Everyone who loves London is familiar with Big Ben and its chimes every quarter of an hour, culminating in the complete chime on the hour, followed by a long pause before the deep, magnificent sound of the bell chiming the hours. Christophe Claret has presented his own interpretation of this wonderful music with the Soprano, a watch that combines the Westminster chimes with another complication, the 60-second tourbillon. The mechanism, with its four patented hammers and gongs, is mounted on Charles X-style bridges, and it is visible from front and back thanks to the absence of a dial and the sapphire bridges. The Soprano is available in three limited editions, each of eight pieces, in rose gold or white gold.
As often happens in the watch business, one can't help thinking of Gerald Genta, in this case his 'Gérald Genta Octo Grande Sonnerie Tourbillion,' which also had four gongs and rang the Westminster Quarters at each quarter and on the hour, "the same melody rung out by London's Big Ben", and priced at about €625,000.
To return to the Soprano, it's a fine piece of traditional watchmaking, but it incorporates some modern features, such as the circular case that incorporates both precious metals and titanium. The four cathedral gongs are circular, in hardened steel wire running round the perimeter of the movement, in this case twice instead of the usual once. The sound is amplified by the central case band in grade 5 titanium, a metal that has characteristically fine acoustic properties. In fact the upper and lower parts of the case (bezel and caseback) are in gold, while the caseband that unites them is in titanium. Gold tends to deaden sound, while titanium transmits it from inside the case to outside.
Charles X bridges are a feature of pocket watches made in Paris during Charles' reign from 1824 to 1830. Christophe Claret spent many years restoring these historical pocket watches and became fascinated by their structure. He pioneered the use of sapphire bridges and plates in Charles X style. This technique increases the transparency of the mechanism, enabling more levels of the movement to be appreciated. The tourbillon escapement, a Christophe Claret trademark, is positioned at 6 o'clock, mounted on a single-arm stepped bridge in Charles X style.
In the Soprano, the repeater slider activates the mechanism. The chimes sound the number of hours, followed by the Westminster Quarters melody if the time is 15 or more minutes past the hour, and then the number of minutes after the last quarter hour.
The Soprano is powered by the manually-wound Calibre TRD 98 movement, with 450 parts, and 72 hours power reserve. It has a single mainspring barrel in transparent sapphire crystal. This also acts as a power reserve indicator: when the movement is fully wound, the spring is centred in the barrel. The watch is mounted in a circular case, 45 x 56.8 millimetres, 15.32 millimetres depth.
Click below to watch a video for the Christophe Claret Soprano (the chimes are at 3:15)
Click below to watch a video of the Westminster Chimes and Big Ben