display incorporated into the case band, which allows for reading of the time discreetly, without the wearer needing to turn the wrist, perhaps a tell-tale sign of impatience. Reducing the time display to a drum-like cylinder also created an avenue for creative expression. With the time only visible through an aperture visible between the lugs of the “empire” case, a large, flat space on the face was left ready for decoration.

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The hours scale is engraved onto the rotating cylinder that’s made of a lightweight aluminium alloy, and connected to the propriety time display module

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The watch shows approximately 10:45 here

A tribute to the Calvinist city

The city and lake of Geneva offer a perfect scene for conversion into a decorative motif, which is why scenes of the Lac Leman have long been a favourite theme for miniature enamel artists of the area. The lake with its signature Jet d’Eau fountain, with the majestic Salève and Montblanc mountains in the background, are instantly recognisable.

Though the motif was obvious, the difficulty here was to integrate Geneva’s St. Pierre Cathedral, a landmark Pierre-Alexandre felt was crucial for the quintessential Geneva scene. Existing postcards and photos did not combine all these elements.  But neither Svend nor Pierre-Alexandre are gifted illustrators, so the task fell to Pierre-Alexandre’s father, an artist by training, who was drafted to create a sketch for the engraver.

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Vintage postcards and scenes of Geneva

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An early sketch of the motif

From paper to gold and pearl

For many years, Svend has worked with renowned engraver Kees Engelbarts. While most engravers usually require exact templates and instructions to work, the Dutch engraver is not only an excellent craftsman, but also true artist, so Kees was able to work with Svend to determine how to execute the drawing right down to its visual details and materials.

Without distorting reality too much, artistic liberties were taken to capture the motif containing both Montblanc and the cathedral. As in model building, the proportions of the elements were tweaked to create a pleasing scene and balanced dial instead of slavishly respecting the actual scale of each object.

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Engraving alone is not possible to create all the parts for such a dial. The engraver needs a keen eye to judge if the parts match and fit together in a pleasing way, and then to adapt and enhance each part until a coherent picture emerges. Even though Svend assembled the final dial, Kees decided how everything fit together in the course of producing the parts.

When Kees first presented the raw dial, with each element arranged in place, to Svend and Pierre-Alexandre, they thought the ship to be too big and out of proportion relative to the landscape. But Kees successfully defended his decision, and the result confirms his aesthetic intuition. On the other hand, Kees struggled to compromise between practical workability and reality in realising the halyards, the thin ropes connecting the ladders and masts.

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Being more than just a sculptor of metal, Kees also enjoys experimenting with different materials, and fossilised mammoth ivory from Siberia was the material of choice for the Jet d’Eau. It was a challenge to work the brittle mammoth ivory into a tiny component resembling a stream of water, but Kees managed to cut, sculpt and thin the thick piece of ivory into a near-transparent appliqué.

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Kees (left) and Svend at work

Svend, on the other hand, had some ideas in mind for the water and sky; he did not want to use paint, which would have been easy, but instead natural mother of pearl.

So he turned to local dial manufacturer GVA Cadrans, where he personally selected the pieces of mother of pearl to replicate the colours he had in mind. Then the dial maker cut two 0.40mm-high discs from the pieces of shell, which were used as base for the face, with all the engraved parts to be mounted on top.

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The pieces of shell (left) that form the base for the motif, shown on a sketch (right)

For Pierre-Alexandre, the goal was to create the feel of a typical autumn evening in the city, with the Montblanc drenched in the reddish hue of a setting sun, with the lower Salève and Old Town already in the shadow of dusk. So 18k red gold was chosen for Montblanc, while 21k blue gold was used to depict Salève and the buildings of the city. And lastly, 18k white gold was used for the paddle steamer sailing on the lake.

Blue gold is a special alloy of yellow gold, iron, and a tiny bit of nickel that was invented and patented in 1988 by Ludwig Muller, a Geneva jeweller. Andersen Genève has the exclusive use of the material for watchmaking, but employs Muller’s son, Martin, for the propriety process of flame heating. By heating the alloy to 450-600 degrees Celsius, the iron molecules rise to its surface and oxidise, giving the surface a subdued blue tone.

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Making the case

But Kees is able to do more than engraving in his workshop. Because he builds his own line of watches, he also has hand-operated machinery of the sort not usually expected in an engraver’s studio, dedicated to producing watch cases.

Kees took over the premises of Geneva case maker Jean-Pierre Scherrer when the latter retired to Brazil. Despite his retirement, Mr Scherrer retained his hallmark and still builds one-off watch cases for bespoke wristwatches occasionally, as he did for the Montre à Tact for Only Watch. Back in the day, Mr Scherrer and Jean-Pierre Hagmann (who now works with Akrivia) were the go-to craftsmen for major brands in Geneva and the Vallee de Joux that needed prototype and custom cases built by hand.

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Kees Engelbarts at work in his workshop

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Jean-Pierre Scherrer milling the base of the white gold case for the Andersen Montre a tact

Building watch cases the traditional way, which is to say by hand, requires few machines. A lathe, a cutting machine and a drill press are needed to make the raw parts, but the rest is pure hand craftsmanship done at a bench, using methods similar to that of a jeweller.

The outline in building the Montre à Tact case were straightforward: the front and back bezels were soldered to the fluted case band, then the individual lugs were inserted into the case band and soldered on. The movement remains accessible through the case back, which is press fitted into the case middle and sealed with teflon gaskets.

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The case maker’s bench, much like a jeweller’s

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The case back in progress, with drawings outlining the required hand-engraving for the text

At the same time, Svend has his own machine shop to complete all the work required in bespoke watchmaking. Gears, pinions, plates and bridges can be made in-house, and also heat treatment for blueing of steel parts.

So Svend was able to complete the final steps in finishing and refining the case. The master himself sat down to finish the case back, applying the poli et brossé, or “polished and brushed”, to create a combination of contrasting mirrored and satin surfaces.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Svend at work

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The finished back

The craftsmen’s reassurance

There is nothing more authentic than a group of longtime friends – all specialists in their fields – working together to create a unique piece for a good cause.

I like the final result not only for its hand-made nature, but also for the natural hues of the materials used. Mastering the use of these materials and their colours, brings the concept of artisanal work to another level for me.

And the appeal also lies in the preparation for the artisan work. Kees’ work is not executed on a pre-engraving, essentially a template lightly etched by laser that is then traced by hand, as is often the case; he starts from scratch and engraves freehand. Yet he managed to create the town and its buildings replete with details, while being able to highlight the completely different characters of the two mountains in the background.

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To be honest, I was initially a bit piqued to see with how much effort Svend was expending on the Only Watch creation while my bespoke watch, commissioned well before Only Watch, seemed to drag on and on.

But, upon reflection, it was actually reassuring. Not just because Only Watch and its donors deserve watchmakers’ support, but the effort they put into creating watches for charity reassure that I can be demanding with my next commission. For bespoke work it really helps to have excellent, local specialists who work well together, as the Andersen Genève Only Watch amply illustrates. To discuss a project with them, all sitting around a table covered in samples and mockups is not only efficient but also inspiring.

The Andersen Genève Montre à Tact Only Watch 2019 has an estimate of 50,000-55,000 Swiss francs, and will be sold by Christie’s in Geneva on November 19. The rest of the auction catalogue can be seen on onlywatch.com.


Update October 15, 2019: Additional photos of the watch added.

Update November 11, 2019: the Andersen Genève Montre à Tact sold for 70,000 Swiss francs, with no fees since it was a charity auction.

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Longines Introduces the Heritage Classic “Sector” Dial

Another authentic, well-priced remake.

Longines continues its streak of solidly made and eminently affordable vintage remakes with the Heritage Classic featuring a “sector” dial. The segmented dial design revisits a style, sometimes known as a “scientific” dial, that’s currently popular, one that has been done by brands as diverse as Habring2, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Laurent Ferrier.

The sector dial was fairly common in the first half of the 20th century, and unlike most other companies doing remakes, Longines actually did produce such watches back in the day. According to Longines, the Heritage Classic is modelled on a watch from 1934 that’s in the company museum.

As with the original, the sector dial on the remake is two-tone, with the chapter ring for the hour markers having a concentric brushed finish, while the central portion is finely grained. The markings are all printed, while the hands are blued steel.

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The Heritage Classic (left) and its 1934 inspiration

The modern day remake is a faithful approximation of the original, right down to the typography for the Longines logo. It’s correctly proportioned as well, with a steel case that’s larger than the original but not too large, measuring 38.5mm in diameter and 10mm high, including the domed, “box glass” sapphire crystal.

And because the case is matched with an appropriately sized movement that’s 25.6mm (or 11 1/1”’) wide, the subsidiary seconds does not sit too close to the centre of the dial, as is the case with large cases and small movements.

longines Heritage Classic Sector Dial

longines Heritage Classic Sector Dial 4

The L893 movement inside is an ETA A31.L91, which is actually that ETA 2892 that’s been upgraded with an extended power reserve that’s in part due to a reduced beat rate and silicon hairspring. Another variant of the calibre is found in the recently launched Master Collection Moonphase

The Heritage Classic is available with either a blue or black calfskin strap. Both versions are accompanied by an extra “denim effect”, NATO style leather strap, as well as a strap removal tool.

longines Heritage Classic Sector Dial 1


Key facts and price

Heritage Classic (ref. L2.828.4.73.0 and L2.828.4.73.2)

Case diameter: 38.5mm
Height: 10mm
Material: Steel
Water resistance: 30m

Movement: L893.5
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds
Frequency: 25,200bph (3.5Hz)
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 64 hours

Strap: Calfskin with pin buckle

Availability: Fourth quarter of 2019 onwards
Price: US$2,150, or 3,180 Singapore dollars

For more, visit Longines.com.


Update October 14, 2019: Case height added.

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Hands-On: Bell & Ross BR 05 Skeleton

A modern, affordable skeleton.

Demand for the luxury sports watches that were born in the 1970s – all with integrated bracelets and designed by Gerald Genta – is now red hot. That has fuelled the development of such watches from every corner the industry, from Chopard to Urban Jurgensen to Bell & Ross (B&R). While many of these watches have sparked criticism for their derivative design, B&R’s entry into the genre comes with a distinct price advantage.

The BR 05 is probably the most reasonably priced watch in this design category, starting at under US$5000. No doubt it owes a great debt to Genta’s designs, but it would be futile to compare it with the alternatives given the price gulf. But the standard BR 05 is a pretty conventional watch – well done for the price but not something that jumps out at you.

The BR 05 Skeleton, on the other hand, is striking, with a look and feel that is distinct – priced at about 20% more than the base model.

Bell & Ross BR05 Skeleton 1

Well dressed

Like all watches in its category, the BR 05 is largely all about the case and bracelet. The BR 05 Skeleton is identical to the base model on the outside, with a rounded-square case and a bezel with visible screws at its corners. While it is appears to be a mishmash of Genta’s classics, it bears a strong enough resemblance to the brand’s signature BR 01 and BR 03 cases – which were inspired by aircraft instrument panels – that it can pass as a rather natural evolution.

But in contrast to the BR 01 and BR 03, the BR 05 has a wider, more prominent bezel that’s rounded at the edges, giving it a softer look. That’s juxtaposed against a case middle that contrasts with sharply angled, integrated lugs, giving it a structured look.

Bell & Ross BR05 Skeleton 5

The case measures 40mm across and 10.4mm in height, so it doesn’t have the extra-thin proportions of Genta’s designs. While the case could be a tad slimmer, its thickness does emphasise the architecture of the case. The watch wears comfortably and lightly despite its dimensions, largely due to the thin bracelet.

As with most B&R watches, the case of the is made by G&F Chatelain, a case maker owned by Chanel, which is also the parent company of B&R. It’s the same company responsible for the cases and buckles of MB&F and Richard Mille. And as a result, the case construction and finishing is excellent, especially at its price point.

It features alternating brushed and mirror polished surfaces that give the watch definition and clarity. The satin-brushed top surface and flanks of the case are separated by a wide polished bevel that enhances the geometry of the case. And like the BR03-92 Diver, the BR 05 features crown guards secured by screws.

And importantly, the case has sharp, well-defined edges, instead of the rounded, softer edges of parts produced by the quicker and less expensive process of stamping.

Bell & Ross BR05 Skeleton 6

Bell & Ross BR05 Skeleton-02

The case shares the same construction as the BR 03, which is essentially a sandwich with by four screws holding the bezel and back together – a simple but smart way to ensure water-resistance. As a result, the visible screws on the front are all aligned perfectly with their slots in a 45-degree angle as they are actually bolts with screws securing them from the case back.

The alternating brushed and polished finishing of the case continues onto the bracelet, which has flat, brushed links with polished centre links. But the bracelet doesn’t have polished, bevelled edges like the case, something that would have been nice to have, but is probably impossible for this price.

Bell & Ross BR05_Skeleton 4

Bell & Ross BR05 Skeleton 7

Skeleton insides

While the other versions of the BR 05 have solid dials, the BR 05 Skeleton has no dial per se. Instead, it has a skeletonised main plate on which the baton hour markers are applied. And the main plate is ringed by a wide, sloping flange that emphasises the depth of the dial.

The main plate has been skeletonised in a geometric fashion, with strong lines and gentle angles, complementing the overall design of the case and bezel. Much of the wheel train, including the balance and the mainspring inside the open-worked barrel can be seen from the front.

Bell & Ross BR05_Skeleton

But despite the skeletonisation, the dial remains extremely legible due to the large, simple hands and hour markers – which unfortunately do resemble the hands and markers on Genta’s designs – that are filled with Super-Luminova.

Bell & Ross BR05 Skeleton 9

The movement is the BR-CAL.322, based on the no-date version of the Sellita SW300 used in the rest of the BR 05 line. It’s been turned into a skeleton movement for this watch, while also being fitted with the open-worked rotor designed for the BR 05 line. Visible through the sapphire case back, the rotor has been asymmetrically skeletonised with more mass on one half so as to ensure sufficient inertia to wind the mainspring.

Bell & Ross BR05 Skeleton 2

The movement decoration matches the style of the watch and skeletonisation, which is to say clean and straightforward. Most of the larger parts, like the base plate and bridge for the keyless works, are ruthenium-plated for a dark grey colour and then sandblasted to a smooth granular finish. Smaller bits, like the wheels and levers, are tumble polished. It’s all simply done, but appropriate for the price, and suited to the style.

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Bell & Ross BR05 Skeleton 3

Concluding thoughts

It is in this iteration that the BR 05 design comes into its own, getting a distinct identity and feel. As opposed to the solid-dial versions, the grey monochromatic palette across the case, bezel, flange and dial gives the watch a stronger, more unified aesthetic.

However, having an open-worked dial and movement lands it in yet another genre – affordable skeleton watches – where competition is strong and the offerings are diverse, ranging from the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-01 Chronograph to the newly launched Oris 10-day Big Crown ProPilot X. That said, the BR 05 Skeleton offers a well-constructed case and bracelet that are above par in its price segment, making it a competitive contender.

At US$6400 on a bracelet, it cost about 20% more than the standard model – reasonable given its dramatically different aesthetic and finish.


Key facts

Bell & Ross BR 05 Skeleton (ref. BR05A-GR-SK-ST)

Diameter: 40mm
Height: 10.4mm
Material: Stainless steel
Water resistance: 100m

Movement: BR-CAL.322 (Sellita SW300)
Functions: Hours, minutes and seconds
Winding: Automatic
Frequency: 28,800bph, or 4Hz
Power reserve: 40 hours

Strap: Rubber strap or bracelet
Availability: Limited to 500 pieces, available from October 2019 onwards
Price: US$5900, or 8800 Singapore dollars (rubber strap); US$6400, or 9600 Singapore dollars (bracelet)

For more information, visit bellross.com.


 

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