Cambodian Watchmaking School Debuts an In-House Tourbillon

The ASEAN Lotus Tourbillon made by Prince Horology.

Presented to the world leaders who were recently in Phnom Penh for the ASEAN Summit, the ASEAN Lotus Tourbillon was created by the Prince Horology Vocational Training Center, the impressively-equipped watchmaking school set up by local conglomerate Prince Holding Group. (I visited the school in 2020 just before it opened its doors – see our report here.)

Produced in an initial run of 25 pieces for the summit, it contains a hand-wind movement that is as notable for both its hand finishing and the one-minute tourbillon regulator. Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen was personally involved in the design of the watch – he received the very first example – and posted photos of the watch on his Facebook page a few days before the summit with the comment “Khmer can do it”.

Initial thoughts

Having been aware of the project and its ambitions since I visited the school two years ago, I was expecting much of the Lotus Tourbillon and I wasn’t disappointed.

The quality of the execution is immediately apparent in the hand finishing of the components, particularly for the key components of the tourbillon, namely the cage and bridge. Equally impressive is the fact that it was developed and completed in under two years.

Admittedly, the Lotus Tourbillon is plain in terms of the dial and case aesthetics, but the mechanical excellence is obvious. Importantly, the movement is likely to make it into a series of watches that will be sold publicly to raise funds for watchmaking school, so stay tuned.

More broadly, the Lotus Tourbillon proves that high-quality watchmaking can be done anywhere. The school’s pipeline of projects, including a commercially available version of the tourbillon, will prove interesting.

A school watch

The Lotus Tourbillon is the work of the team at the Prince Horology school – principal Sack-Man Loui, senior advisor James Xu, technical advisors Maarten Pieters and Jessica Thakur, along with instructor Stéphane Monard. It took just 18 months to finish the project from drawings to finished watch, a remarkably speedy timeline by the norms of fine watchmaking. 

Started as a non-profit endeavour by Prince Holding Group, the school is fully equipped with top-of-the-line equipment, including lathes, milling machines, and jig borers, allowing its pupils to receive an education equal to that provided by WOSTEP, Switzerland’s best-known watchmaking academy. The first batch of students – all local Cambodians on full scholarships – recently graduated from the 3,400-hour course.

The rationale behind the development of the tourbillon was two-fold, to allow the Prince Horology school grow its repertoire while also providing it another means of support.

Some of the graduating class of 2022 with Ms Thakur (third from left) and Mr Loui (extreme right)

A classical design

Clean and simple on the front, the Lotus Tourbillon has a pale champagne dial bearing the ASEAN 2022 lotus emblem on the seconds register. This dial was selected by Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen out of several designs put forward by the school.

The case is a fuss-free affair in polished steel with a diameter of 43.5 mm. But it contains an formidable achievement, a hand-wind movement with a tourbillon regulator.

Because of its large size, the movement reveals much detail on a larger-than-usual scale. The bridges are rhodium-plated German silver, finished with Cotes de Geneve, and have the requisite polished bevels and countersinks. Another detail worth admiring are the teeth of the barrel ratchet and crown wheels that are all individually polished.

The winding wheels with polished teeth

The balance wheel with adjustable weights sits within a three-armed tourbillon cage made of black-polished steel that’s secured by a similarly black-polished steel bridge

The ASEAN Lotus Tourbillon is a limited edition of 25 watches that was gifted to the world leaders who attended the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh in November 2022. They included the leaders of the Southeast Asian nations who are ASEAN members as well as American president Joe Biden and Chinese premier Li Keqiang.

That, however, is not the last we’ll see of the Lotus Tourbillon. According to Prince Horology, there are plans for another version of the watch that will be sold publicly to raise funds for the school.


 

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