This Concept Watch Has The Potential To Rewrite The Horological Rulebook. Here’s How.
Rattling the foundations of the horological universe, Dominique Renaud’s DR01 Twelve First concept watch is reinventing the fundamental principles of mechanical watchmaking. Introducing an alternative to the balance wheel and lever escapement configuration, Mr Renaud sees the invention as “the beginning of a watch odyssey”. Our resident watchmaker and columnist, Fell Jensen weighs in, to explain how it works.
I’m genuinely stunned by several elements of the Dominique Renaud DR01 Twelve First watch, but given the reputation of its creator, perhaps I shouldn’t be. Dominique Renaud’s peers regard him as something of a genius. If his first offering after 15 years of semi-retirement is anything to go by, the reputation is well deserved.
Mr Renaud and his business partner Giulio Papi, founded Renaud & Papi in 1986. In 1992 Audemars Piguet stepped in and became the majority shareholder of Renaud & Papi, rechristening it as APRP and taking the company – under the watchful eye of Giulio Papi – to new heights.
But Renaud retreated from the industry around the turn of the century, and not much has been heard from him since. It makes sense then, that his re-emergence is a hollering cry for attention (in the best possible way).
The eye-catching aesthetics of the DR01 are divisive to say the least. I could write a thesis on the pros and cons of this design, but that’s not what we’re here for. The most interesting thing about this watch is the movement, because that’s where the action happens and where the ‘justification’ for the mooted million-dollar price tag resides.
I’ll try and make this as simple as possible, but it’s definitely a good idea to read this explanation while having the video of the time-keeping element of this watch playing in the background.
Every mechanical timepiece must contain a regulating organ which is responsible for the accuracy of your watch. These time-keeping elements operate at a set frequency. The higher the frequency, the more accurate the watch has the potential to be.
In this case, the time-keeping element is something radically new. Replacing the balance wheel and spring is a futuristic pendulum that rocks back and forth within a cylindrical chamber, communicating its movements to the gear train (and thus the time display), by way of a side-mounted escapement.
This is a very novel way of arranging the components. I’ve rarely seen a watch that so fully utilises all three dimensions in regards to movement layout. Crucially, the amplitude of the pendulum’s movement is shockingly low at 30 degrees instead of the established optimum of 280.
It follows that a reduction in friction will result in improved isochronism (*isochronism being the property of a pendulum to take the same time to complete a swing, no matter how big the swing is – an essential element for ensuring timepiece accuracy). To achieve less friction, Renaud has done away with the traditional pivot of the balance wheel and created instead a wider, unbreakable pivoting surface, which spans the width of a rocking ‘blade’ and replaces the balance wheel itself.
In conjunction with his blade oscillator, the operating frequency is quite high at 36,000 vibrations per hour. A high frequency in conjunction with a reduction in amplitude gets the best of both worlds in terms of accuracy and power reserve.
The DR01 has a power reserve of two weeks, which is brilliant for a single-barrel watch. The only watch I’ve encountered that surpasses these feats is the concept piece unveiled by Parmigiani Fleurier about six months ago.
The Parmigiani Senfine employs the same concept of reduced amplitude, high frequency, and long life between winds, besting the DR01 on all fronts. The Senfine has an amplitude of 16 degrees, operates at 115,200vph, and boasts a power reserve of 30 days. Although both watches are yet to be produced, the DR01 is ready to be realised as soon as buyers (of which Renaud needs 12) come on board. Conversely, Parmigiani are aiming to have the Senfine ready for sale by 2018.
Conceptually similar as these pieces may be, the execution is wildly different. Bizarrely, The DR01 is more traditional in its use of materials, while the Senfine relies entirely on its employment of silicon – a controversial material that can be cut and formed in ways metal simply cannot. The drawback for silicon is really one of perception. Many collectors of high-end timepieces prefer the idea of a skilled artisan hewing masterpieces from base materials, rather than the sci-fi production methods of silicon.
Either way, both models hold a mirror up to the watchmaking industry and ask it to consider its own future. Will watchmaking fall in line with this new concept, abandoning centuries of core beliefs to chase a new model of perfection, or will the time-honoured ways persist as they have done in the face of similar (if less tantalizing), propositions in the past?
Although just 12 pieces of the DR01 will be produced, the joy of watches of this ilk is not so much in owning one, rather being able to appreciate them from afar and within the broader context of an ever-evolving industry. Only time will tell if this mind-bending and potentially revolutionary concept catches on, but I’m confident that the endeavours of the legendary Mr Renaud will continue to inspire debate and the next generation regardless.