Czapek Place Vendome Titanium Ombres
In his latest article for Escapement, contributing author Carl Eady reviews the Czapek Place Vendome Titanium Ombres, the latest member of the Maison’s high end ‘Place Vendome’ collection. Finished in titanium, this Limited Edition of just 25 pieces unites a tourbillon and GMT function with distinctly modern aesthetics.
In 1832, Czech-born Franciszek (Francois) Czapek was already an accomplished watchmaker when he fled to Geneva from his home in Poland, after the Polish uprising. Czapek established his own atelier in the same year and gained notoriety as a highly accomplished watchmaker along with his then business partner ‘Moreau’. Later, in 1839, Czapek formed a successful new partnership with Antoine Norbert de Patek, thereby creating ‘Patek, Czapek & Cie’. The partnership dissolved in 1845, with Patek joining forces with Jean Adrien Philippe, while Czapek formed Czapek & Cie with a new partner, Juliusz Gruzewski.
Image – vintage Czapek pocket watch from the 19th century
Czapek’s horological mastery and Gruzewski’s considerable connections led to them supplying timepieces to nobility, most notably the Imperial court of Napoleon III, who even granted Czapek the title “Horloger de la Cour Impériale.” There is a mystery around the final years of Czapek and sadly there are no further records of his whereabouts post 1869.
Image – Xavier de Roquemaurel
Fast forward to 2015, when Xavier de Roquemaurel and two entrepreneurial partners embarked on a journey to resurrect the historical brand Czapek and Cie. Utilising an unconventional crowdfunding approach (radical thinking in such a traditional world), the brand soon captured the imagination of collectors and enthusiasts alike. In just a short time after its resurrection, the Maison won a coveted 2016 GPHG award for its ‘Quai des Bergues’ No.33bis model. The ‘Quai De Bergues’ collection provided a bridge between the brand’s illustrious past and the company’s post-renaissance models.
Image -‘Quai des Bergues’ No.33bis model
Xavier’s entrepreneurial spirit drove him to design the next collection, honouring the founder’s visionary prowess and thereby linking the present to the future. Czapek was the first watchmaker to open a watch shop in the most prestigious square in Paris in 1850. The ‘Place Vendome’ Tourbillon Suspendu collection celebrated this momentous event when it was launched in 2017 to much acclaim.
At Basel 2019, Czapek introduced the ‘Ombres’ (the French term for shadows) to the collection. It encompasses a contemporary finish, yet remains true to the brand’s roots. Indeed, this creation upholds Czapek’s desire for his watches to be viewed as ‘beauty through the measurement of time’.
The modern spirit of the Czapek Place Vendome Titanium Ombres extends to the case which is presented in Grade 5 titanium. At 43mm it should suit most wrist sizes, making a bold statement without being unnecessarily conspicuous. It has pleasing proportions with multiple finishes, including frosted deep recesses along the sides of the case and highly polished lugs and bezel. Fashioned from titanium, the case of the Czapek Place Vendome Titanium Ombres offers a myriad of benefits. It exhibits a low mass, is corrosion resistant and possesses hypo-allergenic properties. Compared to the brightness of stainless steel, the dulled hue of titanium is perhaps the primary reason titanium has been chosen for this piece, given that it complements the shades of grey within the dial.
At 3 o’clock, the fluted crown bears the date ‘1845’, referencing the year Czapek and Juliusz Gruzewski joined forces, forming the firm Czapek and Cie. On the reverse, a sapphire crystal case back, featuring anti-reflective treatment on both sides, enables the wearer to view the Calibre SXH2 movement. Front of house, the ‘Ombres’ hand-made dial is showcased through an anti-reflective domed sapphire crystal. The case offers a water resistance of 3ATM, however, given the unique architecture of the dial, owners of this piece are more likely to see it immersed in compliments rather than deep water.
The existing dial layout found on the Place Vendome collection is both striking and balanced in equal measure and remains structurally unchanged for this version. As the name ‘Ombres’ suggests, this monochromatic dial mixes noir, deep slate-grey and silver hues to stunning effect. At 12 o’clock, a pitch-black grand feu enamel chapter ring encircles a recessed smoked grey brass champlevé dial. Save for the Arabic numerals at 12, the remaining hour markers are depicted with simple slim indexes, replacing the Roman numerals seen on previous iterations. An unobtrusive power reserve indicator communicates via a slender arced aperture smiling from within. The most noticeable change is the introduction of highly polished arrow shaped hands which replace the blued ‘Fleur de Lys’ style versions seen on previous iterations.
The harmonious balance of the dial is reinforced by two imposing bridges. These both exhibit a dramatic shape, feature frosted tops and narrow to a decorative curved scimitar-like tip. Meanwhile, the functional triangular bases exhibit a fine satin finish. Despite their excellent finishing, the bridges appear robust, granting the watch a masculine air. On the right, the triangle is longer and is used to indicate the hours of the second time zone. Positioned opposite, the left bridge suspends the exquisite tourbillon cage which rotates 360 ° each minute. A lone blued screw in the cage acts as a seconds indicator and provides an isolated flurry of colour on this otherwise monochrome timepiece.
At 6 o’clock a further bridge points to the intriguing day/night indicator, which sits within a decorative frosted frame. It is a highly ornate ensemble for such a simple complication, but complements the watch’s overall design and underscores its world-travel credentials.
Czapek’s SXH2 calibre continues to power this latest member of the ‘Place Vendome Tourbillon Suspendu’ collection. This proprietary hand-wound movement has irreproachable credentials given that it’s been developed in conjunction with ‘Chronode’, the venerable, Le Locle based movement manufacturer headed by Jean-Francois Mojon. Elements of the SXH2 can be viewed through the exhibition caseback, including two large sand-blasted bridges which are shaped to reveal glimpses of the gear train within. Decoration of the movement is very discreet, however, there is a degree of anglage on the bridges, circular graining on the crown wheel and the brand’s now familiar 5-spoke open-worked ratchet wheel.
The SXH2 calibre has a frequency of 3Hz (21,600 VPH) and has a power reserve of 60 hours from one, lone barrel. The movement is regulated by a balance sat within a beautifully finished cage, rotating once per minute. The ‘whirlwind’ can also be viewed via the exhibition case back.
Consistent with the ‘Ombres’ luxury credentials, the watch head is paired with a sumptuous hand-crafted black alligator strap. The strap is secured with a simple pin buckle, fashioned from Grade 5 titanium.
The ‘Ombres’ is a stunning Limited Edition of 25 pieces and a worthy addition to the Place Vendome collection. It illustrates how far the brand has come in the short time since it’s reincarnation, just by introducing new materials and subtle changes to its existing 2017 editions. Czapek has opened the collection up to a potentially younger audience drawn to its understated tones. Conversely, the firm has not strayed too far from the Place Vendome spirit which could have alienated Czapeks more traditional fans. Quite simply, the Genevan firm has judged the Czapek Place Vendome Titanium Ombres to perfection.
Those who have encountered Xavier de Roquemaurel will be familiar with his energy and unwavering drive for the Czapek brand, as well as his infectious passion for all the models bearing the historic name. When expressing his own thoughts on the ‘Ombres’ he stated, “it’s now a watch that defies categorisations. It is mysterious, even a touch romantic, and yet still maintains a strong mechanical-functional spirit.”
At the time of writing, the Czapek Place Vendome Titanium Ombres is a worthy competitor in the upcoming 2019 Grand Prix D’Horlogorie de Genève in the Mens Complication category. This provides a further indication that this high-end Maison is on the upwards trajectory, surpassing the dizzying heights of greatness once familiar to Francois Czapek himself. Indeed, Xavier de Roquemaurel is building an impressive post-dated legacy all of his own.
- Model: Czapek Place Vendome Titanium Ombres
- Case: Grade 5 titanium; diameter 43.5mm
- Functions: Hours, Minutes, Second time zone, day night indicator
- Movement: SXH2 Czapek proprietary movement developed with Chronode; frequency 21,600 VpH (3Hz); power-reserve 60 hours.
- Strap: Black alligator leather with titanium buckle
- Water resistance: 30 metres or 3ATM
- Price: £85,000
- Limited Edition: 25 pieces