Baselworld 2012 Thursday, April 12th 2012
First Tensus in 2011 and now Firmamentum… Heritage has captured the imagination of aficionados who immediately recognised the hand of Karsten Frassdorf, a watchmaker capable of producing a navigating instrument for the wrist in just six months.
Karsten Frasdorf © Heritage Watch Manufactory
He's the man behind Fabrication des Montres Normandes. The man who worked on the Sauterelle for Chronoswiss in 2009. He is Karsten Frassdorf, a German watchmaker now based near Neuchâtel, Switzerland, who steers the fortunes of Heritage Watch Manufactory, a privately-owned company set up in 2010. And Heritage is clearly uppermost in the mind of Karsten Frassdorf, who peppers his explanations with historical references, beginning with John Harrison (1693-1776).
Like a game of chess
"I build on the centuries-old expertise which is one of the foremost characteristics of time measurement," he explained while at Baselworld. "I side with those who believe we have discovered everything there is to discover in watchmaking. In this respect, it's like chess. The sixteen pieces are always the same, how they are allowed to move never changes, yet there are millions of possible combinations in every game."
Continuing the chess analogy, Karsten Frassdorf's strategy is of the kind that demands an arcane knowledge of the intricacies of time measurement. When asked about his first Heritage timepiece, presented last year, he launches into a detailed description of the Tensus watch and its five-patents Calibre 880: "It has a constant-force escapement inspired by the work of Xavier Theurillat, with three anchors, six pallets and two escape wheels. Energy is supplied to the balance by a spring between the two escape wheels which is wound at each vibration, i.e. five times a second. As a result, with each impulse energy is supplied to the balance at an absolutely constant rate throughout the entire power reserve." Technical enough for you? And this is just for starters, because Karsten Frassdorf came to Baselworld to present the Firmamentum, a hand-on-the-heart tribute to John Harrison, the father of marine chronometry.
Solar and sidereal
Says Heritage: "The Firmamentum is a unique measurement and navigation instrument. Fully in the tradition of the historic watches used for observation, it not only shows the Earth's rotation through the classic measurement of time, but with the aid of the hour angle it measures the Earth's rotation around its own axis and the visible movement of the sun, planets and stars in the heavens." Thus the Firmamentum combines two scales, solar time and sidereal time, with three possibilities for determining position, according to azimuth, the equatorial method, and the ecliptic system. A pushbutton operates a stop-seconds system and the base frequency of the calibre can be accelerated to match sidereal time. Thirteen hands on the dial provide a complete reading of time which, alongside the sextant that is delivered with the watch, will enable any navigator to determine their position at sea. Also part of the package, a CD guides the wearer through the astronomical meanders inside the 44mm case which, together with the dial, is styled by Eric Giroud.
The sheer technical complexity of the Firmamentum is beyond the layman's grasp, but at the end of the day, is it just a concept watch, the type that sends us into raptures but with no hope of tomorrow? Seeing Karsten Frassdorf handle it answers the question. "Of the 483 parts, I had to patch together a spring so that I could come to Baselworld with a working watch. But the result is conclusive. The Firmamentum has proved it is reliable." After how many years' gestation? "Six months," comes the reply. In a game of chess, that would be one memorable opening! ■