In the thick of the digital age, mechanical watchmaking finds itself in pursuit of greater efficiency within the confines of an antiquated paradigm. The coming of the quartz movement and the smartphone has made certain that mechanical watches can scarcely compare to its modern counterparts in terms of functionality. And yet mechanical watchmaking thrives today. The reasoning is simple: functionality isn’t the be all end all. Especially in luxury watchmaking, the mechanical timepiece is art, often born from the blood, sweat and tears of skilled craftsman. It is a relic that sings of the past with its rhythmic ticking. It is proud of its independence from a battery power source, needing only hand-winding or rotor winding to run indefinitely.
Interestingly, before the advent of the winding rotor, something else came along as an intermediary between old-school manual winding and the automatic winding that we know and love today. It was the 17th century when Abraham-Louis Breguet created the world’s first successful self-winding system and automatic watch (dubbed the perpétuelle). The system consisted of a sprung weight on a pivoting arm that jumps up and down to wind the mainspring. While it did its job well enough, the full rotor remains the most efficient solution today, rendering its predecessor obsolete.
Enter the Hamatic, German watch manufacturer Moritz Grossmann’s first self-winding watch. For a company that had previously focused exclusively on manual winding watches, the Hamatic was a big deal. The brand could’ve manufactured a stock standard automatic watch with its usual fare of opulent decorations, or it could endeavor to come up with something wildly original. Moritz Grossmann went for the latter path, and the result is mind-blowing. The Hamatic is powered by a hammer-style pendulum system that is strongly reminiscent of the system used by Breguet in his 17th century Perpétuelle pocket watch. While it is a (purposeful) step back in terms of technology, it is executed to the exacting technical and aesthetic standards of Moritz Grossmann. The fact that the Hamatic is – to our knowledge – the first wristwatch to utilise this winding system is refreshing and interesting. Here, we take a look at one of the variants of this fascinating timepiece, the Moritz Grossmann Hamatic in rose gold.
The Case, Dial, and Hands
The Hamatic’s three-part case measures a modern 41.00 mm in diameter and 11.35 mm in thickness. In spite of its size, the case oozes an aura of classical elegance. It is fully polished and curvy like a pocket watch, and features a thin bezel that serves to accentuate the dial.
Much like the case, the dial is a total class act. It is designed to resemble the visage of a vintage Moritz Grossmann pocket watch. From the elongated Roman numeral hour markers to the incredibly slender spade hands, everything is executed immaculately. The most striking bit of the dial is undoubtedly the hands, which have been annealed to a brownish violet hue that has become something of a signature of the brand.
As spectacular as the case and dial are, it is the 312-part, 38-jewel Calibre 106.0 driving the Hamatic that is the star of the show. The 72 hours of power reserve that the Calibre 106.0 has is impressive for an automatic movement, but it is the means by which the movement tops its own power reserve up that is worth a second take. A look through the sapphire crystal case back reveals all, as it is impossible to miss. Instead of the ubiquitous rotor found in virtually all automatic watches from the past century, the Hamatic is wound by an ovoid “hammer” that swings like a pendulum. It moves back and forth to wind the mainspring via two click wheels. Thanks to the gold weight at the tip, the centre of mass of the hammer is relatively far away form its rotational axis, resulting in high torque. The mainspring is wound even if the hammer moves only five degrees (or a distance of only two millimetres). Intricately crafted end springs in the hammer frame, shaped like a bard’s lyre, act as shock absorbers for excessive deflections of the hammer body.
The watch can be hand-wound in addition to the self-winding mechanism. To achieve this, a manual winder designed as a yoke winder is mounted on a separate bridge. This yoke ensures that the manual winder is always uncoupled from the ratchet wheel when the Hamatic system is active in response to motion. In manual winding mode, the reduction gear is isolated from the ratchet wheel by the click-pawl idler.
In typical Moritz Grossmann fashion, the Calibre 106.0 is finished and decorated to the highest standards of Saxon watchmaking. What remains of the German silver two-third plate situated just under the pendulum has been adorned with six wide Glashütte stripes. The three jewels on it are pressed in gold chatons, yet another hallmark of timepieces from Saxony. Other decorations that can be seen through the case back include the hand-engraving on the balance cock, the double-band snailing on the mainspring barrel, perlage on the main plate, polished bevels, and sharp anglage.
The Competitive Landscape
Automatic wristwatches are ubiquitous today, but how many of them are fitted with a hammer-style pendulum? None are – except for the Moritz Grossmann Hamatic. This is what makes the watch stand out – its uniquely original answer to the self-winding question, decorated to the highest level. Such excellence, of course, does not come cheap. The Moritz Grossmann Hamatic in rose gold retails for a steep SGD70,900.
It’s a lot of money, but you are paying for an automatic wristwatch fitted with a winding mechanism not found in any other wristwatch. Nothing comes close to being as special as the Hamatic. That said, there are some examples that are perhaps worth a detour. One such specimen is the Breguet Tradition 7597 which features a sleekly executed retrograde date complication. Importantly, its winding rotor is equipped with a weight reminiscent of the ones found in some of the earliest automatic watches ever, the aforementioned Breguet perpétuelle pocket watches. The Breguet Tradition 7597 isn’t wound via a pendulum system like in the perpétuelle, but it sure oozes nostalgia. The model in pink gold is priced at USD37,800 (2020 pricing).
If the hammer-style pendulum system is the predecessor to the rotor system, then the peripheral rotor can be thought of as the next step forward for mechanical watch winding. One of the biggest proponents of peripheral rotors in luxury watchmaking is none other than Vacheron Constantin. The brand’s acclaimed Calibre 2160 stars not just the tourbillon but also the peripheral rotor, making an appearance in no fewer than three current models by the manufacturer. Unlike the classic central rotor, the peripheral rotor does not obstruct the view of the (rest of the) movement. In addition, as it sits level with the bridges, the peripheral rotor does not add additional height to the watch. The Vacheron Constantin FiftySix Tourbillon is one such model to utilise the Calibre 2160; at the time of writing, it is priced at SGD201,000.
The Moritz Grossmann Hamatic is a true connoisseurs’ item. The best ones tend to be curiosities and the pendulum winding system is most curious indeed. It also helps that the Hamatic is absurdly well-finished. Digging up the past might be a faux pas in human relationship, but in fine watchmaking, it is a boon. Particularly in Saxony, anachronistic designs and mechanisms often find their way into watches as a tribute to tradition; expect more throwbacks in future Moritz Grossman pieces.