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Review: For Your Ears Only – The H. Moser & Cie. Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black

by Frank Chuo on February 4, 2019
Reviews

H. Moser & Cie. Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black

Minimalism is to H. Moser & Cie as wetness is to water. After removing both logo and indices from the dial of its Concept models, Moser goes a step further (or a step too far?) by removing the hands. If you thought this was a joke, think again. This watch is very real, still tells time, and is actually really cool. Here, we bring you the details, and our thoughts on the new H. Moser & Cie. Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black.

The Case and Dial

The case of the Swiss Alp Concept Black is crafted in the noblest of metals: platinum. It is deliberately constructed to resemble a smart watch for maximum irony. The watch measures 45.8 mm x 39.8 mm with a height of 11 mm – a more than reasonable size for a minute repeater tourbillon timepiece. The case is entirely polished for an elegant look. On the left side of the case is the repeater slide for activating the minute repeater function. On the right is a seemingly ordinary crown for winding and time-setting. Yes, that’s right. Even without hands, the watch still has to be set somehow so that the minute repeater chimes the correct time. The crown is engraved with a marking which allows the time to be corrected using a graduation, which only appears when the crown is pulled out. Each of the twelve indices represent 5 minutes, making one full turn of the crown an hour forward or backward depending on the direction turned. So, to actually set the time on the watch, one has to first activate the minute repeater to note the time and then correct the time, if necessary, with the special crown. This is Moser’s idea of a throwback to olden times when electricity was science fiction and minute repeaters served a pivotal role in people’s ability to tell time in the dark of night. With the Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black, you have to activate the minute repeater every time you wish to know the time. The concept is smart, albeit a cheeky one.

The time can be set by the crown at 3 o’clock, which has been marked like a micrometer

Moving on to the dial of the watch, we see a great deal of nothing, which is pretty much what the watch is about. The dial is in ‘glossy black’ presumably to mimic the screen of a smart watch. The expanse of black is only broken up by a round aperture through which a flying tourbillon is revealed. One wonders if hiding or forgoing the tourbillon – thus leaving a 100% clean, empty dial – would’ve been the wiser design decision to make to fit the whole smart watch narrative. But apart from the fact that visible tourbillons sell, here’s our theory on why the tourbillon is dial-side: it doubles as a power reserve indicator which, if you think about it, would be helpful in a watch like this. Basically, if you see the tourbillon spinning, the watch is powered; if it isn’t spinning, the watch needs to be wound. A simple dichotomy. Sure, a conventional power reserve indicator on the dial would do the job, and better, but where’s the wow factor in that?

The tourbillon is brushed on the top surface and accented with polished bevels.

The Movement

Beating inside the Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black is the 28-jewel, manually wound Calibre HMC 901. The Calibre HMC 901 was born from the collaboration between H. Moser & Cie. and Manufactures Hautes Complications SA, the experts in minute repeaters. While a minute repeater tourbillon is an uncommon and highly technical achievement in itself, it isn’t what makes the Calibre HMC 901 especially impressive. What separates the calibre from most other musical movements is the fact that it is shaped, or more specifically, rectangular. Housed within a rectangular case, it is equipped with two rectangular shaped gongs which are particularly difficult to tune. To amplify the sound of the chimes, the case had to be reworked, with the middle completely hollowed out to create sufficient space for a resonance chamber. The other half of the complex equation is, of course, the one-minute flying tourbillon. Visible behind a skeletonised bridge, it is fitted to a ball bearing to improve precision and chronometry.

Shown are the hammers and gongs, as well as the governor, of the minute repeater mechanism.

The Calibre HMC 901 is hand-finished to a superlative standard worthy of haute horlogerie. Of note is Moser’s signature double striping on the plate and bridges which is a pleasing variation of the more classical Geneva stripes. The gold chatons are also an interesting sight to behold as they are more commonly found in German movements. The usual trappings of a finely finished Swiss movement can also be found: polished chamfers, polished screw heads, acute exterior angles, gold-filled engravings, perlage, and of course, black polished hammers.

The Calibre HMC 901 as viewed through the sapphire crystal case back.

The Competitive Landscape

Currently, every minute repeater from H. Moser & Cie. is a piece unique, and the Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black is no exception. The watch is priced at a fair but eye-watering USD350,000. To the best of our knowledge, whoever buys the piece eventually will be the owner of the first mechanical wristwatch ever that tells time exclusively through sound.

On the wrist, the Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black with its glossy black dial and rectangular case resembles a smart watch, though its mimicry is betrayed by the tourbillon aperture.

The Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black isn’t, however, the only wristwatch that doesn’t display time visually. The Haldimann H8 Flying Sculpture did it first as a watch that only displays a giant tourbillon on the dial and nothing else – not even time. This begs the question: if a wristwatch doesn’t tell time, is it still a wristwatch? At any rate, it’s good to know that there’s a piece out there that’s even more extreme than the Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black!

But how does the watch fare against a more classical example, like say, the Vacheron Constantin Traditionelle Minute Repeater Tourbillon? Well, the Traditionelle Minute Repeater Tourbillon is what millennials today would call “next level”. It is by far the best of its kind that we’ve encountered. The minute repeater chime scores near top marks for clarity, volume, and musicality. The Maltese cross-inspired tourbillon cage is often regarded as the best in the industry with its multiple exterior and interior angles, and black polished surface. Throw in a rounded, polished tourbillon bridge and you’ve got your critics salivating. In addition, the watch is adorned with intricate guilloche work on the dial that rivals the incredible finishing of the
Calibre 2755 TMR that beats underneath it. The price of such a masterpiece? Over USD600,000, or almost double the Moser. All that said, the marketing strategy for either timepieces would be extremely different; one is a high-end unique piece selling a novel concept and irony, the other is a classic piece selling the best repeater and tourbillon in the market. What we can be confident of is that both the Moser and the Vacheron Constantin in their current states are the best versions of themselves and most suited to their respective marketing plans. There really are no losers in this pair.

The Vacheron Constantin Traditionelle Minute Repeater Tourbillon.

Final Thoughts

The H. Moser & Cie. Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black is both serious and playful at the same time. Playful, in the sense that it is a smart watch lookalike and has no visible time display. Serious, because it is packed with ingenious watchmaking and fine finishing. In an industry that sometimes takes itself too seriously, a high-end manufacturer like Moser that isn’t afraid to be cheeky is a truly breath of fresh air.

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