Not all watches are destined to be plain, utilitarian time tellers. For some contemporary watchmakers, there is an important story to be told, and the fact that the canvas they have to work on is tiny only makes the challenge more exciting.
By proposing unconventional ways of reading the time, which don’t involve the traditional numeral-and-hand layout on the dial, watchmakers can unleash their fantasies and express their unique artistic vision. But don’t be fooled –marrying a creative fantasy with the technological requirements of a mechanical movement requires extraordinary skill and daring.
Corum’s Big Bubble Anima is watching you
The result of a collaboration between Corum watches and Italian DJ and composer Matteo Ceccarini, the Big Bubble Anima watch is one of the most mesmerising watches I have seen in a long time. A piercing blue eye, replicated with extreme anatomical detail and enhanced by 3D technology, dominates the centre of the dial. Since eyes are said to be “the mirror of the soul” (anima), Ceccarini wanted a prominent eye on the dial as a protective amulet.
The characteristic domed sapphire crystal of Corum’s Bubble collection makes the eye seem even larger than life, and you almost expect the pupil to contract and dilate with the changing light. With no numbers or hands on the dial, the original artwork is allowed to take centre stage. To read the time, the larger grey circles on the peripheral disc represent the hours while the smaller circles are used for the minutes. All you have to do is see which two circles are highlighted with a black ring.
MB&F deploys an intergalactic ship piloted by a crew of aliens
Obsessed with spaceships and sci-fi, MB&F founder Maximilian Busser has transformed his fantasy into reality with the creation of watches that look like they flew in from another planet. The Horological Machine No.6 Alien Nation is a fabulous space vessel crafted from transparent sapphire crystal and manned by a crew of six aliens. Busy on the deck of the HM6, the aliens fix the turbines in the aft, adjust the gears and make sure the engine is humming while the captain, seated on the case of the watch, keeps his hand on the throttle to guide them on their voyage.
The complexity involved to get this vessel airborne was formidable and required 12 separate blocks of sapphire crystal to create the case, a month of sculpting to bring the white gold aliens to life and a three-year process to develop the engine of the ship. Made from 496 separate parts, the mechanical movement drives the rotating hour and minute functions visible through two domed structures and keeps the central tourbillon whirling – along with its retractable shield. A limited edition of just four spacecraft glowing with green, blue, purple and turquoise luminescent material, the watch had a price tag of $500,000 but was sold out in a matter of hours.
Fabergé interprets Zambia’s landscape with emeralds
Fabergé’s Lady Libertine I watch offers its wearer an aerial view of a relief map picked out in ethically sourced emeralds and diamonds. An extraordinary work of art, the watch is set with emeralds extracted from the Kagem Mine in Zambia, the largest producer of emeralds and owned by Gemfields. By using rough, hand-carved emeralds and contrasting polished emeralds and diamonds, the dial of the watch recreates the irregular landscape surrounding the Zambian mine.
The rough emeralds, separated by fine gold filigree, represent the region’s rivers that flow from the central raised disc to the extremities of the dial. To read the time, two subtle rose gold pointers emerge from under the central dome so as not to disturb the dial.
Damascened steel and horological fireworks
Christophe Claret never takes the easy route and likes to pack his watches with the most dazzling feats of horological engineering. Claret wanted to house the innovative and contemporary movement of the X-TREM-1 in a case made from damascened steel, originally used to craft swords for the Crusaders and katanas for Samurai warriors. The swirling or variegated patterns characteristic of Damascus steel are produced by layer-assembling two types of stainless steel.
With plenty of sapphire crystal glass to reveal the action, the X-TREM-1 features a tourbillon inclined at 30º at the base and two hollow cylindrical tubes on either side of the case. On closer inspection, you will notice that there are two balls inside each tube that move up and down thanks to two magnets moved by cables. Wait a minute: magnetic fields inside a watch? That’s crazy. Isn’t magnetism the arch enemy of a movement? But Claret is a horological magician and has managed to keep the magnetic fields separate from the movement. To read the time, the hours are indicated by a ball in the left cylinder and the minutes in the same manner on the right. That’s pretty amazing stuff.