Harry Winston's annual Opus project was launched in 2001, with editions counting the years of the millennium. This series of rather special watches has now reached 'Opus 12'. QP gets the inside story.
In the late 1990s, as the renaissance of the mechanical watch as a luxury item was developing, New York jeweller Harry Winston wanted to expand its then very limited production, which was focused mainly on jewellery watches. A new department, 'Harry Winston Rare Watches' was created and Maximillian Büsser, who had a master's degree in Micro-technology Engineering and who had spent seven years as Product Manager with Jaeger- LeCoultre, was appointed as its first Managing Director.
With Opus 12 time no longer reads via a pair of hands positioned in the center of the dial, but by the peripheral drive of 12 pairs of hands going from the circumference to the centre.
As many QP readers know, the idea for the Opus project arose from a conversation Büsser had with François-Paul Journe at Basel 2000. Journe said how frustrating it was, as an established watchmaker working with a new brand, to get people to take the step from admiring his watches to buying them. Büsser suddenly realised that a special watch produced by an independent maker and backed by the Harry Winston name would give enhanced watchmaking credibility to both. And so F.P. Journe produced Opus 1, a suite of 18 watches in three models; including, most notably, his Chronometre a Rèsonance. Journe told QP: "I was happy to be part of the project as both Harry Winston and F.P. Journe were independent companies on a human scale; Harry Winston was still managed by Ronald Winston, the son of the founder." Journe claims that his dial designs "formed the foundation of Harry Winston's style for men's watches. It might be said," he continued, "that having been chosen for Opus number one proved both the quality of my work and set the pace for Harry Winston."
A LIFE OF ITS OWN
Working with artisan watchmakers in the years that followed was a life-changing adventure for Max Büsser. He realised that, although profit was necessary, "watches could be produced for the pleasure of the creativity expressed." After Opus V (which is always given the Roman numeral) with Felix Baumgartner, he left Harry Winston to form Max Büsser and Friends - MB&F. But that is another story.
Each of the 12 stations around the dial carries a long hand to indicate the five-minute intervals and a short hand to indicate the hours.
At that point it seemed that the Opus series may have reached its end, but Büsser's successor, Hamdi Chatti (now CEO of Louis Vuitton), was eager to continue. He approached Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey, who completed Opus 6, an inclined double tourbillon, in just six months - a record for the series. The project has since continued unabated, producing an astonishingly varied array of remarkable timepieces of which, it might be said, clarity of indication has sometimes taken second place to mechanical ingenuity.
And so we come to Opus 12. It was developed over two years, and 7,500 man-hours, by Emmanuel Bouchet, in close cooperation with the designer Augustin Nussbaum and the Harry Winston team. From a few feet away, it appears to be a normal watch with batons around the dial to mark the hours. A closer look reveals a worrying absence of hands, and a detailed examination is quite perplexing. Those batons are quite irregular. They differ slightly in length and are at different levels. A couple are blue and the others are metallic. If you happen to be watching towards the end of the 59th minute of the hour, mesmeric flashes of blue orbit the dial as the batons rotate on their axes. Emmanuel Bouchet says it expresses the Copernican view of our solar system. But really, what on Earth is going on?
Emmanuel Bouchet and his Centagora team.
Those strange batons have a complex structure and a dual function. Each baton has two blades that are superimposed. Each pair can rotate on its axis so that when the short one, with its blue face, is uppermost, it indicates the hour. The longer baton indicates the minutes, in 5-minute steps, and is more complex. It is normally uppermost and can rotate independently, leaving the short baton stationary below it. This minute baton is also blue on one side.
Just below the dial centre is the only conventional feature of this watch - a seconds hand. Above the seconds ring is a retrograde minute hand traversing a 5-minute sector. In the view shown the time indicated is 12 and a half minutes past 10: the hour baton at 10 is uppermost, as is the minute baton at 2, each showing their blue face. The minute hand is half way across the 5-minute sector, when it gets to the end, the baton at 2 will rotate, hiding its blue face, as will that at 3, revealing its blue face. It is 10:15.
As mentioned previously, Opus 12 provides its piece de resistence at the end of the 59th minute. Each pair of batons rotate on their axes in turn, producing a blue flash first at the next hour and then proceeding rapidly around the dial before ending up at its new position. This is where the somewhat hyperbolic reference to Copernicus comes in; each pair of batons rotates on its axis like a planet and also appears to orbit the dial.
So how is this performance achieved? There are separate gear trains for the timekeeping and the display, driven by separate mainsprings. This ensures that the considerable hourly demand for the display does not affect the power supply to the balance. Each mainspring provides a 45-hour power reserve indicated jointly below the minute sector. They are manually wound simultaneously. Timekeeping is regulated by a stately 2.5Hz balance (18,000 vph) and the display by a vibrating escapement that provides an intriguing sound as the batons rotate.
The hands are activated thanks to two crown wheels turning around the dial. Both of them have toothed sections that engage the driving wheels of the hands at each station.
LUCKY FOR SOME
Opus 12 has 807 parts, including 27 hands. The seconds hand is conventional. The retrograde 5-minute and power reserve hands are more or less conventional. The 24 other 'hands' - the 12 pairs of batons - are a new concept and their choreography has been the major challenge to the designers. A closer look at the dial edge shows the nests of gears rotating the batons both individually and in pairs. These are driven by crown wheels (as the name implies the teeth are at right angles to the circumference rather than extending radially) at the periphery of the movement.
When QP complimented the President and CEO of Harry Winston, Frédéric de Narp, on the often career changing publicity given to individual watchmakers by the Opus project, he replied: "The strength of Opus is to encourage new interest for freedom and innovation in technical watchmaking through collaboration with the most brilliant watchmakers, to link their talents and create exceptional masterpieces."Asked if the series would continue he was not prepared to give away any 2013 secrets, but said: "Absolutely. Opus is central for us and we are looking forward to unveiling Opus 13 next year at Baselworld." This will be good news for those interested in exceptional creativity and especially that dedicated band that has already obtained the first dramatic dozen in the series.
Further information: www.harrywinston.com