Back in 2013, we reported on the discovery of a 19th-century timekeeping device, created by French watchmaker Louis Moinet, that may well have been the world’s very first chronograph. This year, the brand that bears that watchmaker’s name pays tribute to that milestone with the Louis Moinet Memoris, a wristwatch that positions the chronograph as the primary function and the standard timekeeping as an added complication.
The Louis Moinet Memoris, released in commemoration of two anniversaries — 10 years for the Louis Moinet brand and 200 years since that early chronograph device — is described by the brand not as a watch with a chronograph but as a “chronograph-watch.” Louis Moinet partnered with the movement maestros at Concepto (as it has done since the brand’s inception) to develop the movement, Caliber LM54, which incorporates several features that aficionados associate with traditional, “noble” chronographs, including a clutch column wheel and a monopusher system. What sets this chrono movement apart from others with such attributes is that it has been designed to showcase all of the chronograph functions on the dial side of the movement, while the traditional components of the automatic watch movement have been shifted to the back, beneath the mainplate.
This means that when the wearer activates the chronograph with the monopusher, he can instantly see all of the essential pieces go into motion: the column wheel orchestrating the gears that in turn move the hands that count off the chronograph seconds and minutes. The large, blue-tinted central hand sweeps around the dial from zero to 60 seconds, while the subdial at 3 o’clock tallies up to 30 elapsed minutes. Small seconds appear on a subdial at 9 o’clock, while the current time — usually front and center even in most chronograph watches — is here relegated to another subdial at 6 o’clock, indicated by blued, dewdrop-shaped hour and minute hands. (Click on photos for larger images.)
Such a radical re-imagining of a chronograph watch — with the added challenge of pulling it off without the use of a module — meant that Louis Moinet’s watchmakers had to start essentially from scratch, taking an entirely new approach to designing not only the movement but the case, hands, dial, and oscillating weight; even the folding clasp has been reworked. Black zircon, a synthetic gemstone, has been used in an entirely new way, in a screwed setting, to decorate the case lugs. The case — available in 18k rose gold or 18k white gold — is 46 mm in diameter and is comprised of no less than 52 parts. The caseback is fitted with seven screws and bears an engraved series number. The sapphire crystals in the front and back of the case are convex and treated with double-sided nonreflective coating.
In addition to its uniquely designed chronograph functions, Caliber LM54 is outfitted with other useful features, including an “Energie Plus” automatic pawl winding system, with a “crab-claw” spring mechanism and a miniature ceramic ball bearing mounted on the dual-material rotor, which allows the movement to swing in both directions for more efficient winding. Furthermore, the swivel of the yoke is aligned along the same axis as the second wheel to improve the engagement of that wheel’s moving parts. Composed of 302 total parts, the movement has a balance frequency of 28,800 vph (4 Hz), 34 jewels, and a power reserve of 48 hours. Decorative flourishes include côtes de Genève, diamond-polished facets, diamond-cut chamfers, and Clous de Paris in a Fleur-de-lis pattern on the rotor. One hundred forty-seven of the parts have been devoted to the chronograph mechanism, which has its own dedicated movement plate separating it from the automatic movement beneath it. The Clous de Paris motif makes an additional appearance on the monopusher, and the Fleur de lis (a hallmark of the Louis Moinet brand) appears again on the aforementioned, redesigned buckle, in black DLC-treated steel.
“We couldn’t draw inspiration from what had gone before; everyone else worked from the premise that the chronograph was an additional complication on top of the time function,” explains Jean-Marie Schaller, CEO of Louis Moinet. “Our starting point was the opposite: sweeping away the past and making the chronograph the heart of our design; the central component to which we then added a time function, rather than the other way round.”
The watch industry cognoscenti has taken notice of the groundbreaking timepiece: the Louis Moinet Memoris has been nominated for the 2015 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie of Geneva, the “Oscars” of high watchmaking. “It’s probably the most important launch we’ve ever done,” says Schaller. In just three limited editions of 60 pieces each (in rose gold, in white gold with rhodium-plated mainplate, and in white gold with blued mainplate), it may also be one of the hardest to get.