Up Close: Sartory Billard SB05High quality execution and endless customisation.
Having made his name with the SB04, Sartory Billard founder Armand Billard has just debuted his most sophisticated timepiece to date, the SB05.
The new watch retains many of the qualities of its predecessor, including a customisable, distinctive design as well as relative affordability, but takes the execution to a far higher level in all aspects. The dial is now comprised of several components, each individually customisable, while the movement is a La Joux-Perret calibre with a power reserve of almost four days.
Mr Billard was able to do this with the help of dial maker Comblemine, which was responsible for a large part of parts production as well as all of the assembly for the SB05. Our contributor Bjorn Meier detailed the development and production of the SB05 extensively in an earlier article.
Sartory Billard found success only with its fourth model, the SB04. I examined that watch up close around the time it was launched and concluded it could be improved with a thinner case and hand-wind movement.
Mr Billard has done both – and a lot more – with the SB05. Small enough to feel like a vintage watch on the wrist, the SB05 is nonetheless a modern watch in its design and execution. The level of detail is impressive, most of all on the dial, but also with the case and movement.
The primary technical upgrade over the SB04 is the movement. While the SB04 was equipped with the equivalent of an ETA 2824, the SB05 has a La Joux-Perret calibre with almost four days of running time. The movement also has an uncommon level of customisation given the price point, even if not all of its styling is to my taste.
But what sets the SB05 apart is the degree of customisation on offer for the dial. The most basic version of the SB05, which starts at around US$9500, offers a diversity of options, including over 30 guilloche patterns for the dial. And adding a bit more to the price brings exotic dial materials like semiprecious stone and meteorite.
Even though the customisation is primarily confined to the dial, it is enough for every SB05 will look different. With the right combination of materials, an SB05 could almost look like another watch altogether.
If anything, the SB05 has too much detail in some respects. The hands, for instance, are too fancy, as is some of the decoration on the movement. At the same time, the degree of customisation on offer might also tempt buyers to design and detail excessively.
The SB05 is a well-priced, compelling watch, although a good deal of its appeal is the responsibility of the buyer and how he or she customises it.
The biggest draw of the SB05 is the dial, which can be extensively customised in terms of materials, finishes, and printing. The template for the dial, however, is fixed. It is essentially three discs – the chapter ring, central portion, and seconds register.
Made up of several pieces, the dial can be executed in an almost infinite number of combinations. The guilloche possible for the central disc is over 30, while the materials for the chapter ring are in the dozens, including stones like malachite and meteorite, as well as aventurine glass or simple, brushed metal.
Consequently, the dial can take on a vast range of looks. Depending on the customisation, it can also look too much or just right.
Regardless of the specific style, the dial quality is impressive, which is not surprising given that it’s the work of Comblemine, the dial maker owned by Voutilainen that’s a favourite supplier for many independent brands.
Comblemine is perhaps best known for its engine turning, the decoration found on most Voutilainen dials. A no-expense spared guilloche dial like that found on a Voutilainen would cost almost as much as the retail price a base-model SB05.
With its cost constraints, the guilloche dials for the SB05 are not stamped, but they are engraved in an automated process within a CNC mill. The result is impeccable and nearly indistinguishable from “hand-made” guilloche done with a rose or straight-line engine.
In terms of design, the SB05 is recognisable as being descended from the SB04 that had a centre seconds. The SB05 has a subsidiary seconds because Mr Billard felt it was more appropriate for a dress watch.
That said, the seconds register breaks up the chapter ring, which is one of the main visual elements of the dial. And if the seconds register is in an especially eye-catching material or finish, it can look too prominent.
Still, the seconds can be customised such that it recedes into the background somewhat. If there’s a nit to pick, then it’s the hands.
Both the hour and minute hand are made up of two parts each that have a contrasting finish. The typical finish is a polished outer length matched with a frosted inner section. The other length of both hands can be customised in terms of colour, although the rule is that all three hands have to be in the same colour.
As it is with the rest of the watch, the quality and finish of the hands is impressively detailed, especially considering the price of the SB05. In fact, the hands are so elaborate I imagine they must account for a substantial part of the production cost.
Paradoxically, I find that they offer too much. With their De Bethune vibes, the hands are over-designed for a relatively conventional watch.
Steel, titanium, and even tantalum
The SB05 is a compact watch and wears smaller than it looks. The case measures 38.5 mm by 8.5 mm, or about the same as a Lange 1, but the SB05 feels slightly smaller. The size gives it a concise, refined feel on the wrist.
Like the SB04, the SB05 has a case construction conventionally found on far more expensive watches. Each of the lugs is a separate piece that is secured to the case middle via screws on the inside. This construction allowed Mr Billard to achieve the different surfaces finishes that he prizes.
As a result of its construction, the case is unexpectedly nuanced in its finishing. The lugs are brushed and accented with a polished bevel, which contrasts strongly with the frosted case band. And that is in turn sandwiched by the polished bezel and back.
The quality of the case construction is good enough that the lugs appear to be soldered to be case; the seam between the lugs and case middle is practically invisible.
Also notable is the fact that Mr Billard also offers the case in either titanium or tantalum for a relatively modest premium. Titanium is an extra €500, while tantalum €9,500. The premium for tantalum is huge and perhaps shocking, but it is well within the typical markup for the material; most brands price tantalum watches the same as those in 18k gold.
Mr Billard’s thoughtful approach to design is also illustrated by the buckle. Instead of being a stock buckle with an engraved logo, the buckle is open0worked into the Sartory Billard logo.
While the preceding SB04 contained a clone of the ETA 2824, the SB05 relies on something slightly fancier, the LJP7380.
Made by La Joux-Perret, a movement specialist best known for its chronographs, the LJP7380 uses the gear train of the ETA Peseux 7001 but is an original construction. It’s a largish movement with twin barrels and a 90 hour power reserve; in contrast, the 7001 is a smaller calibre with a single barrel and half the running time.
In terms of function and features, the movement does well for a watch in this price range. And it has been extensively customised for Sartory Billard, but like the hands, the styling is overdone for a dress watch.
The movement has large bridges that cover up most of the moving parts, while the decoration is clean and monochromatic in style.
But it has a lot going on in terms of text. For one, there’s a raised plate with text that can be customised by the client, along with relief engraving on one barrel ratchet wheel, along with an entire paragraph on the train bridge.
Given the classical styling of the watch, I would have prefer a traditional finish, something along the lines of what Nomos does, or even a contemporary finish like this but minus all of the labels.
The finishing of the movement is clean, but detailed. Everything visible has been treated correctly, albeit with automated methods. Still, the decoration is attractive and surprisingly comprehensive.
With the possible customisation and high level of fit and finish, the SB05 offers compelling value. Mr Billard and Comblemine both deserve compliments on what they offer for a relatively modest budget.
In fact, it is difficult to find fault with any of the intrinsic feature of the SB05. If there are flaws to be found, they will probably arise from the specifications from clients that just don’t work.
Key facts and price
Sartory Billard SB05
Case diameter: 38.5 mm
Height: 8.5 mm
Material: Steel, titanium, or tantalum
Water resistance: 50 m
Movement: La Joux-Perret cal. 7380
Features: Hours, minutes, and seconds
Frequency: 28,800 beats per hour (4 Hz)
Winding: Hand wind
Power reserve: 90 hours
Strap: Calfskin with pin buckle
Availability: Made to order with extensive customisation possible
Price: Starting from €8,400 excluding taxes
For more, visit Sartory-billard.com.
Correction March 20, 2022: The price for a tantalum case is an additional €9,500 to the base price, and not €1,100. Also, the lugs of the case are screwed onto the case band, and not integral with the case back.Back to top.