McGonigle Tuscar Bánú
Johnny McElherron discusses the McGonigle Tuscar Bánú in white gold, the latest creation from Ireland’s finest watchmaking sons, John and Stephen McGonigle.
This review of the McGonigle Tuscar Bánú explains why two brothers have rightly earned their place at the ‘top table of independent haute horlogerie’.
When it comes to watch industry news, August is usually the quietest month of the year. Virtually all watch ateliers in Switzerland down tools for some well earned chill time, taking the opportunity to rest their strained and weary eyes with a few weeks away from the bench. However, nobody told the brothers McGonigle, who have just unveiled their latest masterpiece. They have revisited their magnificent Tuscar Bánú, releasing a second version of the gorgeous timepiece, this time presented in a case of gleaming white gold.
McGonigle Tuscar Bánú in rose gold
Born and raised on the banks of the River Shannon in the bustling town of Athlone, the boys grew up surrounded by celtic arts and symbols. Within the confines of the family home, their father’s talent for clock repairs meant there were always disassembled clocks being worked on in their presence. Several years later, the influence of these childhood experiences would feature prominently within each McGonigle masterpiece.
Stephen McGonigle followed his older brother, John, to the Irish-Swiss Institute of Horology. They both immersed themselves in the theory, technique and history of watchmaking. After Stephen graduated, he followed in his elder sibling’s footsteps migrating to the home of fine watchmaking, Switzerland.
Each brother has individually honed their prodigious talents, working on high complications and antique restorations. Moreover, they have both worked for some of Swiss watchmaking’s most celebrated maisons. John’s path saw him train at WOSTEP, Neuchatel before heading to Le Brassus, the home of the venerable Audemars Piguet. Stephen initially worked in London prior to assuming roles at Breguet and Franck Muller. The two brothers reunited for a spell at Christophe Claret. By this time, both men were completely at home with the most challenging of complications and eager to enact their own unique perspectives on horology.
Deeply immersed in their own flourishing careers, first John, and then Stephen opened their own, separate workshops in order to accommodate a stream of requests for their services. Indeed, it was whilst serving the needs of numerous illustrious clients that the brothers decided to join forces and came together in 2006. At this stage the two siblings were vastly experienced master watchmakers and chose to pool their talents and establish their own eponymous McGonigle watch company.
McGonigle Tuscar Bánú in rose gold
Making its debut in 2013, the McGonigle Tuscar Bánú, in a case of rose gold, marked the brothers’ first production model, albeit a production which was limited to only twenty pieces. This timepiece in itself was an evolution of the Tuscar One in Ten, a glorious watch featuring a fully exposed movement and skeletonised bridges beneath a sapphire disc. The Bánú was slightly less revealing, with its sculpted upper plate concealing all but the glorious oversized gold balance wheel and the signature jaw-like bridge that dominates the lower portion of the dial.
The new McGonigle Tuscar Bánú in many respects is barely different from its predecessor, with really only the colour of the precious metal and the flame blued hands the obvious changes. However, in reality these changes are quite profound, and the white gold version presents the piece in a completely different light.
McGonigle Tuscar Bánú in white gold
Between the hands and the blackened movement plate, a disc of sapphire crystal is just visible. The McGonigle motif and the numerals have been applied to its surface, seeming to float above. The resultant shadows are cast by ambient light onto the plate beneath. The plate has been created using maillechort, or German ‘silver’, which is then treated with a black chrome coat, before being finished with a sweeping circular grain. The two large rubies beneath 11 and 1 indicate the presence of two barrels which endow the movement with a power reserve of 90 hours.
Lower down, the plate gives way to the movement along a flowing, curling edge. To me, it’s reminiscent of the surface of the river which was part of the brothers’ boyhood years. The balance bridge resembles a feeding salmon with the large polished screw head similar to a fish’s eye. I was surprised when I mentioned this symbolism to John, only to learn that if that’s how it appeared, it was actually an unintentional coincidence. However, John enthusiastically accepted the imagery imagined and was able to see yet another (subconscious) connection with his Athlone roots.
Using that analogy then, beneath the crest of the curl, the small seconds are displayed using a brass crescent. With inner and outer markings, a single pointer of unequal length passes above to indicate the sixty-second cycle. Like the main hands, the pointer has been heated by flame to a deep oxidised blue and then bevelled by hand. The blue really pops in this setting with the filed white gold tips of the hours and minutes contrasting to beautiful effect.
The huge free sprung balance wheel is crafted from gold, with calibrating screws mounted in four pairs around its edge. It’s interesting here that the screws are positioned with their heads uppermost, designed for ease of access by other watchmakers when carrying out future maintenance. Operating at a leisurely 18,000vph, its constant rhythm is graceful and hypnotic.
The exposed surfaces of the base plate and the bridge components are finished using labour intensive hand perlage on the base, with brushed graining elsewhere. The experienced eye will delight in the quality of the superb, highly polished, anglage which defines the shape of each part, particularly around the seconds bridge. This task will have proved especially challenging thanks to its numerous curves and pronounced pointed edge.
Taking the case and turning it over, a sapphire exhibition caseback reveals something quite unusual. The untreated German silver is adorned with beautiful ornate engravings of celtic art designed by the brothers’ sister, Frances, an accomplished designer of jewellery in her own right. The view afforded is actually the rear aspect of the dial plate. In order to achieve the McGonigle Tuscar Bánú’s frontal layout, the MCG01 manual winding movement has been designed in reverse, meaning that the balance assembly is presented at the front.
Unsurprisingly, this required an innovative approach to the movement design, but the result justifies the challenge undertaken, and from either face the effect defines the Bánú’s character and the technical prowess of its makers. In fact, throughout the McGonigle timepiece it’s clear that no shortcuts have been taken.
Like their horological forebears of a century and more before, the brothers’ watchmaking approach is exceptionally hands-on and utterly meticulous from start to finish. Notice the long ‘dents de loup’ wolf teeth gear train wheels, whose characteristic non-uniformity will have proved a time-consuming challenge in order to ensure flawless function.
At 43mm, the McGonigle Tuscar Bánú is very neatly packaged. It is presented on a hand made alligator leather strap with a tang buckle. All in all, it is breathtakingly eye-catching and fresh, marking another important milestone in the very impressive history of the McGonigle brothers.
It’s only by having a little background information that one can identify with the watchmaker’s vision. The McGonigle brothers are quite unique and are the only producers of what are justifiably referred to as masterpieces in their native Ireland. They have brought together their own family and native heritage with the very best of Swiss watchmaking tradition, creating their own magnificent and unmistakable watches and firmly establishing the McGonigle name at the top table of independent haute horlogerie.
- Model: McGonigle Tuscar Bánú in white gold
- Case: White gold; diameter 43mm; water resistant to 3 bar (30 metres); sapphire crystal to front and caseback.
- Functions: Hours; minutes; small seconds
- Movement: McG01, hand-wound movement; frequency 18,000 vph (2.5 Hz); 31 jewels; power reserve 90 hours; 127 components
- Strap: Black ‘hand-stitched alligator leather strap presented with a solid gold deployant buckle
- Price: Price on Application
- Limited Edition: 20 pieces