Arnold & Son DSTB steel

The Arnold & Son DSTB steel incorporates a dead beat seconds, a bewitching blue PVD dial and a beautifully finished self-winding movement. Angus Davies recounts his experience with this fascinating watch which can trace its roots back to 18th century marine chronometers.

Arnold & Son DSTB steel

When observing members of the public negotiate busy pavements, it is interesting to see how they walk. Some people seem timid, gingerly taking short steps while hugging the sides of buildings. There are others who assume a purposeful stride, covering large distances in just a few steps. Some individuals have a busy gait, nervously navigating potential obstacles to a staccato beat. Finally, there are the dreamers, who look to the heavens while aimlessly advancing forwards. Quite simply, you can discern much from the way someone walks.

In the world of mechanical watches, the central sweep seconds hand takes several steps each second. As these steps are comparatively small, the central sweep seconds hand is perceived as sweeping, hence its name. The number of steps taken per second is determined by the frequency of the balance eg the hand paired with a 4Hz movement advances in four, discrete stages every second.

However, with a ‘true beat seconds’, also termed a ‘dead beat seconds’ or ‘seconde morte’, the central seconds hand moves just once per second. While this gait is typical of a quartz watch, it is unusual for a mechanical timepiece. Moreover, with a mechanical watch, a ‘true beat seconds’ is highly complex, necessitating much watchmaking expertise. Allow me to explain why.

Marine timekeeping

If we travel back to the 18th century, several prominent horological figures, including John Harrison, Ferdinand Berthoud and John Arnold, focussed on chronometry and finding a method of accurately determining longitude while at sea.

In 1707, four ships crashed upon rocks in British waters and over 1300 men lost their lives. The incident was referred to as the ‘Isles of Scilly Disaster’. The public’s reaction to this tragic event ultimately led to the Longitude Act of 1714 being passed and the formation of the Board of Longitude. In addition, a reward of £10,000 was offered by the British Government for a means of determining longitude to within half a degree.

Marine chronometers proved the solution to this navigational need, leading to numerous examples being developed. The fundamental issues related to accuracy and mitigating the influence of a ship’s motion on the regulating organ.

In 1780, the Board of Longitude declared John Arnold’s chronometer No 2 was ‘superior to any watch produced previously’. Later, in 1796, Arnold & Son became the leading supplier of timepieces to the Royal Navy.

The ‘true beat’ seconds complication harks back to the marine chronometers of the 18th century. Longitude is expressed in whole seconds and not parts thereof. Geographical coordinates are denoted using the sexagesimal system, namely ‘degrees’, ‘minutes’ and ‘seconds’. By equipping a marine chronometer with a true beat seconds indication, the time can be read-off exactly, allowing the mariner to determine the precise longitude.

The dial

Today, the true beat seconds is superfluous and is not needed on a modern-day watch. However, like many luxury products, it is the not the final destination that it important but the enjoyable journey along the way. The true beat seconds may prove a challenging indication to make, but it indulges the connoisseur with a sublime level of horological virtuosity.

Arnold & Son DSTB steel

The nomenclature of the Arnold & Son DSTB steel includes four intriguing letters, ‘DSTB’. They stand for ‘Dial Side True Beat’, referring to the true beat mechanism and its positioning front of house. Three openworked bridges support the intricate dead beat seconds mechanism. A dedicated pallet lever (not to be confused with the escapement’s anchor) engages with the seconds wheel. The system effectively stores energy prior to releasing it as a single a pulse, resulting in the hand advancing in one distinct motion every second.

Some parts of the dead beat seconds mechanism are made to infinitesimal tolerances. A conventional profile turning machine, usually used for making wheels, is unable to make parts to such exact, microscopic dimensions. Arnold & Son has employed LIGA technology to effectively grow the parts to minute tolerances. While the brand’s DNA celebrates tradition, the company clearly does not shun technology.

Arnold & Son has endowed the pallet lever with an anchor-shaped profile, tastefully referencing the company’s maritime past. The dead beat second hand features an open-worked tip which interfaces with a sapphire track. This track is supported with three feet and seemingly floats above the dial membrane, bestowing a wonderful three-dimensional allure.

While sapphire crystal is widely used as a window through which to see the dial or, in some cases, the movement, it is not widely used as a track. Sapphire crystal is incredibly hard, however, when it is machined into small, fine parts it readily breaks. I would liken this to glass, its very hard but if you drill a hole in it, then it can easily shatter.

When making delicate components with a shallow depth, specialist component suppliers will make more parts than required, mindful that some will break during the production phase. This leads to additional cost, hence the sapphire track in this instance will have proved costly to produce. Once the sapphire track is mounted within the watch, it is perfectly safe and unlikely to ever crack or break. The designers of this watch have not made life easy for Arnold & Son but the resultant aesthetic justifies the costs incurred and the brand’s protracted efforts. Quite simply, it looks stunning.

The south-easterly area of the sapphire track floats above a silvery-white subdial. Blued hands with open-worked tips collaborate with Roman numerals to impart the prevailing hours and minutes. A chemin de fer augments legibility and delineates the subdial from the main dial surface.

The main dial surface is presented in gorgeous blue PVD and incorporates large circular finishing. I use the term ‘dial’ very loosely as it is in fact the reverse of the base plate.

The case

The Manufacture from La Chaux-de-Fonds offers this watch in noble metals, however, I doubt anyone will be disappointed with the Arnold & Son DSTB steel thanks to its sumptuous case. When designing a case, the most cost-effective approach is to employ straight sides as the machining is less involved and quicker. Arnold & Son has endowed this case with a double-step middle case which also tapers inwards near the caseback. This is a costlier approach but it imbues the case with a glorious appearance. Furthermore, this design confers ergonomic benefits by allowing the wearer’s wrist to flex easily, making this a very comfortable watch to wear.

Arnold & Son DSTB steel

Measuring 43.5mm in diameter the Arnold & Son DSTB steel delivers superb wrist presence. The narrow bezel and the generous width of the case provide room for a vast dial surface. By equipping the watch with a broad horological vista each indication has sufficient room to breathe freely. Indeed, nothing appears cluttered and all indications are supremely legible. The wide-screen sapphire crystal above the dial accentuates the depth of each dial component to glorious effect.

Arnold & Son DSTB steel

All surfaces of the case are highly polished, but nothing appears excessive or gauche. The crown features the brand’s logo on its vertical flank, presented in relief. The caseback is fitted with a generously proportioned pane of sapphire crystal, granting sight of the self-winding movement below.

The movement

Arnold & Son is a Manufacture. I have witnessed first hand the brand making movements using state of the art machinery. However, while Arnold & Son freely embraces technology it does not shun traditional watchmaking craftsmanship.

Arnold & Son DSTB steel

The oscillating mass fitted to the Arnold & Son DSTB steel is NAC grey treated and incorporates a diamond-shape motif. The openworked design of the bi-directional rotor affords views of the bridges below.

The movement is enriched with beautiful finishing. The crown wheel is adorned with a sunray motif and the ratchet wheel is embellished with two-band colimaçon decoration. The base plate features perlage and the bridges are adorned with Côtes de Genève rayonnantes.

Close examination reveals the Maison’s punctilious approach to finishing. All the bridges are hand-chamfered with polished edges. The blued screws feature bevelled and mirror-polished heads.

My only minor criticism of the finishing is that the openworked section of the balance cock does not possess sharp internal angles. The rounded internal angles look satisfactory, but this watch deserves better. Nevertheless, it is only a small criticism and it does little to diminish my overall fondness for the Calibre A&S6003.

The balance is fitted with a curb adjuster and it oscillates to a frequency of 28,800 VpH (4Hz). The movement contains 32 jewels and the power reserve is 50 hours.

Closing remarks

The Arnold & Son DSTB steel is endowed with several delightful elements, each intended to enrich the ownership experience. The off-centre hour and minutes display, with its delicate blued hands and chaste silvery-white dial, effortlessly convey meaning with an abundance of style. The sea of blue PVD can best be described as stunning and imbues this watch with a distinctive mien.

Arnold & Son has expended much time and resources on the case design. The protracted machining will have incurred much additional cost, but the appearance and comfort of the 43.5mm case justifies the brand’s approach.

It is hard not to smile when viewing the Calibre A&S6003. It is exquisitely executed with a myriad of finely decorated parts, each vying for a purist’s love. This movement exudes sophistication and wonderfully demonstrates the brand’s savoir faire.

Most notably, all roads lead me to the true beat seconds. The seconds hand takes one pronounced step each second. It seems to stop, contemplate the meaning of life and advance forward. Indeed, the true beat seconds indulges the wearer with an incredible spectacle as well as providing a metaphor for a successful life, imploring the wearer to contemplate the past prior to taking the next step into the future.

Further reading

Technical specifications

  • Model: Arnold & Son DSTB steel
  • Reference: 1ATAS.U01A
  • Case: Stainless steel; diameter 43.5mm; height 13mm; water resistance 3ATM (30 metres); sapphire crystal to the front and sapphire caseback
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; true beat seconds
  • Movement: Calibre A&S6003; automatic movement; frequency 28,800 VpH (4Hz); 32 jewels; power reserve 50 hours
  • Strap: Black hand-stitched alligator leather paired with a stainless steel pin buckle
  • Price: £25,300 (RRP as at 12.8.2019)

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