Here is a list which the Chief Editor fears. But only because it features six of the watches which have stolen his heart. Nay, ran away with it. If not for the meager earnings of a watch journal, these timepieces would have found a way into his personal collection. The common theme in today’s list, other than his profound besotted state, is that all these watches are run off a remontoire.
A remontoire is defined (Daniels, Watchmaking) as a spring within the power train which acts as a secondary escapement for the mainspring. This spring rewinds at fixed intervals (1 second is a popular choice, but longer intervals exist. And in so doing, feeding the balance with a smaller torque, and at a more constant rate than directly from the mainspring.
Preamble: Why constant force and the need for a remontoire
Remontoires were first developed for tower clocks. In order to provide for longer power reserves, most tower clocks have a reserve or 7 days and some even can go for a whole month between windings, the power source needs to be big. In a tower clock the power to the train is usually a weight which is hoisted up the tower and allowed to fall. As it descends, it supplies power to the train. Although this force remains fairly constant (after all gravity is a constant force), it is subject to imperfections in the gear train and variations in lubrication. Remember that in a huge clock from that era, operated on components which were large, heavy, and not finished. In order to smooth out these irregularities, a small spring is used to provide power to the train. This spring is placed within the wheel train, within the power flow. It is wound in fixed intervals by the falling weight. This spring is known as a remontoire.
In a spring driven clock or watch, the power source is the mainspring. This mainspring is by necessity is large, long and strong. As it unwinds, the torque follows Hooke’s Law, and depletes over time. When fully wound, the torque is very high, and when near depletion, the torque is much reduced. This variation in torque affects the escapement’s isochronism. Similarly, the remontoire is a small spring installed within the wheel train. By nature, this remontoire spring is small, it is able to supply a more constant torque to the train, but it also goes from full to depleted quickly, and needs to be rewound often. The mainspring’s power is used wind the remontoire. So that the movement can run for the full power reserve of the mainspring, while attaining the constant torque supplied by the smaller remontoire. Other solutions to this problem is provided by fusée and chain systems, and the ancient stackfreed.
Throwback Sunday: Six recommendations for watches with a remontoire system
So here it goes, six of our top picks. No particular order, as usual.
Remontoires in wrist watches were first introduced by F.P. Journe in his Tourbillon Remontoir D’egalité in 1999. Journe fitted his tourbillon with a one second remontoire, which as the name implies discharges and rewinds once every second. This provides a near constant force to the tourbillon escapement. The first generation of the watch featured a brass movement, with the remontoire vane system exposed via an aperture on the dial. In subsequent generations, a seconds hands was fitted on the device, and the dial aperture closed. Journe followed up with his even more elegant Chronomètre Optimum. No tourbillon, but with constant force system, and retails for SGD 125,200 in rose gold.
This magnificent sample is a collector piece, presented by the owner to Deployant. The case is in platinum with a gorgeous black mother of pearl dial. The dial shimmers in every angle with a very beautiful multi-colour pearlescent luster. And features the second generation rose gold movement and seconde morte system, as seen in the photograph above. The tourbillon is huge, the opening diameter for its aperture is half the diameter of the entire dial, and makes for a magnificent spectacle.
This version of Tourbillon Remontoir D’egalité in discontinued, and it is replaced with the new Chronometre Souverain Tourbillon Verticale, with a retail price of SGD 359,600 in platinum.
The remontoire was first used by the Germans in the Lange 31 in 2007 and the Lange Zeitwerk in 2009. But the principal reason for the remontoire in the Langes is to control the huge power of the mainspring, rather than as a constant force system, though these benefits are apparent. The huge mainspring is required to power the Lange 31 for the enormous power autonomy of 31 days. And for the Zeitwerk, to provide sufficient power to ensure a clean jump of all 4 digits simultaneously.
Lange added the Richard Lange Jumping Seconds to her list of watches with remontoires in 2017, and utilize the staccato effect of the rewind of the remontoire to power the seconde morte. And again in 2018, with the 1815 ‘Homage to Walter Lange’ edition also features this constant force system to drive the seconde morte.
Our pick is the first born. The Lange 31. The power of the mainspring is tamed with a 20s remontoire. This is a large watch, measuring some 46mm in diameter, and 15.8mm in height, it weighs an impressive 230g (about half a pound) in its platinum case. And during the launch event, the Chief Editor wore the watch over the duration of dinner – some 4 hours on his wrist – and when he had to return the watch to Tony de Haas at the Bulow Residenz bar, it was with some regret as the watch felt so natural and at home. The sub-title link article takes you to the original Timezone.com launch article which explains the workings of the Lange 31, and this link takes you to an analytical article on the watch and why it is a sleeping giant.
The platinum launch edition is now discontinued, but a white gold edition in a grey dial is now available in the current Lange catalog. Retail price is currently on a POA basis. Last known published price was EUR 115,000 inclusive of German VAT.
Presented in 2016, the 1941 Remontoire by the Grönefeld brothers. The inspiration was taken in the town of Oldenzaal, where they grew up,. Their grandfather Johan and father Sjef were both watchmakers and were responsible for the town’s church clock mechanism at Saint Plechelmus. This clock, like many tower clocks used in church towers feature a 30 seconds remontoire mechanism.
The watch is cased in 39.5mm and was available in various metal options of red gold, white gold and stainless steel. The movement is developed by the Grönefeld brothers with the assistance from Andreas Strehler. And it is a technological tour de force. The remontoire vanes can be seen at the 9 o’clock dial position through an aperture. The movement finish is excellent, and features the Grönefeld signature stainless steel bridges. The watches were priced at EUR 50,850 in white gold and EUR 44,900 in stainless steel. All versions are currently sold out.
Note: Strehler himself has an interesting specimen as well, in the form of the Trans-axial Remontoir Tourbillon which incorporates the remontoire which is coaxially mounted to the tourbillon cage.
And on to the incredible work of Karl-Friedrich Schuefele and his team at Ferdinand Berthoud. They introduced two references in 2020 with the remontoire as the constant force system. Earlier F.Berthoud models have featured the fusée-and-chain system, also a constant force mechanism to drive the tourbillon. In this new model, the constant force system now adds a remontoire to the fusée-and-chain system, and the tourbillon is ommited. Both feature truly classical aesthetics, and encased in a round case, of either white gold or pink gold. An option of either white of black grand feu enamel dial is available, and this is produced in a limited edition of 10 pieces each.
This is a masterpiece product if there ever was one. There can be no argument that the quality of execution and finishing is impeccable and beyond reproach. And the aesthetics is pure classical in every traditional sense. Very sober, and low key. Flip the watch over, and the fireworks of the movement as seen through the sapphire glass is a spectacle worthy of the effort that Berthoud has taken to produce it. And at SGD 307,500, while not an inexpensive proposition, persuades one that this is not an unreasonable ransom. This price bracket makes it comparable to her siblings – the F. Berthoud FB 1 series.
Let us start right off the bat by saying that this is a gorgeous looking watch. But like all Greubel Forsey watches, its a love it or hate it kind of timepiece. It is the epitome of watchmaking for those of us who marvel and are fascinated by the mechanics of timekeeping, and wonder at the 3 dimensional landscape of the movements. This amazement led our Chief Editor to coin the term Watchscapes, our series of large format photographs presented as wallpapers. The visual impact of the watch is powerful. Immediately captivating the eye as one gazes on the dial. Everything looks its part from the huge cut out which exposes the inclined balance to the hands and parts of the remontoire, to the frosted finish and the indices and the hands, to the colour scheme. All wow worthy.
As usual, the finishing of the Greubel Forsey Différential d’Égalité is ne plus ultra. Best in the business. This, and the technical virtuoso of the inclined balance with the remontoire almost makes the typical GF stratospheric pricing of CHF 265,000 in a white gold case (LE 33 pieces) seem worth the trouble. If one can afford it.
The Arnold and Son Constant Force Tourbillon is a rather interesting watch. It looks like no other watch we have seen. The design is powerful, and highly technical in its aesthetic. The case is a generous 46mm in diameter and is in 18k red gold. The watch is limited to 28 pieces and have a nominal water resistance of 30m. The dial is almost non-existent, and exposes the entire movement. The constant force system is fully visible from the dial side, and if one is so inclined, one can work out how it works by observing the remontoire in action.
The vibe of the watch has a rather raw technical, mechanical aspect. It is top level nerdy, with all its innards exposed. But in a beautifully packaged and elegant aesthetic which we find very appealing. The dial layout and movement layout visible from the case back is fully symmetrical, and we find this extremely alluring. The way the constant force mechanism and the mounted seconds morte jumps each seconds, perfectly echoing the constantly rotation (actually the tourbillon cage also makes 6 small steps every second as dictated by the 21,600 bph escapement) of the tourbillon.
The Arnold and Son Tourbillon Constant Force retails for SGD 276,400 in pink gold.
Here are the best 6 which we heartily recommend for those with deep pockets. Be aware, all these watches are very complicated, and thus each carry a significant price tag. We make no apologies for it. But before we get hate mail that this article is in the clouds and nobody can afford these watches, may we remind you that a good number of our readers can and do buy watches pitched at these price levels. Thus the highest end of the market thrives, and perhaps even does better than the mid-priced market levels.
These might be watches for you. Or they might not be. Bravo to you if they are. But if you belong to the latter, then please just sit back and enjoy the read. Just like many car enthusiasts enjoy reading about McLarens, Koenigseggs, Lamborghinis and Ferraris which are far beyond what their bank managers are able to approve, the same can be said of high end watches. To be enjoyed, even by those who cannot afford it. And of course, also by those who can.