As far as debut watch releases go, they don’t come much more influential than Vianney Halter’s pioneering perpetual calendar, the Antiqua. It was 2013 when I first held an Antiqua. The design was already 15 years old, and would only see another few years of production (the last one rolled off the bench in 2016) — but it was still a watch that was almost shockingly novel in its execution.
Even if you’re not familiar with the retro-futuristic lines of the Antiqua, you will be aware of its influence. That’s because critics, collectors and watchmakers frequently cite the Antiqua as one of the primogenitors (along with the Harry Winston Opus series), of the independent watchmaking scene. It’s a watch that’s ahead of its time, timeless and profoundly a relic from the past, all at once.
On paper, the Antiqua is a round watch, in a relatively petite 36mm case, powered by Halter’s automatic VH 198, with separate displays for the time, date, day and month indicators (the leap year indicator is piggy-backed on the month). But the best thing you can glean from this description is how poorly bald facts, abstractly described, can encapsulate a three-dimensional object.
The reality of the Antiqua is something else entirely. The case is round, but three of those four subdials burst free from the constraints of the case (the total dimensions, including dials, stretches to 40mm across). These subdials are made from engraved precious metal, with lacquered elaborate Arabic numerals and blued hands nestled in deep-set, rivet studded frames and under sapphire glass. All this is attached to the strap thanks to some distinctive (just like the rest of the watch) lobe-like T-bar lugs. Vianney Halter describes his watch as a ‘relic of the future past’ – a mechanism that looks like it could have been ripped from the console of the Time Traveler’s machine or the bridge of Captain Nemo’s Nautilus. In a word, the watch is steampunk. Not in the sense of faux-Victorian cosplayers wearing leather top hats and spray painted welding goggles, steampunk in the sense that has taken a particular historical inspiration in terms of technique and construction, while throwing tradition and aesthetic out the porthole-like window. The result is powerful and dynamic. It’s also – clearly – the work of a master. Design aside, the construction and finish is superb – for example the brushing on the complex, multi-piece case and the meticulous polishing of the 104 rivets. Not to mention the ingenuity of the movement, complete with mysterious rotor that gives the complex perpetual calendar an illusion of hand-wound simplicity.
In 1998 this watch was wildly ahead of its time. The unconventional style and the way it played with the display of time undoubtedly inspired independent luminaries like Max Büsser (and friends) as well as Urwerk, along with a small host of others who push the realms of horological possibility. Even the earlier work of Richard Mille is a more modern execution in the same avant-garde vein. And, luckily for watch lovers everywhere, Vianney Halter’s subsequent explorations – like the Deep Space – have been equally surprising explorations into the worlds of futures past.