Theatrical watches

Timepieces that sing, whistle, play games and provide entertainment

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27 November 2013

Fine watches are forever offering new surprises, new functions, new technology, and above all, new forms of entertainment. In today's super-accessorized society, you are more likely to check the time on your iPhone, iPad or computer rather than on your wrist, and, just as the invention of photography enabled painters to quit painting portraits of insufferably boring people and do something more creative, the ready availability of electronic time allows watchmakers to experiment.

In some cases, watch brands only have to look back into their own history to find new directions. Jaquet Droz, for example, is a brand celebrating their 275th anniversary and their founder Pierre Jaquet-Droz, who became famous not just for his watches, but also his automata, which included timepieces with singing birds. The Charming Bird is a minute repeater: the bird not only turns, flaps its wings, moves head and tail, but also opens its beak and sings, by means of a piston-driven bellows. A remarkable limited edition of 28 pieces.

Christophe Claret's gaming watch Baccara has three casino games incorporated into the dial. The mechanism enables you to shuffle, deal and play, with a striking mechanism that chimes at each deal. The watch also includes a game of dice, and a roulette wheel. The dial has a dragon or tiger motif, and another invisible detail: on the sapphire crystal, a special metallization process has been used to incorporate a Chinese ideogram, which appears only when you breathe on the watch. It disappears again after a few seconds.

Van Cleef & Arpels have a unique approach to timekeeping. Their watches add poetry and beauty to any moment by means of theatrical movements, such as the memorable Pont des Amoureux in which two lovers indicate the time, succeeding in meeting for a kiss at midnight. The Ballerine Enchantée Poetic Complication, presented in January 2013, has a complex retrograde movement providing time on demand. At rest, the dancer's butterfly-wing tutu is folded downwards; when the button at 8 o'clock is pressed, the tutu starts to move, rising slowly to mark first the hours on the left, then the minutes on the other side. After remaining in position for a couple of seconds, the wings slowly return to the resting position.

Art Piece One by Greubel & Forsey is no ordinary watch. Its principal feature is a tiny sculpture that can be seen through the powerful lens in the crown. Art Piece One is a co-creation between Forsey, Greubel, and artist Willard Wigan, who makes microsculptures small enough to fit in the eye of a needle. He works like a diver, holding his breath, and ensuring that each move that he makes on the sculpture is made between heartbeats. Only one or two Art Piece One watches will be made every year. The prototype has a sailing ship, while a successive model will be fitted with a tiny, tiny pair of scissors. The sculpture is mounted on a blued metal bridge positioned at 9 o'clock, with a lens in the crown that enlarges the microsculpture by 23 times. The concept is more about art than telling the time.

Montblanc Villeret is a manufacture that produces only about 200 watches per year, but these exert a powerful attraction on collectors. One piece is called Metamorphosis, developed by the Institut Minerva de Recherche en Haute Horlogerie led by Demetrio Cabiddu, according to a concept by two young watchmakers, Johnny Girardin and Franck Orny, who wanted to build a watch like a Transformers robot, one that would magically change into something else at the touch of a button. When the slide on the side of the watch is pressed, the time-date dial gradually deconstructs and is replaced by a new, very different, time-chronograph dial. The conversion process takes about 15 seconds, and is performed using a lot of components. In total there are 780 in the case.

To conclude, I'd like to mention an example of a new watch that could just become a new pastime. The Lady 8 by Jaquet Droz is something completely new, a development of the Grande Seconde shape, with a dome-shaped dial and, in the top part of the '8,' a ball bearing in mother-of-pearl ball or another precious stone. It rolls, and you can't help but play with it, it's like an anti-stress game...