Introducing the Laurent Ferrier Classic Micro-Rotor & Classic Origin with Breguet Numerals for Revolution & The RakeBy Wei Koh
The world is clearly amid the ecstatic throes of a love affair with independent watchmaking so super heated that it makes Bernini’s famous Ecstasy of Saint Teresa seem altogether chaste in comparison. What’s the reason for all the mercury rising? Well, for one thing, several indies have proven themselves to be the best appreciable assets around. Philippe Dufour’s Simplicity went from a sub one-hundred-thousand-dollar, beautifully finished but fairly basic small sized dress watch to a one-million-dollar unicorn in the space of two years. F.P. Journe’s Souscription Tourbillons similarly exploded into the six-digit realm last year, increasing tenfold in value, causing new watches like his iconic Chronomètre à Résonance to trade at three times retail on the secondary market. To those that would listen, I’ve been championing the extraordinary watchmaking at De Bethune for years. Now, in the past six months, any Kind of Blue watch comes at a premium that two years ago might have bought you the watch itself.
The second reason independent watches are hotter than ever is that in a market where all the most entrenched populist models have now become trophies for rappers, movie stars and hedge funders, a Kari Voutilainen, an MB&F or a Moser demonstrates that your watch knowledge is deep and sets you apart from the culturally homogenous sheep. These two factors combined have created powerfully heated avarice for all things independent.
Says watch industry legend Jean Claude Biver, “In my 50 years in the industry, I’ve never seen anything like this.” But if you look at the indies, there is one that fulfills the neoclassical niche better than all others, and that is Laurent Ferrier. While the majority of other rock star independents range from futuristic like Urwerk, quirky like Konstantin Chaykin, 18th century in inspiration like Théo Auffret, highly technical like Bernhard Lederer or irrepressibly crazy like Vianney Halter, Ferrier has perfectly defined the space of the restrained modern classic. Because he does it just so perfectly.
Deep inside Laurent Ferrier’s imagination, inchoate but present when he made his first pocket watch in 1968 and enriching itself to full maturity over his 37 years at Patek Philippe, was a singular voice of immeasurable horological grace. When he did unveil this vision to the world with the launch of his eponymous brand in 2009, the watch that he created, the Galet Classic Tourbillon Double Spiral, triggered an incredible flood of what Proust would call “involuntary memories.” Since then, he has achieved this over and over again with each successive launch, from the Classic Micro-Rotor, to his Traveler and Annual Calendar, and most recently with his sublime Classic Origin. I would say, more than any other independent brand, Ferrier reconnected us all with the love for classical watchmaking — a remembrance of things past, that we had almost forgotten. Laurent Ferrier is our bridge between the past and the present. His watches are the living, beating repositories of horology’s greatest collective memories. So artfully did he wield nuanced details inspired by 19th and mid-20th century Swiss watchmaking that his vision felt like it had already existed for a century or more, already permanently inscribed into the lexicon of horology’s great canon.
Even more importantly, at a time when watchmaking was becoming bombastic and theatrical, he reintroduced the world to the type of watchmaking that was serene, tranquil, and calm. Says Ferrier, “In art, a baroque period is always followed by an era of renewed classicism. That is the type of watchmaking I wanted to reintroduce to the world. Classic watchmaking as I loved it.” Which is to say watchmaking that is devoid of hyperbole, an ethos of smooth curvilinear forms inspired by the Golden Ratio and the touch of the divine in nature. Watchmaking that champions restrained beauty belied by high powered technical prowess that instantly made Laurent Ferrier one of the most compelling high watchmaking marques around.
Ferrier explains, “I grew up around watchmaking so there was always a sense of predestination that I would work in watches. I imagine, in the same way that it was for my son, Christian. My father was a specialist in grand complications, and I was infected by his passion in particular early on. He would tell me stories of how timekeeping was interlinked with the story of human history. That the marine chronometer was the instrument which allowed man to safely navigate the seas.” But at an early age, Ferrier was also swept up by a passion for auto racing, which he feels added to his interest in watchmaking in a unique way.
For Ferrier, the mental discipline, the rigor of character, the focus necessary to be a great driver was similar to his approach to watchmaking. He says, “In watches, every single element makes a critical difference in the outcome. This is something that I have tried to apply to Laurent Ferrier watches. Ours is a design language that is restrained, some might even say minimalist, but if you look at the details, the color density of the font for each marker, the shape of the crown, the compound curve of the sapphire crystal, every element has been painstakingly considered over and over until we thought it was perfect.”
The 2021 Laurent Ferrier Classic Origin for Revolution & The Rake
My immense passion for Laurent Ferrier and his watches resulted in our first collaboration launched last year. The inspiration for this project was a timepiece created by the legendary auctioneer Aurel Bacs, together with his friend, the mythical Auro Montanari, also known by his nom de plume John Goldberger. Their design was for a watch with dial inspired by the “sector” or scientific dial chronometers from the 1930s and ’40s. Our watch was distinguished from the Bac and Montanari model by a seconds indicator, different hands, different crown, a different two-tone dial configuration, a frosted finish manual wind movement from the Classic Origin and a sporty Milanese bracelet. When the rendering for what I felt was an incredibly charming watch was finished, I posted it on my personal Instagram account. To my surprise and gratitude, I received so many DMs that the 12 pieces of the limited edition were spoken for in under 30 minutes. One of these watches which had a retail price of CHF 28,800 went to auction at Christie’s in May 2021. The watch hammered at CHF 40,000; the final price would have been CHF 50,000 including 25 percent buyer’s premium, which meant it had increased in value by more than 70 percent in a few months.
For our follow-up to this project, this year, we will launch two steel cased models, both featuring dials inspired by the same golden era of the 1930s and ’40s. This time, we wanted to feature what we consider to be one of the most beautiful types of indexes ever created, applied Breguet numerals. These stylized Arabic numerals have a charming Latin flair and are featured in the most collectible examples of watches, such as Patek Philippe’s references 96 and 530 time-only watches and the famous ref. 1463 or “Tasti Tondi” chronographs. Indeed, the presence of Breguet numerals and a steel case on a Tasti Tondi increase the value of that watch by more than 300 percent.
Says Laurent Ferrier, “The idea was to remain in the theme of a sector-style dial but to add to it these elements of applied Breguet numerals which, to me, results in one of the beautiful dials we’ve worked on. The three numerals, 12, 3 and 9, are all created from wire erosion on white gold before they are perfectly decorated then treated with a ruthenium coating. These are delicately applied to a dial that features a stunning sunray effect. The lines radiating from the middle of the dial create a stunning, energetic luminous effect, which is again contrasted by the dark black sector ring. This ring features an all-new original design inspired by the ring found in our project last year, but with much bolder and far longer attenuated arms that act as markers for the other indexes. This is a style of dial I find very charming but is perhaps a touch more exuberant than usual for us. But this is precisely why it works as a limited edition between Laurent Ferrier and Revolution. To make the watches even more distinct, both the manual wind and micro-rotor movements feature a frosted yellow gold finish with contrasting high-polished bevels. This is the first time we’ve ever used this finish on a micro-rotor movement and I think the result is sublime.”
To me, Ferrier’s statement perfectly encapsulates my philosophy when approaching limited editions. I have never sought to impose my will or any prevailing aesthetic on a brand. Instead, I have always tried to activate some dimension of that brand that had always existed and that could potentially aid them in reaching a wider audience, because it was very slightly more daring and libidinous than what the brand would do for themselves. For me, you cannot escape the fact that Laurent Ferrier spent almost four decades of his professional life at Patek Philippe. So, when I think of the Laurent Ferrier I would like to own, in my mind, it always reminds me of a slightly more exuberant or Latin version of the same watch from Patek. To me, the applied Breguet indexes, sector ring and sunray finish dial brings precisely this wonderful energy to an otherwise supremely elegant, appealingly classic series of two timepieces. My point is that, to me, our limited editions have to come from a place of authenticity. They serve to uplift the brand, and they should always have a real raison d’être.
Both of the watches use the Classic Origin case in stainless steel. The Classic Origin Micro-Rotor features a salmon or more accurately “rose champagne” dial while the Classic Origin, which is driven by a manually wound movement, features what I call a “brut champagne” dial. We worked relentlessly with Ferrier and his brilliant head of production Amandine Perrier to achieve precisely the tone we wanted. Says Ferrier, “These colors are very delicate with a softness and subtlety that I find very appealing.” As mentioned by Ferrier, both movements feature a micro sandblasted finish contrasted by hand beveled angles.
Ferrier had a very distinct perception of what style of watchmaking he loved. He states, “When I was 16 years old, I completed my watchmaking studies and presented my Montre d’École in 1968, which was an attempt to create a very elegant and pure expression of watchmaking. The next 40 years was a period where I learned and defined the codes of my vision for watchmaking. I came to love apparent simplicity or purity in design combined with extremely ambitious technical innovation. What I love is the dynamic tension between a watch that is wonderfully restrained and charmingly understated when you look at it from the front, but as you examine the details and then turn it over to look at the movement, you suddenly become aware of how complex it is.” Ferrier feels that the limited editions he has created with Revolution and The Rake perfectly champion these values, and I can’t agree more.
The 2021 Laurent Ferrier Classic Micro-Rotor for Revolution & The Rake
Of the two watches we have created, the Classic Micro-Rotor with rose champagne dial features one of the most historically significant horological of innovations of all time, Breguet’s natural escapement. The fact that this is the very first time this movement has been created with our beloved micro sandblasted and frosted finish distinguishes it immediately. But how did this extraordinary movement come into being?
Launched in 2012, the Classic Micro-Rotor featured an automatic movement 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 and me, this was important because we wanted people who loved our watches to be able to wear them. So, we began to have a conversation about a simpler automatic watch.”
Says Christian Ferrier with a smile, “Well, of course my father would say simple, but in fact the movement we arrived at was anything but. I’ve always liked that the tourbillon model and the Micro-Rotor model appear identical from the front of the watch. This was always my father’s philosophy that the complexity and technical value of your watch should be something you keep for yourself. However, we wanted owners of the automatic watch to also be able to turn their watch over and feel a similar emotion that owners of our tourbillon feel.”
How did the father and son arrive at the unique combination of automatic winding and a legendary escapement? Says Laurent Ferrier, “I love the practicality of an automatic movement. But so much of the experience of owning a Laurent Ferrier watch is the enjoyment of the movement, so we couldn’t cover this with a full-sized rotor. We decided, to mount this rotor on a bridge that resembled a tourbillon bridge that received the same level of mirror polish. Similarly, the bridge for the balance wheel is inspired by our tourbillon bridge — this is also mirror-polished, with sharp internal angles that can only be created by hand.”
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 alternates 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 that would ensure 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) for one complete turn of the ratchet wheel. Thanks to the efficiency of Laurent Ferrier’s escapement, however, the number of rotations needed can be reduced by one third to approximately 200 rotations — a gain for the owner of the watch.
Ferrier’s exclusive double direct-impulse escapement in silicon that delivers energy directly to the balance is a faithful interpretation of the original natural escapement by 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 to give two impulses per oscillation (1 oscillation = 2 vibrations). This means that Laurent Ferrier’s movement frequency of 3Hz (21,600vph) allows it to impulse the balance 21,600 times per hour.
To use a metaphor, we can explain the double direct impulse by using the analogy of 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 his era as the tolerances had to be perfect for the wheels to have no play but be able to move freely. As we discussed the natural escapement 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.”
Upon launch, the Classic Micro-Rotor became one of the most coveted timepieces around and struck a chord with the world’s leading watch experts. So much so that Aurel Bacs, senior consultant at Phillips Watches and the world’s leading watch auctioneer; Auro Montanari, the legendary Italian collector; Ben Clymer, the brilliant founder of Hodinkee; and Eric Ku, the owner of vintage Rolex forums, and a vintage watch guru and Rolex expert, all ended up creating unique executions of this watch for themselves. Today, apart from Laurent Ferrier, only a handful of brands create watches featuring Breguet’s famous natural escapement. Some of these watches, in particular the creations of Kari Voutilainen and F.P. Journe, have wait lists of several years or longer.
The 2021 Laurent Ferrier Classic Origin for Revolution & The Rake
Movement: Manual winding calibre LF116.01; Swiss lever escapement; balance screw; indications: hours, minutes, small seconds at 6 o´clock; movement diameter 31.60 (14’’’); thickness: 4.35 mm; frequency: 3Hz (21’600/H); power reserve: 80 hours; gold-toned “microbillé” or shot-blasting finish
Case & dial: Stainless steel; water resistant to 30 m; “ball-shaped’’ crown in stainless steel; case diameter: 40 mm; case thickness: 10.70 mm; back bezel engraved “Revolution & The Rake” and numbered out of 12; gold-toned dial with a sunburst finish on the centre and opaline finish behind the minute track; slate grey hour circle, second markers and logo decals; indexes: white gold Breguet appliques ruthenium treated; small seconds display gold-toned opaline at 6 o´clock
Strap: Light brown Barbialla calf leather with Alcantara lining; additional steel Milanese bracelet, compliments of Revolution & The Rake
The 2021 Laurent Ferrier Classic Micro-Rotor for Revolution & The Rake
Movement: Self-winding FBN 229.01 calibre with natural escapement; unidirectional pawl-fitted micro-rotor; silicon escapement featuring a double direct impulse on the balance; indications: hours and minutes in the centre; small seconds at 6 o’clock; diameter: Ø 31.60 mm (14’’’); thickness: 4.35 mm; frequency: 3 Hz (21,600 vibrations/hour); power reserve: 72 hours; gold-toned “microbillé” or shot-blasting finish
Case & dial: Stainless steel; water resistant to 30 m; “ball-shaped” crown in stainless steel; case diameter: 40 mm; case thickness: 10.70 mm; back bezel engraved “Revolution & The Rake” and numbered out of 12; salmon-toned dial with a sunburst finish on the centre and opaline finish behind the minute track; slate grey hour circle, second markers and logo decals; indexes: white gold Breguet appliques ruthenium treated; small seconds display gold-toned opaline at 6 o´clock
Strap: Slate grey calf leather with Alcantara lining; additional steel Milanese bracelet, compliments of Revolution & The Rake
Availability & price: Limited edition of 12 pieces; USD 54,500