Ideas from different industries/sciences can lead to new materials, never used in watchmaking before. Sophisticated research (together with universities, institutes and so on) can push the limits of materials, parts or approaches in total even further; e.g. silicon balance wheels, carbon/ceramic/sapphire/… cases, titanium movements parts – to mention only a few. Of course, not all those final products can be rated as “pinnacle of watchmaking”, but in some cases at least the price is impressive.
(Examples of fine watchmaking crafts – from top left: polishing (Akrivia), sun burst decoration (Lange & Heyne), Cloisonnée enamel (Patek Philippe) and hammering (Greubel Forsey))
Who represents the very top of watchmaking?
Which brand or independent comes to your mind? Are you talking about their whole production or some pieces only? About 70 – 80 years ago there was a so called “holy trinity of watchmaking” – Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin. Back in those days the approaches to fine watchmaking have been quite similar. Even at the peak of classical watchmaking – almost the same traditional criteria, materials and production processes helped a lot come to a conclusion more easily. Today we have quite often complicated movements and/or cases, because of new possibilities. Watches can be produced in more different ways than ever before. Which processes, materials and so on are superior?
Even Chronometer competitions won´t help these days as timekeeping performance is only one part of the story; and looking at customers spending their money – it´s less important than ever before. One can find a certified Chronometer (even with modern silicon parts inside) for about € 1k and at the same time super fancy designed watches with unique cases, but no certified Chronometer inside for € 100k or even € 1 Million. In addition, most chronometer certifications require a constant seconds hand which make great a number of the finest watches inadmissible from start. A short and easy answer is almost impossible today, isn´t it.
Is the traditional way of watchmaking at its best (!) (still) superior to highly sophisticated contemporary watchmaking with new technologies, constructions, materials, processes, designs and so on? This begs the question whether ‘pinnacle’ equates to being at the absolute forefront of watchmaking technology (in the sense of a pacemaker), or whether it refers to the best (what is this?) possible execution, again to be differentiated into handicraft and aesthetics. The answers certainly differ according to chosen focus, or combinations thereof.
(Examples of chronometric excellence in watchmaking – from top left: Greubel Forsey, Zenith, Romain Gauthier and Ferdinand Berthoud)
What above notion demonstrates is that the fundamental quest to classify a brand to carry the ‘pinnacle’ designation is also one that constantly escapes objective appreciation. Let’s still give that a try, and for this we propose a selection of criteria to guide the evaluation: