A US$350,000 watchmaking thought experiment

H Moser made a tourbillon minute repeater with no hands

By Stephen Pulvirent / BLOOMBERG

I WAS having a conversation with my colleague James the other day and he said something that really resonated with me. I’ll paraphrase him a bit here, but his point boiled down to the idea that sometimes you hear about a watch and can’t help but think that the whole thing is “a bit” or an elaborate joke of some kind.

Turning the watch over, you get a view that could not be more different from what you get up front

I’ll admit that when I first heard about the H Moser Swiss Alp Concept Black, that was exactly what popped into my head.

“A minute repeater tour billon with no hands? They’ve got to be kidding here, right?” is what I thought. But the watch is no joke. It’s real. It’s available for sale. And, to be honest, it’s kind of awesome.

Minute repeaters were originally invented for telling the time in the dark when you couldn’t see your watch’s dial. You could chime the repeater, telling time with your ears instead of your eyes.

The Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black, on the other hand, is a minute repeater that can never be read with your eyes and requires you to chime it to know the hours and minutes, whether it’s midday or midnight.

H Moser’s well-known for its “concept” watches, with their super clean dials, free of logos and indexes, and the idea here was to extend that idea all the way, removing absolutely everything from the front of the watch. Well, everything except a flying tourbillon, of course.

The watch itself is 45.8mm x 39.8mm and is 11mm thick, making it rather substantial, especially in platinum. The glossy black dial is unencumbered by any numerals, hands, or markings of any kind.

Depending on how the light hits it, the expansive black surface alternately looks like a mirror and a deep void. The effect is super cool and I like it even more than I did on a more traditional version with hands.

The only other thing you can see from the front is the flying tourbillon at six o’clock which has a skeletonised bridge and rotates once per minute. 

The only other thing you can see from the front is the flying tourbillon which has a skeletonised bridge and
rotates once per minute

I kind of wish the tourbillon on this watch was hidden on the rear, making it even more of a sleeper, but I understand that I’m likely in the minority there.

Turning the watch over, you get a view that could not be more different from what you get up front.

The calibre HMC 901 is a beautiful rectangular movement with loads of nice finishing to enjoy and a geometry that is pretty atypical.

I particularly like the double striping on the plates and bridges and the way that the bridges seem to converge around the repeater hammers in the top right corner.

For this movement, H Moser works with Manufactures Hautes Complications SA (MHC), who make repeaters for many top brands. This particular calibre is exclusive to H Moser and they were involved in the development as well.

One unusual thing about this repeater is that because it has a rectangular-shaped movement it uses rectangular gongs to chime the time (or at least mostly rectangular — they cut across the upper right corner, if you’re looking from the back, arching across where the hammers strike them).

You could also commission your own piece in a similar style if this isn’t exactly what you’re looking for

I wasn’t quite sure how this would sound, and I know that non-round gongs are even harder to tune than round ones, which is saying something. Add a platinum case and you could say I was downright sceptical.

However, pulling the slide, I was delighted by what I heard. The watch’s sound was crisp, clear and resonant, with none of the dampening you’d expect from a heavy precious metal case.

MHC and H Moser have done a really nice job here. And, since the watch can’t tell time except by the repeater, that’s a pretty critical job indeed.

When this watch was presented to me last week, there was one very important question that, to be honest, I didn’t even think to ask: How the heck do you set this thing?

The watch chimes the time, so it still does need to be set correctly, but there are no markings on the dial at all to help you with this.

The answer is actually my favourite part of this watch. The movement was developed such that rotating the crown one full turn moves the time one hour in either direction.

You’ll see one little black tick mark on the crown, and when you pull the crown out, you reveal a set of 12 more of these markings. 

When you pull the crown out, you reveal a set of 12 little black tick marks

Each denotes five minutes, letting you easily figure out how much you’re moving the “hands” at any given time.

So, what you do to set this thing is chime it, note down the time, and then adjust that time based on the crown tube markings to get where you need to go. Just chime it again to double check and you’re all set. It’s simple, but pretty ingenious.

As a reminder, H Moser’s repeaters are all unique pieces, and this one is no different. It’s currently available for US$350,000 (RM1.45 million), but you could also commission your own piece in a similar style if this isn’t exactly what you’re looking for.

It will be interesting to see if the brand decides to iterate on this idea in the future, though think that the concept and aesthetic execution of this particular example are a pretty spot-on combination as it is. — Bloomberg


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