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Watchismo Times

THE WATCHISMO TIMES WATCH BLOG A reliquary of obscure timepieces from bygone eras as well as the cutting-edge watch designs of today.

BONNNGG! Big Ben's 150th Anniversary - Alex Doak Goes Inside for The Watchismo Times

BONNNGG!  Big Ben's 150th Anniversary - Alex Doak Goes Inside for The Watchismo TimesThe Watchismo Times contributor Alex Doak scales Big Ben for a right royal ear bashing

BONNNGG!  Big Ben's 150th Anniversary - Alex Doak Goes Inside for The Watchismo Times

“Truly impressed – and I’m a watch geek, so that’s saying something”

In retrospect, that was probably rather a sarcastic thing to write in the Palace of Westminster’s visitor book, but I was genuinely bowled over by my experience last Sunday, despite the early hour and my late night before. From scaling all 334 steps of the Great Clock Tower and watching Dent’s mighty movement whirring away with its governor fans click-clacking overhead; to peering out of those world-famous clock faces across a sprawling, sunkissed London town, before standing mere inches from Big Ben and its four melodic counterparts as they bonged-out 10 o’clock – this was tantamount to the Hajj for this watch anorak. Desperate to immerse ourselves fully in the Big Ben experience, my mate Pete and I even spurned the offer of ear plugs, bearing the full force of that 13.7-tonne bronze bell at point-blank range (audible for four and a half miles) and bathing in the deep, subsonic resonance of the iron infrastructure for minutes after the tenth bong had faded. Not even the strains of YMCA, pounding out from the finish line of a 10km fun run on Westminster Bridge below could detract from this most reverent of horological experiences.

Although any UK resident can write to his or her MP and request a guided tour of Big Ben (smug pedants be gone, by the way – it’s now officially acceptable to refer to the whole clock by the big bell’s popular nickname) mine was actually one of several being held this summer in celebration of Big Ben’s 150th anniversary. In an age when the most obscure of milestones are hyped beyond comprehension (40 years since the Moon landing? Why 40?) it’s amazing so little has been made of Big Ben’s one and a half centuries – especially when you consider what an icon this clock actually is. No clichéd Hollywood establishing montage of London would be complete without a policeman / vicar / Hugh Grant cycling past the Clock Tower; Radio 4’s hourly news broadcasts would surely lack all gravitas without its opening salvo of bongs; London’s skyline would merely be anodyne without SW1’s tower (paired with EC1’s St Paul’s dome of course).

Once through the airport-style security gates and duly reminded with an air of forboding that this tour was not for the physically infirm or claustrophobic, we commenced our ascent of the Tower – a phallic masterpiece positively bulging with history.

BONNNGG!  Big Ben's 150th Anniversary - Alex Doak Goes Inside for The Watchismo Times

The view from the bottom of the 334 steps. Deep breath…

BONNNGG!  Big Ben's 150th Anniversary - Alex Doak Goes Inside for The Watchismo Times

The view from the top. Well worth the slog

Denison and Dent’s Clock

It all began with a terrible fire, which destroyed most of the Palace of Westminster in 1834. Out of the 97 designs submitted for the new Palace, master Gothic architect Sir Charles Barry’s was successful and construction of the Clock Tower began in September 1843. Barry was no clockmaker though, and he sought advice from the Queen’s Clockmaker and good buddy, Benjamin Lewis Vuillamy.

Other respected clockmakers, such as the marine chronometer pioneer Edward John Dent, wanted the chance to be involved though, and disputes quickly broke out (this was to set the tone for the entire project – by completion, the chief contractors for the Tower had been reduced to corresponding via letters in The Times). In 1846 therefore, a competition was held to decide who should build the clock. Astronomer Royal, Sir George Airy – who had awarded Dent’s first commission in 1814 to build the Admiralty’s Standard Astronomical Clock – was appointed referee and set out unprecedented standards for the clock to meet.

These included:

· the first stroke of each hour to be accurate to within one second

· the clock’s performance to be telegraphed twice a day to Greenwich Observatory

Airy’s demanding standards led to delays that lasted seven years. Most master clockmakers of the day complained that such a level of accuracy was impossible for a clock of its size – at 4.2m and 2.7m, and 100kg and 300kg, the minute and hour hands are particularly susceptible to the elements, acting as windmills on all four clock faces, feeding unwanted energy from the rain and wind back into the delicate movement. The best that could be hoped for, they said, was three minutes a day.

Airy appointed Edmund Beckett Denison – barrister, MP and gifted amateur horologist –to design the clock, then in February 1852, Dent was appointed to build the clock to Denison’s own design, mostly because his quote of £1,800 was half that of Vulliamy’s, but also because Dent had made an impression the year before with a turret clock on display at London’s Great International Exhibition. It won the Council Medal for Horology and after the Exhibition it was erected at King’s Cross Station, where it remains (and where the revived Dent watch brand received its latest public clock commission, for the Eurostar terminal).

Dent died in 1853 and his stepson, Frederick, completed the clock in 1854 for a final bill of £2,500. Working along similar lines to a grandfather clock, it is regulated by a 2-second, 4.4m pendulum and powered by three stone weights totalling 2.5 tonnes, which are wound up on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

BONNNGG!  Big Ben's 150th Anniversary - Alex Doak Goes Inside for The Watchismo Times

If you watch Dent’s Big Ben clock movement long enough, you’ll eventually figure out how it all works, so logically is everything laid out. Watchismo Times regulars probably won’t resist comparing its lateral array with Ruchonnet’s Cabestan

BONNNGG!  Big Ben's 150th Anniversary - Alex Doak Goes Inside for The Watchismo Times

The “governor” fans above the movement use air resistance to regulate the rate with which the chiming mechanism unwinds

Crucially, Dent’s clock is accurate to within one second per day – just as Airy wanted ­– and as such Big Ben remains the largest and most accurate striking mechanical clock in the world.

BONNNGG!  Big Ben's 150th Anniversary - Alex Doak Goes Inside for The Watchismo Times

Pre-decimal-currency pennies are still used by the Palace of Westminster’s three appointed clockmakers to regulate the clock mechanism: adding one penny causes the clock to gain two-fifths of a second in 24 hours.

The achievement of such accuracy was partly thanks to the British government’s perennial inability to get anything done on time (or budget). The Clock Tower’s construction was delayed for 5 years, and until its installation in 1859, Dent’s 5-tonne behemoth of a mechanism was kept at his factory on the Strand. In the meantime, Denison tinkered, most notably inventing the 'Double Three-legged Gravity Escapement' in the process (later known as the Grimthorpe Escapement when Denison was made Baron Grimthorpe in 1886). Since used in turret clocks all over the world, this revolutionary mechanism is key to Big Ben’s world-beating accuracy, ensuring the swing of the pendulum is unaffected by the weather’s influence on the hands. In an agonizingly simple but revolutionary manner, Denison’s gravity escapement isolates the pendulum from the going train. The energy from the going train alternately lifts two rocking gravity arms, which, when falling, give constant and independent impulses to the pendulum.

This Flash animation showing the inner workings of Big Ben, is brilliant -->
Click here

BONNNGG!  Big Ben's 150th Anniversary - Alex Doak Goes Inside for The Watchismo TimesNo photography allowed up the Tower – but I managed to sneak in a clandestine snap (above) with my mobile in the space between the clock room and the clock faces. Each face is 7m in diameter and has 312 separate pieces of pot-opal glass panels framed by gun metal. Illumination of each dial is performed in a delightfully rudimentary manner by a bank of 28 oversized energy-efficient bulbs at 85W each. Lifetime of each bulb is 60,000 hours

BONNNGG!  Big Ben's 150th Anniversary - Alex Doak Goes Inside for The Watchismo Times

The Bells! The Bells!

Denison also became involved in the design of the bells for the clock, in particular Big Ben. Until the Westminster clock tower, the largest bell ever cast in Britain was Great Peter in York Minster, weighing 10.3 tons. (Now, Big Ben is only superseded in Britain by Great Paul at St Paul’s Cathedral down the road.)

But Denison was adamant that his own design, method and alloy recipe would allow a larger bell to be created. Eventually, a 16-ton monster was cast at the Warner & Sons foundry in Stockton-on-Tees in August 1856. Too wide to be transported by rail, it arrived at the Port of London by sea, from where it was pulled across Westminster Bridge by 16 white horses.

The bell was hung in New Palace Yard. It was tested each day until 17 October 1857 when a 1.2m crack appeared. No-one would accept the blame. Theories included the composition of the bell’s metal or its dimensions. Warners blamed Denison for insisting on increasing the hammer’s weight from 355kg to 660kg.

Warners asked too high a price to break up and recast the bell so George Mears at the Whitechapel Foundry was appointed. The second bell was cast on 10 April 1858.

This bell was 2.5 tonnes lighter than the first. Its dimensions meant it was too large to fit up the Clock Tower’s shaft vertically so Big Ben was turned on its side and winched up. It took 30 hours to winch the bell to the belfry in October 1858. The four quarter bells, which chime on the quarter hour, were already in place.

BONNNGG!  Big Ben's 150th Anniversary - Alex Doak Goes Inside for The Watchismo Times

Big Ben rang out on 11 July 1859 but its success was short-lived. In September 1859, the new bell also cracked and Big Ben was silent for four years. During this time, the hour was struck on the fourth quarter bell. The dispute went public and resulted in two libel cases against Denison, who was found to have befriended one of the technicians at the foundry, got him drunk and bullied him into giving false testimony that the fault had been due to poor workmanship and concealed filler. The cantankerous lawyer lost both cases and a close examination of Big Ben in 2002 found that there was no filler in the bell. As one contemporary of Denison put it: "Zealous but unpopular, self-accredited expert on clocks, locks, bells, buildings as well as many branches of law, Denison was one of those people who are almost impossible as colleagues, being perfectly convinced that they know more than anybody about everything - as unhappily they do."

In 1863, a solution was found to Big Ben’s silence by Sir George Airy, the Astronomer Royal:

· Big Ben was turned by a quarter turn so the hammer struck a different spot

· the hammer was replaced by a lighter version

· a small square was cut into the bell to prevent the crack from spreading

The total cost of making the clock and bells and installing them in the Clock Tower reached £22,000.

BONNNGG!  Big Ben's 150th Anniversary - Alex Doak Goes Inside for The Watchismo TimesThere are four quarter bells each weighing between 1 and 4 tonnes

The famous “Westminster chimes” – emulated on a smaller scale by Grande Sonnerie wristwatches – are struck by four quarter bells positioned around Big Ben tuned to G, F, E and B. Their tune is based on Handel’s Messiah, a phrase from the aria I Know that My Redeemer Liveth. They were set to verse and the words are inscribed on a plaque in Big Ben’s clock room:

All through this hour

Lord be my Guide

That by Thy Power

No foot shall slide

Why “Big Ben”?

Officially, the Clock Tower’s bell is called the Great Bell though it is better known by the name 'Big Ben'.

There are two theories for this name’s origin. These are that the Great Bell was:

· named after Sir Benjamin Hall, First Commissioner for Works 1855-1858, whose name is inscribed on the bell

· named after Ben Caunt, a champion heavyweight boxer of the 1850s

The first theory is thought to be the most likely.

BONNNGG!  Big Ben's 150th Anniversary - Alex Doak Goes Inside for The Watchismo TimesStop – Hammer Time!

Stoppages are rare, but the most notable are:

2007: the longest suspension of the hour strike (Big Ben) since 1990. Big Ben's famous 'bongs' were silent for seven weeks in 2007, allowing essential maintenance work on the clock mechanism to take place. From 11 August to 1 October, an electric system kept the clock moving, but Big Ben, the name for the Great Bell, and the quarter bells were quiet. This was the final phase of a programme of planned works to prepare for the Great Clock's 150th anniversary in 2009.

October 2005: The clock mechanism was also suspended for two days in to allow inspection of the brake shaft.

Over the years, the clock has been stopped accidentally on several occasions - by weather, workmen, breakages or birds. The most serious breakdown occurred during the night of 10 August 1976 when part of the chiming mechanism disintegrated through metal fatigue, causing the mechanism to literally explode under its own immense forces, dropping its weights to the base of the Tower with a noise that the policeman on duty initially reported as being an IRA bomb. The Great Clock was shut down for a total of 26 days over nine months - the longest break in operations since it was built - until it was fully repaired.

The Secret’s Out

But despite Big Ben’s remarkable, unflagging accuracy, one burning question remains: how is it checked? Mike McCann, who rejoices in the title of Keeper of the Great Clock, gives a slightly embarrassed laugh when he is asked. The answer is that he does what everyone else does: he rings up the speaking clock. He does so from the phone in the clock room at five to the hour precisely, starting a stopwatch on the third pip, and then goes up the belfry to see when the hammer on Big Ben strikes the hour. Simple, if not technologically sophisticated.

See also on Watchismo: Alex Doak’s report on modern Dent’s most recent public clock commission


Related "Alex Doak" Posts at The Watchismo Times;
UnBNBelievable - Confrérie Horlogère
Sarpaneva's Black Moon Rising
Plenty of Scratches but only one Dent

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UnBNBelievable - BNB & The Confrérie Horlogère and the Only Watch 2009 Release

By Alex Doak for The Watchismo Times

By now, many are aware of BNB Concept and their work – after all, it was only a matter of time before people started to wonder where the likes of Romain Jerome, De Witt, Hublot, Concord, Jacob & Co. and Bell & Ross acquired their blisteringly innovative tourbillons all of a sudden. Jorg Hysek’s HD3 visionaries were the only ones to freely admit the origins of their gothic-tech complications from the start, but once people started spotting BNB’s trademark spiral-spoked escape wheel all over the place, the cat was out of the bag. Once was a time when people were reluctant to reveal the minds behind their rent-a-calibres – now everyone's falling over themselves to get a piece of the BNB action and the instant provenance it brings. As BNB attests:

“BNB wishes not to become a new watch brand, but rather a label of quality. Should BNB create its own brand, it would inevitably become a competitor to its customers.”

Unlike Renaud & Papi's selective austerity or Christophe Claret's mercenary dictatorship, BNB is a genuinely cool, relaxed community of eager young things with genuinely new ideas about how watches should work – with no less than five facilities in Duillier, Crans-près-Céligny, La Vallée de Joux, La Chaux-de-Fonds and Nyon at their disposal, all crammed full of the latest tools, CNC machines, electroplating and engraving machines, and rank-upon-rank of sterile assembly lines. What’s doubly impressive about BNB is that they make complete WATCHES for their 25-or-so clients – not just the multi-plane/dual-axis tourbillon movements they’re famous for. For a five-year-old outfit, that’s serious progress.

Members of the Confrérie Horlogere 2008-2009 and Mathias Buttet (CEO and founder BNB Concept ; founder Confrérie Horlogère).

From the left: David Rodriguez, Ranieri Illicher, Clara Bise, Mathias Buttet, Ken Koshiyama, Sabitry Montandon, Gabriel Salgado-de Arce, Brigitte Carneiro.

It was therefore inevitable, despite the abovementioned pledge, that as a fully verticalized entity, BNB would eventually indulge in its own vanity projects – albeit under an alternative banner, "Confrérie Horlogère". (Perhaps reminiscent of Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey’s Complitime factory, which bankrolled proceedings before they unleashed their eponymous double tourbillon).

Confrérie Horlogère is a bit Opus, a bit Maitres du Temps, a bit Time Aeon – only the emphasis is on nurturing youngsters with ideas beyond their usual means. And in this first year, no less than seven talents and four almost-complete watches have been put on pedestals by BNB’s effusive CEO Matthias Buttet (one of the "B"s in BNB - the others being Barbasini and Navas, all of them formerly of Franck Muller’s Watchland - Buttet as a micro-technical engineer, Navas and Barbasini as prototypists).

In Buttet’s words:

“The Confrérie Horlogère, far from being a product, is an ambitious project to promote such values as work, creativeness, craftsmanship, community spirit, respect and above all freedom of women and men moved by the will to express themselves through excellence, as well as unexpected design.”

And I’m pleased to report that every one of Buttet’s fresh-faced prodigies have come up with equally amazing movements and watches... It really is quite incredible to see such a tranche of brilliance emerge all at once.

Every year, Confrérie Horlogère will select a maximum of 7 “graduates” to develop their own watch, produced on a very small-scale – no more than 10 pieces each. And unlike many flash-in-the-pan pantomime projects, which run the danger of costing more to fix and service over a lifetime than the watch itself (if indeed you find a capable-enough and willing watchmaker in the first place, once the flash-in-the-pan brand has gone belly-up) the CH timepieces will benefit from a lifetime’s guarantee. Buttet trusts his kids that much.

This year’s 7 “companions” are:

1. David Rodriguez, a Peruvian watchmaker, whose “la Résilience” tourbillon demonstrates sublimely anarchic finishing with Punk overtones that actually reveal through its scars and stitching the difficulties Rodriguez faced as an abused orphan on crutches who, finally, found in Switzerland and watchmaking a refuge. Metaphorically biographical watchmaking – surely a world first?

la Résilience

2. Brigitte Carneiro, watchmaker, with “la Face Cachée”

la Face Cachée

3. Ken Koshiyama, watchmaker, with “Racines japonaises”

4. Ranieri Illicher, watchmaker, whose la Passion à l’italienne micro-brand debuts with the “Bel Canto” minute repeater tourbillon – a chiming watch literally suspended in a bell, which also serves as the watch case – why didn’t anyone think of this before?!

Bel Canto Minute Repeater (thanks to DonCorson

5. Sabitry Montandon, watchmaker

6. Clara Bise, watchmaker

7. Gabriel Salgado de Arce, engraver and chaser of watch components, whose coral reef ImmenSEAty just defies all watch-finishing convention. Words can’t do this justice.


8. An eighth Companion has already been selected for the year 2009- 2010. His name is Jérôme Siegrist, a watchmaker who is already involved in an ambitious project that focuses on recreating and scaling down to wristwatch dimensions an extremely complex mechanism built, anachronistically, two centuries B.C. and salvaged from a shipwreck in 1901. Antikythera will be presented by the end of 2009, but you can get an inkling of what to expect-->here.

The ANTIKYTHERA mechanism wristwatch concept

Beside these individual “Complications” watches, the Companions will all be collaborating on joint Confrerie Horlogère projects, either as small-series “Classiques” or one-off “Masters” pieces. So far, there’s Masters Clef du Temps – an ornately skeletonised vertical tourbillon movement (presumably derived from the one developed for Concord, but as usual completely original and unlike anything seen before) – and Classiques Chronographe Tourbillon Pulsion 1 (I’ve run out of superlatives….)

Le Chronographe Tourbillon « Pulsion »

BNB Factory

BNB Confrérie Horlogère Watchmakers

Confrérie Horlogère for Only Watch 2009

The Master watch

The Confrérie Horlogère’s Only Watch 09 (by BNB Concept) is “La Clef du Temps” (the Key to Time) – a watch created by Buttet in collaboration with the brand’s R&D team. It is the first timepiece created in the “Les Masters” collection. It is a working prototype of a sophisticated timepiece called “La Clef du Temps”, which will be produced in small series after the Only Watch 09 auction. It is an innovative tourbillon watch featuring a hand-wound mechanical movement with hour and minute indications, a 3-day power reserve indication (PRI) in a 120° sectoral indicator at 8 o’clock and retrograde running seconds at 4 o’clock. The retrograde seconds of 0, 30, 60 depict the rhythm of time as it passes, and the power reserve reminds you when to rewind the piece as it makes its 0, ½, and 3-day passage. Like a body, if you don’t eat properly your body doesn’t function properly, and so with the watch if you forget to rewind it.

“The funds from Only Watch are there to indirectly help the children suffering from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy,” says Buttet. “So I thought: what is it that everyone hopes for? Everyone hopes that these children will live longer than expected. I wanted this watch to express this dilemma.”

Buttet wanted the piece to convey two very important and thought-provoking concepts associated with being a parent: Firstly, the idea that however rich you are, true luxury lies in the freedom to manage one’s time as one wishes; secondly, the watch has a sophisticated mechanism that allows the wearer to “adjust the speed” of his personal time by adjusting a simple three-position lever that alters the running speed of the hours and the minutes.

Position 1 the pace of time slows by half so that the true value of one hour is displayed as a half-hour on the dial.
Position 2 the pace of time stays at true/standard time.
Position 3 the pace of time runs at double speed so a true/standard half-hour becomes a full hour on the dial of the watch.

As Buttet says, “This way, pleasant moments can be made to last twice as long while unpleasant ones can be shortened by half while the ability to ‘return’ to true time is always there.” The watch’s extremely sophisticated mechanism allows the watch’s time indications to remain in positions 1 or 3 as long as its wearer wishes, since a simple turn of the lever to position 2 (the watch’s memory) resets the hour and the minute hand to the real time of day.

As Buttet sees it, it’s his way of extracting some form of balance from a seemingly unjust world that makes us feel that when life is good, time flies, but it slows to a crawl during the rough patches. As with a child with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the pleasure of the good times passes all too fast and the painful moments all too slow.

The movement is shaped like a stylized human brain because, according to Mathias Buttet, “Time is a sort of “state of mind” which is the result of the will of any single person. Not to have time to do something is, at the end, a personal decision and it is not at all something imposed by someone else. Every person decides if he or she wants to have the time to do or not to do something.” Moreover he adds “If you look at the figures on the dial you will see that they are mirror images of themselves. Some numbers are reflected face-to-face, showing the moments that are the result of the one’s will; others are reflected back-to-back: in this case, it is fate that controls your life.”

The futuristic case is shaped like a spaceship – ever searching for a better life, and the strap is composed of four rubber-clad steel strands. Lifetime warranty and the totally Swiss-made provenance of its every part and component are other characteristics of the “La Clef du Temps”.

LINK: Confrérie Horlogère Website
LINK: BNB Concept

All Alex Doak Post for The Watchismo Times

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Black Moon Rising - Stepan Sarpaneva's Korona K3 Black Moon

Black Moon Rising - Stepan Sarpaneva's Korona K3 Black Moon
Black Moon Rising
by Alex Doak for The Watchismo Times

Stepan Sarpaneva's coolness factor continues to ascend. Probably the only watchmaker I know to attend Baselworld in jeans and t-shirt, he’s always deflected the stuffy purists with a bulletproof CV: complications watchmaker at Parmigiani, Vianney Halter and Christophe Claret…? Getouttahere!

Black Moon Rising - Stepan Sarpaneva's Korona K3 Black Moon

It’s no wonder he’s made it alone since 2004, with an eponymous brand of watches defined by his homeland’s brutal winters and a lifelong passion for heavy metal and motorbikes. (I told you he was cool!) As with its motorsport champions, Finland turns out a disproportionately high number of talented watchmakers – 38 per year to be precise – thanks to the Kelloseppä Koulu watchmaking school, but they all tend to migrate to repair shops or Swiss brands – even Kari Voutilainen, who defected years ago. Stepan therefore enjoys the rare privilege of being the only mechanical watch brand in Finland. As Stepan puts it himself: “I am on my own. This is the Finnish way; the melancholy; the loneliness…”

Black Moon Rising - Stepan Sarpaneva's Korona K3 Black Moon

It was to Stepan’s workshop in Nokia’s old cable factory in Helsinki – now an über-hip commune of cool arty types – that a select bunch of journalists and friends gravitated in late January. Gesturing across the vast industrial plot, he declares, “One day, all this will be mine!” before we board a rickety elevator and creep down a squeaky-clean corridor. Through an anonymous door, we find Stepan’s prodigal recruits from Kelloseppä, Hanna and Jarmo, beavering away on ranks of Korona watches – an ultra-cool feat of skeletonization first leaked on these pages.

Black Moon Rising - Stepan Sarpaneva's Korona K3 Black Moon
Black Moon Rising - Stepan Sarpaneva's Korona K3 Black Moon

The eagle-eyed were pleased to spot several clues to Stepan’s pedigree dotted around the workshop: besides the obligatory framed portrait of Breguet, a littala vase (Stepan’s uncle Timo Sarpaneva designed the iconic “i” logo in 1956), a poster of his mother modeling latticework jewelery by his designer father Pentti, a hand sculpture by Pentti holding Stepan’s original Harley Davidson kick-start-pinion pocket watch… and, er, a stack of Monster Magnet CDs.

Black Moon Rising - Stepan Sarpaneva's Korona K3 Black Moon

It was then to the ferry terminal, where we were conveyed to Helsinki’s beautiful UNESCO world heritage site, the Sea Fortress. Deep within the metre-thick bunker walls, by the flickering light of rusty candelabra, the purpose of our visit was finally unveiled: the Black Moon. It's a moonphase Korona K3, but, in a world-first, shows the New Moon rather than the Full Moon. It’s named after the opposite astrological event to a Blue Moon: when two New Moons occur within a single lunar cycle. What's more, Stepan has teamed up with a local illustrator and an aspiring poet to spin a Gothic fairytale around the whole thing, based on the legend of Lilith, the temptress demon who preys on unwitting men by night, as an owl. I know what you’re thinking, but, it all holds together well! Unfortunately you’ll have to buy the watch (€12,500) to see for yourself as the book of eight illustrations and the poem will only accompany the 20 editions.

Black Moon Rising - Stepan Sarpaneva's Korona K3 Black MoonUltimately, this Black Moon triptych answers a singular brief posed to his artistic collaborators by Stepan from the very start: to evoke the unique melancholy of Finland's relentless winter: “While I make the watches, you make the story!” It’s all terribly brooding and morbid, but it’s done in a terribly hip, black turtleneck type of way. Another slice of predictable cool from the scruffy Finn.

Black Moon Rising - Stepan Sarpaneva's Korona K3 Black Moon

Black Moon Rising - Stepan Sarpaneva's Korona K3 Black Moon

Sarpaneva Watches Website--> LINK

All Alex Doak Posts--> LINK

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A Round-Up of Three Dimensional Tourbillons

by Alex Doak (exclusively for The Watchismo Times)

Definitive List #1: Tourbillons in space, space, pace, ace, ace…!

There nothing quite like a definitive list of stuff to warm the cockles of a straightforward, slightly obsessive bloke such as myself (or “multi-talented bloke” as certain blog proprietors would naïvely have it…). Much like Nick Hornby’s central character in High Fidelity, I find little else more satisfying than pigeonholing the components of my obsession – in this case watches of course, as opposed to pop songs – into their discrete subsets and arranging things appropriately in chronological, alphabetical, autobiographical, or even aesthetical fashion.

So for Definitive List #1, by way of background, let’s kick off proceedings by listing every tourbillon ever made to date…. No, stupid idea. What about bi-axial tourbillons, then? That’s easier – but still long-winded. Why, there’s Thomas Prescher’s Torkel pocket watch; Franck Muller’s Revolution 2; Jean Dunand’s Tourbillon Orbital; Blu’s Majesty Tourbillon; anything by Greubel Forsey; Panerai’s misplaced new entry to the world of manufacture movements, P.2005; the similar ‘tumbling’ cage mechanism at the heart of HD3’s Vulcania; Girard-Perregaux’s huge SIHH 2008 launch, the imaginatively titled “Bi-Axial Tourbillon”… My quasi-OCD tendencies are nagging at me to complete the list, but that’s no fun. As James Gurney noted in QP’s editorial last year, in reference to Michael Balfour’s joyous new “Cult Watches” book, there’s nothing quite like a list to inspire controversy. Tell your readers that the Swiss watch industry is a cynical, PR-fed cartel, and nothing. On the other hand, dare to omit Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Gyrotourbillon from a list of two-axis tourbillons and watch all hell break loose. (See? I didn’t forget it!)

So, in descending chronological order, here’s my definitive list of three-dimensional, or rather triple-axis tourbillons – with one notable deliberately left out. Send answers->here. The prize is the pride.*

1. Aaron Becsei’s Primus, unveiled this year at the AHCI stand at Baselworld. An extraordinary achievement for someone born in 1979. Puts your life’s work in perspective don’t it…?

2. “TAT”, from Thomas Prescher’s Trilogy – you get a single-axis and double-axis wristwatch in the bargain too! Another sickeningly youthful prodigy.

3. Revolution 3 – much prettier in the flesh than Franck Muller’s perpetually hideous CAD images imply.

4. Richard Good’s carriage clock (Prescher’s inspiration).

Tourbillons rotating in space are not a new thing though. As far back as 1860, American watchmaker Albert Potter constructed a tourbillon with an inclined balance for a carriage clock.
 German watchmaker Walter Prendel drew inspiration from the master horologer Alfred Helwig and tried again in 1928 to place the tourbillon in space, this time in a pocket watch. The balance spring and rotor was inclined 30 degrees from the horizontal and made one rotation in six minutes. In 1980, English watchmaker Anthony Randall – up there with Derek Pratt, Daniels, Dufour et al. – patented the first tourbillon with two perpendicular axes. Over 20 years later, Richard Danners developed a double-axis tourbillon in a large 55mm pocket watch for Gübelin.

*and yes, this does conveniently let me off the hook for not researching thoroughly enough…

Other notables for consideration;

Girard Perregaux Bi-Axial Tourbillon

Greubel Forsey's Quadruple Tourbillon à Différentiel

Blu's Majesty MT3 Tourbillon

Richard Daner for Gubelin

Jaeger LeCoultre's Reverso Tourbillon

LIP Feature in International Watch Magazine

LIP Feature in International Watch Magazine
A fantastic article in International Watch Magazine written by the multi-talented bloke Alex Doak on the history of the French watch brand LIP. Click the photos to read the article.

LIP Feature in International Watch Magazine
LIP Feature in International Watch Magazine
LIP Feature in International Watch Magazine
LIP Feature in International Watch Magazine
LIP Feature in International Watch Magazine
LIP Feature in International Watch Magazine
LIP Product Pages-->LINK

International Watch Magazine-->Link

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Plenty of cracks and scratches...but only one Dent

Plenty of cracks and scratches...but only one DentFor the first of The Watchismo Times’ British epistles (by new TWT contributor Alex Doak), here’s a suitably charming tale of British eccentricity, demonstrating a stalwart sense of heritage combined with that slightly anorakish tenacity of ours…

The surreal photo above (via worldarchitecturenews) actually depicts a 92-year-old gentlman by the name of Roland Hoggard. Bolted to the side of his barn, on a smallholding in Nottinghamshire, is the original clockface from London’s St Pancras railway station.

Plenty of cracks and scratches...but only one DentThe neo-gothic clock tower at St Pancras,
driven by a Dent mechanism

The story goes that back in the Seventies, the faux-Gothic Victorian architectural masterpiece was falling into disrepair. British Rail, in all their wisdom, therefore decided to tart the place up, which – in the Seventies at least – meant replacing everything with concrete. So the priceless fixtures and fittings were sold off. An American collector quickly earmarked the historic 10-foot-wide platform clock for an astronomic £250,000.

When the day came to take the clock down, British Rail, in classic British Rail style, managed to drop it. Backed by steel and weighing about 2.5 tons, the clock landed none too gracefully.

Thankfully, Mr Hoggard – then a train guard on the London–Nottingham route, and something of an amateur horologist – was at the London end when it happened, and saved the pile of shattered slate and cast iron from the skip with a mere £25 and a wheelbarrow.

Over the next 18 months, he painstakingly restored the clock between his railway shifts, even creating new numerals using concrete and moulds and making 108 bolts from scratch – a achievement of which his is rightfully proud.

Plenty of cracks and scratches...but only one DentThe new Eurostar platforms in progress,
with computer-rendered depiction of Dent’s new clock

St Pancras station is now getting the facelift it deserves, as the new home for the London-to-Brussels Eurostar route, from this November. And beaming down onto the ultra-modernised platforms, shopping complex and Europe’s longest champagne bar, will be an exact replica of the original clock, built by none other than the recently revived London watch brand, Dent & Co. (

It’s unsure who originally built the clock hanging on Mr Hoggard’s barn, but Dent was an obvious candidate for the new one, as Edward J Dent himself built the mechanism for the St Pancras’ external four-faced clocktower (which bears more than a striking resemblance to Dent’s other magnum opus, Big Ben, or the Houses of Parliament’s Great Clock to be more precise (Big Ben being the bell inside).

Which isn’t to say Hoggard’s 18-month toil went unnoticed. Frank Spurrell of Dent takes up the story: “Mr Hoggard kindly donated an actual chunk of the original face, which we sent to Loughborough University for petrochemical testing, to ascertain the slate’s provenance. We could then pinpoint the exact source in Wales required for the 12 new hour markers.”

Here’s hoping they doesn’t suffer the same fate going back up as the old stuff did coming down...

*Alex Doak - Freelance watch geek, and recent graduate of London's vaunted QP magazine, where he enjoyed a 4-year schooling under the aegis of horolo-guru James Gurney.

Related stories;
Dent article in QP Magazine-->Link
Big Ben on your Wrist-->Link

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BONNNGG!  Big Ben's 150th Anniversary - Alex Doak Goes Inside for The Watchismo TimesUnBNBelievable - BNB & The Confrérie Horlogère and the Only Watch 2009 ReleaseBlack Moon Rising - Stepan Sarpaneva's Korona K3 Black MoonA Round-Up of Three Dimensional TourbillonsLIP Feature in International Watch MagazinePlenty of cracks and scratches...but only one Dent

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