Tuesday, September 29

Review: When Hands Just Don’t Cut It – The Genus GNS 1

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Genus GNS 1

Ever seen a newbie try something difficult for the first time, and get it right straight away? This is the story of the GNS 1, first production watch of debutant Genus, and winner of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) 2019 Mechanical Exception Watch Prize. Now, while Genus is, by all definitions, a newcomer to the scene, it was co-founded by a man with bountiful of industry experience and know-how. Genus was created by entrepreneur Catherine Henry, and watchmaker Sébastien Billières. The son of a watchmaker, Billières has over 20 years of experience, several of which were spent at established names like Roger Dubuis and Urwerk. He then co-founded Geneva Made Time Industrial (GMTI), a specialist movement manufacturer capable of assembling Geneva Seal movements.

Perhaps knowing the background of Mr. Billières, the GNS 1 winning the prestigious GPHG Mechanical Exception prize becomes not so much of a shock. Nevertheless, it is still a feat in and of itself, especially for a brand in its neonatal stage. So what makes the GNS 1 so mechanically exceptional that it is judged to be prize-worthy? Here, we bring you the details and our thoughts on this blockbuster timepiece.

The Case, Dial, and Hands

The case of the GNS 1 was designed to make the dial the star of the show. Relatively unremarkable, the 43 mm x 13.1 mm case is brushed on the flanks and mirror polished on the top surface. That “top surface” is practically all lugs. As you can tell from the image below, there is relatively little case body compared to the dial. There is no bezel at all, and the dial stretches close to the true edge of the case. Genus opts for the box-type sapphire crystal in the GNS 1, which in our opinion was the absolute right choice. It adds a great sense of depth to the timepiece while turning the watch into a mini showcase for the mechanical marvel within.

The numbers make the GNS 1 seem like a thick watch, but a significant portion of the height comes from the box-type crystal encasing the highly three-dimensional movement.

To be frank, there isn’t much of a dial underneath the confines of the sapphire crystal. Everything that is seen is technically the movement. At first glance, the face of the watch appears rather chaotic, but once you know your way around it, it becomes clearer. Essentially, all the watch displays is time – in hours, tens of minutes, and the precise minutes. The most intuitive to read is the hours. To indicate the hours, there is a red pointer at the 9 o’clock position. Tracing the perimeter are 12 indices/satellites that serve quite obviously as hour markers. They make a full revolution around the dial every 12 hours; this, with the red pointer indicate the hour of the day. A patent-pending mechanism ensures the indices are always aligned vertical at every quarter revolution.

The most interesting and captivating part of the watch is, by far, the tens of minutes display. From afar, the mechanism in action resembles a centipede that crawls around the tens of minutes markers in a figure of 8 pattern. This ‘centipede’ is made up of 12 segments with luminescent pointers on opposite ends. Genus calls the sum of these segments ‘Genera’ with the individual segment being a ‘Genus’. Basically, the lead Genus shows the passing of time in 10-minute increments and is followed by 11 Genera that progress radially along the 8-shaped orbital path.

The dial of the GNS 1 is a gearhead’s wet dream.

But what if you wish to tell the exact time? Fortunately, reading the precise minute is a simpler affair. It is indicated at the 3 o’clock position with yet another red pointer, pointing at the precise minute displayed on a small rotating wheel.

The Movement

Driving the GNS 1 is the 418-part, 26-jewel Calibre 160W-1.2. The manually wound movement has a power reserve of 50 hours and operates at a lazy 2.5 Hz, most likely to conserve power for the energy-hungry time display. The view of the case back is familiar enough; in contrast to the madness on the dial-side, the back resembles that of a classic pocket watch. From a finishing perspective, the movement meets the standards of haute horlogerie. The 18k frosted gold bridges are expertly chamfered, with numerous rounded and outward angles to boast. The ratchet wheel is beautifully snailed, while the screw heads are black polished.

The Calibre 160W-1.2, as seen through the sapphire crystal case back.

The front end of the movement is far less classical and far more elaborate than the back. The various components, such as the levers, feature exaggerated curves and acute outward angles. Parts like the tens of minutes discs are gorgeously flame-blued for contrast. The only nitpicking that we could do is on the lack of inward angles in spite of numerous opportunities to include some. We feel that the presence of inward angles would take the Genus GNS 1 to the next, hallowed level.

A slew of intricate, contrasting finishes adorn the Calibre 160W-1.2

The Competitive Landscape

The Genus G 1 is a watch that tells time in a most creative manner. Achieving this required immense mechanical ingenuity that was enough to sway GPHG judges. It does beg the question, though, whether the G 1 is more a kinetic sculpture than timepiece. While the watch does tell the time, it is hardly legible due to the messiness of the dial and the unintuitive way it is displayed. So is the G 1 more akin to a spring-powered kinetic sculpture that happens to tell the time? Perhaps, but it is a timepiece nonetheless. It bears mentioning as well that, in real life, the 12 Genera move at a pace that is barely noticeable by eye, as it does take an hour to completely travel along the 8-shaped track. Were the Genera to do a figure-of-eight in 60 seconds instead, things would be infinitely more exciting. As you may have guessed, this would require an unpragmatic amount of power, so we’ll have to settle for minutes rather than seconds for now.

All that said, the G 1 is still a mechanical powerhouse, with solid watchmaking and fine finishing. Its unorthodox, playful way of displaying time sets it apart from basically everything else. For now, the watch comes in either pink gold or white gold (GPHG-winning entrant) with a suggested retail price of CHF148,000 (VAT not included). It is a hefty price for a time-only watch that doesn’t tell time very legibly, but considering that its come from a small independent workshop and that it has a 418-part, hand-finished movement with never-before-seen mechanics, the price becomes more palatable.

The GNS 1 is loud and proud on the wrist. The case and lugs can hardly be seen due to the sheer space encompassed by the ‘dial’.

Of course, watches that tell time in alternative ways aren’t a new thing, as we’ve seen plenty in the past decade. The GNS 1 is a shining example of one, but there are others too that deserve credit. When it comes to alternative time displays, few watches are more exotic than an HYT. The brand’s watches is famed for its innovative liquid time display. This is achieved using an all mechanic process that uses mechanical power in a pressure release system that pushes and pulls fluid through a tube. The transmission is achieved with a fluidic module by the conversion of rotation into linear movement using a cam-follower system. In 2018’s HYT H20, time is displayed through a tube filled with two liquids, one colored and the other transparent. The release of the liquid is controlled by two bellows which pushes or releases the fluids. Upon completion of a full 12 hours cycle, the liquids restore to the original position in a retrograde action. Priced at USD95,000, the H20 is significantly less expensive than the GNS 1 but, in our opinion, brings a similar level of wow-factor and ingenuity.

The dial side of the H20 reveals the gear train, setting mechanism, balance wheel and the two bellows which control the flow of the two fluids.

Then there’s the H. Moser & Cie. Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black, where minimal theatrics, is the theatrics. There is literally nothing on the dial except for a cut-out that reveals a regular flying tourbillon. To tell the time, one must exclusively rely on the minute repeater. Having to set the time without any time display whatsoever is itself a fascinating endeavour (read more about it in our review here). The novelty of the Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black is purely on the notion that time can only be heard; apart from a traditional albeit complex minute repeater complication, there are no other fancy mechanics or technicals. Oh, there’s the tourbillon, which doubles as a power reserve indicator – when it stops, it’s time to get winding and setting. The Swiss Alp Watch Concept Black is a piece unique priced at an eye-watering USD350,000. Whoever bought the watch is the owner of the first wristwatch that tells time exclusively through sound (as far as we’re aware).

The Swiss Alp Concept Black utilises the Swiss Alp casing, which is intentionally and ironically designed to resemble the Apple watch.

Final Thoughts

The Mechanical Exception Watch Prize for GPHG 2019 going to the Genus GNS 1 was controversial and seen as an upset by many. Some of the watches competing in the category included the Freak NeXt and the Twin Beat Perpetual Calendar – watches that feature enticing horological innovations. Perhaps the judges were looking for something entirely fresh, shocking, and off the beaten path, in which case the GNS 1 has certainly delivered. There is no doubt in its mechanical ingenuity and creativity, and while – strictly speaking – it doesn’t advance mechanical watchmaking, it makes a significant contribution to the art of time telling.

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