Roger Dubuis unveils an impressive, contemporary twist on a historical timepiece
The pocket watch was the first timepiece worn by mankind, before that we had to look at a clock to find out the time. The early ‘portable time-tellers’ were invented in the 15th century and were worn only by royalty and the wealthy elite for almost three centuries. Those versions were heavy—often made from steel by blacksmiths—and they only had an hour hand and had to be wound twice a day.
It wasn’t until the 17th and 18th centuries that the minute hand was introduced thanks to the development of better springs; and the addition of wheels in the watch mechanism meant they needed winding less frequently. Around this era, jewels, such as rubies, began to be introduced for bearings, which reduced the wear on the mechanisms, and also oil was used to help the timepieces work much more smoothly.
By the time of the Industrial Revolution in the US and Europe, pocket watches had become the way workers, such as rail employees, were able to devise more accurate schedules. Then came the wristwatch.
Although, wristwatches had been around since the 14th century (it’s believed the first one was made for Britain’s Queen Elizabeth I) they really became popular around the time of World War I for obvious reasons, making the pocket watch virtually obsolete.
Aside from a few collectors of vintage pocket watches, there was little interest in these traditional timepieces for many years, and few companies were creating new designs. That’s changed fairly recently as some of the best-known watch brands have begun to design striking models with a contemporary twist.
As part of its 20th anniversary celebrations this year, Roger Dubuis declared 2015 the “Year of the Astral Skeleton” and continued to explore the theme with the launch of the Astral Skeleton pocket watch at last month’s Watches & Wonders exhibition in Hong Kong.
The Swiss manufacturer presents, in the skeleton, a wonderful showcase for its brilliant technical expertise, guaranteed by the prestigious Poinçon de Genève quality hallmark that represents exclusivity, origin, expertise, performance and durability. The brand’s skeleton designs are inspired by fashion, architecture, painting, sculpture, film-making and a plethora of other sources with the intention of creating fantastically impressive timepieces. It works. Big Time.
The Excalibur Spider Pocket Time Instrument—to give it its full official title— incorporates unmistakable elements from previous designs in the Excalibur collection, including the edgy fluted bezel and the easygrip crown. It also benefits from the incredible technical and architectural mechanics of the Quatuor wristwatch principle by adopting its Calibre RD101. What’s more, it evolves the Spider concept by skeleton-working the “bow”, which protects the 12 o’clock crown. In addition, this typically pocket-watch configuration frees up the sides of the 60mm case, further magnifying the open-worked effect. Yes, that’s right—the case measures 60mm across and is (almost) 20mm thick. It’s massive, but obviously still light because it’s made from titanium just like the Excalibur Spider models revealed at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie this year.
When it comes to the watch’s movements, the most immediately noticeable feature is its four sprung balances. Working in pairs to provide immediate compensation for the rate variations caused by the changes in position, this efficient foursome enables the movement to operate at the stunning frequency of 16 Hz and thus ensures an exceptional degree of precision.
In addition, the Roger Dubuis double moon-crescent patented power-reserve display provides a clear indication of precisely how much running time is left before the timepiece requires winding. These technical achievements are in direct contrast to traditional touches such as the decorative Roman numerals; with the result that it presents a unique take on the pocket watch.
Boldness and extravagance are important elements of the brand’s style and, once again, Roger Dubuis fulfills its promise. The Astral Skeleton pocket watch has evidently been conceived as more than simply a timepiece, it deserves to be gazed at and lusted after as it’s clearly a mechanical work of art as well as a piece of contemporary horological history.