We had previously covered the Torsti Laine chronograph in our Valjoux 22 feature and since the Finnish watchmaker was in town today, Deployant decided to get our hands on the hand-finished labour of love while getting exclusive details from the creator of his namesake chronograph.
The Laine Chronograph is like a Greatest Hits Album
In the highly competitive field of independent watchmaking, how does a relatively unknown watchmaker make an impact with his first chronograph? It was a question that Torsti Laine asked himself and he found his answer in some of the industry’s most beloved horological icons.
Much work is done to create new components for the new chronograph. In the photograph below, the red arrows indicate the new and modified parts which are made by Laine.
Visual and technical cues from Longines 13zn chronograph calibre
Prior to the creation of the Datograph, the Longines 13zn arguably held the position of world’s most beautiful chronograph. He started wondering what in particular did collectors find so attractive and noteworthy of that calibre; What he discovered was a technical rarity of the era, Manufacture Longines (yes, they made in-house movements back in the day) had designed an additional wheel bridge to aid in more efficient gear transmission of power to the chronograph mechanism. Taking the same visual and technical cues from the famed 13zn calibre, Laine created a second wheel bridge set higher to support a classical clutch in his unique interpretation of the Valjoux 22.
That said, it’s to be noted that in actual use of the chronograph, the technical improvements are a theoretical one but in function, chronograph actuation is neither smoother nor perceptibly better. However, all things considered, Mr. Laine has designed the movement to be robust from a servicing and adjustment (at least for the two wheels) perspective.
In addition, Laine has taken great pains to turn the simple construction of the Valjoux 22’s minute counter finger into one which not only increases aesthetic dramatism but also is a technical improvement: where the original used to have a thin 0.05mm spring and attachment point (screw point) in one piece which lent itself to ease of manufacture, it was an easy component to break in the hands of an inexperienced or careless watchmaker. Torsti Laine turned that into a multi-part assembly by following design cues from old Longines movements like the 13zn and created a separate finger and separate spring of 0.03mm with two eccentric studs so that it became possible to adjust location of finger and power delivery from the spring separately. In doing so he made the spring blade easily replaceable.
“Kari (Voutilainen) is a god to Finnish watchmakers.” – Torsti Laine on some of the rationale behind choices for his decoration techniques
A dash of Minerva’s Devil’s Tail
Take close look at vintage Minerva chronograph calibres (or the new, highly desirable Montblanc ones) and you will notice the devil’s tail. With such a muse, Laine makes great effort to ensure each of his springs have added ‘Laine signature flourish’ of a scorpion’s barb and while the effect isn’t as dramatic as Minerva’s execution, it’s evident that the watchmaker has paid attention to many significant details.
Maximising visual appeal at the heart of the Valjoux 22
For the more astute observer, you’d discover as we did, that the Laine Chronograph bears a slightly bigger balance wheel than from the standard valjoux 22. This is because Laine paid extra attention to the balance assembly and hairspring.
Originally, he wanted to use a titanium balance (such a material would allow for a larger balance wheel without the detriment of additional weight) but having discovered that Swatch Group and owned the patent via Breguet, Laine resorted to using standard copper-beryllium (Glucydur) construction. In terms of technical specificity, each Laine Chronograph is adjusted to meet +/- 10 seconds per day, acknowledging that chronometre standards are difficult to reach on his restored old Valjoux 22 movements.
There is no doubt, given the sum of aesthetic improvements (both to his in-house and stock components) including graining and hand bevelling with mirror anglage, Laine’s valjoux 22 is seductive right down to the black polished screws. However, the real draw is the face for the modernist yet classical Laine chronograph.
Dials from Voutilainen’s Combleminé factory
He mentions that fellow Finnish watchmaker Kari Voutilainen is somewhat of a rock star in his native watchmaking community and it is this respect that has led the indie watchmaker to the doors of Combleminé. The multi-layered dial is Laine’s own concept and design and it was Combleminé which he trusted to execute that vision. Interestingly, the typography of the numerals standout thanks to the curious interpretation of Breguet style numerals, it’s almost as if he took the standard Breguet numerals and had them in bold instead of in italics. It is this author’s opinion that the numerals almost have that “F.P. Journe” vibe going for it.
Final Word on the Laine Chronograph
It’s a travelling chronograph used by Laine to demonstrate his proof of concept and it’s important to note that any minute scratches and blemishes visible in our macro-photographs are the result of daily wear. In operation of the chronograph, we found that chronograph does not precisely snap back to zero, this could be a deal breaker to some but again, it’s important to remember that we are reviewing a prototype of the Laine Chronograph.
That said, pricing could be make or break point for many collectors. Priced at CHF 29,000 for the steel Laine chronograph, we felt that it would be up against heavy competition from vintage Vacheron Constantin ref. 4178 driven by the calibre 434 (also derived from the Valjoux 22), these are competitively priced given the auction prices of CHF21,000 to CHF40,000. When queried on his pricing, Laine admitted that he factored costs in relation to what other independent watchmakers were charging and the time spent decorating it. While it could potentially be argued that Laine used modern techniques possibly unavailable to watchmakers like Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin from the era, it’s highly unlikely that the world’s top watchmakers can be too far off in terms of decoration even 50 years ago.