Armin Strom Grand Complication (Part One)
This year, Armin Strom celebrates its 10-year anniversary. The Manufacture from Biel/Bienne has chosen to mark the occasion by releasing its most complex timepiece to date, combining the brand’s groundbreaking resonance know-how with one of the oldest complications, a minute repeater.
Armin Strom Grand Complication (Part One) – In this 3-part series, ESCAPEMENT studies the brand’s history, takes a behind the scenes look at the making of the latest base movement and corresponding minute repeater module and, lastly, appraises the completed watch, the Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance.
Armin Strom is based in the bilingual town of Biel/Bienne, a place where a resident’s mother tongue determines the place name used. In the case of this Manufacture, it is unequivocally Swiss-German, a characteristic evident when touring its spotless facility and overhearing the workforce’s melodic dialogue.
Biel has a rich history of making watches. However, while Armin Strom respects traditional craftsmanship, it is not encumbered by the past. Its modern atelier is packed with cutting-edge machinery, capable of making components to infinitesimal tolerances.
Since Armin Strom inaugurated its new production facility in 2009, it has gained an enviable reputation for its in-house expertise. While some companies pretend to make complete watches within the confines of one building, Armin Strom has always been transparent about what is makes in the Biel facility and which tasks are outsourced.
Once Claude Greisler, the CEO and Technical Director of Armin Strom, has designed a watch in its entirety, he begins collaborating with key suppliers. The brand is very open about this. It does not make dials, hands, cases or straps, choosing instead to focus on the Maison’s key area of competence, movements.
Openness is a key trait of Armin Strom. Most of its models disclose movement components usually hidden from view. For example, some Armin Strom watches showcase the barrel or micro-rotor front of house for the delectation of horophiles. This philosophy is at the heart of everything the brand does and is underscored by the company’s strapline, ‘We show what we make’.
The Maison’s prowess for contemporary design has been recognised on several occasions. Indeed, the brand has been the recipient of prestigious Red Dot awards for the Skeleton Pure Water (2015), the Mirrored Force Resonance (2017) and, most recently, the Dual Time Resonance (2019). The creativity of this brand is extraordinary.
Armin Strom is a ‘Manufacture’, a term loosely applied by some, but strictly upheld by Claude and his team. Every movement part is made in the brand’s atelier in Biel, save for the assortiment (escape-wheel, lever and roller), balance wheel and hairspring.
The brand’s capabilities come to the fore when making base plates, bridges, levers, pinions, pivots, screws and wheels. Each of these minute components have to be made to incredibly small tolerances.
Image – CNC
Plates and bridges are made using CNC (computer numerical control) machines. These machines have to be programmed by a skilled technician in order to perform a series of milling steps.
Image – CNC tools
Various ‘tools’, rotating at high speed, mill square-shaped pieces of brass. Incidentally, the programming of a CNC machine can often take longer than the milling tasks it performs. Thereafter, said components are finished to remove signs of machining and enhance appearance. In some instances they are even engraved by hand. The parts are then electroplated on-site in order to ensure they retain their showroom fresh allure for years to come.
Image – Elecroplating
Levers, as well as some other flat components, are often made using wire erosion machines. This technique involves immersing a square metal plate in deionised water. A thin wire, carrying an electric current, is used to cut through the plate to form intricate shapes not easily produced using conventional milling techniques.
Image – wire erosion
Pinions, pivots and screws are often made using profile turning machines. Long bars of material, such as brass or steel, are held in a feeder. A computer controlled cutting tool, bathed in a constant stream of oil, mills these small components with impressive exactness. The resultant pinions, pivots or screws are gathered in a small receptacle and thereafter cleaned to remove any burrs or other potential contaminants.
Image – profile turning machine (centre)
It is by performing these tasks within the confines of its atelier, along with subsequent assembly and regulation, that Armin Strom adds significant value internally. Furthermore, by having its own Manufacture, this Swiss brand has been able to make limited runs of watches, conferring a degree of exclusivity that is highly valued by its discerning clientele.
In 2016, Armin Strom unveiled its first resonance watch, the Mirrored Force Resonance.
Image – Resonance clutch spring made using wire erosion
When creating his inaugural resonance watch, Claude Greisler looked to the past, studying the work of Christiaan Huygens and the observations he made of pendulum clocks. The legendary Dutch physicist discovered that if two pendulums sharing a common beam commence swinging at different times, they will ultimately synchronise with each other. This is referred to as the ‘phenomenon of resonance’.
Greisler also appraised a clock made by Antide Janvier (1751-1835). This clock, a double pendulum clock, employed resonance and shared the same suspension. By making such clocks, Janvier demonstrated that a resonance clock could deliver superior precision.
Unusually, the Armin Strom Mirrored Force Resonance features two going trains and two balance wheels. The two balance wheels are linked with a patented clutch spring. The shape and characteristics of the spring are critical to the performance of the movement. It took Greisler and his team three years to arrive at the optimum spring specification.
In order to independently validate that the two balance wheels were in resonance, Armin Strom approached CSEM, a non-profit Swiss research and technology organisation. CSEM confirmed that the two balance wheels, linked with a resonance clutch spring, constitute a ‘true mechanical resonance’ system.
After initially launching the Mirrored Force Resonance, Armin Strom went on to unveil further models endowed with its patented clutch spring.
Image – Armin Strom Mirrored Force Resonance with guilloché dial
Resonance is a high-end complication, worthy of comparison with the venerated tourbillon. In fact, an Armin Strom resonance watch can readily match the precision of a tourbillon whilst offering superior stability.
Ambition is part of the Armin Strom paradigm. The company has never ceased innovating, repeatedly designing new watches and exploring alternative dial finishes such as grand feu enamel and guilloché.
In 2018, Armin Strom unveiled the aptly named, Masterpiece 1 Dual Time Resonance, marking a new chapter in the brand’s history.
Two movements, housed in a distinctive case, almost ovoid in form, provided the means to simultaneously display two different times. While GMT watches have existed for some time, they remain unable to accurately display times where the offset is +30 or + 45 minutes. By having two independent movements, the Masterpiece 1 Dual Time Resonance can indicate two wholly different times.
Once again, Armin Strom embraced the phenomenon of resonance, imbuing the Masterpiece 1 Dual Time Resonance with incredible precision.
Despite its cutting-edge specification, Armin Strom enriched the ownership proposition with tremblage adorned balance cocks and hand guilloché dials produced by the esteemed craftsman, Kari Voutilainen.
By producing only eight timepieces, Armin Strom ensured that this Masterpiece conferred a high degree of exclusivity.
A few months later, the Swiss firm unveiled a similar watch, albeit in this instance housed in a technically challenging sapphire crystal case. Again, owing to the protracted gestation of the sapphire crystal case, production volumes were incredibly limited.
In a short period of time, Armin Strom has demonstrated its Masterpiece models, with commensurate pricing, are deserving of comparison with the finest paragons of high-end watchmaking.
It’s just 10 years since Serge Michel, the brand’s Founder, along with his fellow director, Claude Greisler, opened the doors to this impressive Manufacture in Biel. Since then, the company has achieved so much.
Image – Serge Michel and Claude Greisler (R)
Both Claude and Serge wanted to mark the occasion of their 10-year anniversary by releasing a grand complication, featuring two highly intricate complications. The two men agreed on the idea of combining resonance with a minute repeater, possibly the ultimate Masterpiece. Indeed, the brand’s loyal following of collectors have made numerous requests for a minute repeater and the watchmaking duo were keen to oblige.
While Armin Strom has much expertise designing complete watches, making movements and assembling and regulating timepieces, it does not profess to be a specialist in the making of minute repeaters. Therefore, Claude decided to engage the help of a specialist in the field.
Image – Claude Greisler and Alain Schiesser (R)
In the past Claude Greisler worked for Christophe Claret, the esteemed watchmaker and his eponymously named firm. Whilst employed at Claret’s atelier in Le Locle, Greisler worked with Alain Schiesser. The two men became firm friends and, despite going their separate ways, have stayed in touch.
Alain Schiesser, along with Nicolas Herren, a former employee of esteemed movement specialist, Renaud & Papi, formed a new company, Le Cercle Des Horlogers. This firm has gained a reputation for making tourbillons, double tourbillons, triple axis tourbillons, minute repeaters, minute repeaters with automatons and other complications.
Claude Greisler, consistent with the brand’s spirit of openness, explained to me, ‘Le Cercle Des Horlogers is the best company for making minute repeaters and we are the best for making resonance movements. It seemed logical that we should collaborate on this project.’
A three year journey ensued with both firms developing a new watch together. The culmination of this prolonged process is the new Armin Strom Minute Repeater, a limited edition of 10 pieces (a reference to the 10-year anniversary). In the coming weeks, I will discuss the making of the movement and the minute repeater module for this watch, along with an exploration of the final timepiece. This is a fascinating story and one which true horophiles will not want to miss.