The first thing I would like to do is wish everyone a Happy New Year. As a prelude of our plan to offer amazing unique timepieces for sale at our Revolution Watch Bar, in Singapore here’s an opportunity to own a very cool, one-of-a-kind Laurent Ferrier prototype that came out of the design process for our sold-out collaborative, 12-piece limited edition Classic Origin watch that we launched last year. This is the story of that watch.
Read more about the 2020 Laurent Ferrier Classic Origin for Revolution & The Rake, here.
In 2019, during my initial discussion with Laurent Ferrier I explained that I was highly enamored with scientific sector dial chronometers. These are the watches that began in the 1920s as a way of more clearly delineating time and were used on both wristwatches and pocket watches. They featured a circular track where the hour indexes would radiate outward.
This means that the hour hand would align perfectly with this track and there could be no mistaking its placement. On the perimeter of the dial, you would have a clearly printed minute track that would align with the minute hand to provide ultimate clarity. Further, different sectors of the dial would always have different decoration to more fully create a sense of information compartmentalization. Over the ensuing decades, brands including Omega and Longines, in particular with their tre tacche waterproof watches, became synonymous for this style of “scientific” watches.
I consider Laurent Ferrier to be something of the modern master of the Sector Dial. He has used the design to extraordinary effect, in particular in his Galet Square with the Only Watch 2015 pièce unique, the two limited editions for Chicago’s Swiss FineTiming, the Galet Square Vintage America I, and even in a luminous version with the Borealis.
But to me the most beautiful execution of this is the watch created by Aurel Bacs, the world’s greatest vintage watch auctioneer and expert. Around the time the Micro-Rotor watch emerged, Bacs came up with the idea of creating a pièce unique for himself with a sector dial. Using his extensive knowledge, he created what must objectively be called the most beautiful Laurent Ferrier watch of all time. It was so stunning that when he showed it to several of his team members at Phillips, including renowned experts and collectors Alex Ghotbi and Paul Boutros, they too wanted to order one. And finally, the watch was anointed as an icon when it was also ordered by none other than the incredible Auro Montanari, or John Goldberger, historian, author and collector ne plus ultra.
Understanding the aesthetic goal our project, Ferrier told me that he would work on the design and bade me to come back to Geneva in a month. Eventually we ended up deciding on the dial that was featured in our Limited-Edition Classic Origin. The resulting design by Ferrier and Amandine Perrier, was something that I could only describe as ravishing. It features a two-tone dial with a cream center, surrounded by a printed sector track and Arabic markers.
The dial is silver outside, the central area receives circular brushing under the indexes and is opaline under the minute track’s chemin de fer. Seconds are at six o’clock with a full seconds track and four enlarged markers at the compass points. The hands are Ferrier’s signature Assegai models that have been flame-blued and, to me, contrast perfectly with the cream of the dial. The watch was beautifully executed and, in the end, once we launched, the 12-piece allocation sold out in under two hours. We were, of course, incredibly grateful for the wonderful response from our readers and customers. But that’s not all there is to the story.
Ferrier had actually made one other unique dial for an alternate prototype in our collaborative project, in case, we had decided to follow a different and equally exciting direction. And that was the salmon colored, two tone sector dial watch you see here, with an opaline center section contrasted by a brushed section at its perimeter. The design for this, as you can see, is much more closely in alignment with that created for Aurel Bacs, featuring the Arabic Numerals placed inside of the sector chapter ring and, also, featuring an omission of the small seconds indicator to keep the overall expression of the timepiece — the epitome of discrete elegance. But at the same time the stunning salmon — or in Laurent Ferrier speak, Automn — colored dial makes this one of the most visually arresting watches I’ve ever set eyes on.
At that time, there was a decision to be made, between using Ferrier’s new Classic Origin’s LF116.01 manual wind movement. or his famous micro rotor movement Calibre FBN229.01. In the end we decided to produce two prototypes. a steel watch with a silver sector dial with small seconds in the Classic Origin manual wind configuration.
And a second prototype with a salmon sector dial in a simple two hand configuration, but with the automatic micro rotor movement. Ferrier and I both absolutely adored this second salmon dial watch. We decided that we couldn’t launch it in series because its design iconography resembled that of the Phillips watch too closely. While the prototype for the Classic Origin manual wind watch is now in my personal collection, we decided together with Laurent Ferrier to offer this ultra-cool prototype Laurent Ferrier Steel Galet Micro-Rotor Salmon Dial for Revolution (1-of-1), to celebrate the opening of the Revolution Watch Bar, in Singapore.
Ok, here’s what you need to know about the Micro-Rotor’s movement. Launched in 2012, the Classic Micro-Rotor featured an automatic calibre wound by a small fan-shaped mass mounted on a high-polished bridge. However, what was hidden within its depths was an escapement created by the legendary watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet. Says Ferrier, “Once people started to notice the Tourbillon Double Spiral, many of them began to approach me to ask, ‘We love your style of watchmaking but is it possible to create something that is more accessible in price?’ For Christian (Laurent’s son and technical chief) and me, this was important because we wanted people who loved our watches to be able to have and wear them. So, we began to have a conversation about a simpler automatic watch.”
But there would be one more element to Ferrier’s automatic caliber FBN 229.01 that would be obscured from the naked eye. Says Christian Ferrier, “When Breguet created the tourbillon he was trying to solve the issue of errors created by gravity on the hairspring and the escapement. But he was also trying to resolve the issue of oil. In fact, one of his most famous statements is, ‘Give me the perfect oil and I will give you the perfect watch.’ He understood that lubrication, or more specifically, the loss on parts had a very negative effect on watches. Because of this, in 1789, he created the Natural Escapement.”
One of Breguet’s signature inventions, the natural escapement uses two escape wheels turning in opposite directions to all but reduce the sliding friction found in most escapements. In Breguet’s design, the first escape wheel is driven by the mainspring, while the second escape wheel is driven by the first escape wheel. This way the release of the escape wheels, which alternates, is in each direction to reduce sliding friction. A lever in the center rocks back and forth and is what provides the impulse to the balance wheel.
The challenge facing Laurent Ferrier was to define a functional balance between the limited thickness of an automatic movement and a high degree of efficiency for winding the barrel. Achieving this implied finding a system ensuring perfect winding in order to compensate for the lower inertia of a small oscillating weight. In fact, a micro-rotor needs twice as many rotations (300 vs. 150) needed for one complete turn of the ratchet wheel. Thanks to the efficiency of the Laurent Ferrier escapement, the number of rotations needed can be reduced by one third — to approximately 200 rotations. A gain for the owner of the watch.
Recessed within the depths of the Micro-Rotor’s movement is Ferrier’s take on the legendary Natural Escapement. This exclusive double direct-impulse escapement in silicon, directly on the balance, has been inspired by the father of modern horology, Abraham-Louis Breguet. This modern construction, associated with the use of cutting-edge materials, maximizes the restitution of energy. Thanks to the excellent efficiency of this escapement, the moment of couple (= torque) required to wind the mainspring is reduced and hence optimizes the movement winding. Inspired by the concept of the detent escapement, this escapement has the advantage of giving two impulses per oscillation (1 oscillation = 2 vibrations). This means that Laurent Ferrier’s movement frequency of 3Hz (21,600 vph) impulses the balance 21,600 times per hour.
To use a metaphor, we can explain the double direct impulse by comparing with a swing: with a detent escapement you push the swing once and you wait until it bounces back to give it the next impulse; with the double direct impulse escapement you push the swing and another person opposite pushes it back on his side.
Says Christian Ferrier, “Breguet’s idea was brilliant. He implemented the escapement in 20 pocket watches. But the escapement was extremely difficult to manufacture with the tools of this era as the tolerances had to be perfect for the wheels to have no play but be able to move freely. As we discussed, with the natural escapement, made in collaboration with La Fabrique du Temps, they came up with the idea of using advanced technology and materials, specifically nickel phosphorus, for the escape wheels. These are galvanically grown and have tolerances that are incredibly precise, down to the micron. For the lever, they suggested we use silicon and because of these materials, we were able to reduce to a minimum, the use of lubrication.”
Says Laurent Ferrier, “I think it is wonderful that we were able to implement the famous natural escapement. I must say we were very impressed with the results of this escapement. Like the tourbillon, it is challenging to install and regulate, but once this is correctly done, it has proven to be incredibly stable. It was also important to me that we expressed the same movement design language in the micro-rotor and so you see that on the angle of the upper bridge we created a sharp internal angle just to show collectors who appreciate these details that this movement is hand finished to the same standard as our tourbillon.”
This amazing movement combined with a stunning one-of-a-kind dial to me makes this pièce unique Laurent Ferrier Galet Micro-Rotor an amazing addition to any discerning watch lover’s collection.