The best-laid plans of watch brands have been seriously disrupted this year, as companies have been forced into an erratic calendar of rescheduled product presentations, most of them online (still an unfamiliar format for the industry). Despite this, 2020’s new watches are making it into the public eye and they are proof that the global pandemic has not got the better of creative thinking. Three recent releases show how impressive this creativity can be when given mechanical form.
It all began, one could say, with Patek Philippe. The Geneva firm has been true to its word to “reassert its grand complications expertise”, though without fanfare: its latest releases were announced simply by email. Among them is the Minute Repeater Tourbillon Reference 5303. This is the first complication watch from Patek Philippe whose striking mechanism – including hammers and gongs – is entirely visible on the dial side, against a pink gilt mainplate that accentuates the steel components. This open architecture also extends to the tourbillon, the underside of whose cage can be seen through the subsidiary seconds.
Having had its world premiere last year in Singapore, the 5303 now enters Patek Philippe’s regular production. The level of finishing for the components is, as one would anticipate, flawless, with circular Côtes de Genève on the mainplate, perlage on the recessed areas and a circular satin finish for the hammers. The 42mm case in pink gold is distinguished by a wide cambered and polished bezel, as well as openworked white gold inlays around the caseband and on the lugs. The same pattern decorates the white gold minute-repeater slide and is also openworked into the white gold rim that frames the movement on the back.
Ferdinand Berthoud chose the summer lull to pique collectors’ interest with the promise of a new collection and a reminder of the timepiece that inspired it, namely the eponymous watchmaker’s Marine Clock N°6 which successfully completed sea trials in 1768-1769 (as would his Marine Clock N°8). At a time when the ability to calculate longitude and therefore safely navigate on open seas required an instrument capable of keeping precise time, this exploit earned Berthoud the rank of Master Clockmaker to the King and the Royal Navy, a title bestowed in 1770 by Louis XV. Two weeks after teasing a new collection in honour of this achievement, Ferdinand Berthoud took the wraps off the debut model.
An important characteristic of this Chronomètre FB 2RE which, unusually for Ferdinand Berthoud, opts for a “traditional” dial display, is the movement construction. The different subassemblies are symmetrically positioned with ten pillars supporting the 26 bridges. This construction is typical of Ferdinand Berthoud’s eighteenth-century marine chronometers. Transmission is by a fusee-and-chain mechanism which ensures constant force for the escapement. Complementing its action is a one-second remontoire. This secondary balance spring is fitted concentrically with the escape wheel and is therefore directly connected to the escapement. Because it releases its force at one-second intervals, it can also display true or deadbeat seconds, shown on the Grand Feu enamel dial. The many subtleties of the new FB-RE.FC calibre, which beats at a stately 18,000 vibrations/hour, can be admired through the back of the modular case in white gold or pink gold. Additionally, a panoramic porthole in the caseband allows a view of the movement pillars. Note that the movement is housed in a cylindrical container, again a nod to the construction of Ferdinand Berthoud’s marine chronometers over two hundred years ago.
After last year’s GMT Sport, the Balancier S (that’s “S” for sport) is one of the new pieces from Greubel Forsey – introduced by Stephen Forsey himself via YouTube. The case reprises the arched-ovoid shape and integrated lugs of the GMT Sport, but in a streamlined, slimmer version. Made from titanium and with a depth rating of 100 metres, it has the light weight but robustness a sports watch needs. Timekeeping precision comes from Greubel Forsey’s large balance-wheel system which the two watchmakers unveiled in 2016 and which is used here on an inclined plane. As explained during the presentation, this angle of 30 degrees with respect to the horizontal plane of the movement provides an outstanding solution for limiting timing errors caused by the effects of gravity on the regulating organ (balance wheel, spring and escapement) in stable positions. Combined with the large diameter of the balance wheel, it provides excellent chronometric performance.
Another standout feature is the suspended arched bridge which holds the gear train – also inclined – and carries the curved central hour and minute hands. The movement’s 308 parts include two series-mounted coaxial barrels with relief engraving on the covers. They deliver 72 hours of power reserve, measured on a sector at 2 o’clock. The small seconds display at 8 o’clock sits on the same incline as the escapement, which adds to the overall impression of depth and relief. In a word, creativity and chronometric performance in a single watch: the hallmark of Greubel Forsey.