Traditional chronographs are once again a key measure of watchmaking prowess.
Most people seem to think that a tourbillon is harder to put together than a chronograph, which is much more commonly found,” says Jean-Marie Schaller, CEO of the boutique watch company Louis Moinet. “In fact, it is actually the reverse that is true.” Indeed, Louis Moinet’s new Memoris, which features an innovative openwork chronograph mechanism, is by far the most challenging project the company has ever undertaken. Yet for many of Louis Moinet’s much larger rivals, including some of the most venerated brands in the industry, the stakes are even higher. Shifting tastes in the marketplace have increased consumer demand, obliging Switzerland’s manufactures to furnish a spate of newly designed chronographs—an effort that has cast a vivid light on these companies’ comparative capabilities with respect to classic watchmaking.
One of the factors contributing to these developments is the ubiquity of traditional, manual lateral-clutch chronographs in high-end watches. During the last several decades, breakthroughs in chronograph design have yielded self-winding rotors; heart-piece-limiter systems (as seen in ETA’s 7750 Calibre) that make the mechanism more durable and affordable; and, most recently, the vertical-clutch system, which improves the chronograph’s performance by delivering steadier hands and a more consistent amplitude. Despite these advancements, however, the sheer beauty of older movements and the desirability of the timepieces containing them continue to draw watch enthusiasts to classic models. The top watch companies, most of which strive to make as many parts as they can in-house—a particularly time-consuming and expensive endeavor—have scrambled to create new chronographs that appeal to collectors’ evolving sensibilities.
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