Introducing the H. Moser & Cie. Pioneer Cylindrical Tourbillon SkeletonBy Jeremiah Chan
H. Moser & Cie.’s watches are best known for their elegant simplicity on the front, all sorts of high watchmaking finery at the back and a little bit of fun thrown in between for good measure. Sure, there has been the odd flying tourbillon kept in full view on the dial from the Pioneer, Endeavour and Heritage collections, but for the most part, Moser has chosen the path of discretion for their watch faces.
That being said, you may recall a very special piece first unveiled to the public at Baselworld 2015 that was completely unlike the Moser we know and love today. That watch was the Venturer Tourbillon Dual Time Sapphire Skeleton. It had a skeletonized in-house movement with a Straumann double hairspring tourbillon at six o’clock, and was completely encased in sapphire crystal — and by that we mean the whole watch case was made of the stuff and completely see-through, with the movement seemingly stretching right to the edge of the caseband. It’s the kind of watch you throw down the gauntlet with as a young company and also Moser’s most complicated watch at the time. The price? CHF 1,000,000.
As CEO Edouard Meylan shared with us at Baselworld 2018, that pièce unique watch was part of the first collection that he commissioned in 2014 since taking over the reins of the company — and what a spectacular way it was to announce his arrival. If you’re wondering whether someone did pay that million francs, the answer is yes. And the buyer eventually commissioned a second Venturer Tourbillon. That is as big a stamp of approval that you can get for a young brand and a young CEO. It will be 10 years this year since his family revived the fortunes of Moser and Meylan no longer has anything to prove. Well, except that this year Moser is launching a third and final novelty that will probably make their first two look like lesser lights. Oh, and it’s a watch with a skeletonized movement just like the Venturer Tourbillon.
For the Pioneer Cylindrical Tourbillon Skeleton, Moser picked its 42.8mm stainless steel Pioneer case, which is kind of like a cross between the outright sporty, brushed Streamliner case and the exquisitely polished Endeavour case. The Pioneer case has a polished bezel, with brushed soft facets on the top of the lugs, and polished, fluted indentations in the side of the caseband. Incorporating facets that are not sharp and angular into a case is a lot harder than it looks. They have to look like they were done intentionally and not mistaken for over-polishing. To top it all off, the brushing of the lugs that Moser has decided to apply has to be consistent across the whole lug and the rest of the case as well. Overall, it gives the Pioneer case an excellent sculptural quality to it and it is the perfect candidate to house the stunning, fully skeletonized caliber HMC 811.
The first thing that grabs your attention is the level of transparency that the skeletonization provides. The movement plate and bridges themselves are not simple cutouts of an existing movement architecture, but feel like one complete, interconnected piece both on the front and back. They are screwed on only from the back so you only see the flat screw tips on the front, which resemble very much the wheel pivots in their jewel holes. It makes for a much less distracting view. They are treated with an anthracite PVD finish and then brushed vertically on the top surface, with diamond-polished bevels throughout. The dark gray tones and various curves and arches work to showcase the two main components on the face — the dial at 12 o’clock that has been reduced to a subdial size and the one-minute flying tourbillon at six o’clock. We’ll get to the subdial in a bit because there is so much to dissect with the flying tourbillon first.
The Straumann Double Hairspring, while a work of genius and used only sparingly due to its exorbitant cost to produce, is not what we see used here, in the first skeletonized watch Moser has made in the past seven years. Instead, the good folks at Precision Engineering AG, Moser’s sister company, have decided to revive a hairspring design they first unveiled in 2018: the cylindrical hairspring — although, it must be said its invention dates all the way back to the 18th century. English watchmaker John Arnold was its inventor and they found much use in the marine chronometers at the time, which helped establish the might of the British Navy.
How did the cylindrical hairspring enable the marine chronometers to be the amazing timekeepers that they are? Due to its shape, it vibrates in a concentric manner — meaning, the oscillations move in a direction perpendicular to the balance wheel swings instead of laterally like in a traditional flat hairspring. This concentrates the center of gravity of the oscillations toward the balance staff. Add to that Moser’s use of two Breguet overcoils at both ends of the hairspring, which only increases the concentric motion and gravity centering effect. With reduced lateral forces — or less sideways pull, so to speak — there is less friction experienced by the balance pivots. Couple this hairspring with its cylinder shape and Breguet overcoils, with a tourbillon cage that constantly rotates the balance and escapement, and you have a gravity-defying, accuracy-improving triple threat. Unfortunately, the complexity and difficulty of curving a cylindrical hairspring by hand means it takes 10 times as long to produce than a traditional hairspring; and, just like the Straumann, it will only make an appearance in truly exceptional releases.
The tourbillon cage itself rotates on what seems like a ceramic ball bearing system, which means smooth vibrations with no lubrication required. Both the cage itself and the balance bridge are skeletonized, with similar diamond beveling along every edge of the part including the internal openworked sections. Exquisite.
Moving on to the subdial, it has a curved profile and is rendered in Funky Blue fumé with a beautiful sunray finish, Moser’s now iconic and instantly recognizable color that was first seen in 2015. However, instead of lume dots at the base of each hour marker like the other Pioneer watches in the collection, Moser has made each marker entirely out of a material called Globolight®. Globolight® is essentially Super-LumiNova mixed with a ceramic-based material to give the lume structural integrity when shaped into a three-dimensional form. The minute and hour hands also feature sticks of Globolight® that extend past their metal frame and act as glowing pointer tips. With that many glowsticks present, this subdial is sure to light up in the dark, allowing the wearer to enjoy the flying tourbillon at any hour.
Flipping the watch over, we find that it’s not just the bridges that have been skeletonized, but the rose gold oscillating weight, crown wheel and barrel cover as well. The main bulk of the bi-directional pawl winding system is conveniently hidden away behind the subdial with the exception of the pawl peeking out ever so slightly, and the wheel train is pushed as close to the center as possible. All these details highlight the use of negative space that surrounds the sides of the movement, giving it a sense of lightness and airiness.
We’ll just come right out and say it. This is the best-looking watch that Moser makes. Period. It is such a departure from the dial-side simplicity it has painstakingly tried to cultivate over the past decade, and now its watchmaking savoir-faire that we always knew was there, is on full display. How Moser has managed to maintain wearable case dimensions of 42.8mm by 15.3mm (including the sapphire crystal) while keeping their pawl winding system (which adds width) and adding a cylindrical hairspring tourbillon (which adds height), is simply precision engineering. If you think 15mm is thick, that’s about the height of most sports chronographs by the way.
Oh, did we mention that it has a screw-down crown and is depth rated to 120 meters? Yes, that’s right. This skeletonized tourbillon watch has the same depth rating as some dive watches out there. Not that we think anyone who can afford one is going to take it diving though. And the single barrel provides a minimum of 74 hours power reserve on a full wind, so if not an extreme sport watch, this certainly qualifies as a daily wearer.
The Pioneer Cylindrical Tourbillon Skeleton comes on a black alligator leather strap with a stainless steel folding clasp, but if you would like to be more active with it and use it as Moser intended, you could easily swap it out for a rubber or textile strap that Moser makes, or your own stainless steel bracelet with the Pioneer’s even 22mm lug width.
We personally would have preferred the plain fumé dial and leaf hands from the Endeavour collection on here, but it would have completely missed the fun element of the brief. The combination of tic-tac mint hour markers, glowstick hands and Moser logo in cursive calligraphy, is the type of visual contrast that just brings a smile to your face. No indication yet from Moser on price and availability, but if this is indeed going to be part of the regular Pioneer collection, then we can only hope it is priced nowhere near CHF 1,000,000.
H. Moser & Cie Pioneer Cylindrical Tourbillon Skeleton, Ref: 3811-1200
Movement: Self-winding caliber HMC 811; minimum 74 hours of power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, one-minute flying tourbillon with cylindrical hairspring
Case: 42.8mm x 15.3mm; stainless steel; water resistant to 120m
Dial: Funky blue fumé subdial; Globolight® hour indexes
Strap: Handstitched black alligator leather; stainless steel folding clasp