Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance (Part Three)
In the final part of its 3-part series, ESCAPEMENT takes a detailed look at the finished Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance. This feature includes images, specification details and pricing.
Over the last few weeks, I have published two exclusive behind-the-scenes reports on the making of the new Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance. In this article, I reveal the completed watch and explore its composition in detail.
However, before embarking on my examination of this grand complication, I wish to return to 2008. The world was deeply immersed in a so-called ‘global financial crisis’. Sub-prime lending led to legions of borrowers defaulting on payments and intriguingly-sounding ‘credit default swaps’ suddenly became worth a fraction of their previous value. During this period, several major banks and insurance companies collapsed. It is widely believed that this economic period represented the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The watch industry was not immune from the financial sector’s acute malaise. Fewer affluent buyers were choosing to buy expensive watches when their savings were in jeopardy and the prospect of redundancy loomed large. Nevertheless, one year later, in 2009, against this pessimistic backdrop, Serge Michel, the Founder of Armin Strom and his longtime friend, Claude Greisler, chose to open the company’s inaugural Manufacture in Biel, Switzerland.
One benefit of opening a Manufacture at this time was that plant was available at heavily discounted prices. Suddenly, this young firm had an atelier filled with CNC, profile turning and wire erosion machines and, most pertinently, the capacity to make a plethora of components in-house. The brand produces a multitude of parts, including base plates, bridges, levers, pinions, pivots, screws and wheels.
Over the years, this company has enjoyed exponential growth as more discerning horophiles discover the allure of an Armin Strom timepiece. Furthermore, it has never ceased innovating, a trait manifest with the unveiling of the company’s first resonance models in 2016.
Now, Armin Strom has chosen to recognise the 10-year anniversary of the Manufacture opening by creating its most complex watch to date, the Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance. This model, limited to 10 pieces, pairs two high complications, resonance and a minute repeater, justifying the appellation, ‘grand complication’.
Front – ‘We show what we make’
Throughout its history, Armin Strom has always showcased a myriad of components normally hidden from view. Indeed, the brand often uses the strapline, ‘We show what we make’ on many of its promotional materials. The Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance does not hide its light under a bushel, revealing its thought processes to the mechanically curious while simultaneously exhibiting a high quotient of hand craftsmanship.
Front – time indications
The lancine-shaped hour and minute hands are made of stainless steel, presented in a golden hue. The hands float above a smoked, sapphire crystal dial with each hour denoted with golden-toned Roman numerals.
Unlike some skeleton watches where the time indications merge into a sea of parts, the pane of fumée sapphire crystal causes the time indications to lucidly step forward while conferring views of the mechanical backdrop. Moreover, the impressive readability of the dial is heightened with a crisp chemin-de-fer, allowing the wearer to easily read-off the prevailing minutes.
Front – gongs and hammers
Typically, the gongs fitted to a minute repeater are circular and virtually hug the interior walls of the case. Armin Strom has chosen an alternative path to greatness. The gongs are not circular. They originate from the plot, navigate around the hammers and then hug the periphery of the smoked sapphire dial, forming a slightly irregular shape.
Looking at the gongs fitted to a ‘normal’ minute repeater, they are positioned parallel to the base plate with the upper gong sitting directly above the lower gong. Again, Armin Strom has set aside convention. The gongs sit lower near the plot than they do at 6 o’clock. The raised position of gongs at the base of the dial provides room for the two balance wheels and resonance clutch spring to sit neatly below. Another difference with the Armin Strom gongs is that they assume a three dimensional profile.
The hammer at 1 o’clock is larger than its adjacently positioned counterpart and chimes the hours. Both hammers collaborate to sound the quarters, striking the gongs just a split-second apart in order to provide a means of differentiation from the hour and minute indications. When the hammer at 11 o’clock sings solo, it strikes the gong, indicating purely the minutes. The chiming sequence of hours, quarters and minutes is ‘on demand’, actuated by a slider on the side of the case. The tempo of the chiming sequence is controlled by the centrifugal governor. For example, if the time indicates 4:49, the time taken to chime the four hours and the four minutes is the same as horological etiquette dictates.
Front – tremblage, bevelling and mirror polishing
Two large, golden balance cocks swoop from the northern hemisphere of the dial, following the contour of the case’s interior. The upper surface of each bridge features a granular appearance, produced using a process called ‘tremblage’. This technique involves the use of a hand-held burin, where a highly skilled artisan makes small indentations in the upper epidermis of the bridge. The resultant surface exhibits a rich texture.
The remaining surfaces of each cock are beautifully bevelled by hand, consistent with the epithet ‘haute horlogerie’.
The hammers and the patented resonance clutch spring are painstakingly polished on a tin plate by hand. The tin plate is smeared with a coarse abrasive paste and the component is polished in a circular motion. Increasingly finer paste is used as the desired finish approaches conclusion. As its name implies, mirror polishing, sometimes termed ‘black polishing’, exhibits a mirror-like appearance which from some angles looks black. This technique is usually the preserve of high-end watches, its protracted creation preventing its use on cheaper timepieces.
Front – two balance wheels and patented resonance clutch spring
Unusually, the Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance features two vertically-stacked independent movements. Each movement has its own independent mainspring, both of which are stored in one common barrel.
The Caliber ARR18 features two balance wheels. These are variable inertia balances with timing screws positioned in-board, recessed in the rim of the two wheels. The two balance wheels are linked using the brand’s patented resonance clutch spring. In my two previous articles I have discussed at length the phenomenon of resonance. However, I will just outline the benefits. By linking the two balance wheels with the resonance clutch spring, the two balances work in synchronicity. When the watch is subject to shock, any resultant increase in speed of one balance will be countered by the decrease in speed of the other balance i.e. averaging and minimising the effects of perturbation.
Armin Strom’s resonance system confers superior accuracy, matching the venerated tourbillon. In addition, the resonance system mitigates energy consumption, manifest with the model’s impressive power reserve of 96 hours. Lastly, resonance lessens the influence of outside perturbation, such as shocks to the balance staff, thereby enhancing precision. The resonance system proffers superior stability to a tourbillon.
Armin Strom, in collaboration with Le Cerle des Horlogers, the minute repeater specialist, sought the optimum case for the Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance. Claude Greisler designed the exterior of the case, seeking the best design to accentuate the appearance of the dial. However, the case of this model went beyond mere aesthetics.
Grade 5 titanium was selected as the preferred material for the case. The low mass of grade 5 titanium accentuates the sound generated by the hammer and gong ensemble. While noble metals are often used by other brands for minute repeater watches, their dense characteristics have a tendency to muffle the resonating sounds produced. Armin Strom sought to achieve the sweetest sound possible and, after much debate with Le Cerle des Horlogers, established that the lightweight metal was the best option. Incidentally, grade 5 titanium is also hypoallergenic and renown for its skin-friendly properties, proffering an additional benefit.
Despite having an enviable reputation for its in-house expertise, Armin Strom continues to work with specialist suppliers of dials and cases. In terms of cases, Claude Greisler normally designs the case to house the movement and confer a pleasing aesthetic. However, in this instance the interior of the case is critical to the quality of the sound produced. Armin Strom’s case supplier has much experience with chiming watches and designed the case interior to favourably accentuate the sound of the minute repeater.
Furthermore, the generous dimensions of the case augment the dulcet tones of the hammers and gongs. However, having tried on a 3D printed version of the case, I can attest that it does not feel unwieldy.
The wearer can actuate the chiming sequence by pushing the slide adjacent 9 o’clock. Consistent with Armin Strom’s design language of several years, the case is also fitted with the brand’s famous ‘lip’. Clients can have their initials engraved upon the lip, albeit some Armin Strom clients, myself included, prefer to leave the lip unadorned. A pane of sapphire crystal to the rear affords views of the hand-wound movement.
Movement – further discussion
Viewing the rear of the Caliber ARR18, one is indulged with a sea of finely decorated components and mind-blowing technical complexity.
A few weeks ago, I visited the premises of Le Cerle des Horlogers and looked in awe at the assembly of the minute repeater module. The mellifluous sounds of the hammers and gongs momentarily kissing is made possible by racks, snails, cams and wheels. Each base part, some of which are produced at Armin Strom’s Manufacture, are passed to the minute repeater specialist and patiently finished and assembled with time-served hands.
The minute repeater is equipped with a security system which prevents the wearer operating the slide on the side of the case while time-setting or winding the movement. Sadly, many other minute repeaters do not feature such a system, which can sometimes result in expensive repair bills.
Image – the centrifugal governor after fitting
Glancing at the verso view of the movement reveals perlage, circular and straight graining and beautiful mirror polishing. In addition, further golden bridge work assumes pride of place adjacent the barrel, embellished with an additional quotient of tremblage. Each component sits resplendently against the ruthenium coated base plate and bridges. While the watch is contemporary it upholds traditional high-end Swiss craftsmanship.
The movement has a frequency of 25,200 VpH (3.5 Hz) and contains 408 components, including 51 jewels.
The Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance represents the most complex model to leave the brand’s Manufacture. The pairing of resonance with a minute repeater makes this watch worthy of the description, ‘grand complication’.
While this model is incredibly intricate, reading the time and operating the chiming sequence prove simple. It is the result of Armin Strom working closely with the specialist company, Le Cerle des Horlogers which has culminated in the brand’s magnum opus. Both companies are very open about this collaboration, albeit this should not come as a surprise. At the heart of Armin Strom’s paradigm is a propensity to disclose what it makes, demonstrated with many of the company’s openworked watches.
Image – Armin Strom watchmaker working on Caliber ARR18
It was a courageous move for the company to establish its Manufacture in 2009, despite the prevailing economic woes. However, its subsequent commercial success and numerous plaudits for its design prowess and watchmaking expertise have vindicated Serge and Claude’s original decision to open the company’s facility in Biel.
And what about the next 10 years? Based on the evidence to date, I am sure watch lovers can look forward to more innovative horology, harnessing original design, mechanical virtue and exalted craftsmanship.
- Model: Armin Strom Minute Repeater Resonance
- Case: Grade 5 titanium; diameter 47.7mm; height 16.10mm; water resistance 3ATM (30 metres); sapphire crystal to the front and sapphire caseback
- Functions: Off-centre hours; minutes; minute repeater
- Movement: Caliber ARR18; hand-wound movement; frequency 25,200VpH (3.5Hz); 51 jewels; power reserve=96 hours; 408 components
- Strap: Dark grey alligator leather strap with stainless steel folding clasp
- Price: CHF 380,000 (RRP as at 16.7.2019)
- Limited Edition: 10 pieces