Sunday, October 25

Review: Atelier de Chronométrie (AdC) #88

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Atelier de Chronométrie (AdC) #88

Speak of fine watches and your mind wanders towards the general vicinity of Switzerland – maybe Germany and Japan too if you’ve been in the hobby for long enough. Household names like Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, and Audemars Piguet continue to dominate the landscape. But sometimes it’s good to look abroad, because good work in fine watchmaking is also being done elsewhere.

About 800 km southwest of Geneva is the city of Barcelona, typically known for its architecture, food, and football, among other things. Sadly, fine watchmaking isn’t one of those things – but two men and a lady are hoping to change that. Forming the core team of Barcelona watchmaker Atelier de Chronométrie (AdC) are co-founders Santiago Martinez, Moebius Rassmman, and Montse Gimeno. As AdC, their vision is to bring back haute horlogerie as we know it from its heyday. AdC watches are characterised by their timeless looks, drawing inspiration from pre-war aesthetics. In our opinion, the AdC watch that most perfectly encapsulates the brand’s image is the simple but immaculate AdC #88, first introduced in 2018.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The case of the AdC #88 measures 37 mm in diameter. This is interesting because depending on which era in time you are from, the watch could either be considered oversized or small. In the 1930’s, the period from which the AdC #88 draws inspiration from, anything above 35 mm (which is already plenty generous) would be considered oversized. Today, on the other hand, anything less than 40 mm would be considered classical in proportion, and even small by some collectors. We personally feel that the 37 mm case size is perfect as it meets the size expectations for a dress watch today. Any larger, and the purists would hate it; any smaller, and the non-purists wouldn’t wear it. The clearly demarcated three-part case is made out of stainless steel with a distinctly flattened bezel and elongated lugs. Of course, it is also beautifully finished with a contrasting mix of satin and high polish finishes.

The AdC #88 boasts a captivating design. Highlights include the vintage-inspired sector dial, the flat bezel, and the hands that are shaped like pen nibs.

The dial design of the AdC #88 has got the best of both the vintage and contemporary worlds. We love the sector dial design of the watch, a look that is taken from the pre-war era. The way the Arabic numeral hour markers are laid out is striking, with ‘3’, ‘9’ and ’12’ in a larger, bolder font. The large seconds sub-dial at 6 o’clock provide not just a visual break on the dial, but also a textural one; it’s not obvious in the photograph, but the sub-dial is engine-turned with a concentric circular pattern. To balance out the vintage-inspired design of the dial, this particular variant of the AdC #88 has a modern black galvanic gilt dial. If you prefer a full vintage affair, the dial also comes in a more traditional galvanic silver. We have to say, though, that the real highlight of the dial is, in fact, the hands. They have a fairly interesting shape to them, like if the sword and leaf hands had a love child. Rendered in white gold, these hands have been perfectly rounded and polished to a blinding sheen – a sheer pleasure to behold.

The Movement

If the hands were the highlight of the dial, then the movement is the highlight of the entire watch. Driving the AdC #88 is an overhauled movement based on the Omega Calibre 266. It has a power reserve of 38 hours – which is not surprising for a calibre originating from the mid-1900s – and operates at 21,600 bph, upgraded from its original 18,000 bph frequency for better precision. Other technical upgrades to the movement include a new free sprung balance wheel regulated by six masselottes made in rose gold, an own fourth wheel, and a lowered escape wheel bridge made of carbon steel.

The upgraded Omega Calibre 266 that powers the AdC #88.

Beyond improving the technical specifications of this decades old Omega calibre, AdC has also gone all out in finishing the movement to haute horlogerie standards. According to AdC, 44 new components in the movement are completely handmade without CNC milling machines. The rest of the parts, which belong in the original Omega calibre, are modified and decorated by hand using artisanal tools and methods. And indeed, the aesthetics of the movement is nothing short of artisanal. Many of the finishing techniques that have been used are evident through the exhibition case back, including black polishing on the screws and escape wheel bridge; gold plating on the wheels to prevent corrosion; beveling; sharp inward and outward anglage; perlage on the main plate; and of course, frosting on the plates, bridges, and cocks. By every definition of the word, the finissage on this movement is superlative.

The Competitive Landscape

The independents segment of watchmaking focusing on exceptional finishing is getting more competitive by the day. You’ve got the old grandmasters like Philippe Dufour and Kari Voutilainen, then you also have the new blood with the likes of AkriviA and, of course, AdC. AdC does differentiate itself from most of the rest in that the manufacture overhauls vintage movements, and is priced less than the watches from the aforementioned manufactures. The AdC #88 is priced at EUR38,000, which is still a lot for a time-only stainless steel watch with a movement that isn’t in-house developed. But given the extent of hand-applied finissage and craftsmanship that anoint the watch, the pricing is justifiable. It bears mentioning, however, that the EUR38,000 price tag is more of a guide as AdC are open to client customisation; the final price is fixed according to customer requirements.

In spite of being only 37 mm in diameter, the AdC #88 has presence on the wrist.

At around the same price range as the AdC #88 is the Credor Eichi II. Credor is by no means an independent brand; in fact it belongs to one of the biggest watch companies in the world: Seiko. As such, they are in a better position to keep prices lower than the average independent brand. Nevertheless, the Eichi II is worth talking about because it is packed with horological goodness. Apart from its porcelain dial, flame-blued hands, and hand-painted indices, the Calibre 7R14 that drives the watch is a masterclass in craftsmanship. We love the wide polished bevels on the edges of the plates, the openworked mainspring barrel featuring the motif of the bellflower, and those large heat-blued screws. Oddly enough, the movement deliberately avoids inward angles, which is a shame from an artisanal perspective. That oddity aside, every inch of the Eichi II is sublime; no fan of the watchmaking arts can say no to it, especially given its fair pricing of around SGD52,000.

For something truly exceptional, look no further than the AkriviA’s Chronomètre Contemporain. Nevermind the lustrous enamel dial or the full-bodied hands, it is the movement at the back that shook the world when the watch was introduced for the first time two years back. The Calibre RR-01 that drives the Chronomètre Contemporain is what Geneva Seal movements dream they could look like. The movement is so well-finished that it evokes comparison to Philippe Dufour’s Simplicity. Filled with a multitude of sharp inward and outward angles, stunning polished bevels, and some of the best Geneva waves ever executed, the sight of the movement is enough to make a grown man tear up. The openness of the movement architecture is unparalleled, culminating in the atypical rounded bridge that secures the centre wheel. Have we mention that this movement looks great? Priced at about CHF55,500, the Chronomètre Contemporain is the most expensive timepiece of the three. But really, considering what you get for the money, it is no wonder the Chronomètre Contemporain is so highly coveted by connoisseurs (and is almost certainly sold out).

Final Thoughts

If you don’t mind the lack of an in-house movement, or love the fact that it has an overhauled vintage Omega movement, or are a big fan of high-finishing, then the AdC #88 is for you. The retro-contemporary design of the watch is very attractive and well-executed, and for a watch that is produced in such a small scale, its pricing is fairly reasonable. The future appears bright over at AdC, given the trajectory that the brand is headed. Perhaps one day AdC will manufacture its own movements (which seems like a reasonable goal), but until then, the Barcelona brand will just have to awe the watchmaking world with its impressive capabilities in design and finissage.

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3 Comments

  1. Chia-Ming Yang on

    I agree all three watches mentioned in this article are at the top level of time-only watches. I believe most people won’t regret after owning any of them regarding the craftsmanship and details. I’ve owned the Eichi II for nine months and I am just falling for it more and more.

    • Hi Chia-Ming,

      Thank you for your comment. Indeed, there is so much to love about the Eichi II. The artisans and watchmakers at Seiko’s Micro Artist Studio deserve a pat on the back.

    • Chia-Ming Yang on

      I always feel them like a combination of independent watchmakers’ craftsmanship and big brands’ longevity/support.