Arnold & Son is a brand which can trace its origins way back to the heydays of English watchmaking. But the brand was revived in Switzerland, and other than the name and the inspiration from the namesake, it is by most counts a Swiss maison. They were currently owned by the Citizen, but continue to produce visually and technically interesting watches. Today we review the Arnold & Son Tourbillon Chronometer No. 36 – a tribute to the first chronometer built by John Arnold, though it takes the homage with quite a bit of liberty.
The British origins
John Arnold is perhaps one of the greatest British watchmakers. Born in 1736 in the Cornwall, the young John showed a great interest in precision engineering. His father was a watchmaker and his uncle was a gunsmith, and he turned out to be a talented craftsman. He chose the Netherlands as the place to complete his apprenticeship. There he learned not only the art of watchmaking but also the German language. In 1762, John Arnold opened his first workshop in London. He first received recognition when he managed to repair a repetition watch owned by a famous watch connoisseur.
In 1764, John Arnold presented to King George III a half-quarter repeater miniaturised in a ring. It was the smallest repeating watch ever made and still considered a technical tour de force to this day. This opened his atelier doors to the court’s wealthy clientele.
John Arnold was interested in the problems of determining the longitude, crucial for the maritime travelling. He was considered a rival to John Harrison, who had presented his H4 for the Longitude Prize in 1761. John presented his marine chronometer to the Board of Longitude in 1770. And received his first grant of £200 for continuing to improve the timekeeping.
In the next years, John Arnold’s chronometers were used by Admiral Harland in his way to Madagascar, by Captain Cook for the Pacific voyage. Captain Phipps used an Arnold chronometer to travel to the North Pole and George Robertson chose Arnold’s timekeeper to chart the China Sea. The chronometers supplied by Arnold’s workshop accompanied these famous explorers on their voyages of discovery. Even Napoleon Bonaparte himself was impressed with the works, and presented an Arnold clock to the Observatory of Milan in 1802.
In 1773, he invented the detent escapement and he produced the chronometer No. 8, his first pocket chronometer. 1775 was marked by Arnold’s patent for the helical spring and bimetallic balance.
Arnold Chronometer No 36
But perhaps the most important year of the Arnold & Son history was 1778 when the Arnold No. 36 was presented and reviewed at Greenwich. The timepiece was well received and acclaimed for its precision. Arnold used for the first time the word “chronometer” to describe a high accuracy watch. The Chronometer No.36 is the base inspiration for the watch released by the brand at Baselworld 2017 and which we review today.
In 1792 the Duke of Orleans introduced Arnold to the famous Abraham-Louis Breguet. Impressed by Breguet’s timepiece, Arnold travelled to Paris to meet him. They developed a close friendship that led to a strong collaboration between the two.
An example of this close collaboration is the invention of the tourbillon. Arnold had first developed the concepts of the Tourbillon, but Breguet was the one who finished the project after Arnold died in 1799. As a tribute to his friend, Breguet presented in 1808 his first Tourbillon to Arnold’s son. This was incorporated in an Arnold pocket chronometer, the Arnold No.11 watch. And was presented to Arnold post humously. The watch bears the inscription:
“The first Tourbillon timekeeper by Breguet incorporated into one of the first works of Arnold.
Breguet’s homage to the revered memory of Arnold, given to his son AD 1808.”
This watch is now part of the British Museum’s collection of clocks and watches.
John Roger Arnold, born in 1769, studied watchmaking with Breguet and his father. In 1796, father and son founded Arnold & Son company. They became the suppliers of the Royal Navy for the maritime chronographs. In 1820 John Roger patented the keyless winding system and a year later the “U”-type balance. John Roger Arnold died in 1843 and ‘Arnold & Son’ was purchased by Charles Frodsham, who is also another fabled English watchmaker. After Frodsham’s death, the company slipped into oblivion.
Until Eric Loth and his partners relaunched Arnold & Son, and other British brands under the banner The British Masters in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland in 1995. In May 2010, the brand was bought by La Joux-Perret. Arnold & Son became a fully integrated manufacturer, developing and producing all of its movements in-house. In March 2012, the watch manufacturer was acquired by Citizen.
Review: Arnold & Son Tourbillon Chronometer No. 36
The Chronometer No. 36 is a commemorative piece of the original “Arnold 36” released 240 years ago. The timekeeper was a significant accomplishment: the first pocket watch to use Arnold’s “T”-balance and the first to wear the “chronometer” appellation. The No.36 presents some resemblance to Arnold & Son Constant Force Tourbillon, reviewed last year.
The case, dial and hands
Arnold & Son Tourbillon Chronometer No. 36 comes in a relatively large 46mm 18-karat red gold or stainless steel casing. We salute the brand’s decision to release a version in steel. At the same time, it might be just the general trend of steel watches.
The case is graceful for its generous dimensions. At a first look, the layout looks complicated, but the basic design is simple and emphasises the dial and the movement. The case is overall highly polished, nicely matching the frost finish of the movement in a game of contrasts. The convex thin bezel has corresponding design elements on the lugs’ exterior. The body is convex also with a soft trapeze profile. These details raise enough the case’s complexity to deal with the dial’s complexity without spoiling the first impression. The almost flat onion-shaped crown is refined. The brand’s logo is laser engraved on a matte chapter ring at the peripheral.
The Tourbillon Chronometer No. 36 is a symmetry study. The dial, per se, is almost non-existent. The hour markers and minutes’ indication is realised using an inner bezel scale, NAC-treated and with applied rhodium indexes. The broadsword hands are faceted and polished. This decoration increases the legibility. The small seconds’ sub-dial is placed between 7 and 8 o’clock, symmetric to the tourbillon. The round scale forces a visual balance for the entire dial.
The one-minute tourbillon features a typically Arnold & Son three-spoke design being held by a skeletonized and mirror-polished top bridge. The tourbillon comprise of 58 components. The cage is dressed up with hand-chamfered and polished edges and circular satin-finished surfaces.
Since the hours and minutes’ scale is busy with the brand’s name and “Swiss Made” inscriptions, the “Arnold & Son Tourbillon” and “Certified Chronometer” are laser-engraved on the top double barrels.
The movement: A&S8600
Calibre A&S8600 is hand wound COSC certified, designed and developed in-house movement. The open work system is expressed on the front with the most important components. The decoration of choice for most of the surfaces is a satin finish obtained by sandblasting. This frosted matt finish is typical of English watches.
The frosted look is delicately interrupted by the chamfered and polished edges available on the bridges. The movement’s design follows the traditional English chronometers’ style with one bridge for each main element: barrels, wheels and for the tourbillon. There are 13 triangular bridges in total, placed in a multi-level layered composition. Somehow, these elements fill the watch face in a delightful complexity without being heavy or tedious. The double barrel system powers the 4hz tourbillon for up to 90 hours.
The A&S8600 is realised in nickel-silver and steel but it has the main plated and the bridges treated with 5N red gold. This decoration increases the movement’s attractiveness. The gold chatons fits perfectly the scene. Viewed from the back, the calibre presents the same sand-blasted surface on the main plate. The steel wheels of the gear train are excellent decorated. The back view “suffers” from the same perfectly balanced design as the front.
There are more small details that increase the movement’s charm and the watch deserves not only wrist time but also a close attention.
Some of our regular readers may wonder why we did not comment on one of our Chief Editor’s pet peeve list on movement design. The lack of sharp inward and outward points on the movement. This is perhaps partially vindicated that this is not an English tradition, and the traditional movements made by John Arnold feature rounded edges.
The Arnold & Son Tourbillon Chronometer No. 36 is mid-priced on the market. The red gold, Ref. 1ETAR.G01A.C112A has the recommended retail price of CHF 52,800 (VAT excl.) and the stainless steel, Ref.1ETAS.G01A.C112S – CHF 34,900 (VAT excl.) At these prices, it can be considered affordable, complying fully to our theory of #ComplicationsForLess.
The selection of tourbillon watches is generous on the market. We have made a selection of six different Tourbillon Watches from modern to classical for our Throwback Sundays’ article. But for today, we consider three.
For a direct comparison, we selected a modern and affordable piece – the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer-02T. It too features a vestigial dial which allow the entire movement to be visible. And it currently holds the title as the most affordable Swiss-made Tourbillon Chronograph available and it has a COSC certification. Priced at € 14,300, this sporty chronograph might be not cheap for a chronometer, but for a tourbillon, it is a game changer. Add the chronograph, and it becomes the value leader by a wide margin. The watch is packed in a 45mm diameter titanium case cover with sapphire crystal and a decent 100m water resistance. The dial is black, skeletonized with an interesting flying 1-minute tourbillon cage. TAG Heuer Calibre Heuer 02 Tourbillon lacks the usual magnificent finishes available for this type of watch in its effort to keep costs down. But as a sports watch, the look is appropriate.
Coming from the haute horologie corner this time, we field another value tourbillon: the Ulysse Nardin Marine Tourbillon Grand Feu with a magnificent enamel dial. Priced at CHF 28,000, it is a wonderful challenger. The movement is full in-house UN creation, automatic, and features a flying tourbillon. The dial is a true masterpiece, made by Donzé, one of the top grand feu enamel dial makers in the business.
Compared to the Arnold No36, the UN is more classical, with a full dial, with the traditional cutout for the tourbillon. Movement finishing style is different, but at a similarly high level to qualify as haute horogerie. In our full review, link here, we also compared it to the TAG, and concluded that though it is almost double the price of the TAG, it offers perhaps more value as the UN is done in the traditional haute horlogerie levels. The TAG remains the value leader for a Swiss made Tourbillon watch with chronograph, but will appeal to a different buyer.
At the other end of the value spectrum, so to speak, we selected a watch from our Chief Editor in his Best of the Indies 2017 Edition – lthe Jämes-César Pellaton Chronomètre Royal de Marine. You can read here a full review of this magnificent piece. Priced at CHF 298,000 before taxes for the white gold and red gold editions, the Chronomètre Royal de Marine is the costliest of all. However, along with this high rice, it comes with top class finishes and a distinguished movement. The unusual styling reminds of the pocket watches movements, in fact it is a rather faithful homage to the original Pellatons. The dial is a sapphire crystal with markings which are transfer printed in enamel. This lets the movement to be exposed to a critic’s eye. And the result is beyond reproach.
The Arnold & Son Tourbillon Chronometer No. 36 is a beautiful watch. Though the open worked dial may look complicated, the design is clean and open. The finishes are quite lavish, and we find its visual appeal to be very attractive. This is a watch which will always be a conversation starter and a reason of envy. At its price, the Arnold 36 is well situated on the market. The brand follows the trend of the day in offering a steel version. We cannot decide which one looks best since both have their own visual advantages, but if forced to choose, the steel version gets our nod, for its excellent value for money.
Arnold & Son Tourbillon Chronometer No. 36 Specification and Price
Recommended Retail Prices: Red gold case, CHF 52’800 (VAT excl.), Stainless steel case, CHF 34’900 (VAT excl.)
Type: mechanical manual winding movement
Dimensions: diameter 37.8 mm, thickness 5.9 mm
Power reserve: 90 hours, double barrel
Frequency: 4 Hz / 28’800, COSC certified
Functions: Hours, minutes, small seconds, 1-minute tourbillon
Material: 18-karat red gold or stainless steel
Dimensions of the case
Diameter: Ø 46 mm
Crystal: cambered sapphire with anti-reflective coating on both sides
Crown: 18-karat red gold or stainless steel
Caseback: see-through sapphire case back
Water resistance: 30m
Material: Hand-stitched brown or black alligator leather
Buckle: pin buckle matching case’s material
28 timepieces in each version
Red gold: 1ETAR.G01A.C112A
Stainless steel: 1ETAS.G01A.C112S