Jacob & Co. is widely recognized for its jewel-encrusted timepieces and much loved by high-profile celebrities in entertainment and sports, as well as seasoned collectors who appreciate their creativity and bravura approach.
The brand has taken its distinct style and applied it to ever-more-complicated watches, with the aim of evolving their offering in typically over-the-top fashion. One of the brand’s earliest technical marvels was the Astronomia, and its debut was quite eye-opening. It features a magnificent sapphire-crystal dome framing an architectural movement, creating an expansive feel with its vertical tower and horizontal arms. And, as one would expect from a Jacob & Co. timepiece, some of these arms were adorned with extra-large gemstones.
Resembling planets rotating in space, the glittering gemstones immediately catch the eye — so much so that you may miss the impressive mechanisms around them. Reducing this watch to the number and weight of stones would be a mistake, as a closer examination reveals the clever mechanics and playful design of the watch, especially in the construction of the tourbillon and the time display that seem to float in space. These qualities arguably demand recognition, and are just as innovative as the mechanisms created by independent brands such as URWERK and MB&F.
The concept of the Astronomia also resonates with me on a personal level, as the moving components above the dial remind me of the orreries I found fascinating as a child in museums and science galleries. As I gained a deeper understanding of its inner workings, I came to appreciate the elegance of its conception, and I particularly like how the brand maintains its unique style while pursuing technical excellence.
Since its debut at Baselworld in 2014 with the Astronomia Tourbillon, Jacob & Co.’s Astronomia series has spawned numerous iterations with increasingly lavish decorations or complex constructions. However, the original model’s planetary-style movement design, with arms carrying the movement parts around the dial, remains a standout feature. The satellite display has served as the foundation for many of the follow-up models, demonstrating both the continued popularity of the series and the ingenuity of its movement design.
The achievement of Astronomia is less surprising once you know its history. It all started with the founder of the brand, Jacob Arabo, who wanted to create something truly remarkable — something that would set his brand apart from the competition. His vision was to design a watch with a three-dimensional movement that could be appreciated from every angle.
Jacob knew he needed an exceptional talent to bring his idea to life. That’s where Luca Soprana, the founder of Ateliers 7h38, came in. Luca, a fourth-generation watchmaker, learned his craft by working in his family’s workshop and gradually building his expertise, as well as working with independent watchmaker Vianney Halter and several other brands before founding his own workshop.
In 2014, Jacob and Luca refined the initial idea and developed a concept movement that not only has three-dimensional components, but also glides around the dial with varying motions. The view of the watch is remarkable — like watching a galaxy of planets orbiting in space. Considering the level of difficulty involved in realizing such an ambitious concept, the fact that the Astronomia boasts clean and uncluttered mechanics, is a testament to the amount of thought that went into its development.
Moreover, the Astronomia’s case is a feat of engineering and aesthetics, utilizing an unconventional construction with more sapphire than gold, thus allowing for an uninterrupted view of the intricate components. The case design really does play a pivotal role in the watch’s overall appeal and distinctiveness.
Although Luca played a key role in conceptualizing several Astronomia timepieces, including the Astronomia Maestro Minute Repeater, the project faced challenges that Ateliers 7h38 had to navigate. Luca, being a traditional watchmaker, relied heavily on manual processes during the prototyping phase, which included hand-filing and cutting the components. As a result, when handling Luca’s prototype, it is evident that it is a handmade piece, according to Jacob’s master watchmaker, Bahman Tagharrobi. While this approach had its merits, it also meant that Luca wouldn’t be able to produce the Astronomia movement at scale. Jacob wasn’t content to merely showcase a prototype and then go quiet (as has happened with many concept watches that never made it to production). He was determined to make the Astronomia accessible to enthusiasts and produce 10 to 15 pieces per year, which was beyond Luca’s capacity.
Consequently, Jacob enlisted the help of Concepto, another expert in complications, to complete the manufacturing of the Astronomia series. Concepto’s larger team and experience in supplying for high-end brands like Bulgari, Louis Moinet and Breitling made them the ideal choice for the job. It was also the right time for Concepto, as they were keen to take on more challenging projects, and the Astronomia fit the bill perfectly. Bahman noted that Concepto’s expertise in prototyping allowed them to rework the movement, resulting in a more affordable construction (compared to the handmade prototype) that makes commercial sense for production.
Today, Concepto is responsible for producing almost the entire Astronomia series, including the latest Astronomia Revolution. The only exception is the Astronomia Maestro Minute Repeater, which was developed by Luca’s Ateliers 7h38 and produced by Le Cercle des Horlogers, a complications specialist that is also responsible for the recent Biver Carillon Tourbillon.
Reading the Astronomia Tourbillon
The Astronomia is an impressive mechanical creation that rotates around the dial, resembling a miniature orrery on your wrist that you can enjoy at any time.
Despite its intricate appearance, the Astronomia is ultimately a timepiece, so telling time is its primary function. To explore how to read the Astronomia, let’s take the Astronomia Tourbillon, the inaugural model, as an example.
Fortunately, reading the time on the Astronomia is relatively simple. It features conventional hour and minute hands on a skeletonized subdial on one arm, while the seconds are indicated by a rotating globe on the other satellite arm. This design allows you to quickly see important information while adding a touch of creativity to less essential details.
The opposite arm of the dial showcases the tourbillon regulator, while the other side of the rotating globe has a one-carat diamond. Although these components don’t tell time, they’re fascinating to observe, particularly the tourbillon, which rotates around three axes: one-minute rotation around the cage’s center, five-minute rotation around the arm’s center, and 20-minute rotation around the dial, thanks to the carrier.
While the Astronomia boasts an intricate design, winding and setting it is actually quite easy. You can hand-wind the movement using the crown on the back, which has a tab to make it more manageable to operate. Setting the time is accomplished with a similar mechanism next to the winding crown.
Understanding the Astronomia Tourbillon
With the Astronomia, a traditional watch movement is reimagined and transformed into a spectacle of three-dimensional design. The result appears to capture a moment frozen in time, like an exploded diagram used for illustration purposes, resulting in immense vertical and horizontal extension. Almost everything is located above the dial, except for the barrel and winding mechanism, which remain hidden underneath.
The movement is built around the barrel, which provides the watch with a 60-hour power reserve. The barrel sits at the center of the movement and below the dial, with arms extending from the center.
At the heart of the Astronomia movement lies a crucial component: the carrier. This central structure serves as a bridge that connects all of the intricate arms and mechanisms that make up the timepiece. What’s notable about the carrier is its lightweight titanium construction, which allows for minimal energy consumption without sacrificing durability.
As the carrier rotates around the dial every 20 minutes, it brings all of the arms along for the ride. This creates a dynamic and interactive experience for the wearer, who is constantly able to discover new positions and configurations of the components. But the rotational movement isn’t just for show — it serves a crucial purpose in the functioning of the timepiece by helping to transfer energy from the barrel to each of the arms.
The transfer of energy is achieved through a tiny component called a pinion, which is the smaller of the two meshing gears that usually serves to change speed due to the gear ratio. Here, the pinions are connected to the components of the arm while being vertically meshed with a fixed central gear. When the carrier rotates, the pinion is forced to move along the central gear, thus transferring the movement into the arm. This is especially evident in the two simpler arms, where the pinion is obvious, and the rotational movement of the globe and diamond is the same as the pinion.
The most complex of the four arms is that with the tourbillon regulator. The tourbillon is a double-axis tourbillon, but if you consider the movement of the carrier that takes the entire tourbillon assembly around the dial once every 20 minutes, it becomes a triple-axis tourbillon.
What I find fascinating is the clever facilitation of the two axes of rotation in the tourbillon. When the pinion turns, it causes the entire tourbillon and balance assembly to rotate around the arm. However, this movement does not transfer any energy to the tourbillon itself, as it only involves the component rotating around the arm every five minutes. On the opposite side of the pinion is a large, vertical gear that remains fixed in place. And here comes the clever part: a horizontal wheel, positioned underneath the tourbillon cage, meshes perpendicularly with the vertical gear. Since the vertical gear remains stationary, the horizontal wheel is compelled to rotate on it, transferring movement to the tourbillon and driving the cage to rotate around itself every minute.
The arm with the dial works a little differently. Instead of using a pinion that meshes vertically with the gear above the barrel, it uses a horizontal gear that meshes with the central gear. This makes sense since the dial doesn’t require rotation around the arm for time telling. The horizontal gear that meshes with the central gear drives the minute and hour hands via the motion works, which can be seen under the skeletonized dial. Additionally, the arm with the dial is equipped with a differential gear system that enables the dial to remain oriented correctly regardless of the arm’s movement.
The speed of rotation, meanwhile, is coordinated within the movement. Despite its complex appearance, the Astronomia operates on the same fundamental principles as a standard watch. The balance wheel and escapement work together to control the rate of unwinding of the mainspring barrel, which governs the speed of the gear train. To put it differently, energy flows from the barrel to the balance wheel, while speed feedback goes in the opposite direction.
Now, while most mechanical watches are designed with many gears that can make them appear cluttered, the Astronomia takes a different approach. It features a central wheel that is particularly clever, since it not only allows the barrel to transfer energy to all ends, but also plays a key role in coordinating the rotation rate as part of the gear train between the barrel and balance wheel. This elegant design ensures that the Astronomia’s movement remains clean and uncluttered.
While Jacob & Co.’s approach to watchmaking may not appeal to those with more conservative tastes, the brand’s horological innovations are making everyone sit up. Studying the intricate inner workings of the Astronomia is a fascinating exercise. Furthermore, the brand’s creative approach to watchmaking offers a refreshing alternative to the conventional timepieces on the market. As the world of watchmaking continues to evolve and challenge established norms, only time will show Jacob & Co.’s true legacy.
The Astronomia watch series boasts a spacious case and airy movement architecture, which provides a canvas for incorporating diverse complications and artisanal expressions. This feature has led to the creation of a range of impressive models.
One of the most fascinating Astronomia models is the Maestro Minute Repeater, which features a carillon repeater that is more elaborate than standard chiming mechanisms. It uses three gongs instead of two, providing a richer chime with three notes for the minutes. The gongs are strategically placed around the movement, providing a clear view through the sapphire window that encases the case. To further enhance the auditory experience, the Maestro employs cathedral gongs that circle around the movement twice, resulting in an amplified sound. Furthermore, the Maestro model retains the hallmark triple-axis tourbillon, supported by a faster carrier movement that completes a revolution around the movement every 10 minutes, an improvement over the standard 20 minutes.
Another standout timepiece is the Astronomia Casino, which features a unique roulette automaton with a wheelhead that spins freely upon activation, while a ceramic ball bounces around before eventually landing on a lucky number. Unlike earlier roulette watches, such as the Franck Muller Las Vegas or Azimuth Sp-1 Roulette, which use a spinning hand to point at the dial, the Casino’s spinning wheelhead with a free-running ball creates a more dynamic and compelling interpretation of the roulette watch.
The Latest and Greatest
Finally, Jacob has just unveiled its latest iteration, the Astronomia Revolution, which achieves two milestones for the brand. First, the Revolution boasts a sleek design that showcases its most important features, namely the architectural movement, and is arguably the purest expression of the Astronomia idea to date.
Second, the mechanics have been thoroughly upgraded, with a strong emphasis on extreme speed. In the original Astronomia, the central carrier rotated around the dial once every 20 minutes. In later iterations, this period was halved to 10 minutes. But in the latest Astronomia Revolution, the rotational speed of the carrier has been dramatically increased to one revolution per minute, equivalent to a standard tourbillon. As a result, it is the most visually dynamic Astronomia yet. Moreover, thanks to the one-minute revolution, the entire movement also doubles up as a seconds hand, marking the first time an Astronomia boasts a rotating carrier that also tells time.
Another technical improvement, and certainly the more significant, is the new remontoire system that’s the world’s fastest — it charges and discharges six times per second. That’s extremely fast considering the typical rate of discharging is once every second. This means that the constant-force mechanism lives up to its name, quite literally, delivering an equal amount of energy to the balance wheel at every single beat.
Thanks to the assistance of Concepto, the new patent-pending remontoire system (not shown in the press images) consists of two primary components. First, a remontoire spring stores a small amount of energy that is sufficient to advance the escape wheel by one tooth. Second, a four-armed, star-shaped wheel known as the “whip” regulates the recharge of the remontoire spring. The remontoire spring is linked to the fourth wheel, which powers the tourbillon cage from below. Importantly, there’s a buffer between the remontoire and the balance wheel, as it is not directly connected to the escape wheel, to prevent any disturbances caused by the high-speed device.
But the remontoire is far from a high-speed gimmick; it’s actually crucial to the watch’s operation.
The one-minute central carrier is an energy monster that requires a significant amount of power to keep it running. Despite having twin large barrels, the watch’s short 36-hour power reserve indicates the amount of energy consumed by the carrier. However, having two large barrels means that the escapement is locking and unlocking with significant force, which is too “violent”, according to Bahman. He also noted that the original prototype felt like an old pocket watch that was wound up too much, causing everything to shake and resulting in poor timekeeping. With the acceleration and deceleration at the escapement being profoundly great, the impact that occurs toward the end of the gear train is too large and negatively affects timing. Therefore, a constant-force mechanism is necessary to act as a buffer, dividing the large amount of torque into smaller portions to deliver to the escapement.
One might wonder why the watch doesn’t use a typical one-second remontoire. The brand explains that even a spring that stores enough energy to drive the escapement by one second is still too violent for the escapement. Therefore, the energy needs to be broken down into the smallest possible portion, resulting in a system that delivers energy to the balance at every “tick” and “tock”. Since the watch runs at 3Hz, with six back-and-forth movements of the balance per second, the remontoire must charge and discharge six times per second, resulting in the world’s fastest 1/6th-of-a-second system. This is what makes watchmaking so fascinating, as it pushes boundaries to overcome actual problems, leading to genuine, innovative and interesting solutions.