Schwarz Etienne Ode to the 70s

The Schwarz Etienne Ode to the 70s implores horophiles to don their flared jeans and wear flowers in their hair. Carl Eady looks at this ebullient timepiece, pairing métiers d’art with a flying tourbillon.

Schwarz Etienne Ode to the 70s

In 2016, Schwarz Etienne’s acclaimed ‘Ode à la Semaine’ series was launched at Basel, encompassing exquisite Métiers d’Art. Each of the seven planetary inspired timepieces represented a day of the week. The popularity of this collection led the Swiss brand to release the ‘Ode aux Saisons’, a series of wonderfully crafted interpretations of the seasons, beginning with a three-piece collection under the banner ‘Ode de Printemps’ (Spring).

In 2019, a somewhat surprising addition to the ‘Ode’ series was launched, the Schwarz Etienne Ode to 70s.  At June’s Watchmakers Club event in London, I got ‘hands on’ with this psychedelic tourbillon and was transported back to a time of denim, bright colours and grooviness.

Due to the Seiko-inspired ‘quartz crisis’, the 1970s proved to be the most tumultuous period to afflict the Swiss watch industry. Many brands endured a barren time, causing a seismic shift in the Swiss economy. As well as a horological revolution, huge cultural changes were already underway. The mid to late 60s had seen an ascendant hippie movement, originating in San Francisco and quickly spreading across America and beyond. This was primarily as a direct response to the Vietnam war.

Schwarz Etienne Ode to the 70s

Philosopher and poet Allen Ginsberg was credited with advocating the use of flowers to symbolise a ‘non-violent’ response to the US military machine, the police and establishment supporters.  These powerful ‘Flower Power’ protests gave rise to a whole new lifestyle, which became more mainstream in the 70s. With a mantra of ‘Peace and Love’ and clad in bright psychedelic clothing, the 70s generation enjoyed a freedom to express themselves way beyond the dreams of their parents. Fashioned with a rich combination of haute horology and artisanal craftsmanship, the Schwarz Etienne Ode to 70s beautifully captures the idealism and colourful spirit of the decade.

Case

Given the outrageous flamboyance of the rest of the watch, the round case is somewhat conservative.  At 44mm, it is on the larger side, though very well proportioned with a simple crown sitting at the traditional 3 o’clock position and bearing the ‘SE’ initials.  Fashioned from 18 carat white gold, the case upper and stepped lugs are highly polished to give a dazzling finish, while the caseband sports fine brushwork in contrast.

Schwarz Etienne Ode to the 70s

With luxury watchmaking, it is often the small details which delight discerning collectors the most. This applies to the Schwarz Etienne Ode to 70s which despite its caseback being solid, features a cleverly embossed caseback, artistically depicting the gear train within. Furthermore, a small circular aperture gives a rear view of the flying tourbillon in the ‘TSE’ (Tourbillon Schwarz Etienne) in-house movement, though it is partially obscured by the bridge and is obviously best viewed from the front. Finally, a domed sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating on both sides provides the perfect window to a truly unique dial.

Schwarz Etienne Ode to the 70s

Dial

An 18-carat white gold base plate acts as a backing canvas. In order to portray such an array of vibrant colours, a historic enamelling technique, ‘cloisonné’, has been employed. This involves fixing white gold wire onto the dial to form swirling compartments. These are then subsequently filled with a paste of enamel powder. Years of skill are required to master this art and only a truly experienced enameller can judge the time and temperature required to correctly fire each colour to its correct shade.

Schwarz Etienne Ode to the 70s

Once one colour wave has been successfully completed, the dial must cool before the process is repeated with the next colour. It is a painstaking process, but the result is nothing short of spectacular with the multicoloured hues providing a kaleidoscopic spectacle. Should any of the 23 owners of an Ode to 70s wish to choose an alternative palette, Schwarz Etienne offer bespoke colouring options.

The dial is split-level, which makes the task of aligning the ‘cloisonné’ even more difficult, but the Schwarz Etienne team have executed this task with meticulous precision. The lower tier of the dial presents three circular features. At the 1 o’clock position, an opening mirrors that of the caseback and offers a window to the stunning flying tourbillon cage in all its glory. Mirror polished screws and bevelled edges offer further evidence that the marque delivers creativity and horological virtue in equal measure. A second and more subtle circular aperture has a seemingly cosmetic purpose and brings a balance to the dial estate by merely exposing the teeth which adorn the ratchet wheel. Thirdly, the upper surface of the micro-rotor is situated at 9 o’clock and enhances the watch’s playful character.

Covering the rotor is the design originally created by British artist Gerald Holtom who ingeniously used the semaphore signals for the letters ‘N’ and ‘D’ within a circle to signify ‘Nuclear Disarmament’. The enduring qualities of the ‘CND’ icon resulted in it becoming a symbol of peace and in this execution, the four ‘pockets’ around the symbol are varnished in red, green, blue and yellow. ‘Ode to 70’s’ and ‘Peace & Love’ inscriptions adorn the red and green areas respectively and are delivered in a simple unassuming font.

Movement

Over the years, Schwarz Etienne has proven itself to be one of the premier movement manufacturers, producing components and complete movements not only for its own watches but also for several third parties. Most noticeably, this degree of vertical integration even extends to the manufacture of hairsprings. Produced by Schwarz Etienne’s sister company, ‘E20 Innovations’ the hairsprings present a technical challenge few other firms are able to undertake.

Schwarz Etienne Ode to the 70s

Proudly powering the Schwarz Etienne Ode to 70s is the TSE, the fourth iteration of the brand’s ‘SE’ modular movement concepts. The enamel detailing on display is so incredibly eye-catching that the watchmaking credentials of this timepiece could potentially be overlooked. Through the aperture at 1 o’clock, the flying tourbillon is revealed and the integrity of the TSE 121.00 calibre shines through. There is no risk of mistaking this watch merely for a brightly coloured novelty. The Maison’s mechanical prowess is undeniable. The intricate detail of the tourbillon cage and associated components prove a mesmerising sight. Every minute the cage makes one full rotation, mitigating the negative influence of gravity on the regulating organ. The 3Hz movement delivers 72 hours of autonomous operation.

Strap

For a watch celebrating the 1970s, the only credible material for the strap is blue denim. One could easily imagine these have been fashioned from a dusty pair of bell-bottomed loons, everyday wear for any self-respecting peace-loving hippie.  Adorned with multi coloured hand painted splashes and vibrant red stitching, the strap carries an air of authenticity, perfectly complementing the watch. Furthermore, the 18-carat white gold folding buckle and red alligator lined strap befit a watch with a six-figure price tag.

Closing thoughts

This timepiece will undoubtedly be remembered as a colourful highlight from Basel 2019, due in part to its audacious styling. For those of a certain age, the Schwarz Etienne Ode to 70s will prove a fitting reminder of when the ‘Peace and Love’ movement gave youth a heightened sense of morality, although, in retrospect, it was accompanied with a questionable sense of fashion. With a limited run of only 23 pieces, owners will enjoy a marriage of Schwarz Etienne’s exquisitely decorative enamelwork and technical prowess in a ‘far out’ tribute to a decade of beautiful ideology.

Further reading

https://www.schwarz-etienne.ch

Technical specifications

  • Model: Schwarz Etienne Ode to 70s
  • Limited Edition: 23 pieces
  • Reference: WCF09TSE70IESWG03AA-A
  • Case: 18k White Gold, diameter 44mm, domed sapphire crystal coated on both sides
  • Dial: White gold 18ct dial grand feu enamel featuring both cloisonné and champlevé techniques, micro-rotor with “Peace & love” logo, varnished in four colours and “peace & love” and “ode to 70’s” engraved
  • Functions: Hours; minutes
  • Movement: TSE 121.00 34 jewels, 219 components. Manufactured flying tourbillon with micro rotor. 3Hz / 21,600 VPH.  72hr power reserve
  • Strap: Blue denim, with applied paint markings and red alligator lining. Secured with 18k white gold folding buckle deployant buckle.
  • Hands: Brass with rhodium treatment and Super-LumiNova®
  • Water resistance: 5 ATM / 50m
  • Price: CHF 118,500 excluding taxes (RRP as at 2.7.2019)