Jacob & Co. Opera Godfather: Honoring a Classic Swiss Invention in Grand Style

The watches of Jacob & Co. have always cut a dramatic presence. But more than that, the music box in its Opera Godfather series showcases the brand’s nonconformist attitude and authenticity in watch design.

Although the Astronomia has helped Jacob & Co. gain recognition in the world of high-end watchmaking, the brand has been far from complacent. In fact, Jacob & Co. has been continuously expanding its line of high complication timepieces, resulting in an impressive range of large, complex watches that are truly one-of-a-kind in the market.

From a technical perspective, Jacob & Co. stands out by infusing existing complications with a modern, creative twist, resulting in watches that are immediately recognizable, even to those who are not part of Jacob & Co.’s clientele. Exotic and high-end watchmaking is all about mechanical mastery and originality, and by these standards, the brand delivers with flying colors.

One exemplary creation is the Opera Godfather Minute Repeater, distinguished by its combination of a minute repeater, tourbillon and music box. It is the sole watch in the market to possess this set of complications. The Opera Godfather 50th Anniversary, only takes things to another level by allowing the entire dial to rotate around the center of the watch. This lineup deserves a deep dive into its concepts, unique features and quirks.

First Impressions

The Opera Godfather Minute Repeater is a representation of Jacob & Co.’s signature over-the-top styling, but admittedly it’s a well-executed watch. The case design is open and airy, with more sapphire than gold, allowing ample space for the intricate architecture while maintaining an uncluttered look. This case construction also enhances the volume of the music box and repeater.

Opera Godfather Minute Repeater
Opera Godfather Minute Repeater

However, the Opera Godfather Minute Repeater boasts more than just its eye-catching design. It also boasts two notable technical features that distinguish it from traditional haute horlogerie. The first is its music box complication, a Swiss invention from the 18th century that’s rarely seen in contemporary watchmaking. Although not as complex as a minute repeater (which this watch also has) or split seconds chronograph, both of which are widely regarded as the most challenging complications, the music box is even rarer in modern watchmaking. Its scarcity adds to the appeal of the timepiece, so kudos to Jacob & Co. for adopting this old-school feature.

Another standout feature of the Opera Godfather Minute Repeater is its playful and unconventional approach to complications, which sets it apart from other high-end watches. This is the only watch on the market that combines a music box with a tourbillon and minute repeater, making it a good choice for collectors looking for something distinctive. Furthermore, its the music box is bold and prominent, featuring twin gigantic cylinders against a grand piano. This unusual design gives the watch a strong aesthetic that may appeal to collectors seeking a touch of whimsy.

There is an audience that appreciates Jacob & Co. simply because it makes impressive timepieces that reflect modern progress rather than merely repeating traditional designs. It’s worth keeping in mind that history tends to view things more favorably over time. Therefore, unconventional designs may become future strengths, as they capture the essence of a particular era and have a unique story. Over time, such watches may stand out from others and gain appreciation for their distinctive qualities.

One important factor behind Jacob & Co.’s ability to create such innovative watches is its approach to movement development. Rather than adapting existing base movements, the brand often collaborates with top-tier specialists like Concepto and Le Cercle des Horlogers to create movements from the ground up. This approach allows the brand to fully execute its ideas without compromise, resulting in mechanics that are tailored to achieve the brand’s vision. For instance, in the Opera Godfather Minute Repeater, all three complications have been thoughtfully placed on the dial for maximum prominence and exposure. The time-telling mechanism is presented in a tiny, skeletonized frame that appears to levitate above the other complications, without detracting from their presence.

A Melodious Beginning

While the Jacob & Co. Opera Godfather Minute Repeater features impressive complications such as a triple-axis tourbillon and minute repeater, the music box is the standout feature due to its rarity in modern watchmaking. To understand the rarity of the music box in modern watchmaking, it is worth exploring its history.

Opera Godfather Minute Repeater
Opera Godfather Minute Repeater

The key component of a music box is a cylinder with pins that rotates against a bar of metal teeth or reeds to produce sound. Each cylinder has a distinct set of pins to create different musical tunes. The pinned cylinder concept dates back to the 14th century when it first appeared in a French tower carillon made up of bronze bells that are struck with keys like a piano, with a single activation producing a series of notes due to the programming. The late 18th century saw several advancements in mechanical music, leading to the invention of the music box as we know it today. Swiss clockmaker Antoine Favre-Salomon patented the first cylindrical musical box that used a metal comb fixed with a set of tuned teeth to play a tune. This configuration is still found in modern music boxes, including the Opera Godfather Minute Repeater.

During the 1800s, a Swiss inventor revolutionized the music box by replacing the traditional cylindrical drum with a horizontal disk attached with pins that plucked teeth arranged radially. This configuration became the mainstream music box design by the end of the century.

In 1811, the first production of music boxes began in Switzerland, and they quickly became both intriguing and commonplace, remaining a fixture in households from the early 19th century to the early 20th century.

However, the heyday of music boxes started to go downhill as technology advanced, with the invention of the phonograph by Thomas Edison in 1877, followed by Emile Berliner’s gramophone. After the First World War, gramophone technology rendered music boxes obsolete, leaving them as mechanical luxuries or objets d’art, much like mechanical watches.

Today, only a handful of watchmakers continue to produce watches with a music box. Among them, Breguet stands out with its La Musicale 7800, boasting an elegant and low-profile design where the entire mechanism is concealed under the dial, giving it a touch of mystery. Other watchmakers that produce music boxes include Boegli, Christophe Claret, Ulysse Nardin and Jacob & Co.

Jacob & Co.’s Music Box

The Opera Godfather Minute Repeater reintroduces the original music box setup of a pinned cylindrical drum plucking a steel comb. But what sets it apart is that it has not one, but two sets of cylinders. Just like a regular music box, the drum is powered by its own barrel, which does not rely on the main barrel for timekeeping and minute repeating functions. This means that the music box can play tunes even when the watch is not running.

To wind up the music box, one can crank the lever that is shaped like a violin, cleverly tucked away on the right side of the case, where the crown is usually found. This lever can be pulled out only when necessary and also serves as the crown to wind the timekeeping mainspring barrel. It can be wound in both directions, with each direction powering up a different barrel. However, the time cannot be set using the cranker and instead requires a crown on the back.

Activating the music box is done via another button on the left side of the case. On a full wind, the barrels have enough power to play the Godfather’s theme song three times over. But what sets the Opera Godfather Minute Repeater apart is its presentation. The twin cylinders are so prominent that they overpower the triple-axis tourbillon, which is usually the first thing you notice in a watch. Additionally, the branding is quite literal, featuring solid gold covers that are lacquered in black and painted with Marlon Brando’s portrait and the movie’s title. These elements are prominent and perhaps even more obvious than the cylinders themselves.

While the branding of the Jacob & Co. Opera Godfather Minute Repeater has received mixed reviews from collectors, some finding it over-the-top and others finding it humorous, ultimately the opinions on design are subjective and don’t take away from the watch’s technical prowess. However, upon seeing the 50th Anniversary watch, I couldn’t help but chuckle. The branding may be even more excessive than the original, but it’s executed in a good way that appeals to its targeted audience even more effectively.

Jacob & Co.’s Minute Repeater and Tourbillon

Jacob & Co. doesn’t stop at a music box; it adds two more complications to make sure the watch is truly one-of-a-kind. As music box watches are already a rare niche, the brand takes it a step further by combining it with a minute repeater and tourbillon, making it unparalleled in terms of complication combinations. This sets a new standard and will please potential buyers who want something different and impressive.

Notably, the minute repeater and tourbillon are not executed in a run-of-the-mill way. They are well thought out and executed, giving the watch an expensive and tactile feel.

Opera Godfather Minute Repeater
Opera Godfather Minute Repeater

For example, the tourbillon is not just any tourbillon, but a triple-axis tourbillon. This means the balance spins around three different axes, aiming to even out the negative effects of gravity on the balance. In this case, the outermost cage completes one revolution every 180 seconds, the middle cage every 48 seconds, and the innermost cage every 24 seconds, which is incredibly fast.

Although the tourbillon comprises several cages that rotate at an impressively high speed, its motion is unlike that of a typical tourbillon with a smooth, continual rotation. Instead, the cage might appear to be jumping in minor steps at times. This, however, is not a defect but an illustration of how much energy it takes to drive this complicated cage. It’s important to keep in mind that while a tourbillon can help combat the effects of gravity on timekeeping, it does comprise extra components and require additional energy, which means that a less powerful power supply might actually defeat the whole point of the tourbillon and lead to worse timekeeping.

In the Opera Godfather Minute Repeater, the energy supply from the barrel has been maximized to drive the triple-axis tourbillon. However, this means that the torque supply might be too high. To address this issue, the brand has created a torque declutching mechanism, which comprises a pair of wheels linked by a spring. Whenever necessary, this pair of wheels can divide the energy delivered to the balance in small portions and smooth out the torque supply. It resembles a constant force mechanism, but not quite as complicated. The result is reflected in the jerky motion of the cages.

Notably, the construction of the triple-axis tourbillon is satisfyingly thoughtful, with attractive details found across the cages and components within. For example, the outermost cage has an orb-like architecture that’s rather elegant, with each arm having a nuanced geometry that gently curves towards the center like a tornado. If you look closer, you’ll discover that the base of each arm is asymmetrical in their curves, which makes it even more visually interesting. The beautiful external cage is complemented by plenty of wheels within that are skeletonized to create a pattern that echoes the style of the external cage. These are achieved via LIGA, a high-tech method for producing tiny components that requires ultra high precision, such as skeletonizing a tiny wheel. This allows Jacob & Co. to express its creativity while making the wheels lighter to improve energy efficiency.

When it comes to decoration, the tourbillon is undoubtedly the standout of the Opera Godfather Minute Repeater. The external cage is polished entirely to accentuate the rounded form of the arm, giving it a luxurious look that is enhanced by the rose gold palette used both inside and outside the tourbillon. The use of color is well planned, with a restrained and focused two-tone combination of rose gold and dark gray that adds to the tourbillon’s expensive appearance. The result is an exceptional timepiece that sets itself apart from others in the market (with the exception of the Twin Turbo, also produced by specialist Le Cercle des Horlogers, which served as inspiration for the Opera Godfather Minute Repeater’s tourbillon).

In addition, the gongs and hammers of the minute repeater have been positioned prominently on the dial, creating another captivating point of interest, particularly with the fast-spinning governor visible just above the hammers. Notably, the gongs have an atypical geometry that anchors upwards to clear the music box mechanism, adding to the already fascinating architecture visible through the sapphire window on the case flank. The hammers are decorated with high polish and bevels along their edges, just like those found in other high-end minute repeater watches.

Flipping the watch over reveals a complex movement, despite the numerous interesting components already showcased on the front. Notably, the minute repeater strikework, which includes a series of snails and racks that mechanically “read” the time and enable precise chiming, is presented in all its glory on the back. The decoration of these components is clean, precise, and almost mechanical in appearance, but as with many exotic watches, traditional movement decoration is not the main focus. The outstanding elements of this timepiece are its design, architecture and complications, with the decoration serving to complement these features.

Everything, Everywhere, All Moving at Once

In the 2022 release of the Opera Godfather 50th Anniversary, the brand has taken the already extravagant detailing of the dial to new heights by embossing quotes from the movie onto the pinned cylinders of the music box, instead of leaving it with a plain bronze finish. However, the real showstopper is the addition of an out-of-the-ordinary function in the Opera Godfather, where the entire dial rotates around the center of the watch, taking all its components for a spin. This feature is incredibly rare, even in the upper echelon of watchmaking.

Jacob & Co. Opera Godfather
Jacob & Co. Opera Godfather 50th Anniversary

Jacob the Horloger

From its beginnings as “Jacob the Jeweler” in the 1990s, Jacob & Co. has evolved into a serious watchmaker that produces technically impressive timepieces with a range of complications. These watches often incorporate features that are found only at the highest end of watchmaking, but even within that limited arena, Jacob & Co.’s creations stand out for their originality, which can be excessive in style yet undeniably clever in execution. It manages to be over-the-top in a thoughtful manner.

As evinced by its Opera Godfather series, the brand has found a niche by combining a music box, minute repeater and triple-axis tourbillon — an ensemble previously unheard of in a watch — adding to the intrigue of the timepiece. It’s also uncommon to come across a watch that can display complications on the dial that rotate around the center.

While Jacob & Co.’s creations may not be to everyone’s taste, that’s the goal rather than a shortcoming, as items made for everyone won’t be able to stand out as strongly. From its origins as a jeweler serving prominent music industry stars, Jacob & Co. has always sought to be distinctive, and this philosophy endures in its watchmaking, resulting in a collection of timepieces that embody the spirit of this era.

Jacob & Co. Opera Godfather
Jacob & Co. Opera Godfather 50th Anniversary

Tech Specs

Jacob & Co. Opera Godfather Minute Repeater
Reference: OP500.40.AA.AA.ABALA
Movement: Manual winding JCFM07; 44-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, triple-axis tourbillon, minute repeater, and musical box with two cylinders
Case: 49mm; 18K rose gold; water resistant to 30m
Dial: Skeletonized, rose gold plated with black DLC
Strap: Black alligator leather; 18K rose gold folding clasp
Price: CHF 540,000
Availability: Limited edition of 18 pieces

Jacob & Co. Opera Godfather 50th Anniversary
Reference: OP110.30.AA.AA.ABALA
Movement: Manual winding JCFM04; 50-hour power reserve
Functions: Subsidiary hours and minutes, triple-axis tourbillon, and musical box with two cylinders
Case: 49mm; 18K white gold; water resistant to 30m
Dial: Matte black; pink gold applied indexes
Strap: Black alligator leather; 18K white gold folding clasp
Price: CHF 500,000
Availability: Limited edition of 50 pieces

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