The history of Arnold & Son is one of ups and downs. The company’s beginning was as bright as it can get. Started by John Arnold in The Strand, London in 1762, the firm was famous for watchmaking innovations, pocket and marine chronometres, and was a supplier to royalty. Legendary navigators such as James Cook depended on instruments crafted by John Arnold. The likes of Abraham Louis Breguet called him friend and collaborator. After his death, the company went into a steady decline into relative obscurity. It wasn’t until 1995 that the brand was resurrected. Fast forward to today and the brand we now know as Arnold & Son is Swiss-made, under Japanese ownership (Citizen). Though the brand is no longer English and certainly not English-made, it continues to bear the fundamental principles of John Arnold’s work: chronometry and world time.
Arnold & Son Double Tourbillon White Gold
Capturing the spirit of the brand to a tee is none other than the Double Tourbillon watch. Those of us who have been around will know that this is not a new watch. The Double Tourbillon has, in fact, been around for almost ten years. Numerous variations of the timepiece have been presented including one with a jade dial just two years ago. For 2023, Arnold & Son releases its latest iteration of the Double Tourbillon in white gold, now with a rather special malachite dial.
The Case, Dial, and Hands
The case of the Double Tourbillon measures a modern 43.5 mm in diameter. Rendered in 18 carat white gold, the watch feels fairly hefty on the wrist. It features a domed sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating on both sides of the glass. The polished case is fitted with not one, but two crowns on the flanks at 2 and 7 o’clock – they independently adjust the two time-telling dials on the main dial.
With the striated malachite dial as the backdrop, these two white opaline sub-dials – located at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock – display the local time and remote/reference time, respectively. Local time is displayed with Roman numerals while the remote time is displayed with Arabic numerals. The arrow hands that indicate the time are openworked, much like the two tourbillon bridges on the horizontal axis. These bridges secure the two tourbillons that are visible through the two apertures on the malachite dial. The domed design of the aforementioned sapphire crystal was a necessity to accommodate the height of the white gold bridges.
Driving the Arnold & Son Double Tourbillon is the 42-jewel Calibre A&S8513. The manually wound movement boasts 90 hours of power reserve and operates at a stately 3 Hz frequency. Essentially, the Double Tourbillon is two watches in one. There are two barrels, two gear trains, two independent tourbillon regulators, two crowns and two dials displaying time, again, independently. This allows for maximal flexibility as the dials can display the same time or any different time, including any and all time zones, even those offset by quarter hours. One minor drawback of the movement would be the lack of a quick-set functionality, such as one that adjusts the hour hands by hourly increments.
The finissage on the Calibre A&S8513 is excellent. On the bridges are Geneva waves radiating from the centre, as well as edges that have been beveled and polished. Also of note are the double snailed wheels and the polished gold chatons. While the view of the movement through the sapphire crystal case back is splendid, it is the view from the front that steals the show. The two openworked tourbillon bridges feature a striking mix of mirror-polished and satin-finished surfaces. They, too, are hand-chamfered.
The Competitive Landscape
High-end, single tourbillon watches – the ones that are superbly finished and backed solid watchmaking – remain an uncommon sight even today. When you double the number of tourbillons on said watches, the rarity doesn’t just double, it goes up an order of magnitude. Naturally, all that is moot when it comes to the Arnold & Son Double Tourbillon White Gold Malachite, because it is, after all, a unique piece. Only one will ever be made and you can bet there won’t be a lack of suitors. The watch is priced at CHF226,200, an eye-watering but competitive sum.
One of the most remarkable specimens of the double tourbillon watch in recent times is none other than the Breguet Classique Double Tourbillon 5345 Quai De l’Horloge. Every millimetre of this watch is deliberate and immaculate. From the numerous acute angles on movement components to the extremely detailed engraving of a building at the back, the finissage on the Breguet 5345 Quai De l’Horloge is jaw-droppingly sumptuous. There’s also the fact that the double tourbillons are orbital, meaning they revolve around the centre, in this case once every 12 hours thanks to a rotating movement plate. While the two tourbillons have their separate gear trains (much like the Arnold & Son), they are coupled by a differential to produce an averaged rate that dictates timekeeping and movement plate rotation. Unsurprisingly, such excellent watchmaking and craftsmanship come at a cost – USD651,000 (2020 price) to be exact. And while it isn’t a limited edition model, you can count on production being extremely limited.
For a double tourbillon watch that’s more down-to-earth (it’s all relative), look no further than the Zenith Defy El Primero Double Tourbillon. We’ll cut to the chase, in terms of finissage, the Zenith is no match for the Arnold & Son Double Tourbillon, and especially not against the Breguet. However, it more than makes up for it with some rather hardcore watchmaking. Like the Arnold & Son, each tourbillon regulator is independent – they’ve got their own gear train and barrel. What’s different is that instead of each tourbillon driving it’s own time display, in the Zenith, one drives the timekeeping while the other is solely dedicated to the chronograph. Oh, and the tourbillons run at atypically high frequencies – the one for timekeeping runs at 5 Hz, making one rotation per minute, while the one for the chronograph runs at 50 Hz, making one rotation every 5 seconds. Coming in at CHF119,900 (in 2019), the Zenith Defy El Primero Double Tourbillon is not exactly cheap, but it is by far the least bank-busting of the three here and offers arguably the most avant-garde mechanics.
The Arnold & Son Double Tourbillon White Gold Malachite, boiled down to its essence, is an over-engineered dual time watch. That doesn’t sound overly positive but it is actually what a mechanical watch connoisseur digs – elaborate mechanical constructs, finely decorated. Between its two tourbillon bridges, crowns, atypical malachite dial and domed sapphire crystal, there is plenty to love about the Arnold & Son’s latest Double Tourbillon. Sadly, there can only be one lucky owner of this showpiece of a watch – good luck spotting it in the wild.