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Review: Jämes-César Pellaton Chronomètre Royal de Marine

Perfect is as Perfect Does
by Peter Chong on June 21, 2017
Positives

Magnificent, magnificent movement, with truly top class finishing.

Well thought out design coupled with superb execution. Flawless.

Negatives

High price, bucking the trend of #ComplicationsForLess

Aggressive styling and aesthetics may not be the taste of those looking for an understated watch

Our first impression with the brand Jämes-C. Pellaton in Baselworld 2017 was extremely positive, even though they only showed two watches (one we review here and the other being a pocket watch), and the booth was very tiny tucked up at the 30th floor of the Ramada (now called Hyperion Hotel) was most unimpressive. The Pellaton Chronomètre Royal de Marine, however, over compensated for that. And the WOW factor was extremely high, that the Chief Editor named it as one of the watches in his Best of the Indies 2017 Edition. We now return to examine in great detail what makes the Marine Chronometer a watch to be reckoned with.

 

The Jämes-César Pellaton Chronomètre Royal de Marine in white gold and a warm golden face.

 

The subject watch is known as the Jämes-César Pellaton Chronomètre Royal de Marine, or James-Cesar Pellaton Royal Marine Chronometer (in English). Three editions are being offered, each limited to 12 examples. The first is in white gold with a gilt face, the second is in red gold with a silver face, and the last of the 12 will be offered as customisable, so an other combination of case material, face colour, embellishments like precious stones can be added.

 

Jämes-César Pellaton Chronomètre Royal de Marine

We review the the standard editions in white gold and red gold. Curiously, because of the colour of the watch face, we hesitate to say dial because both dials are in sapphire and allow the movement to be transparently visible, we find the red gold edition to be more understated and discrete. The colour of the case material being red gold notwithstanding, the visual aesthetics of the watch is somewhat toned down by the silver face, as compared to the white gold cased edition with a gilt face.

 

In red gold, the Pellaton Marine Chronometer takes on a different persona. The silver face is less intense, and exudes a cool-ness which belies its complexity and perfection in execution.

 

The brand came into being in 2009 by Michel Dawalibi, although the first we heard of it was this year. The philosophy is to follow the tradition and exactly reflect the philosophy of Jämes-César Pellaton. Jämes-César was one of the 8 sons of the famous Albert Pellaton-Favre, a watchmaker well known for his tourbillons and chronometers. Jämes-César  trained in his father’s workshops and started to work in Ulysse Nardin S.A. in Le Locle. He specialised in detent escapements, marine chronometers and on-board chronometers.

From UN, he went on to the Ecole d’Horlogerie du Locle where remained for thirty-six years. He was first appointed as a teacher for the escapement class and also taught watchmaking theory. He is known as a proponent of tourbillons to his students. In 1909 a tourbillon made by one of his students was tested by the Observatoire de Neuchâtel and is awarded the first price.

Jämes-César was also well known for his book on escapements which he wrote in 1921. This was made mandatory textbook for all Swiss watchmaking students. The only exception was the school in La Chaux-de-Fonds who chose to book written by P. Berner.

In 1926 Jämes-César Pellaton caused a sensation in creating the smallest tourbillon of the world with a caliber of 10 ½ lignes. During his spare time Jämes-César Pellaton manufactured on his own tourbillons, totalling 35 pieces mostly for Patek Philippe and some others for Girard-Perregaux. He also made movements for Ulysse Nardin and Zenith.

 

One of the early pocket watches made by Jämes-César Pellaton. Note the bridge layout lends itself to the new one reviewed in this article.

 

The case, dial and hands

The case is quite large, measures 44mm in diameter, but feels bulky, perhaps due to the 14.85mm thickness. The case itself is a three part case comprising of a polished bezel, a brushed case middle and a polished rear bezel with relief engraved markings. The case features a small bulge, rising around the crown, somewhat like a crown guard, but is perhaps too small to be effective as such. The lugs are soldered.

 

The Pellaton Royal Marine Chronometer case is rather large, and thick. The diameter measures 44mm on a case height of 14.85mm.

 

The dial itself is a transparent sapphire glass with the markings in enamel transfer print. The dial is marked with Roman hour markers and a railway track for the minutes, a retrograde date in a semi-circle from about 8 o’clock to 2 o’clock. A power reserve indicator in the shape of a fan sector at 10 o’clock and a cutout to display the tourbillon is at 6 o’clock, except that it is not really a cutout as the dial is transparent. But the bridge curves around a circular opening in the base plate and allows the viewer a good look into the tourbillon bridge and the back of the tourbillon cage from the dial side. A subsidiary seconds hand is mounted on the cage and shows the passage of the seconds marked around the cage on the sapphire dial.

 

The case thickness is evident in this photograph. Note the crown sits a fair distance from the bezel.

 

The watch has five hands, viz hour, minute, continuous seconds hand, power reserve hand and the retrograde date indicator. Each of the hands are hand made, and are unique in shape. The hands are in flame blued gold for the red gold version, and in white gold for the white gold edition.

 

The dial is in sapphire crystal with markings which are transfer printed in enamel. This gives the rather large watch a kind of airiness which on paper should be lacking in a watch this size.

 

The bridge holding the tourbillon cage is quite beautiful, and is made of black polished stainlesss steel. Great virtuoso is exhibited in the finishing. The bridge design and execution is repeated on the flip side bridge for the tourbillon.

 

The movement

The movement is where the whole artistry is about. The dial is almost non-existent, as it is a transparent sapphire glass allowing the entire movement to be visible from the dial side. On the back side, another sapphire glass displays the movement.

The layout of the movement seems to us to be very close to the architecture of the famous Pellaton watches of yore.

It is not the slightest hint of hesitation when we say that the movement is the raison d’être  of this watch. It is magnificently laid out. As mentioned, it follows the basic architecture of the early Pellaton pocket watches. The shape of the bridges take more than a passing resemblance, but undertakes its form from the same blueprint.

 

The movement is rather special, and can be admired and enjoyed from both the front through the glass dial, and from the case back.

 

The development of the movement was in collaboration with Audemars Piguet Renaud et Papi who manufactures the movement components. Dawabili works on the finishing and assembly. And the finishing was indeed quite remarkable, and perhaps one of its main selling features.

 

The tourbillon from the front is visible, but barely in a peek-a-boo fashion through the sapphire glass cover which is engraved with a railway track and 10 sec markers The tourbillon bridge is magnificent in black polished steel

 

The finishing

All the traditional finissage details are handled with aplomb and finese. From the gleaming anglage which is at once evenly applied and highly polished, to the use of gold chatons held in place by black polished steel screws, to the immaculately executed outward and inward angles on the bridges. All done par excellence.

 

From the case back, the tourbillon is clearly visible. The bridge design and finish is the same as from the front, with black polishing and sharp inward angles. The tourbillon cage is visible in the photograph. Also one can admire the near perfect anglage applied to the bridge plate as it curves around the tourbillon.

 

The bridges holding the tourbillon cage from both sides are in stainless steel, black polished, held in place to the maillechort bridges by black polished screws. Each edge is beautifully anglaged, and sharp inward curves expertly executed.

The labelled photograph below further illustrates our point.

 

 

The finishing is exceptional. Shown here are some key finishing examples which are top notch. The green arrow shows the engagement of the transmission wheel and the barrel with the click to the left of the arrow. The shape of the teeth ensures a good and secure engagement for good power transfer. The teeth are beveled and polished on both sides.The red arrow shows the perfectly made jewel sitting in its gold chaton which are secured by screws in a polished countersunk opening. The blue arrows show the inward and outward angles made by hand. Note also the anglage is very well executed on the edges of the bridges.

 

The competitive landscape

The Jämes-César Pellaton Chronomètre Royal de Marine is rather unique in this respect. Perhaps it invites comparison with the most beautiful tourbillons in existence. And at CHF298,000 it is certainly up there with the most expensive. Some possible candidates for comparison are as follows. Needless to say, the list is not exhaustive.

A. Lange & Söhne Tourbillon Pour le Mérite. (Discontinued. Original retail prices: 125,000 German marks (yellow gold), 139,000 German marks (platinum). Recent auction result prices: US$154,000 to Us$180,000 (yellow gold), US$275,000 (platinum).)  This watch was introduced 1994, among the first four watches by the newly revived Lange Uhren. Made in a limited edition of 200 pieces (50 in platinum, 149 in gold and 1 in stainless steel), it too began its life in the workshops of Renaud et Papi, and final assembly and end finishing in Glashütte. The finishing is ne plus ultra, and truly exceptional. It is also the first wristwatch ever to use a fuseé and chain as a constant force system.

Patek Philippe Ref. 5101. (Also discontinued. Recent transacted prices vary rather widely from €100,000 to €200,000. The current Patek catalog does not have a watch with only a tourbillon and no other complication) An icon among tourbillon watches, this Patek is featured in a rectangular case. Other than the rectangular shape with a form movemennt, the  5101 is totally understated in its design aesthetics. In typical Patek fashion, it does not display the tourbillon for all to see with an aperture on the dial side. Though, we sometimes find it hard to understand why Patek had to inscribe the words “TOURBILLON” on the dial side, sort of spoiling the discreteness of the piece. It features a very long power reserve of 10 days. And the design and finishing of the movement is top drawer.

Vacheron Constantin Malte Tourbillon Openworked. (S$385,200 including GST). The link shows the special Singapore Edition of which only 3 are made, but the Malte Tourbillon is available in the regular catalog. The VC features a form movement in a tonneau shaped case, with an open worked movement. The movement is also exceptional in that it has a power reserve of 14 days, and execution and finishing is also at the top level.

Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Seconds.  (€322,000 in red gold) This is another exceptional timepiece as are the others in this landscape. The only non-inclined tourbillon in the GF catalog, it features a magnificently built curved tourbillon bridge which takes the limelight. Movement finishing is typical Greubel Forsey, which is to say its first class, leaving little to be desired.

Even with the incredible credentials of the above inhabitants in the landscape discussed above, the Pellaton gives away little, except perhaps for lineage and providence. It is the newest among these giants of Tourbillon Land, and comes with a relatively more reasonable pricing than the icons, although no one in his right mind would ever call a watch costing nearly CHF300k cheap.

Also new to the landscape, and also quite exceptional is the Candaux 1740 First 8 which we recently reviewed. At CHF216,800, it is less expensive than the Pellaton. The styling is also unique, featuring a tilted dial, a secret crown and a double inclined tourbillon. Finishing on the Candaux is also first rate.

To this list, one might conceivably add the Akrivia Tourbillon Hour Minute, and the Czapek & Cie Place Vendôme Tourbillon Suspendu “Ici et Ailleurs”.  Both these are of relative recent lineage, perhaps comparable to the Pellaton, and both are rather less expensive to purchase.

Concluding thoughts

We find the Jämes-César Pellaton Chronomètre Royal de Marine to be quite an exceptional watch. The design is well thought out. The layout of the bridges are very pleasant. The execution is near state of the art. There are but nitpicks to make if one is critical, but essentially, this is a magnificent watch.

If Philippe Dufour made a tourbillon, we would imagine that it might be finished in way like the Jämes-César Pellaton Chronomètre Royal de Marine. But Philippe has not made a tourbillon. Ever. Not yet at least. We take this inference as Philippe himself had used a sapphire glass dial on his Grande et Petite Sonnerie. Certainly a man ahead of his time as he did this in 1988/89. He has proven mastery over the finnisage, mulling over the minutest of details so that the movement is as perfect as it can be. Perhaps we might be stretching it a bit, but we suggest that the Chronomètre Royal de Marine might also be viewed in the same light.

 

On the wrist the Pellaton sits comfortably. Shown here is the Chief Editor’s 7.5″ wrist, admittedly he wears most watches well.
Aesthetically, we prefer the red gold edition better than the white gold one as the light dial makes it look more understated and less intense.

 

The watch on the wrist commands massive presence. Despite the rather large proportions, especially the thickness, it sits comfortably on the wrist, slipping under a bespoke cuff easily. It does, however have a rather aggressive styling. The sapphire dial allowing its innards to be displayed on both the dial side and the back side, is rather more loud than the typical quiet understatement of watches at this level. But the finishing is immaculate. And there is a sense that what one has on the wrist is something special.

 

Jämes-César Pellaton Chronomètre Royal de Marine Technical Specifications and Price

 

Models

Limited edition of 36 copies :

  • 12 Red gold,
  • 12 White gold,
  • 12 single copies, choice between :
    • skeleton movement, handmade,
    • set with baguette-cut diamonds,
    • full set with baguette-cut diamonds,
    • movement and/or case engraved, handmade.

Technical details

Reserved and protected movement

Dimensions of movementDiameter : 36,60 mm
Total height of movement9,70 mm
Number of components285 parts
Number of jewels27 Jewels
Power reserve72 minimum hours
BarrelOne barrel with a reverse pawl
BalanceWith variable inertia screw
Escapementwith Swiss lever
Frequency21600 Alt/h
Balance-springBreguet
Bottom platesWet blasting Nickel silver, hand-bevelled
BridgesWet blasting Nickel silver, hand-bevelled
GeartrainDentures NIHS, bevelling above and below
Tourbillon1 rotation per minute displayed at 6
Displays and complicationsHours, minutes and date in the center
Small second at 6
Power reserve at 10
Retrograde beginning at 8:00 (1) ending at 2:00 (31)

Casing

CaseRed gold or white gold, domed sapphire crystal
Transparent background relief engravings, sapphire crystal
Numbered pieces, hand engraving, limited edition of 36 pieces
Dimensions of caseDiameter 44,00 mm
Height 14,85 mm
Watertightness5 atm – 50 m
CrownHand-engraved, black enameled JCP logo.
DialEnamel, Sapphire
HandIn blued gold / Gold case color, hand bevelled
WristletBlack or brown alligator, hand-stitched, gold folding clasp engraved Jämes C. Pellaton
Presentation-caseWood, Leather

Price

CHF 298,000 before taxes for the white gold and red gold editions. POA for the customized edition.
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