Christophe Claret, known for creating complicated timepieces with tourbillons and repeater mechanisms, has released his most ambitious such model yet, called the Soprano. The watch’s signature features are its 60-second tourbillon, stepped “Charles X” bridges made of sapphire, and a musically accurate four-note minute repeater striking Westminster chimes on cathedral gongs.
A traditional minute repeater tells the time audibly with two notes created from two small hammers striking two gongs: one for the hours, one for the minutes and a combination of the two for the quarter hours. A more complex type is the Clarion repeater, with three notes that can play a simple melody for the quarters. The most complex minute repeater is the Westminster, named for the distinctive tune played by the Big Ben clock at England’s Palace of Westminster, which strikes the quarters with four hammers striking four notes on four bells. The Soprano strikes these Westminster chimes on four cathedral gongs, each circling the perimeter of the movement twice (a normal gong goes around only once). To further enhance the richness of the sound, Claret used grade 5 titanium, a metal known for its superior acoustic properties and used in musical instruments, for the central case band.
In his decades of experience developing striking watches, Claret has developed 21st century technology to help maximize their sound quality. Working with a piano tuner, he created a computer program called Analyser 2000, which records and analyzes the watches’ notes for pitch, duration, loudness, and even the length of the silent pauses between notes. The results, according to the company, are more consistently harmonious and “musically accurate” melodies with strong crystalline notes. Each note is determined by the precise length and diameter of the gongs. The hammer has to strike forcefully for a loud sound, but immediately leave the gong so as not to deaden the ring. (Click on photos for larger images.)
When the repeater slide on the left side of the caseband is activated, the chimes sound the number of hours with C (Do), the deepest note; followed by the Westminster Quarters’ melody for the quarter hours (unless fewer than 15 minutes after the hour); and then the number of minutes after the last quarter hour. Claret has invented a patented system that eliminates the usual problem associated with cathedral gongs: the disconcerting buzz that can result when the coils, which are very close together, vibrate upon touching each other.
Aside from the four cathedral gongs and the titanium caseband (the bezel and caseback are made of gold), the other feature of the watch that enhances the richness and clarity of the chimes is the lack of a dial. This “open” design not only removes a barrier to the transmission of sound; it also offers a clear view of the striking mechanism, tourbillon escapement, mainspring barrel, winding system and Charles X bridges.
The tourbillon escapament— a standard feature in all of Claret’s watches — is located at 6 o’clock; the 60-second tourbillon carriage is supported by a single-arm stepped bridge. This bridge, along with others in the watch’s movement, is executed in the “Charles X” style, named for the French King whose patronage of the arts during his brief reign (1824-1830) influenced the horology of the time. Several components in the movement, including bridges, plates and even the mainspring barrel, are made of sapphire. The wearer can determine the watch’s remaining power reserve by observing the visible mainspring. Smoked sapphire is used for the hour/minute ring, and clear sapphire is used for the cover of the repeater’s inertia governor at 3 o’clock, allowing the wearer to see it silently spinning as it regulates the speed of the chiming gongs.
The round case (which is offered in either 5N rose gold/titanium or white gold/titanium) is 45 mm in diameter and water-resistant to 30 meters; both versions come with a back hand-sewn alligator strap with either black stitching (rose gold) or red or blue stitching (white gold). There will only be 16 of each Soprano model made, in two limited editions: eight in rose gold and eight in white gold. The price hits a very high note indeed: 468,000 Swiss francs.
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