Watches: Spin Art
It seems fitting that when Paris-born Alain Silberstein established his watchmaking business in 1985, he did so in Besançon, a city in the Franche-Comté, once a watchmaking center. Besançon is directly across the border from the Swiss Jura, the region that is now synonymous with premium timepieces. Like his company, Silberstein’s designs are beyond watchmaking’s conventional boundaries.
Silberstein, a 54-year-old mustachioed industrial and interior designer turned watch designer, brims with unorthodox ideas. He combined high-grade diamonds with stainless steel long before it was fashionable
to do so, and his fur- and leather-covered timepieces had watchmaking purists shaking their heads in disbelief. Some may consider Silberstein’s designs too avant-garde, but others recognize that they express an extraordinary joie de vivre.
Silberstein’s latest Tourbillon d’Art Collection, which comprises 16 flying tourbillon models limited to 500 pieces each, is perhaps the most striking embodiment of his watchmaking philosophy of blending high design with high horology. The automatic and manually wound engines that power the watches in this collection feature visible flying tourbillons that were designed and signed by Silberstein, and manufactured by Swiss craftsmen.
A flying tourbillon is cantilevered, which means it is fixed to the base plate only, allowing the observer an unimpeded view of the moving mechanism from the dial side. “These pieces are a wedding of high tech and color,” explains Silberstein, the first watchmaker to galvanize movement parts in ways that transform basic shades of silver and gold into hues of lilac, pink, black, blue, and brown.
Silberstein was also the first to use galuchat, or stingray skin, for straps, as early as 1993. For the new Galuchat Caviar tourbillon, the exotic leather is employed for both the strap and dial, a portion of which is covered with either galuchat or shagreen (polished stingray). In the Galuchat Black Caviar model, the pebbly black skin is a perfect accent to the watch’s black PVD titanium case and red and blue hands.
Silberstein’s eclectic collection is divided into three groups: Automatic, Manual, and Diver’s—yes, a diver’s tourbillon, a concept that originated with timepieces Silberstein created in 1992 for the Sultan of Brunei, and which resurfaced at auction 10 years later. The new Marine Blue Sea model is made of stainless steel with a diver’s countdown on the rotating bezel and luminous bright yellow and red elements for deep-sea legibility. The upper portion of the dial exhibits a colorful painted aquatic scene that complements the characteristic red and blue hands. The rest of the dial is cut away to showcase the locomotive beauty of the ever-turning tourbillon. Water-resistant to 200 meters, the Marine Blue Sea and its sister model, the Marine Black Sea (made of black PVD titanium), are fully functional underwater watches.
Silberstein dismisses the notion that his intention with the Tourbillon d’Art Collection was to shock the world of haute horlogerie yet again with his outlandish interpretation of traditional watchmaking’s most revered complication. His explanation of what spurred him to create such an assortment also describes the collection itself: “Tourbillons are fun.”