The watch industry is split into two groups. On one hand, you have large conglomerates that owns an arsenal of brands, and on the other, small dedicated independent manufacturers. The giants are armed with generous budgets and large scale marketing campaigns, and the small ‘indies’ are no match in terms of reach. But what they lack in this area, they make up with their creativity department. Manufacture Royale is one of these small independents.
This subject of our discussion is the Manufacture Royale ADN Spirit. ‘ADN’, the French for DNA, provides an apt description of the brand’s essence. The Spirit is essentially a purists ADN with a twist. We’ve had a chance to go hands on with the piece and chat with David Gouten when he stopped by Singapore recently.
The name Manufacture Royale might draw a blank to some, but the brands history stretches almost 250 years back. It was founded in 1770 by François-Marie Arouet, better known by his nom de plume Voltaire. Voltaire was an outspoken and prolific writer whom was a strong advocate of freedom of speech and independence despite strict censorship laws of the time in France. As a result of his attitude towards French dogma, Voltaire was banned by king France Louis XV from Paris. He subsequently relocated near Geneva (more specifically in Ferney-Voltaire), where he founded the watchmaking maison Manufacture Royale. The brand was highly influential of its time and employed the best watchmakers, chief among which was Jean-Antoine Lépine, clockmaker to the king. It supplied French nobility with haute horlogerie timekeepers.
Manufacture Royale was revived in 2010 by Alexis Gouten, David Gouten and Marc Gouten. The timepieces which the manufacturer launched since are nothing short of unique, distinct pieces – following in Voltaire’s ethos of freedom and independence; dare to be different. Examples includes the Opera (a minute repeater whose case can form a mini echo box), 1770 Micromegas Revolution (a double flying tourbillon with independent speeds), and 1770 Voltige (a suspended balance wheel).
Review: Manufacture Royale ADN Spirit
In total, there are 4 variants of the ADN Spirit. 3 in steel and 1 in Steel-DLC and forged carbon.
The Case, Dial and Hands
The case of the ADN Spirit measures 46mm wide and 12.35mm tall. Its design is typical Manufacture Royale.
There is no two ways about it, the ADN Spirit is a big watch – but looks can be deceiving. On paper, its size is rather generous. However, we found it to offer a palatable amount of wrist presence with good ergonomics to boot. This can be attributed to its clever architecture: the case employs tubular shafts which protrudes from the side of the main case, to which mobile lugs (pivotable up to a 23° angle) are fitted. This allows the watch to conform to the wearer’s wrists, providing optimal comfort. Not the sleekest in terms of all-round proportions, but still a very wearable piece due to its engineering. This design was also previously seen on the ADN which we reviewed here.
Describing the ADN Spirit as a ‘statement piece’ would perhaps be an understatement in its own right as the case design is bold and unique. Stylistically, it is rather reminiscent of the “steampunk” appearance, drawing inspiration from the manufacturer’s signature Opera and Androgyne collections – evolution, if you will. Granted, its looks makes it an “acquired taste” timepiece among collectors, but we think that the watch offers a refreshing switch up from the typical round/square cases. A contemporary piece, for lack of a better description, whilst possessing an industrial charm. Certainly will be a head turner in one’s collection.
Finishing is done to a high engineering standard. The watch is polished entirely on the front and back with contrasting brushed sides. The case is available in steel or steel-DLC and forged carbon. To top it off, we find the bezel affixed by 12 screws – a signature of the brand. They are slightly recessed for a less chunky profile.
The main highlight of the ADN Spirit – and where things get interesting – is its skeletonised mien. The dial side reveals the mechanical architecture of the caliber MR010 which is suspended between two sapphire crystals. The idea here is to showcase the contemporary openwork construction and finish.
The allure of any watch with exposed movements is well, the movement. Aesthetics and form take center stage as the movement is the only thing that you’ll ever get to stare at. Standing out visually is its rather unapologetic modern appearance. Instead of traditional anglage, we find the bridges machined at an angle for three-dimensional effect and depth. And rather than Côtes de Genève, the bridges and base plate are colour-treated with chemical vapor deposition (CVD) technique. All surfaces are sandblasted, creating a matte “understated” look. The ‘dial’ is available in 4 colours: blue, black, olive green and perhaps more traditional, silver. As an added bonus, its partially skeletonised barrel at 12 o’clock gives an indication of the remaining power reserve. In addition, the balance wheel and gears are finished in silver to provide contrast. In particular, we enjoyed the attention to detail of creating a symmetrical layout. Overall a well-balanced and tastefully executed openwork concept. Unusual but very cool.
Moving on to the minute details. The syringe hour and minute hands are partially skeletionised and positioned in the center, with sub-seconds placed at 9 o’clock position. Perhaps to avoid obstructing the ‘dial’. Arabic numerals adorn the blue sapphire crystals only at 12 and 6. The numerals and hand tips are coated with luminescence for legibility in the dark.
Turning the watch over, we find a sapphire case back. Each colour scheme is limited to 28 pieces and will come mounted on a matching alligator/waterproof cloth strap.
The ADN Spirit is powered by the Caliber MR010 (manufactured by Concepto). The manual wind movement beats at 28,800 bph and has a 48-hours power reserve. As most of the clockwork appears in front, there’s not much to see from behind.
Although the MR010 offers no complications, we feel that its main focus lies in the distinct three-dimensional bridges. The construction appears to be highly technical without any unnecessary components.
The Manufacture Royale ADN Spirit retails for CHF 25,500 (steel) / CHF 29,500 (Steel-DLC and forged carbon). Not cheap by any means, more so when you view it from a complication/finishing standpoint. However, the special construction combined with a distinct finishing are perhaps its selling points. In fact, the price is reasonable and in-line for a low production haute horlogerie piece by an independent manufacture.
Comparing this watch is like comparing apples to orange; it’s an unusual piece that stands (almost) peerless in the market – part of its charm. Thus, the watch you look at should also be one that ‘speaks’ to you the most. Here we bring you a non-exhaustive list of similarly-styled timepieces.
We begin with the Arnold and Son Nebula. A&S takes a unconventional approach when designing their watches: each movement reference is individually tailored for a specific model, resulting in uncompromised designs; function follows form. In the Nebula, its main draw are the seven triangular bridges. They adorn the front side in a radial placement for a symmetrical appearance – a well executed layout, one that serves a functional purpose while being aesthetically pleasing. Although the movement is heavily front-loaded, we observe the same neatness being exhibited in the back’s design. Very nice. The in-house manual-wind A&S5101 caliber beats at 21,600 bph and boasts an impressive 90-hours power reserve. That goes without mentioning its ingenious case design which incorporates ‘serviceable’ satin-brushed inserts to prolong the timepiece’s lifespan. The Nebula retails for CHF 13,500 – a price which we reckon represents rather good value.
Next, we propose the Girrard-Perregaux Classic Bridges 45mm. In an apples to apples comparison, the GP appears to be a very different animal altogether: conservative design and all-round traditional finishing. But much like the aforementioned piece, the GP has a skeleton dial with its two golden bridges being the main attraction. They are fashioned in the brand’s iconic arrow-shape and hand finished immaculately – so too is the rest of the watch (even screws!). A stunning timepiece when observed and when being observed. In addition, as its name suggests, the watch comes in a contemporary 45mm size: not for the daintiest of wrists. GP’s Classic Bridges 45 retails at USD 36,300 – a premium over the ADN Spirit’s price tag, but perhaps justifiable for the connoisseur due to its 18k solid gold case.
If one is looking for ornate bridges, we propose the Corum Golden Bridge Stream. First conceived in 1980, the Golden Bridge is the manufacture’s most iconic model. Its baguette movement lies in the middle, being built around a bridge structure. Distinct to this model are the cross section pieces which were inspired by San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate Bridge. The Corum retails for S$ 109,568 and is limited to 88 pieces.
For those who wish to make a statement in their WIS game, we propose the Hublot Big Bang Unico Red Magic. The watch comes in an oversized, unmistakable 45mm red ceramic case – talk about head-turners. But it’s not all beauty without technical brawn: the coloured ceramic represents a breakthrough in material science and is 100% invented and, made in-house: a detail not many manufacturers can boast of. Inside lies an in-house Unico Calibre HUB1242, beating at 4Hz and boasting a 72-hours power reserve. The open-worked dial and case back allows full view of the modern finishing present on the flyback chronograph movement. The Hublot retails for USD 57,900, limited to 500 pieces.
For readers who wish to announce their presence whenever, the MB&F HM3 MegaWind Final Edition won’t disappoint. As far as unusual statement pieces goes, MB&F’s Horological Machine series takes the cake. The HM3 collection was first launched in 2008 and its final form, the MegaWind Final Edition is the ultimate rendition. The watch speaks for itself, though we highly recommend you read our take (link in name). The MegaWind is priced at USD 98,000, limited to 25 pieces.
The Manufacture Royale ADN Spirit is best summed up as the purist’s ADN with a twist. True that its looks might be an “acquired taste”, but we think that, amidst a sea of round/rectangular watches, the watch offers a refreshing take on modern watchmaking design. To top it off, the watch is well priced as a low production, haute horologerie piece from an independent. Perhaps a good option to consider for collectors who’d like to wade into the world of indies whilst having a distinct piece.