When Romain Gauthier released his first titanium timepiece, the Prestige HMS Natural Titanium, in 2011, the reaction he received wasn’t quite what he was expecting.
“Collectors knew me as an exponent of traditional Vallée de Joux watchmaking, presented in precious metal cases,” he says. “When I unveiled the Prestige HMS Natural Titanium, people said: ‘Why? What are you doing combining your type of watchmaking with titanium?’ My response was: ‘Wait, bear with me on this one.'”
It’s not as if titanium hadn’t been a prevalent material in the watch industry for decades. In the 1970s, Seiko introduced the first timepiece with a titanium caseback. In that same decade, Citizen launched a special edition of its first electronic model, the X8, in titanium. And in the ’80s, IWC collaborated with Porsche Design to release the first commercially-available watch with a case made entirely out of the ultra lightweight, high-resistance material. However, the focus during those early decades was almost entirely on sports models. For the most part, even going into the 2000s, the material had yet to be embraced as the material du jour for the Haute Horlogerie crowd.
In the seven years since Gauthier debuted the Prestige HMS, those initial collectors and horological pundits have quieted down. Gauthier followed up the Prestige HMS by introducing his Logical One timepiece in both Natural Titanium and Black Titanium in 2016 and watched as the usage of titanium across the industry—from monolithic conglomerates to small-scale manufactures—flourished.
“I feel more and more collectors are realizing that Haute Horlogerie doesn’t have to come served in a precious metal or stainless steel case,” says Gauthier. “When done well, titanium is not just a viable alternative, it can be an outright preference.”
That brings us to the brand’s latest release. We first saw Romain Gauthier’s most recent innovation, the Insight Micro-Rotor, early last year. Back in January at SIHH, the complicated timepiece served as the backdrop for the brand’s first ladies’ watch. And at Baselworld in March, the Insight Micro-Rotor got updated in Black Titanium and Natural Titanium. These new versions make the ingenious time-only wristwatch immensely more approachable and wearable. And while this update isn’t totally unexpected, its execution serves as a representation of the Romain Gauthier manufacture as a whole.
The two new models scale down the mechanically complex timepiece into one that has the wrist presence of a daily wearer. Being able to combine a level of comfort and discretion with something horologically unique should be a goal for every watchmaker and brand. It’s accomplished here on multiple levels, which is quite a feat given the grandiose nature of many independents today.
More so than any previous Gauthier model, titanium is an ideal partner for the Insight Micro-Rotor due to the efficient nature of the watch’s inner movement. Its signature feature — a bidirectional 22k gold micro-rotor – is visible both from the dial side and from the back. Rotating smoothly and silently and positioned between two bridges, this compact oscillating mass winds a double mainspring barrel to store an impressive 80 hours of power reserve. The barrels are series-connected in order to supply a more constant flow of power to the regulator.
The time is displayed on two off-center, overlapping subdials — one for hours and minutes, the other for small seconds. Also showcased on the front of the timepiece are the movement’s balance, at 6 o’clock, which beats at a frequency of 28,800 vph; the circular cutout in the movement mainplate that frames the swaying micro-rotor; and a golden plaquette engraved with the Romain Gauthier “RG” logo. All of these elements are surrounded by curving, hand-beveled, hand-polished bridges that echo the contours of the 39.5-mm case and are covered by a bombé sapphire crystal that rises gradually toward 12 o’clock before steeply dropping again.
The back side of the watch is also dynamic, with the micro-rotor visibly setting into motion the gear train, starting with the reversing gear that controls the bidirectional winding mechanism. Also eye-catching are the beveled, circular arms of the gears and ratchets; the hand-made, hand-polished bevels of the bridges; the countersinks for the movement’s 28 jewels, which are fixed in place by Romain Gauthier’s signature screws with “S”-shaped slots; and the linear plaquettes adorning the curvilinear-shaped bridges.
For the new Insight Micro-Rotor Natural Titanium, the caseband and bezel are polished, while the lugs and caseback are satin-finished. The black NAC-treated mainplate makes the palladium-treated bridges visually pop, with the straight-graining of the dial-side bridges contrasted by the hand-frosting on the mainplate. The oven-fired enamel dial bears a glossy finish.
On the other end, the bezel, lugs, and caseback of the ADLC titanium case for the Insight Micro-Rotor Black Titanium are satin-finished, with the caseband polished. Both the bridges and mainplate are black NAC-treated but the straight-graining on the bridges makes them stand out against the hand-frosted mainplate. The same hand-frosting technique has been used to give the oven-fired enamel dial an eye-catching matte finish.
“It has vindicated my decision to create something that might not, when you first think about it, go hand in hand – a movement that is the real deal when it comes to Haute Horlogerie, beautifully finished and highly visible, yet housed in a titanium case,” says Gauthier.
The Romain Gauthier Insight Micro-Rotor Natural Titanium comes in three separate, 10-piece limited editions. 1o pieces with an oven-fired, white enamel dial on an 18k gold base and flame-blued steel hands; 10 pieces with an oven-fired, black enamel dial on an 18k gold base and 18k white gold hands; and 10 pieces with an oven-fired blue enamel dial on an 18k gold base and 18k white gold hands.
The Romain Gauthier Insight Micro-Rotor Black Titanium also comes in three separate, 10-piece limited editions. 10 pieces with a matte, oven-fired white enamel dial on an 18k gold base and blackened white gold hands; 10 pieces with a matte, oven-fired black enamel dial on an 18k gold base and 18k white gold hands; and 10 pieces with a matte, oven-fired blue enamel dial on an 18k gold base with 18k white gold hands.
You can read our profile on Romain Gauthier here.