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Fearful Symmetry: Customising the Valjoux 22 chronograph

by Jonathan Ho on July 24, 2016

With the wealth of watch knowledge and the perpetuation of certain marketing campaigns, “in-house” or “manufacture” movements have become the be all and end all of watchmaking for the novice collector. But for the more astute collector, an ‘outsourced’ movement can be transfigured into something else entirely – enter the Valjoux 22.

 

In the footsteps of giants with Valjoux 22

Originally designed for pocket watches, the Valjoux 22 was a predecessor to its more famous compatriot, the Valjoux 71 (and subsequently Valjoux 72), which added an hour counter in addition to the 22’s twin sub-seconds and minute counters. Produced from 1914 through 1974; It’s a venerable movement with one of the longest histories of service and driving some of the world’s most classic chronographs.

Father of the legendary calibre 72 ( 40 years service from 1938), the Valjoux 22 is the older yet tragically less famous (to novice collectors) movements of the two. Yet, for six decades, the 22 was a dependable, robust calibre used by the top names of the era.

 

1942 Vacheron Constantin Ref 4072 Cal. 434

 

Vacheron Constantin modified the venerable Valjoux 22 into the Cal. 434, manual winding nickel lever movement for use in their Ref. 4072 chronograph. Image: Sothebys.

Vacheron Constantin modified the venerable Valjoux 22 into the Cal. 434, manual winding nickel lever movement for use in their Ref. 4072 chronograph. Image: Sothebys.

 

Given the popularity of gold chronographs during the era, stainless steel chronographs like this Vacheron Constantin Ref 4072 Cal. 434 were produced in smaller quantities thus leading to its current desirability today. Furthermore, while telemeter scales are often treated as a design element today, the feature was often specially requested by doctors of the era.

 

Close up macro of how Vacheron Constantin modified and finished the Cal. 434. This movement came from the Ref 4178 specifically. Image: Watch Exchange London

Close up macro of how Vacheron Constantin modified and finished the Cal. 434. This movement came from the Ref 4178 specifically. Image: Watch Exchange London

 

1947 Rolex chronograph ref. 2508 Anti-Magnetic

 

Due to Valjoux’s pocket watch intentions for the calibre 22, most chronographs of the era wore larger than the average wristwatch from the same period. The Rolex chronograph ref. 2508 was a relatively large 35mm wristwatch important for two reasons – as a predecessor to the famoux pre-Daytona Valjoux 72 chronograph and for its incorporation of anti-magnetic soft iron shielding.

 

Due to the ubiquity of Valjoux 22 movements and the availability of spare parts, the ref. 2508 and other Rolex chronographs using the same base movement are the 2nd most replicated Rolex next to the Submariner.

Due to the ubiquity of Valjoux 22 movements and the availability of spare parts, the ref. 2508 and other Rolex chronographs using the same base movement are the 2nd most replicated Rolex next to the Submariner. Image: Chrono24

 

From the 20s to the mid 80s, Rolex would use Valjoux ebauches like the 14 lines 22 and the smaller 13 lines Valjoux 23 (both twin subdial chronographs) and eventually, they would switch to the Valjoux 72c. That said, Rolex made very few modifications and in terms of high horology, Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe made such modifications and finishing that the final raw chronograph calibres resembled nothing which left the Valjoux assembly line.

 

1954 Breguet Type 20 Chronograph

 

In 1954, Breguet was commissioned to produce Type 20 military chronographs for all branches of the French military: Armée de l’air (Air Force), Marine Nationale (Naval Army) and Centre d’essais en vol (Flight Tests Center) or CEV.

In 1954, Breguet was commissioned to produce Type 20 military chronographs for all branches of the French military: Armée de l’air (Air Force), Marine Nationale (Naval Army) and Centre d’essais en vol (Flight Tests Center) or CEV. Image: Vesper and Co.

 

In the mid 50s and still based in France, Breguet produced 2000 models of the 40mm Type 20 watches using a Valjoux 22 movement with one important addition – a flyback module, designating the modified movement- Valjoux 222. Due to the necessity of producing such quantities for the French military, Breguet worked with Mathey-Tissot to assemble the watches. Eventually, Breguet would take the concept to the civilian markets but in a three register edition. If you happen to be shopping for one, the military versions had casebacks engraved  “Breguet, Type 20, 5101/54” for the contract number and year. It was only in the 90s that Breguet would re-introduce the brand icon as the Type XX (roman for 20).

 

This immaculate history of service in iconic movement in service in illustrious chronographs bring us up to the latest use the Valjoux 22:

 

Introducing Torsti Laine’s Valjoux 22 Chronograph project

 

The Laine Chronograph is an appealing option for watch, art, and history enthusiasts alike, promising the unique opportunity to own a highly finished yet tragically underrated calibre.

The Laine Chronograph is an appealing option for watch, art, and history enthusiasts alike, promising the unique opportunity to own a highly finished yet tragically underrated calibre.

 

Based in Le Locle, watchmaker Torsti Laine is a recent recipient of the Lange Watchmaking Excellence Award 2014. Having worked with the renowned A. Lange & Sohne in Germany and Voutilainen in Switzerland, Laine has decided to put the sum of his experience and prowess into his namesake Laine Chronograph; attempting to continue the legacy of Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe, and Jaeger-LeCoultre.
Laine’s process includes the thorough restoration of original movements and the in-house creation of 38 new parts, including 5 bridges, 4 springs, a new coupling clutch assembly, and a pristine balance wheel made of copper beryllium with 4 adjustable, white gold inertia weights. Each Laine Chronograph also features a free-sprung balance spring with a hand bent Phillips terminal curve.

Laine’s process includes the thorough restoration of original movements and the in-house creation of 38 new parts, including 5 bridges, 4 springs, a new coupling clutch assembly, and a pristine balance wheel made of copper beryllium with 4 adjustable, white gold inertia weights. Each Laine Chronograph also features a free-sprung balance spring with a hand bent Phillips terminal curve.

 

The Laine Chronograph follows in some very giant footsteps and with clear intention not to simply mimic the masters, Torsti Laine’s Valjoux 22 project sees the modification of 38 new parts including copper beryllium balance wheel with adjustable white gold inertia weights, free breathing breguet spiral, 5 bridges, 4 springs and a completely new coupling clutch assembly.

One of the reasons why Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin Valjoux 22 chronographs are so sought after is because of the improvements made by them over the original Valjoux 22. The original ebauche was never designed for beauty. Laine also attempts to improve on the original Valjoux 22 by decorating the movement by using the techniques he learnt when he was in Lange and Voutilainen. He also attempts to technical improvements to the movements.

As an example, he shows his understanding of the psychology of the obsessive watch collector by paying extra attention to the balance assembly and hairspring. In his mind, a free sprung balance wheel with adjustable gold weights and raised Phillips curve hair spring represents the highest level of dedication from an artisan both in aesthetic and technical terms.

The dial and case making are beyond the scope of a small watchmaker but they are nevertheless completely designed by the man himself. The dials are produced by a dial factory Combleminé which is owned by Kari Voutilainen. And the cases of the are finished and polished by Laine. A labour of love, the first two Laine Chronographs took 12 months to complete although Laine promises subsequent editions would take less than three months per watch.
We are keen to get our hands on a sample to examine these claims ourselves, and will bring you a analytical review with high resolution photographs when we do. In the meantime, more information on his website here.

Laine Chronograph customisation options and price

Manually wound heavily modified 18000 bph Valjoux 22 chronograph movement with 38 in-house components is available colors are dark grey, red gold, yellow gold and rhodium. While the 1.5 mm thick three dimensional dial is available in 20 color options accompanied by white lacquer sub dials (guess maybe a future edition in enamel if this does well). Prices for the Laine Chronograph start CHF 29000+vat in stainless steel and CHF 36000+vat in red gold.

 

 

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