Review: Crystal Writing Desk – The Bovet Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One

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Bovet Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One

The tourbillon, with its hypnotic dance, is usually the focus of attention, the star of the show, the belle of the ball. It would take something more extraordinary to peel someone’s eyes away from that spinning contraption we all love. Luckily for Bovet, they are the masters of the extraordinary. This year, the brand takes its writing desk-inspired case to the next level and incorporates it in a most stunning way. Enter, the Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The true novelty of the Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One resides in its case. With a case crafted (almost) entirely out of sapphire crystal, the watch is Bovet’s most naked yet – nothing is left to the imagination. Sapphire crystal is chosen as a case material, first and foremost, because of its transparency. Whether or not it is to one’s taste, a sapphire crystal case is always a visual spectacle. Being one of the hardest materials on Earth, sapphire crystal is also virtually scratch-proof. This amazing quality is, however, balanced out by its brittleness. What this means is that while the case wouldn’t scratch upon abrasion on most surfaces, a strong enough impact would shatter it. One would be wise not to drop the Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One on an uncarpeted floor. Another property of sapphire crystal that is less talked about is its lightness. Anyone who has owned a titanium-cased watch will tell you how bizarre it feels on the wrist; in the immortal words of Ned Flanders from The Simpsons: “feels like I’m wearing nothing at all!”. Now imagine wearing a watch encased in sapphire crystal, whose density is lower than titanium. In defense of the Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One, lightweight cases tend to work best with complicated watches. Due to increased number of parts, complicated watches often weigh much more and tend to become top heavy on a wrist. Moreover, the Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One isn’t exactly a small in size. Measuring 48 mm x 15.5 mm, the watch is as big as it gets; the weight reduction from the use of sapphire crystal (instead of gold) in the case significantly improves wearability.

With the bezel inclined at 6 o’clock, the case resembles a writing slope – now a signature design of Bovet’s. While sapphire cases have been in use for many years, their designs have, up to present, remained relatively simple due to machining and polishing constraints posed by the freakishly hard material. The asymmetric profile of the writing slope case would have posed a sizable challenge for engineers to overcome. The only elements of the exterior that aren’t made of sapphire are the back bezel, the lugs, and the crown, all of which are rendered in grade 5 titanium.

The writing slope design of the case allows the movement to be assembled in tiers.

There are two dial options available: the first is a see-through blue quartz dome (as seen in our photographs); the second, made of blackened aluminium, resembles the blades of a jet engine. The time is marked by Arabic numerals in white print and indicated by three-dimensional, gold hour and minute hands. Everything else that is seen on the watch face is technically part of the movement.

Legibility is not a strong point of the watch. Visibility of every component of the timepiece, however, is excellent.

The Movement

Driving the Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One is the in-house Calibre 17DM04-SMP. The movement boasts an impressive ten-day power reserve off of just one mainspring barrel – this, in spite of running numerous power-consuming mechanisms. One such mechanism is the patented double face flying tourbillon, situated at the 6 o’clock position. Rendered in gold, the cage with its pronged design resembles the sun. Within it is a variable inertia balance that beats at a lazy 2.5 Hz, typical for a tourbillon-regulated movement in order to reduce energy consumption. Always worth noting is the fact that Bovet makes its own hairsprings, something that exceedingly few manufacturers can claim about themselves.

Finissage on the golden tourbillon is sublime.

The Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One features three complications that are displayed around the dial. The first is the big date, positioned at 8 o’clock and can be seen through a circular aperture. The second is the power reserve indicator, displayed via a printed cam at the 4 o’clock position. Last but not least (though certainly the least practical), there is also the double-hemisphere moon phase display at 12 o’clock whose dome’s camber stands out against the curvature of the dial. The lunar dome’s surface is engraved for added realism, and the engraved bits are filled with Superluminova. The sky on the dome is expressed through the use of two circular aventurine glass plates.

From a finishing perspective, the Calibre 17DM04-SMP is half modern, half traditional, but all parts amazing. The most decorated part of the movement is perhaps the tourbillon cage, with all of its prongs expertly rounded and polished. The edges of the bridges are evenly beveled and polished, while their top surfaces are adorned with a frosted finish. Not a single component is left untouched by the finisseur’s tools.

Case back view of the Calibre 17DM04-SMP.

The Competitive Landscape

Bovet watches have always been more akin to sculpted art than timepiece. The Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One is no exception. It is a smooth blend of traditional watchmaking and modern manufacturing like only Bovet knows how. Unsurprisingly, a timepiece of this calibre would command a premium. Limited to 60 movements, the Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One is priced at CHF295,000.

No use trying to slip this behemoth under a dress cuff. The good news: it is meant to be exhibited in its full glory.

Sapphire-cased, tourbillon watches are a rarefied breed of timepieces even today. As such, there are only a handful (quite literally) of specimens around in the market for comparison. The Hublot Big Bang Tourbillon Power Reserve 5 Days Sapphire is one such specimen. Like the Bovet, the Hublot features a flying tourbillon and a power reserve display. But when it comes to transparency, the Hublot takes the cake. The dial – or what’s left of it anyway – is made of resin, while the main plate and bridges of the Calibre HUB6016 that powers the watch are crafted in acrylic. The result is a timepiece that looks absolutely surreal. The watch may look cheap and plasticky in photographs, but it is in fact quite the looker in real life, and feels like a treat on the skin. For those who just want a sapphire-themed tourbillon watch but aren’t willing to pay Bovet prices, the Hublot Big Bang Tourbillon Power Reserve 5 Days Sapphire is a serious alternative, because at USD148,000, it is half the price of the Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One. If you’re a finishing and craftsmanship fiend, it might be best to stick to brands like Bovet. Or perhaps MB&F if you’re looking for something quirkier. Something, like the HM6 Sapphire Vision.

Credit goes to Hublot for being one of the very first brands to introduce a sapphire crystal timepiece, and kick-starting this polarising trend.

Within MB&F’s Horological Machine line, you are guaranteed a case design as outrageous and finishing as immaculate as Bovet’s, at the very least. While the HM6 Sapphire Vision, with its “streamliner” case band, is nowhere near as “exposed” as the Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One, its twin sapphire crystal plates still offers an impressive view of the innards of the watch. At the center of the watch – or should we say, art piece – is a flying tourbillon, encapsulated within a crystal dome. And in the four corners are the hours, minutes, and two aluminium turbines driven by the winding rotor. The HM6 Sapphire Vision looks like something out of a sci-fi novel, but we assure you, it is very real, especially its price tag: a hefty CHF350,000 for the red gold variant. Oh and it’s probably completely sold out; only a total of 10 pieces each of the platinum and red gold references were made.

The MB&F HM6 Sapphire Vision in red gold. A masterpiece.

Final Thoughts

The Bovet Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One is clearly not for everyone. Those who prefer classic watches should look away. But make no mistake, while the Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter One is unorthodox in its design and build, it manages to showcase (in every sense of the word) the very best of watchmaking and craftsmanship.


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