Arnold & Son Time Pyramid Tourbillon
The Arnold & Son Time Pyramid Tourbillon encapsulates the magic of its 2013 forebear, but features Breguet’s legendary whirlwind and subtly redesigned dial layout. With a predilection for haute horlogerie, Angus Davies could not resist taking a closer look.
Named after the famous British watchmaker, John Arnold, and his son, John Roger Arnold, the luxury brand, Arnold & Son, was ‘relaunched in 1995’. It chose to establish its operations in the watchmaking capital of Switzerland, La Chaux-de-Fonds. Later, in 2010, the Maison became a fully integrated Manufacture, developing and producing its own movements.
Unlike some firms which usually restrict their gaze to the view directly ahead, Arnold & Son has looked to the past, again and again. Old clocks and watches, often English in origin, have proved a rich source of inspiration for the brand. Various mechanisms, first seen in the 18th and 19th centuries, have been adapted and refined for wrist wear.
The Time Pyramid
In 2013, Arnold & Son unveiled the Time Pyramid, a spectacular watch inspired by a British skeleton clock. This clock, dating back to 1830-1845, featured a fusée and chain, a device which delivers a constant force to the escapement, aiding precision.
Image – Time Pyramid
The expansive dial of the Time Pyramid reveals the balance wheel in all its entirety, sitting just below noon. Beneath the balance wheel, the gear train, along with two barrels, are freely disclosed. Each barrel sits in the lower hemisphere of the dial, positioned either to the left or right of the hour and minutes display.
Two, blued serpentine hands, located adjacent 3 and 9 o’clock, reveal the available energy held within each barrel. The hour and minutes are displayed on a sapphire dial, conferring views of the components beneath. A subsidiary seconds dial sits on a lower plane with part of its form located just under the aforementioned hour and minute display.
Image – Calibre A&S1615 (front)
A notable attribute of the Time Pyramid is the symmetrical topography of the dial. Draw an imaginary line from 6 o’clock to noon and then note how each part located on one side of the dial has a matching counterpart opposite.
Image – Calibre A&S1615 (rear)
Since the Manufacture opened in 2010, Arnold & Son has taken an ingenious approach to design. In the first instance, the dial is designed and thereafter an optimally shaped movement is produced. The brand has avoided the idea of adaptation or ‘making do’, repeatedly designing high-end calibres with highly original architecture and perfect proportions. The Time Pyramid upholds this philosophy.
The Time Pyramid Tourbillon – it was meant to be
Over the last decade, Arnold & Son has produced several models endowed with a tourbillon, providing a clear illustration of its technical prowess.
The tourbillon was patented by Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1801. His invention placed the escapement and regulating organ (balance) within a cage, rotating 360° every minute. This ingenious device countered gravity’s adverse influence on the rate, hence aiding precision.
Coincidentally, John Arnold was a close friend of Abraham-Louis Breguet. The pair were said to share trade secrets. Moreover, the two gentlemen entrusted the training of their sons to each other. After John Arnold’s passing in 1799, a grief-stricken Breguet modified one of Arnold’s pocket chronometers, equipping it with his first tourbillon escapement. Breguet gave the watch to John Arnold’s son, John Roger Arnold, in 1808. Today, the watch, measuring 59.3mm in diameter and featuring a silver engine-turned dial, is housed in The British Museum.
Recently, when I saw the Arnold & Son Time Pyramid Tourbillon, I was reminded of the friendship the two men shared and their overriding obsession with precision. This preoccupation with accuracy is manifest with John Arnold’s incredibly precise marine chronometers and Breguet’s legendary whirlwind, a mechanism highly prized by connoisseurs today. Indeed, the creation of this modern-day Arnold & Son provides a fitting tribute to both of these exceptional watchmaking talents. Quite simply, the Time Pyramid Tourbillon was always meant to be.
Those horophiles who share my fondness for the Time Pyramid of 2013 will no doubt appreciate the appearance of the new Arnold & Son Time Pyramid Tourbillon. At first glance these watches appear almost identical, however, closer inspection reveals subtle differences between the two models.
The hours and minutes are displayed on a sapphire disc, positioned in the lower part of the dial. A rhodium-plated ring frames the dial and features a black minuterie marked with a series of black dots. The hours and minutes are proclaimed with polished and blued arrow-shaped hands featuring openworked tips.
Similar to the Time Pyramid of 2013, various movement components are arranged along a north-south axis. The balance sits at noon, while the twin barrels are positioned in the lower portion of the dial, with the gear train located in between.
The tourbillon cage is beautifully executed with an array of finishes, including chamfered and polished edges, satin-finishes and delightful pockets of mirror-polishing deftly performed by hand. The seconds are now conjoined with the one-minute tourbillon, lucidly conveying meaning. In my opinion, this proves significantly better than the seconds display on the Time Pyramid of 2013 where the indication is partially obscured by the hour and minutes display above.
Despite the Time Pyramid Tourbillon incorporating more complexity, the recto view appears virtually identical to its older sibling, save for some very subtle changes to the gears. Perhaps the most notable difference front of house relates to the power-reserve indicator. The serpentine hands of the original Time Pyramid have been supplanted with straight, blued, arrow-shaped hands. These latter hands are also open-worked, matching the hour and minute hands. While I liked the reptilian profile of the hands employed on the 2013 model, the newer hands prove much neater.
Arnold & Son has indulged aspiring owners with the choice of an 18-carat red gold (5N) case or a slightly more affordable stainless steel option. Irrespective of the material selected, the case is refined to the highest order. The sides eschew straight flanks, instead encompassing intricately curved contours eg the two-step caseband design. The periphery of the caseback features a tapered edge, allowing the wearer’s wrist to readily flex with no suggestion of impediment. By adopting this design language and embracing such complexity, Arnold & Son has certainly increased its production costs. However, the resultant aesthetic proves incredibly attractive, justifying its costly and protracted efforts.
The Arnold & Son Time Pyramid Tourbillon measures 44.60mm in diameter, the same as its older sibling. While the scale of this watch could never be described as compact, it is not cumbersome and feels very comfortable when worn. The thickness of the watch is 10.09mm, a modest figure considering the overall complexity of the watch. The crown is tastefully discreet and sits between the lugs. This unusual positioning heightens the sense of symmetry but without restricting manipulation.
Front of house, the sapphire crystal is cambered and features anti-reflection coating on both sides. The dorsal plane of the case also features a pane of sapphire crystal, granting spectacular front to rear views.
Once again, Arnold & Son has taken a blank sheet of paper and conceived a new movement, the Calibre A&S8615. Clearly, this movement shares many details with the Calibre A&S1615 fitted to the original Time Pyramid, however, the newer one is not a mere facsimile of the older one.
Image – Calibre A&S8615 (front)
For example, the Arnold & Son Time Pyramid Tourbillon, as its name implies, features a tourbillon cage, positioned at noon. The seconds indication is now part of the tourbillon, rendering the former seconds display redundant. This has led to a different mainplate/bridge design, demonstrating that the Maison did not merely adopt a ‘copy’ and ‘paste’ approach to the design of the Calibre A&S8615.
All Time Pyramid models possess two barrels, arranged in series. Once the mainspring within the left barrel is fully tensioned, the mainspring within the right barrel is wound. Because both barrels are arranged in series, they provide the escapement with a more consistent supply of energy than a single barrel, thereby aiding precision.
Image – Calibre A&S8615 (rear)
One glance at the Calibre A&S8615 will cause any self-respecting horophile to smile with delight. The bridges are beautifully appointed with Côtes de Genève and sport gleaming chamfered edges. The ratchet wheels feature ‘Double Colimaçon’, thermally blued screws abound and the appearance of the crown wheel is enriched with a sunray motif. Sublime finishing is omnipresent. Indeed, Arnold & Son refer to ‘haute horlogerie finishing’ within its press materials and, based on the evidence, its description seems justified.
The hand-wound Calibre A&S8615 has a frequency of 21,600 vph (3Hz) and features 31 jewels. The twin barrels collaborate to deliver 90 hours of autonomy.
It’s 10 years since Arnold & Son transitioned from a watch brand to a full-blown Manufacture. In that time, the company has repeatedly sought inspiration from traditional clock and watchmaking. Indeed, the Swiss firm has captured the essence of some historical artefacts, distilling its observations and creating highly refined and very wearable watches.
Looking back to the 18th and 19th centuries, it should be remembered that both Arnold and Breguet’s work were the preserve of the fortunate few. Each clock or watch necessitated much effort to bring to fruition, hence both businesses were patronised by royalty, aristocracy and other members of the great and the good. Thankfully, with the advent of today’s CNC machines, superior materials and modern-day know-how, Arnold & Son has democratised horology, positioning its products within close proximity to a greater number of would-be buyers.
The Arnold & Son Time Pyramid Tourbillon is an expensive watch, but its exalted specification precludes bargain basement prices. Furthermore, considering the exquisite finishing and the fact that this watch is a shining example of haute horlogerie, its price is actually very reasonable.
In terms of the Time Pyramid and the newer Time Pyramid Tourbillon, the latter watch does not supersede the Time Pyramid, but merely joins it at the family dinner table. This seems eminently sensible because, despite the onset of years, the Time Pyramid remains incredibly desirable and I suspect that the new Time Pyramid Tourbillon will also share this enduring allure.
- Model: Arnold & Son Time Pyramid Tourbillon
- Reference: 1TPBR.T01A – 18k red gold (5N)
- Reference: 1TPDS.T01A – stainless steel
- Case: Diameter 44.6mm; Height 10.09mm; water resistance 3ATM (30 metres); sapphire crystals to front and caseback.
- Functions: hours; minutes; seconds on tourbillon; power reserve indicators
- Movement: Calibre A&S8615; hand-wound movement; frequency 21,600 vph (3Hz); 31 jewels; power reserve 90 hours
- Strap: Hand-stitched brown or black alligator leather paired with matching pin buckle
- Price: £43,200 – 18k red gold (5N) (RRP as at 13.2.2020)
- Price: £34,300 – stainless steel (RRP as at 13.2.2020)
- Limited Edition: 28 pieces in red gold, 28 pieces in stainless steel