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Review: Shadows & Sparks – The Czapek & Cie Place Vendôme Tourbillon Suspendu

by Frank Chuo on August 5, 2019

Czapek & Cie Place Vendôme Tourbillon Suspendu

The Place Vendôme collection is host to Czapek & Cie’s most complicated timepieces. The line itself is named after the Parisian square where François Czapek opened a boutique in the mid-19th century. Currently, there is only one model in the collection: the Place Vendôme Tourbillon Suspendu. Debuting in 2017, this pièce de résistance now sees two new iterations introduced to its ranks, aptly christened ‘Ombres’ (shadows) and ‘Etincelles’ (sparks). Here, we bring you the details and our thoughts on the new Place Vendôme Tourbillon Suspendu for 2019.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

With a case measuring 43.5 mm in diameter, the Place Vendôme Tourbillon Suspendu never was meant to be discreet. It has a rather contemporary design, with plenty of grooves and a combination of satin, matte, and polished finishes. The crystal that protects the dial is curved and treated with anti-reflective coating on both sides – this ensures that glare doesn’t become an issue when observing the dial. In the ‘Ombres’ variant, the case is made of lightweight grade 5 titanium, meaning in spite of the complexity of the movement and the size of case, the watch doesn’t feel top-heavy or cumbersome at all. The ‘Etincelles’ variant retains the heavy platinum casing of its predecessor (the ‘Lumière’) but with the added resplendence of 72 baguette-cut diamonds set into the bezel and lugs.

The case may appear thick but thanks to its titanium make, it is light as a feather.

The general design and layout of the dial displays remain unchanged compared to the seminal models of the Tourbillon Suspendu. The hours and minutes are displayed in a sub-dial at 12 o’clock. Within that sub-dial is an aperture that reveals the power reserve indicator. At 6 o’clock, there is a gorgeous day/night indicator. The 4 o’clock position is occupied by the second time zone display. Meanwhile, the star of the show – the suspended tourbillon – dances away at 8 o’clock. It goes without saying that every element on the dial is well-finished and decorated. Immediately apparent is the anthracite sand-blasted surface of the main plate which imbues a modern, industrial look. The hour and minute track is crafted in enamel – black for the Ombres (as shown in our photographs), white for the Etincelles. The steel bridges that secure the tourbillon and the dual time mechanism is mirror polished, with chamfers that are also polished. The other differences on the dial between the Ombres and the Etincelles are the hands and the hour markers. In the former, the hands are arrow-style and coated with Superluminova, while the hour markers are index-style with an Arabic numeral ’12’. In the latter, the hands are fleur de lys in style and rendered in “Bluegold”, while the hour markers are signature Czapek elongated Roman numerals.

The dial is a symphony of various textures and shades of grey.

The Movement

Driving the Tourbillon Suspendu is the Calibre SXH2, born out of a collaboration between Czapek & Cie and specialist movement makers Chronode. The hand-wound movement measures a sizeable 34.8 mm x 9.8 mm, which partially necessitated a larger case design. It boasts 60 hours of power reserve off of just one barrel (which is respectable, given the presence of a power hungry tourbillon) and operates at a traditional 3 Hz beat rate.

The Calibre SXH2 as seen through the sapphire crystal case back.

The finishing of the movement seen through the case back is a mix between modern and traditional techniques, much like the front of house. The top surface of the bridges features a contemporary sand-blasted finish, as opposed to the more typical Geneva waves. The edges of these bridges are, however, still chamfered and polished in the classical way. Plenty of rounded and outward angles can be found, although there are no inward angles. The ratchet wheel is openly visible from the back as well and has an interesting circular bevelling that is also accompanied by circular graining on the top surface. While not the best of the best in regards to finissage, the movement is still top-of-the-range with plenty of attention and care afforded to it by expert finisseurs.

The belle of the ball – the suspended tourbillon.

The Competitive Landscape

Tourbillon watches are a dime a dozen these days, but the high end ones, like the Tourbillon Suspendu, still command awe and respect from connoisseurs. The Ombres and Etincelles double act is sure to cover all bases; clients who prefer something less uptight can opt for the Ombres while those who want the ultimate luxury experience may consider the diamond-studded Etincelles. The Ombres, limited to 25 pieces, is priced at an attractive CHF88,000 while the Etincelles, limited to 10 pieces, comes in at CHF215,000.

Nowhere to hide. The Tourbillon Suspendu does not belong under the sleeves.

Prior to the Czapek & Cie Place Vendôme Tourbillon Suspendu, there have been other exemplary examples of the tourbillon GMT timepiece; the Panerai Luminor Lo Scienziato Luminor 1950 Tourbillon Titanio is one such timepiece. What makes the ‘Lo Scienziato’ in titanium such a unique timepiece is twofold. First, the case – it is built by means of Direct Metal Laser Sintering. The process builds up the case layer by layer with a fibre optic laser using powdered grade 5 titanium. The successive layers merges together and become completely solid and reducing the total weight by 40% compared to traditional titanium. The case has also been designed to be hollow within, making it exceedingly light. The second talking point of the ‘Lo Scienziato’ is that the tourbillon cage rotates on an axis which is perpendicular to that of the balance. It also completes a rotation every 30 seconds instead of the standard minute. According to Panerai, these modifications more effectively compensate for the effects of gravity on the escapement. Priced at around USD143,000, the ‘Lo Scienziato’ is perfect for the collector who prefers a more industrial timepiece to the Tourbillon Suspendu.

The Panerai Luminor Lo Scienziato Luminor 1950 Tourbillon Titanio. Limited edition of 150 pieces only. The case is hollowed out titanium, with titanium bridges and plates.

With all that said and done, it bears mentioning that the most famous tourbillon GMT watch ever to grace haute horlogerie is arguably the Greubel Forsey GMT. Fitted into the piece is a 25 degree inclined tourbillon that makes a full rotation every 24 seconds, a titanium globe that completes a rotation once a day, and even a world time display on the case back. The Greubel Forsey GMT, with its ingenious engineering and watchmaking, goes above and beyond every typical tourbillon GMT watch you can think of. The other thing the GMT is well-known (or rather, notorious) for is its price tag, in the ballpark of a cool USD600,000. There is no denying the fact that it is pricey, but what you do get is one of the most finely built and immaculately finished watches in the world.

Greubel Forsey GMT in rose gold. The entire movement, including small components like screws, are made within the premises. Every surface is finished and polished to perfection.

Final Thoughts

Czapek & Cie may have mysteriously disappeared in the mid-late 19th century, but since its crowdfunded return in 2015, it has done everything right to get back on track. The new Tourbillon Suspendu watches show that the brand isn’t afraid to delve into something as industrial as titanium, or something as opulent as a diamond-studded platinum case. While the Ombres and Etincelles aren’t exactly brand new references, they offer clients more options to choose from in their most sophisticated and contemporary collection yet.

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