Oiléan H-B1

The Oiléan H-B1 is the latest creation from the venerated master watchmaker, John McGonigle, a proud son of Ireland. This chronograph with triple calendar is equipped with a reworked, vintage Valjoux 88 chronograph movement. Each movement component is beautifully refined and encompasses high-end finishing, synonymous with haute horlogerie. A smoked sapphire dial affords views of parts usually hidden from view. The case is presented in Grade 5 Titanium and tastefully blends polished and satin-finished surfaces.

Among watch aficionados, John McGonigle needs little introduction. Indeed, his prowess at the bench is known to many discerning collectors. John and his brother, Stephen McGonigle, established their eponymous watch brand, McGonigle, back in 2006. Over the years, the company has repeatedly showcased the men’s talents, producing time-only watches as well as crafting sublime tourbillons and minute repeaters. Both men are highly skilled watchmakers, something evident when viewing their creations at close quarters.

Johnny McGonigle, John and Stephen’s father, was an accomplished repairer of clocks, albeit he would also repair wristwatches for family and friends. It may have been for this reason that the McGonigle brothers eventually embarked on a career in the esoteric world of haute horlogerie.

Over the years, the two brothers have regularly called upon the services of their sister, Frances McGonigle, an accomplished artist. She has hand-engraved several of the brand’s watches with Gaelic-inspired patterns and inscriptions. While Stephen has spent many years living and working in Switzerland, John has preferred the tranquillity of his native Ireland. The brothers’ Irish heritage has inspired the design of each watch and even the names of their timepieces.

Recently, John emailed me and told me about a new brand he has set up on his own, Oiléan. Again, McGonigle proudly references his Celtic roots, choosing the Gaelic word for ‘Island’ as a name for his newly formed company.

John immediately piqued my interest with his inaugural model, the Oiléan H-B1. At this juncture, I have to confess, I have a passion for chronographs and, in particular, vintage chronograph movements. While I like bridges embellished with Côtes de Genève motif or Glashütte ribbing, I prefer minimal bridges and unhindered views of wheels and levers at play. I can already attest the Oiléan H-B1 indulges my horological proclivities, however, as I will go on to explain, this new watch offers so much more.

The dial

The Oiléan H-B1 features a smoked sapphire dial affording views of the movement, including the day disc, month disc and moonphase disc. Numerous levers are visible yet they do not detract from the indication of time. The purchaser can select either white or black day and month discs.

Twin-spoke hour and minute hands reinforce the openworked theme. They feature prominent tips, exhibiting a blue-green hue in restricted light. While the hands are openworked, they enunciate the time free of ambiguity. Baton-style indexes sit atop a black hour track. In addition, the hour track also features neat white strokes, assisting the wearer when reading-off elapsed seconds.

A blued hand with an openworked, luminescent tip points to the date which is presented on a silver-toned dial flange. The blued central chronograph seconds hand is elegantly slender and sports a lengthy counterweight.

Three subdials occupy the central area of the dial, each is framed with a white track and endowed with a blued hand with a luminescent tip. A 30-minute register is positioned adjacent 3 o’clock, a 12-hour chronograph register is located at 6 o’clock and a small seconds display resides at 9 o’clock. Each subdial is of equal size, imbuing the display with a sense cohesion.

The country of origin is proclaimed at 6 o’clock along with the brand’s nomenclature.

The case

The Oiléan H-B1 is housed in a 40mm Grade 5 Titanium case. This particular grade of titanium is costlier than Grade 2 Titanium which is sometimes used on cheaper watches. Grade 5 is superior because it is much stronger due to the presence of the elements, aluminium and vanadium.

Oiléan H-B1

Grade 5 Titanium is also light, hence it is often used for weight-sensitive applications such as aviation and motorsport. In terms of horology, the lightweight nature of the alloy heightens wearer comfort. Moreover, Grade 5 Titanium is hypo-allergenic, making it ideal for those individuals with a nickel allergy.

Another factor which influences the cost of Grade 5 Titanium is that it proves far more costly to machine than steel, gold or Grade 2 Titanium. For example, with Grade 5 Titanium, CNC tools wear more quickly and cutting times are longer in order to avoid the metal overheating, both factors lead to increased machining costs.

This particular case is intricately formed with delightfully recessed lugs. The caseband is satin-finished, while the pushpieces are highly polished. The bezel is convex and, once again, highly polished. Throughout this horological composition, John has repeatedly juxtaposed polished and satin-finished surfaces. This interplay of surface treatments requires much expertise. When polishing surfaces the two finishes must be discrete with no wayward lines. Clearly, John is more than up to the task as the resultant appearance of the H-B1 case is exquisite.

Four screws retain the caseback which features a pane of sapphire glass that allows sight of the hand-wound Valjoux 88. Two pushpieces are recessed into the left flank of the case allowing the wearer to adjust the calendar mechanism using a corrector stylus (supplied with the watch). The vertical flank of the crown features the Oiléan emblem and is fitted with two gaskets, mitigating the risk of ingress. The sapphire crystal is convex and features anti-reflective treatment on both sides.

John supplies the Oiléan H-B1 on a black leather strap which features quick-release fastenings, allowing it to be easily removed without the need for tools. The strap is paired with a titanium pin buckle.

The movement

The Valjoux 88 was always a handsome movement, however, John has enhanced its beauty with an array of refinements. Firstly, prospective purchasers can choose to have the mainplate and bridges either gold plated or rhodium plated.

All steel components are straight-grained with a shellac stone or flat polished on a tin plate with diamantine paste.

The wheels are circular-grained. John has fitted an openworked chronograph bridge of his own design. It encompasses anglage and includes polished jewel and screw sinks, details that are replicated throughout the movement. The movement features a 9-pillar column wheel which collaborates with a horizontal coupling. This particular ensemble allows the wearer to view the chronograph engaging/disengaging, further indulging the desires of horological fetishists.

Image – bridge centring 

Made between 1947 and 1974, the Valjoux 88 was originally supplied with an index adjusted regulator. Furthermore, its frequency was 18,000 vph (2.5Hz). John has stuck with the index adjusted regulator but states the frequency of the balance is 21,600 vph (3Hz). I can only assume he has increased the rate to augment precision.

Image – heart-shaped cam, part of the system for resetting the chronograph to zero

This is a movement I could never tire of looking at. Its prepossessing looks are likely to appeal to every self-respecting watch fan.

Closing remarks

One benefit of a conventional openworked watch is that it affords views of components normally hidden from view. However, a downside is that the same parts can clutter the horological vista, impairing readability.

The Oiléan H-B1 is not an openworked watch but it does grant sight of the day disc, the month disc, the moonphase and a number of levers and screws. John has shrewdly used a smoked sapphire dial to frame the prevailing day and month, thereby augmenting legibility. The display proves interesting while at the same time it is simple to read.

John has chosen to house his watch in Grade 5 titanium. The raw material is cheaper than 18-carat gold, however, the cost of machining this lightweight alloy is far greater. The case of the watch features a convex bezel and the lugs are endowed with exquisite recesses, again features that inevitably heighten costs. Throughout the composition, satin-finished and highly polished surfaces abound. The repeated blending of surface treatments, especially when placed in close proximity to each other, necessitates much time and skill to realise.

However, the pièce de résistance of this timepiece has to be the movement, the Calibre Valjoux 88. The absence of expansive bridges allows the wearer to witness a theatrical performance where wheels converse and levers engage. Most notably, John has enriched this spectacle by imbuing parts with the type of finishing normally seen on watches costing £75,000 or more. With the anglage, circular graining beneath the balance wheel and numerous grained components, this watch befits the term ‘haute horlogerie’. However, the Oiléan H-B1 is priced at €23,500 + Tax, a remarkably keen price considering its impressive specification.

Oiléan H-B1

Throughout this article I have mentioned John’s name many times, probably more times than the watch’s soubriquet, however, there is a reason for this. The Oiléan H-B1 is not mass-produced, John only plans to make eight pieces per annum. By virtue of their protracted creation, these watches are an extension of John, containing small bits of his DNA and his years of experience. The Oiléan H-B1 is another chapter in John’s story, showcasing, once again, his immense talent.

Further reading

Technical specifications

  • Model: Oiléan H-B1
  • Case: Grade 5 Titanium; diameter 40mm; height 14.2mm; water resistance 3ATM (30 metres); sapphire crystal to front; exhibition case back.
  • Functions: hours; minutes; small seconds; day; date; month; chronograph
  • Movement: Calibre Valjoux 88; hand-wound movement; frequency 21,600 vph (3Hz); power reserve circa 40 hours.
  • Strap: Black leather strap with titanium pin buckle 
  • Price: €23,500 + Tax (RRP as at 18.8.2020)

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