Faberge Visionnaire Chronograph

Faberge has always had a knack for surprising onlookers. The Faberge Visionnaire Chronograph upholds this reputation by presenting a stopwatch complication in a very different form. Angus Davies looks closely at this fascinating watch.

This review of the Faberge Visionnaire Chronograph includes live images, specification details and price.

Faberge Visionnaire Chronograph - chronograph with column wheel and horizontal coupling

In the Western world, individuals read from left to right. In other parts of the world the reverse is true. Books are written under the assumption that all readers approach a body of text in the same way.

The intention of road signs is that all drivers interpret their meaning correctly. All motorists are legally compelled to assimilate information in a manner consistent with the ‘Highway Code’. My point is that for communication to be successful it must be consistent with accepted norms and capable of quick comprehension.

In the world of horology, chronographs typically employ a central chronograph seconds hand, together with a chronograph minute register and, in some cases, a chronograph hour counter. It would be brave for any watch company to set aside this accepted practice.

However, by creating the Visionnaire Chronograph in collaboration with Agenhor, the Geneva-based movement specialist, Faberge has set aside the accepted norms for chronograph design, delivering a new means of displaying elapsed time.

The dial

When looking at the dial of a conventional chronograph, the wearer will usually focus upon the central chronograph seconds hand at it traverses the dial. Once the chronograph is stopped, the wearer will look at the chronograph hour register, the chronograph minute register and the central seconds hand. Each measurement of time is located on different areas of the dial, requiring the wearer to move their gaze from one register to the next.

Faberge Visionnaire Chronograph - chronograph with column wheel and horizontal coupling

Jean-Marc Wiederrecht of Agenhor felt conventional chronographs were to some degree counter-intuitive. After much thought, his idea was to position three chronograph registers at the centre of the dial, with the hands of each register sharing a common axis, mounted on a single spindle. The display of each chronograph register is presented concentrically, with the 24 hour counter positioned at the centre and the 60 minute and 60 second counter located outside of this. The fundamental strength of this display is that the elapsed time can be easily read with all of the essential information positioned in one location in a highly digestible form.

The hour and minute hands encircle the central chronograph registers. A truncated hand points to the indices on the hour track. The minute hand reaches over the hour track, kissing the markings presented on the minuterie. While this proclamation of hours and minutes is unusual, I found it to be eminently logical and simple to interpret.

At the heart of the Faberge paradigm is the notion of a surprise, a trait that harks back to the company’s iconic eggs produced for the Romanov family. Inside many of these eggs were surprises, such as jewelled miniatures of places and objects dear to the Romanov family. Other surprises included automata, mini paintings and portraits. The ‘surprise’ of the Faberge Visionnaire Chronograph is the depiction of an egg engraved upon the glazed case-back (see later), but there are other delights to be found on this watch. For instance, the oscillating weight, which automatically energises the mainsprings, sits beneath the dial, setting aside convention. This approach allows the wearer to admire the self-winding movement without any hindrance.

The case

The Faberge Visionnaire Chronograph is available in rose gold or ceramic. I was lucky enough to spend time with the latter version and appraise its composition closely. Its black hues suit the neoteric nature of the timepiece.

Faberge Visionnaire Chronograph - chronograph with column wheel and horizontal coupling

The case is formed of black ceramic and dark grey DLC treated titanium. Despite its incredible complexity, the watch measures 43mm in diameter which should appeal to a large number of suitors. Interestingly, the watch eschews lengthy lugs and the strap points sharply downwards, causing the strap to readily encircle the wrist.

A notable trait of this watch is that it exudes a stealthy mien from all angles. The crown, positioned at 4 o’clock, is titanium with a dark grey DLC treatment and rubber detail. The titanium pushers also exhibit a dark appearance, courtesy of DLC treatment. Once again, Fabergé has set aside convention, positioning the chronograph push pieces at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. This unusual positioning confers comfort and proves instinctual.

The secret

In 1917, Faberge was working on the Constellation Egg, a gift intended for Tsarina Alexandra. Before the Constellation Egg was delivered, revolution ensued, the imperial regime fell and the incomplete egg disappeared from view.

Unusually, the design of the Constellation Egg featured an outer ring, similar to the rings which encircle stars and planets, depicting the time. Fabergé has honoured the Constellation Egg of 1917 with a laser engraving, etched on the sapphire crystal gracing the dorsal plane of this watch. The engraving is discreet and will probably only be seen by more inquisitive observers.

The movement

The Self-winding Calibre 6361 comprises of 477 components and looks more complicated than most other chronographs. The escapement, twin barrels and gear train are positioned around the periphery of the movement, while those parts relating to the chronograph are positioned centre-stage.

Faberge Visionnaire Chronograph - chronograph with column wheel and horizontal coupling

Presenting the chronograph registers at the centre of the dial meant the chronograph components had to be centrally located, a technical challenge which Agenhor surmounted. Furthermore, Jean-Marc Wiederrecht has also endowed the Calibre 6361 with an array of additional benefits which, no doubt, will whet the appetite of any self-respecting connoisseur.

A problem of column-wheel chronographs equipped with a horizontal coupling is that when the stopwatch function is actuated, the central chronograph seconds hand can stutter. It is for this reason that many purists prefer a column-wheel chronograph with a vertical coupling. However, in terms of visual spectacle, a horizontal coupling is superior. Quite simply more can be seen. With the Faberge Visionnaire Chronograph, Agenhor has developed a ‘lateral friction clutch that robustly combines the smooth engagement of the modern vertical clutch with the flatness of the traditional system’. This technical ingenuity has delivered the best of both worlds.

Looking at the chronograph registers positioned on some sub-dials, the hands can sometimes mislead the wearer. They do not always move to the next integer precisely, for example as 60 seconds has elapsed. The hands on the Faberge Visionnaire Chronograph advance instantaneously on completion of a full minute or a full hour. The system utilises snail cams which accumulate energy. For example, over a 60 second period energy is harvested and then released, causing the hand on the minute register to move in one discrete step. It is this know-how which is also employed for the chronograph reset to zero function.

Unlike many watch movements, the Calibre 6361 does not hide its numerous components beneath oversized bridges. Many movement parts are exposed in all their finely finished glory. The bridges are adorned with Côtes de Genève motif and feature exquisite hand polished chamfering. Everything is refined to an elevated standard.

Faberge Visionnaire Chronograph - chronograph with column wheel and horizontal coupling

Twin barrels collaborate to confer 60 hours autonomy. The balance has a frequency of 21,600 VpH (3Hz) and the movement contains 67 jewels.

Closing remarks

Fabergé is a paragon of fine watchmaking. The Faberge Visionnaire Chronograph is exquisitely finished and employs ingenious watchmaking know-how. Admiring the movement via the exhibition case-back, the observer is indulged with the spectacle of the column-wheel at play. However, unlike some chronographs equipped with a horizontal coupling, there is no stuttering when the stopwatch is actuated. Jean-Marc Wiederrecht’s creative genius is clear to see.

It is this same ingenuity which has led to the clever instant-start indications of the Calibre 6361. The registers display the precise elapsed time and are not inhibited by tardy mechanics.

The raison d’être for this watch is the concentrically presented chronograph registers. By locating the necessary components for the chronograph at the centre of the movement, Wiederrecht has enabled the positioning of the elapsed counters at the hub of the dial. It represents a fresh approach to chronograph design and invites the wearer to read-off elapsed time in a wholly new way. This approach implores the wearer to set aside horological convention and view a chronograph from a different perspective.

Although it can prove risky setting aside accepted rules, in this instance the courage of Faberge is well placed. This ingenious watch delivers genuine advancement in the field of high-end horology.

Further information

Technical specification

  • Model: Faberge Visionnaire Chronograph
  • Case: Black ceramic and dark grey DLC treated titanium; diameter 43mm; sapphire crystal to front and case-back; water resistant to 5 atm (50 metres)
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; chronograph
  • Movement: Calibre 6361; self-winding movement; frequency 21,600 vph (3Hz); 67 jewels; power reserve 60 hours
  • Strap: Alligator strap with black treated titanium folding clasp
  • Price: £31,365 (RRP as at 10.5.2018)

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