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Arnold & Son - factory visit and focus on the Time Pyramid
A clean-sheet design
The Arnold & Son Time Pyramid was inspired by a clock produced over two-hundred years ago. Angus Davies had the opportunity to get "hands-on" with the watch whilst visiting the Arnold & Son factory.
I have just returned from La Chaux-de-Fonds in the last few days having combined a family holiday touring Europe with visiting a few ateliers on my travels. I find it hard to relax. Work is an obsession and haute horology is a passion I hold dear.
It was whilst staying near La Chaux-de-Fonds that I made my excuses to my family and decided to visit Arnold & Son.
The background to my visit
The brand draws on its inspiration from the great British watchmaker of the 18th century, John Arnold, and his son, John Roger Arnold. Indeed, John Roger Arnold studied under his father’s friend, the legendary Abraham-Louis Breguet, in Paris for two years.
The father and son team were responsible for creating exceptional chronometers which would be used for maritime navigation. The innovation exampled by both gentlemen was quite exceptional.
At SalonQP, I met the charismatic Dr. Sebastien Chaulmontet from the brand and fell profoundly in love with the watches he had been party to creating. The Arnold & Son TBR, belonging to the brands Instrument Collection, with its true beat seconds, looked amazing and resulted in a watch review appearing on ESCAPEMENT.
The HMS 1, part of the brand’s Royal Collection, was another model which beguiled with its handsome aesthetics and also featured on our website.
My fondness for the design language of these high-end, no-compromise, timepieces meant that I scheduled time to visit their stand at Baselworld despite a hectic schedule and request from rival companies to also see their novelties. I was not to be disappointed and once more Chaulmontet did not have to try very hard to sell his work, the gorgeous designs and exceptional execution spoke for itself.
On parting company in Baselworld, Sebastien invited me to the atelier and the generous offer was recorded to memory. A few months after and a couple of phone calls later, I arrived at the atelier.
A different approach
Many watch companies design a timepiece, whose dial design is often determined by the architecture of the movement beneath. There have been occasions when I have looked at the proportions of a watch and questioned why, on a large dial, the subdials seem to be too close together. The answer is that the location of the movement components movement dictates the layout of the dial above.
On other occasions, I have looked at the exhibition back of a timepiece and wondered why the movement appears to be too small for the case, with a large void appearing to envelope the calibre.
Sadly, supply issues may dictate the use of a movement based on availability rather than the ideal suitability for the proposed watch exterior. Moreover, the accountant-types in some companies will point out economies of scale based on using an existing movement for numerous models even when its selection is less than ideal.
It was therefore a surprise when I witnessed a watch dial being designed on a CAD system and was informed by Sebastien that the movement would be designed afterwards. This seemed unusual but, at the same time, a tantalising prospect as no trade-off was necessary.
My own passion for haute horology is born out of the appreciation of the no-compromise construction found with the finest watches. It seems that when the majority of goods made for the modern world appear to be mass produced to sate a short-term need and components are lifed to fail one month after the warranty has expired, the finest horology provides an alternative and refreshing business philosophy.
In the case of Arnold & Son, their competence and desire to create a movement specifically for one model within the range is a delectable notion for any self-respecting watch addict. To illustrate this approach, let’s take one of their latest models launched this year, the Time Pyramid.
This wristwatch was inspired by a clock produced over two-hundred years ago. The in-house movement, A&S 1615, features centre stage of the dial, sandwiched between two panes of sapphire crystal.
The bulk of the movement components are biased towards the southerly aspect of the dial, resembling a pyramid in design. The movement is vertically linear with the gear train running from south to north with the balance located below noon.
It was by touring the facility, I was able to ascertain that all of the skills necessary to bring the A&S 1615 movement to fruition, from conception to the full realisation of the movement, are based at the brand’s atelier in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
The resultant outcome is a timepiece which is blessed with a sublime three dimensional quality, creating depth and inviting the eyes to scrutinise every facet of the finely executed components within. The skeletonised structure of the watch dispenses with the superfluous conferring a purity and spellbinding beauty.
The various functions are displayed on three levels. Subsidiary seconds are shown on a silver circlet on the bottom level, hours feature on a sapphire crystal dial in the middle and minutes are shown on a silver top ring. Blued hands, with open-worked tips for hours and minutes, impart information.
Beauty does not come at the expense of functionality. The watch has two barrels bestowing an impressive 90-hour power reserve. Power-reserve indicators feature on each side of the dial affording symmetry and balance as well as communicating the amount of energy stored within the spring barrels. The serpentine shaped hands interface with the dots, that increase in magnitude, applied to the inner surface of the upper sapphire crystal.
The screwed balance is yet a further indication of the quality and facilitates accurate poising.
There is much to admire about the Time Pyramid, not least its comfortable fit on the wrist. However, the most impressive aspect of the watch is the exceptional finissage.
Flawless finissage and exceptional craftsmanship
I have visited several watch factories during my time at ESCAPEMENT and must admit they have varied from mere assembly operations to some of the best in the field of haute horology. Moreover, I have been known to indulge my watch collecting addiction by parting with some of my savings and purchasing a few high-end timepieces.
It was therefore a surprise to see the high degree of competence at Arnold & Son. I can think of few companies who could usurp there in-house ability.
I marvelled at some of the métier d’art I witnessed at the atelier. The engraving of components, including dials, was truly breathtaking. But it was the finishing of small components which garnered many admiring glances from my direction.
The rhodium-treated mainplate and bridges were blemish free and, in the case of the bridges, featured expertly applied Côtes de Genève motif. The bridges were superbly chamfered and the polishing of components was to a faultless standard.
I perused a green tray containing numerous wheels featuring satin-brushed surfaces. However, it was seeing an artisan bevelling the edge of a wheel by hand that made me truly appreciate the degree of dedication practised at Arnold & Son. Indeed, the particular wheel in question necessitated three hours of work to complete to the elevated standard demanded by the manufacture.
Returning to the Time Pyramid I am reminded once more of the exalted craftsmanship when I admire the snailing, a spiral-shaped motif, visible on the barrel covers. The distilled gestation of the Arnold & Son timepieces is truly mouth-watering for any purist who has the opportunity to witness their creation.
There was much to see at Arnold & Son and the degree of competence was quite remarkable.
I tried on several timepieces at the workshop located in this famous watchmaking region and intend to review several more Arnold & Son watches over the coming months.
Whilst Arnold & Son seek inspiration from historic clocks and watches of the 18th century, they do not create replicas but rather capture some of the beauty from this bygone era with new designs for a new audience.
It is the clean-sheet design process employed by Arnold & Son which sets it apart from the majority of companies in the industry along with a willingness to make unique movements for relatively small volumes of watches.
This is a brand which deeply impresses me and joins my list of coveted watch brands I wish to own before I shed my mortal coil.
- Model: Arnold & Son Time Pyramid
- Reference: 1TPAR.S01A.C124A
- Case: 18-carat red gold case; diameter 44.6 mm; height (to be advised); water resistant to 3 bar (30 metres); sapphire crystal to front and caseback.
- Functions: Hours; minutes; subsidiary seconds; power-reserve indicators.
- Movement: A&S 1615 Caliber, Hand-wound movement; frequency 21,600 vph (3 Hz); 27 jewels; 90 hour power reserve
- Strap: Brown alligator leather strap presented on 18-carat red gold pin buckle.