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Review: Bovet Récital 20 Astérium

Hands-on analytical review with high resolution live photographs.
by Frank Chuo on October 16, 2017

Bovet Récital 20 Astérium

The new Bovet Récital 20 Astérium continues the scene previously set by its acclaimed predecessor, the Récital 18 Shooting Star, by reprising the characteristic shaped case to display a wealth of indications, astronomical or otherwise. What is more, the two timepieces form the two faces of a coin that represents time and space, two notions that are inextricably linked. For with these timepieces, Pascal Raffy and the Bovet watchmakers invite us to explore our world from two perspectives. While the watchmakers chose to soar above and offer a celestial view of our planet with its 24 time zones visible at a glance for the Shooting Star, they have returned to Earth for the Astérium and lifted their eyes to the skies. Here, we give you our thoughts on the Récital 20 Astérium, the newest member of Bovet’s Dimier collection.

 

The case, dial, and hands

The case of the Récital 20 Astérium measures a formidable 46 mm in diameter and 18.3 mm in thickness. In most dress pieces, these dimensions would be dismissed as comical – the Récital 20 Astérium, however, is an exception. If anything, its size is vindicated, even necessary to maximise the view of the ethereal dial and movement. Its wedge-shaped case (thinner at 6 o’clock, thicker at 12 o’clock) is the result of thoughtful design. Since the movement is terraced, not flat, it actually makes sense to use a sloped case. The unorthodox case shape which resembles a showcase also ameliorates wearability and makes the watch easier to read.

 

The Récital 20 Astérium has a case that resembles a showcase – very fitting given the amazing movement and displays encased within.

 

As eye-catching as the case is, the star of the show remains what’s inside it. Simply put, there’s a lot going on in the watch. One’s immediate attention will instinctively be drawn towards the dome of translucent blue quartz on which the stars and constellations visible from the Earth are mapped out and laser-engraved before being coated in Superluminova. To ensure utmost realism, the highest stars in the sky are depicted at the top of the dome while the lowest stars nearer to the horizon appear on the periphery of the display aperture. The numbers on the circumference of the dome mark the 24 hours of the day and yes, you’ve guessed it: the pointer on the dome serves as the 24-hour hand. In fact, the hour hand serves two other purposes: 1) it points to the north to facilitate map-reading, and 2) it carries the elliptical window that encompasses the visible portion of the night sky.

Adjacent to the quartz dome are two so-called “hemispheric indicators”. The one on the left indicates the equation of time and the phases of the moon while the one of the right indicates the power reserve and the minutes (via a retrograde hand). Meanwhile, the seconds hand is driven by Bovet’s patented double face flying tourbillon located at the 6 o’clock position.

 

It may not have a conventional dial, but the Récital 20 Astérium manages to present its wealth of displays in a cohesive manner.

 

If this was all there is to the Récital 20 Astérium’s functions and displays, it’d be considered a mighty impressive mechanical timepiece. The Bovet watchmakers however have taken a step further by housing more displays on the case back. What impressed us was the sheer amount of information that is pointed out by the single central hand. This hand, adorned with a hand-engraved golden sun, is driven by the annual calendar and therefore completes a rotation once a year (or as the Earth completes a full revolution around the sun). The annual calendar dates are graduated on the case back bezel while the months are listed on the sapphire crystal. Moving inwards, indications for zodiac signs (and their corresponding constellations), the seasons, as well as the solstices and equinoxes can be found.

 

Using an annual calendar based on the sidereal year, the vast real estate of the case back, and just a single hand, the Récital 20 Astérium is able to indicate the date, month, zodiac sign, season and equinox/solstice.

The movement

The Récital 20 Astérium is powered by the hand-wound Calibre 17DM02-SKY. The movement has 10 days of autonomy when fully wound and beats at a traditional 18,000 vph. To minimise their burden on the power reserve, the moon phase and power reserve domes, as well as the quartz night sky dome, are adjusted by patented variable micrometric bearing-blocks composed of ruby runners. This mechanism is highly energy-efficient and its worth has already been proven in the Récital 18 Shooting Star. The patented double face tourbillon which regulates the Récital 20 Astérium is equipped with a variable inertia balance wheel. The six collets distributed along the surface of the felly help refine dynamic adjustment for even better chronometry. Once adjusted, each balance wheel is carefully selected and paired with the balance-spring with which it will form the best possible pairing.

The movement layout of the Récital 20 Astérium is a genuinely amazing sight to behold. The tourbillon carriage wheel is on the same level as the plate. Two levels of bridges then fan out from the center of the tourbillon carriage. The upper bridges are screwed to the bottom level by hand-polished pillars. Finally, the three domes overlook the entire movement, offering a panoramic view of time and space in a way that is exceedingly poetic.

 

Bold and original, the tiered design and construction of the movement is itself worthy of praise.

 

The annual calendar in the Récital 20 Astérium follows the sidereal year – a sidereal year is the duration of a complete Earthly orbit, or 365.25 days. The indications of the Récital 20 Astérium are thus governed by an annual calendar calculated on a 365.25-day cycle to reflect the real duration of one full terrestrial orbit. Rapidly setting the annual calendar with the crown disconnects the hours and minutes hands, and enables both the position of the night sky and thus all sidereal information to be adjusted both quickly and easily. To do this, the wearer simply moves the central hand forward until it reflects the correct date before adjusting the time with the crown in its middle position. This operation takes far less time than adjusting a perpetual calendar would, and does not require a corrector.

The finishing and decoration of the movement matches its ingenuity and innovative structure. The manufacture has opted to decorate the surface of the bridges and plate with a special engraving technique. The surface demonstrates all the finesse of graining and all the brilliance of a ‘bris de verre’ motif. The chiselled look is reminiscent of the tremblage engraving found on A. Lange & Söhne ‘Handwerkskunst’ timepieces. It contrasts sublimely with the framework of polished angles tracing the contours of the bridges. Not forgetting as well the mesmerising tourbillon: the arches on the bridge of the titanium carriage are all rounded-off and polished by hand – their design is suggestive of a Gothic vault.

 

Whether or not the tourbillon in the Récital 20 Astérium improves (or disrupts) chronometry is not known. There is, however, no doubting that its mesmerising dance adds visual impact to an already surreal timepiece.

The competitive landscape

The Bovet Récital 20 Astérium will be produced in a limited series of 60 pieces across all versions (red gold, white gold or platinum), including requests for unique pieces. The price to own this masterpiece? A cool CHF335,000. Given the ingenious construction and technicality of the movement, we can’t say we’re surprised. When it comes to astronomical/calendrical watches, the Récital 20 Astérium is up there in the stratosphere. However, we’re not suggesting that there aren’t any competitors lurking nearby – because there are.

 

The asking price of the Récital 20 Astérium is by no means grocery money, but when its artistry and complexity is given due consideration, the price of Bovet’s latest masterpiece becomes slightly more palatable.

 

The Patek Philippe Sky Moon Celestial Ref. 6102 is another fine example of an astronomy-themed timepiece that sits in the pantheon of horology. Within the sizeable 44 mm case is a dial that is made of three metalised sapphire cyrstal discs – one blackened to represent the night sky, one for the phases and orbit of the moon, and one which depicts the sky chart on the front side and the Milky Way on the other. Two triangle pointers on the sky chart indicate the time of meridian passage of the moon and of Sirius, the brightest star in the Earth’s night sky. The sapphire crystal on top of the dial is printed with an elliptical contour that frames the portion of the sky visible from Geneva at any given time. All the astronomical complications in the Ref. 6102 are beautifully displayed and incredibly precise. While the design and finishing of the Calibre 17DM02-SKY are more contemporary, they are more grounded and traditional in the Calibre 240 LU CL C that powers the Ref. 6102. The Ref. 6102 in rose gold is priced at CHF250,000 – CHF85,000 less than the Récital 20 Astérium. This is to be expected given the greater complexity of the Récital 20 Astérium. Nevertheless, the Ref. 6102 remains a royally poetic and romantic timepiece, as well as a dressier alternative to the Récital 20 Astérium.

 

The use of multiple layers of sapphire crystal to form the dial of the Ref. 6102 confers a mesmerising sense of depth to the timepiece.

 

A discussion of ultra-high end astronomical watches would not be complete without mentioning the new Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication. Indeed, it is unfair to compare the Patek or the Bovet to the Celestia as it is: 1) a piece unique, 2) the most complicated Vacheron Constantin watch ever, with 23 complications, and 3) worth well over CHF1,000,000. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see what a “no holds barred” astronomical timepiece is like. Some of the Celestia’s two dozen complications include a perpetual calendar, moon phase, tide level, running equation of time, sunrise/sunset time, length of day/night, seasons/solstices/equinoxes/zodiac signs, sky chart, sidereal time, and of course power reserve. The best part about the watch is that it is not impossibly large. At 45 mm in diameter and 13.6 mm in thickness, it is still much smaller compared to many Hublots and APs. As one of the key pieces of SIHH this year, the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication successfully provided a riveting display of might and intent on behalf of the Grand Dame of haute horlogerie.

 

Enter the Vacheron Constantin Les Cabinotiers Celestia Astronomical Grand Complication, the most complicated Vacheron Constantin wristwatch ever made.

Concluding thoughts

Timepieces like the Bovet Récital 20 Astérium are rare to come by, but when they do, they are greeted by the “oohs” and “ahhs” of adulating watch enthusiasts. This is a watch of remarkable aesthetics and design, and immense mechanical complexity – the perfect blend of beauty and brains. We feel that the Récital 20 Astérium is a step up from its predecessor, the Récital 18 Shooting Star, so we can only imagine what’s in store for next year. You never know, coming from Bovet. The only thing we can be sure of is that it will be outlandish and unexpected, as well as awe-inspiring, just as the Récital 20 Astérium is.

 

On the wrist, the Bovet Récital 20 Astérium is sure to catch the attention of and charm all who chance upon it. Resistance is futile.

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