Meehna Goldsmith provides an enlightened view of Swiss independent watchmaker, Manufacture Royale.
This detailed overview of Manufacture Royale includes numerous images, the history of the brand and an insight into the company’s various models.
In the 18th century, the Age of Enlightenment swept across Europe. Known as le Siècle des Lumières (the Century of lights) in France, it professed reason as the driving force of authority on earth and not the monarchy or Roman Catholic Church’s subjective religious and discriminatory reign. The phrase Sapere aude, “Dare to know”, summed up the spirit of the times.
Manufacture Royale takes as its guiding light the French writer François-Marie Arouet, who went by the nom de plume Voltaire, and was one of the people leading the charge. Despite endangering his life, he spoke out against the tyrannies of the Church, advocating for civil liberties and freedoms, all at the personal risk of flouting the strict censorship laws.
That’s inspiration enough for me. But here’s even more of a synchronicity. Not many people know that in addition to being a juggernaut on the political and literary stage, Voltaire was also intrigued by horology. Emigrating to Geneva to escape Europe’s muffled and benighted rule, he established the original Manufacture Royale workshops in 1770. Now if this isn’t a great argument for exploring new careers at any age, then I don’t know what is. Dare to Know, as it were.
Voltaire was a superstar of his age, or any age, for that matter. Although he and his watchmaking enterprise died with him in 1778, the modern-day Manufacture Royale, established in 2010, resurrects Voltaire’s dynamic philosophy of independence and bold thinking in watchmaking.
As it would follow, you can always expect a surprise from Manufacture Royale. Take, for example, the Androgyne, the first watch of the new brand to hit the horological scene. A steam punk aesthetic houses haute horlogerie inner workings. You can spot this model a mile away, and that’s a good thing because this company has definitely established an identifiable DNA. Like Voltaire’s methods, nothing is halfway or cautious. A 43mm case (in several compositions) sports articulated lugs for a smooth fit, while screws on the bezel mark the hours, which somewhat resemble portholes. The movement construction divides the dial-less dial into thirds. The top 2/3rds is an industrial look and layout, which allows you to admire the sandblasted bridges and polished screws, while the bottom third highlights a 60-second tourbillon that seems to float within the case. Whether or not you like its design, this watch takes a definitive stand.
Another intriguing watch from the house of Manufacture Royale is the Opera, taking the Androgyne up several notches. Housed in the same steampunk style case, but with a saucer-sized 50mm rose gold diameter, it incorporates a tourbillon and minute repeater. Those two complications keeping company are formidable themselves, but then we get one hell of a kicker. The problem with minute repeaters is getting a crisp and melodious sound that is also audible. Cases, particularly made from precious metals, tend to muffle the sound. To overcome this deficit of rose gold, Manufacture Royale built a bellows-like case that opens up, in an attempt to enhance sound. Does it work or not? Listen for yourself and decide. Admittedly, this is a very polarizing watch, but there’s no denying it takes you on one hell of a visual, tactile and aural ride.
Manufacture Royale doesn’t incite such fiery discourse with all its watches. A member of the 1770 family and designed by perennial favorite Eric Giroud, the Voltige takes the essence of the watch, the escapement, and puts it in an usual place—on display at the top of the dial. And, this is one prominent escapement with a 14mm balance wheel secured by a semi-circular bridge. The idea behind the relocation to the front of the dial looking down from 12 o’clock was to give the escapement eye-catching attention. Manufacture Royale describes it as “a trapezist twirling beneath a glass big top,” expressing the creation in poetic terms that would make Voltaire proud. Manufacture Royale named this piece the Voltige after the French word voltigeur, which means acrobat.
Though the escapement is cast as the star of the show, the rest of the dial is a beautiful construction of architectural simplicity. The bridges and components are cast in three dimensions and sit on different planes, providing a wonderland for the eyes to graze. Balancing out the escapement, a small circular seconds indicator ticks away at 6 o’clock. While the skeletonized hands aren’t the easiest to read, they perfectly integrate into the design. Solid hands just wouldn’t do the trick here.
1770 Haute Voltige
The Manufacture Royale 1770 Voltige was just released in three plucky, limited edition versions in its 45mm case. The steel case offers a gray anthracite dial or a rust colored dial, while the 18k rose gold case features a chocolatey brown dial. The MR05 calibre that runs this pony only has a 40-hour power reserve, quite paltry with today’s technology. Luckily it’s offset by the automatic winding that will keep things charged up. Like most modern watches, this one also has an exhibition back to view the flourishes applied to the movement backstage, but the real show takes place frontstage.
1770 Flying Tourbillon
Another star in Manufacture Royale’s repertoire is the Micromegas Revolution, which evolves the concept of the Micromegas introduced in 2015. Leading with two tourbillons located at the bottom of the dial, the Micromegas takes first rights to having tourbillons rotating at two different speeds. The one on the right takes a leisurely turn every 60 seconds, while the second one on the left whips around every six seconds. A torque stabilizer averages out the hugely varied rates with the goal being improved timekeeping.
What’s new from November 2016 is how time is represented on the Micromegas; thus, the Micromegas Revolution. Instead of two hands secured at the center of the dial, this model positions two overlapping discs between 1 and 2 o’clock. The solid hour indicator is secured to the side of the case, while the skeletonized minute disc reaches into the center of the dial. It works somewhat like a regulator system, a daring and original method to determine the time that adds a dashing element to the dance of the tourbillons below.
1770 Micromegas Revolution Couleurs
The mechanics are housed in a 45mm case of gold and titanium, which are hugged between two brancards that extend to form the lugs, revealing its home in the 1770 collection. The Micromegas Revolution features the MR08 calibre with a power reserve of 40 hours that thankfully gets help from automatic winding to keep it charged with power. In January 2017, Manufacture Royale revealed 3 limited editions that jump with color: pink gold case with khaki CVD and titanium case with blue or purple CVD.
It’s worth conveying the inspiration behind the timepiece, which gives further richness to its existence. Voltaire wrote a short story that features a mythical hero, a 120,000-foot giant called Micromegas. Forced to leave his planet Sirius due to controversial ideas, he visits earth. He’s utterly disenchanted by the arrogance and ignorance of our species. (Hmmm… this is still relevant now.) Micromegas conclusion? Dialogue and tolerance are the keys to living harmoniously. Thus: the two different tourbillons learning to exist in harmony, and to top it off, keeping everyone on time.
In line with its roots, Manufacture Royale rose as an independent and should continue to live up to its original founder’s principles. I wouldn’t want to rattle Voltaire’s ghost by giving up control to the big bad conglomerates. He’d surely find some way to speak up about it. As of now, I’m certain Voltaire is quite delighted with the way his brand is carrying on four centuries later.