2008 Private Preview: Time Machine

<< Back to Robb Report, Private Preview

Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea captured the imagination of Fabrice Gonet, who read the novel as a boy at his grandfather’s home in Switzerland. Years later, Gonet recalled Verne’s fantastical undersea adventures and imaginary inventions as he conceived his second timepiece for HD3 Complication, the watch company that Gonet, Jorg Hysek, and Valérie Ursenbacher formed in 2004.

Gonet’s Vulcania, named for the mysterious island that was Captain Nemo’s home port, evolved from a concept piece into a functioning watch last summer. The leap occurred after a young watchmaker at BNB, the complication house that collaborated on the Vulcania, stayed up all night coaxing the mechanism’s biaxial tourbillon to pirouette. “It was a huge effort over two years to transform the drawing into a real and mechanically viable piece,” says the 30-year-old Gonet, who was invigorated by the partnership with BNB, where the watchmakers’ average age is in the mid-20s. “When we saw the movement in action for the first time, it was such an extraordinary and magical moment.”

Aesthetically, the piece references ships and submarines. A spinning cylinder, visible through a lateral porthole at 9 o’clock, indicates the hours, and another porthole in the dial reveals the winding mechanism. Minutes are presented on a disk that resembles a ship’s Chadburn telegraph (the device links the pilothouse with the engine room), and the 80-hour power reserve indicator recalls a sextant.

The spherical biaxial tourbillon, which rotates on two axes both horizontally and vertically, required an extremely thick case to provide enough space for the rotation. Despite its girth, however, the watch is comfortable to wear.

“The tourbillon is a nice complication, but the gyrotourbillon is candy for the eyes—you can’t stop looking at it,” says John Simonian, U.S. distributor for HD3 Complication and president of Los Angeles retailer Westime, which already has sold all 11 of the $375,000 Vulcanias that will be produced over the course of the next year.

Verne’s influence extended beyond the watch’s name and design. Gonet conjured an elaborate narrative about the timepiece, which, in that context, serves as the guide to locating Vulcania and the Nautilus, Nemo’s submarine. Engraved on the clear sapphire caseback is a chart showing the island and its coordinates, like a secret treasure map that speaks to the childhood fantasies of the watch’s wearer.


HD3 Complication, 310.205.5555, www­.hd3complication.com

More Watch Collector