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Review: Haldimann H1 Flying Central

Hands-on analytical review with high resolution live photographs.
by Frank Chuo on December 11, 2017

Haldimann H1 Flying Central

Nestled in Thun within the canton of Bern, the Haldimann workshop, which doubles as a family home, quietly but passionately perpetuates the traditional art of Swiss watchmaking. Unbeknownst to many, the Haldimann watchmaking house harks back to 1642. The modern Haldimann brand was established in 1991 by Beat Haldimann, a descendent of the original founders. There is not a single CNC machine in sight in the Haldimann workshop; each one of Mr. Haldimann’s creations are brought to life by hand. The H1 Flying Central, which was first introduced in 2002, is one of Haldimann’s most recognisable works, starring a central flying tourbillon of grand proportions. This is a timepiece that perfectly encapsulates the Haldimann style and is a pure expression of the artistic vision of the master watchmaker himself. Here, we bring you the details and our thoughts on the Haldimann H1 Flying Central.

 

The case, dial and hands

For a watch that gained publicity mostly for its sizeable tourbillon, there is a surprising number of admirers – based on our subjective impression – who wax lyrical about the dimensions of its case. Handcrafted in either yellow gold, pink gold, white gold or platinum, the case is elegantly sized at 39 mm in diameter and 10 mm in thickness. These dimensions make sense for a dress watch with a high ‘complication’. But that’s not all the case has got going for itself. It too is gorgeously nuanced with its emphatically grooved crown and masculine straight lugs. The entire case is expertly hand-polished to a mirror shine, conferring to it an air of class and luxury that isn’t attainable with the ‘brushed case band’ approach that has become very popular of late.

 

The 39 mm case is masculine yet elegant at the same time.

 

The more classical proportions of the watch also serves to accentuate the presence of the tourbillon which by itself measures a whopping 16.8 mm. The cage of the 60-second tourbillon has a pointer that indicates the seconds which are marked by dots encircling the tourbillon. Hollowed spade hands are used to indicate the minutes (also marked by dots) and hours (marked by Roman numerals) – these are in flame-blued steel. Last but not least, there’s also the ‘HALDIMANN’ marquee printed at 6 o’clock. Suffice to say, the dial is austere in its aesthetics and design. This actually makes perfect sense given that you’d want to avoid stealing the limelight from the star of the show, which in this case is the larger-than-life tourbillon (more on it below).

 

It is not just the diameter of the tourbillon but also its depth that makes it such an impressive sight.

The movement

Powering the Haldimann H1 Flying Central is the fully in-house, manually wound Calibre H-Zen-A. The watch has a power reserve of 38 hours while operating at a hypnotic 18,000 vph beat rate, made possible by the Calibre H-Zen-A’s three barrels. As the tourbillon takes centre stage in the middle of the dial, it has to be driven differently than a traditional tourbillon. Two trains from the two horizontally opposed barrels drive the fourth pinion. The two gears are arranged in such a way that the lateral forces on the fourth pinion balance each other. Meanwhile, the third barrel helps power the hands. Apart from the three beautifully snailed barrels, there isn’t much else to see as the remainder of the movement is covered by a full plate with frosted finish.

 

Since most of the action is up front on the dial, the back is plain save three beautifully snailed barrels.

 

Well, that’s not entirely true. There is after all a huge tourbillon – which is very much a part of the movement – dancing dial-side. The tourbillon is no doubt inspired from the works of German watchmaker Alfred Helwig, who was also the inventor of the flying tourbillon. The Helwig design, namely the lyre-shaped tourbillon cage, still lives on today in German watchmaking and also in the Haldimann H1 Flying Central. In the H1 Flying Central, it is black polished to such a spectacular sheen that that it’d be rude not to stare.

 

A watch geek’s dream: the aesthetics and mechanics of the flying tourbillon can easily be appreciated on the H1 Flying Central thanks to its size and visibility.

The competitive landscape

To say that the tourbillon watch market is saturated is an understatement. The tourbillon horse has long been beaten to death. And yet, there exists a handful of tourbillon watches in the market that remain refreshing even in the eyes of seasoned watch enthusiasts. The Haldimann H1 Flying Central isn’t merely “another” tourbillon watch, for it has – according to Beat Haldimann –  the world’s first central tourbillon hovering over the dial. How this feat was achieved remains a secret known only to Haldimann. Given that the H1 Flying Central is entirely hand-crafted by a small team, one can expect it to be an exclusive timepiece. Alas, this exclusivity comes at a significant price: CHF180,000 in platinum, CHF171,800 in gold. The question of whether these prices are fair can be answered fairly well by comparing the H1 Flying Central to like-watches from other manufactures.

 

The H1 Flying Central is an example of what the ultra-high end independent watchmaking sector is capable of. Though, because of the handcrafted nature of the products and the inability to scale, these timepieces tend to come at a steep price.

 

One of these watches is the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Tourbillon. Just like the H1 Flying Central, the 1815 Tourbillon displays only the hours, minutes and seconds aside from its mesmerising tourbillon. Even though its tourbillon is neither flying nor central, it bears a striking resemblance in design to the H1 Flying Central. Indeed, it too has a lyre-shaped tourbillon cage, though that shouldn’t come as a surprise given that A. Lange & Söhne is based in Glashütte where Alfred Helwig trained to be – and instructed as – a watchmaker. From a functional perspective, the Lange tourbillon is more than just a spinning curiosity, for it is endowed with the manufacture’s patented stop-seconds and zero-reset functions. The idea is that because a tourbillon is all about increasing timekeeping precision, it wouldn’t make sense if the watch can’t be set to second; the two logical features ensure that the time can be set accurately and easily. The 1815 Tourbillon doesn’t just impress from a technical standpoint, it also bedazzles with its superlative finissage. The watch may be serially produced, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s got sloppy craftsmanship. Quite the contrary, the 1815 Tourbillon has the upper hand compared to the H1 Flying Central when it comes to movement aesthetics and finishing. And how much would a marvellous timepiece like this cost? A cool SGD263,600 (or CHF194,000) in platinum and SGD214,900 (CHF158,000) in pink gold. Both the H1 Flying Central and 1815 Tourbillon have considerable merits of their own; as they are both priced similarly, we feel that their price tags are justified relative to one another.

 

The SIHH 2014 novelty is impressive in its aesthetics, as well as the technical virtuoso of a stop-seconds tourbillon plus a zero-reset seconds hand.

 

If the 1815 Tourbillon is too traditional for your taste, then look no further than the Bulgari Papillon Tourbillon Central. The Papillon Tourbillon Central is time-only (well, sort of) and features a central tourbillon like the H1 Flying Central, but it is a much more contemporary fare. The two hands on the dial alternate to indicate the minutes along the track that makes up a semi-circle on the bottom half of the dial. They rotate into place when in use, and when one reaches the end of the minute track, it rotates horizontally as the other hand takes over. Meanwhile, the hours are displayed by means of a jumping hours mechanism; interestingly, they are in 24-hour format, which would require a much larger disc for all the additional numerals. A power reserve indicator is incorporated into the movement at the back of the watch – very useful given that the watch is manually wound. The in-house Calibre BVL266 that powers the Bulgari is attractively finished and decorated. The difference, though, between the finishing and decoration of the Calire BVL266 and the Calibre H-Zen-A of the H1 Flying Central is that the latter is purely done by hand while in the former, a not-insignificant portion is done by machine. Choosing between the Bulgari and the Haldimann comes down to whether one prefers something contemporary or traditional, and how strongly one values handcrafting. Then of course there’s the price: the platinum version, limited to 10 pieces, is about USD139,000 (SGD188,000) while the gold version, limited to 30 pieces, is about $129,000 (SGD175,000). In spite of its lesser finishing, the Papillon Tourbillon Central remains a value timepiece given its unique time and tourbillon display, its rarity, and its fair pricing.

 

The Papillon Tourbillon Central is the Yin to the H1 Flying Central’s Yang. Those who feel that the Haldimann is too classic should consider this modern Bulgari masterpiece.

Concluding thoughts

If there ever was a competition for the most gorgeous central tourbillon, few would stand a chance against the Haldimann H1 Flying Central. The H1 Flying Central is packed with heritage, tradition and class in a way that would satisfy even the staunchest of purists. Beat Haldimann’s fully ‘hands-on’ approach to his craft is an inspiration, as well as a shining beacon that lights the future of traditional Swiss watchmaking.

 

In spite of its large size relative to the rest of the dial, the central flying tourbillon tastefully adds an additional dimension and a layer of complexity to the H1 Flying Central. This is not just a classy gentleman’s watch, this is also a testament of the technical mastery of the watchmaker who conceived it.

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