It shouldn’t be so, but Armin Strom has been at the periphery of our vision for a long time. The company have made its name with custom skeleton watches (especially the famous Omega Speedmaster Skeleton), and in 2008 began its journey to become a full manufacture. We kept them in the periphery because the movements they made have been classical interpretations (more about why this is so in the article). Until now. The new Mirrored Force Resonance is a technological tour de force, seeing a simple idea, executed well. And they are now the center of our focus.
Armin Strom: before and now
In the early days, Mr. Strom (yes there is one, he is 79 years old this year) began his road to fame mainly as a master skeletoniser of watches, making mainly custom unique pieces. He was also known as the master behind the Omega Speedmaster Skeleton. An example is this magnificent piece shown here.
In 2008, the the company was bought by Serge Michel, who as a boy had grown up as Armin’s neighbour and spent his childhood playing in the workshops. Armin had wanted to retire (he officially retired in 2011, but still remains as advisor to the company), so Serge invested in the company. He brought in Claude Greisler who was formerly with Christophe Claret and was responsible for complicated watches like the Girard Perregaux Opera and some of the GP Tourbillons. At Armin Strom, Claude is responsible for the construction and design and is the brains behind the movements.
One of the core principles of the “new” Armin Strom was that they invest in their own independence. This meant that they had to make their own plates, bridges, levers springs, wheels pinions and screws.
“We believe that only by making these parts on our own are we able to control the production process at all levels and bring a movement from idea to production. This is a key operating principle.” Serge Michel.
One of the design elements Claude had was to ensure that all the movements were modular, and featured interchangeable parts. This resulted in classical interpretations of the base movements, which is one of the reasons we have had Armin Strom in our periphery and not central to our vision. To date, they have created 11 in-house calibers to their name, ranging from time only watches to tourbillons, both manual and automatic winding, and also offered in their signature skeletonised versions.
The 11th caliber is set to change our focus and put them central. This is the ARF15, which is the Mirrored Force Resonance, a first breakthrough movement from their traditional, classical offerings thus far, and one which makes use of the strong base they have built.
We begin with an exploration on resonance and the historical timepieces which led to the Strom Mirrored Force Resonance wristwatch.
Huygens and the dual pendulums observation
The concept is simple. Its been around for a long time Christian Huygens, the inventor of the pendulum clock, who first noted the resonance phenomena in 1655. He was surprised to note that two pendulum clocks which normally would keep slightly different time nonetheless became perfectly synchronized when hung from a common beam. Modern researchers have confirmed his suspicion that the pendulums were coupled by tiny back-and-forth vibrations in the wooden beam.
Janvier and the demonstration in a pendulum clock and Breguet’s pocket watch
Antide Janvier then later incorporated this principle in his dual pendulum clock made in 1812. His contemporary Abraham Louis Breguet then made a pocket watch demonstrating the phenomena. Around 1810, Breguet made for Louis XVIII, King of France, a resonance regulator, presently displayed at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (National Conservatory for Arts and Crafts) in Paris. He also manufactured a second one for George IV, King of Great-Britain and Ireland and King of Hanover, now in London’s Buckingham Palace. He also made pocket watches applying the same principle in 1814. The first of these pocket watches was sold by Christie’s in May 14, 2012 in Geneva for CHF 4,339,000.
Journe and the Chronomètre à Résonance wristwatch
Then in 2000, François-Paul Journe made the first wristwatch to exhibit the resonance principle in the Chronomètre à Résonance. We reviewed the modern iteration of F.P. Journe Chronomètre à Résonance here. Journe achieved resonance by using aerodynamic drag. The balances are placed close to each other, and the coupling done through the air.
Strom Mirrored Force Resonance wristwatch
Claude set about to find another way to achieve this. The initial goal was to create a movement with a sense of animation in the front of the dial. And he set about to achieve this resonance using a coupling spring. Two and a half years of research went into the shape, type, style of the spring and finally the design emerged.
Instead of a fixed stud, each balance wheel is connected to one end of the clutch spring. As the balance beats, the beat frequency is communicated to the other, and in this way, resonance is achieved within minutes. Claude guarantees resonance, which can be observed visually (either by instruments or roughly by the naked eye) within 10 minutes. The Journe Resonance sometimes takes up to an hour to achieve resonance.
The spring is made in-house using a wire erosion machine from spring steel, and is held only at the two points as stud endings on the two balance springs.
The main advantage of a dual escapement system coupled by resonance is the improved stability of the rate. This might increase precision, and Claude explains that their standard regulator watches (like the Caliber AMW11 manual wind time only) is calibrated to -0/+12 s/day, the new double resonance system is able to offer a 30%-35% improvement similar to what they achieved with their tourbillon (Caliber ATC11).
Another advantage is the system becomes more resillient to outside shocks. An outside shock to the system which slows down one of the balances will increase the speed of the other by the same amount, as the balances are beating in a mirrored fashion. And through the resonance clutch spring, both balances will strive to return to resonance once knocked out. Thereby averaging and minimising the effects of the outside influence.
Armin Strom Mirrored Force Resonance wristwatch
The Strom Mirrored Force Resonance wristwatch looks very technical on initial approach. We do find this aesthetic quite appealing.
The case, dial and hands
The case is a classically round case with a tab on the bezel at 6 o’clock. Michel refers to this as the lip, and in the early Strom watches was where Armin had engraved the initials of the owners. They kept this design element as a signature, but leave it polished. The case of the Mirrored Force Resonance is in rose gold, a metal which Strom calls their Fire series. All their watches are offered in a limited edition of four series, viz Fire (rose gold), Water(stainless steel), Earth (stainless steel with black PVD) and Air (titanium). Currently the Mirrored Force Resonance is only available in the Fire Edition as a limited edition of 50 pieces. In the future the Water, Earth and Air Editions will also be offered.
Another characteristic of Armin Strom watches is the open dial. The brand only uses a dial ring, leaving the movement under the dial exposed. The hours and minutes are displayed in a subdial offset at 3 o’clock. Two 3-armed seconds hands run just left of 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock. Three arms are chosen to ensure that the hands are balanced around the pivot.
One seconds hand (lower) spins in a clockwise direction, the other (upper) anticlockwise. And left of those are the two balance wheels. Oscillating like mirror images, in opposing directions. A closer examination will reveal the resonance clutch spring vibrating from left to right at the same frequency as the balance wheels (25,200 bph).
The dial is black with Arabic applique markers. The hands are rather traditional, in a style which many hand suppliers call “Modern”. The hands are triangular shaped, tapering from the center to the tip. Near the end of the tip, the tapering takes a small step leaving the end of the hand like a needle pointer. The hands are in rose gold, and filled with luminous material.
A pusher is installed at the 2 o’clock position on the crown side. This pusher engages a lever to reset both seconds hands to zero. This is a simple cam/lever setup and is held in place by friction. Keeping the pusher plunged will stop the movement, but a push and release will reset the seconds hand such that one of its three arms is reset to zero. This allows the observer to see the effect of resonance keeping both trains beating at the exact same rate.
The movement: Strom ARF15
The movement is the ARF15, a 16′” movement which is developed and manufactured in-house. In keeping with traditional materials, which is a design choice Serge has elected to use, the plates and bridges are in brass and ruthenium plated. The balance wheel is also made in-house as is the resonance clutch spring. The balance spring is supplied by Precision Engineering, a company owned by the Moser Watch Holding.
The two trains are totally independent (other than the connection at the resonance clutch spring). And arranged such that the lower train (as seen from the dial side) runs in the classical clockwise fashion. As is customary, the canon pinion powers the minute hand. The upper train runs anti-clockwise. This can be seen in the seconds hand of both trains. The top tri-arm second hand runs anti-clockwise, and the lower one clockwise.
As described in the section above Resonance, the two balance wheels are connected at the hairsprings. The connection is through a special resonance clutch spring attached to the studs of the each escapement. This spring communicates the resonance information and allows both escapements to sense each other, eventually achieving resonance by beating in unison.
Interestingly, Strom does not use a standard issue Witschi machine to check the rate of the watch. The standard method to check the rate of a dual escapement watch is to stop one movement, and check the rate. Adjust. And repeat for the other. This procedure is used in the Dufour Duality and the MB&F LM2. Note the other difference is that both these movements use a differential to provide power from one wheel train to drive two escapements. Note also these balances do not exhibit resonance.
But this procedure cannot be used to check resonance as the Witschi will not recognise the double escapement beating, and attempt to merge the two beat curves into one, often averaging and ignoring synchronisation or otherwise.
A special optical system is used to check and ensure resonance. Interestingly, Serge and his team used the slow-mo video function of their iPhones to do the same before the arrival of the optical system. We are not clear how Journe checks their watches for resonance.
The resonance clutch spring provides the watch with some animation on the dial side. And it is quite mesmerising to watch. Observe the video we took of the balances operating below.
Movement finishing is quite nicely done, but without the decoration usually embelished on haute horlogerie watches in the upper echelons. We judge the finishing to be very competently executed, and are particularly pleased that different finishing techniques are applied to different surfaces to create a visually attractive aesthetic. However, it lacks the polish and elegance of a highly decorative movement, like the Dufour Simplicity or a typical Lange like the Datograph.
The Mirrored Force Resonance Fire has brought Armin Strom from the periphery of our field of interest right to the center. And playing at Center Court, they have done well. The animation created by the resonance clutch spring is quite mesmerising and perhaps worth the entry price. The counter spinning seconds hands, creating a mirrored look is equally attention grabbing. The concept and Strom’s chosen way to achieve forced resonance, while seemingly quite straightforward is pure genius. Not only visually, but also from a high engineering perspective.
On the wrist, it wears well. And is comfortable. Currently, there is no competition offering the same forced resonance double train wristwatch. The closest is the F.P. Journe Chronomètre à Résonance (S$ 109,500 for rose gold), but as mentioned uses air coupling to achieve resonance and takes longer for the phenomena to be achieved. The Journe is roughly similar in price to the Strom, and is offered with a movement which is 18k rose gold as opposed to rhuthenium plated brass.
Priced at S$ 102,500 (inclusive of GST) for the Fire Edition in rose gold limited to 50 examples.
Armin Strom Mirrored Force Resonance Technical specifications:
Case: 43.4mm diameter x 13.0mm thick – rose gold – sapphire crystal on the front and on the back with antireflective coating – 50m water resistant. Limited Edition Fire Series of 50 pieces.
Movement: AFR15 with manual winding – 48h power reserve – 25,200 vibrations/h – hours, minutes, twin seconds, two independent resonant regulators. 16’’’ ½ lines x 7.70mm. 226 parts.
Strap: horn-back alligator strap on pin buckle. A deployant buckle option in 18k rose gold is available as an option.
Price: S$ 102,500 inclusive of GST