Often, the very fact that mechanical wristwatches are a thing at all continues to impress me, particularly considering that fundamentally, not much has changed in terms of the philosophies of watchmaking, ever since the energy contained in a wound spring could be regulated by an escapement and tell the time with any kind of accuracy, via hands moving around a dial.
Sometimes however, that childlike fascination of mine gets piqued even more than usual when I see a watch that quite literally makes me stop and really pay attention from the first sight.
And so it was this first week of June 2018 when onto my screen dropped one of those rare watches which, from the moment I saw it, had me hooked. Introducing young French independent watchmaker Cyril Brivet-Naudot and Eccentricity; his first, quite magnificent watch.
There is much about Eccentricity which makes it stand out as a debut piece, but let's start by recognising that it is pretty much fully designed and manufactured in house, an already impressive feat made all the more notable because this watchmaker is a true artisan, and in its entirety, the watch has been created by hand, using hand held tools and machinery, and emphatically without the benefit of modern CNC production methods. The result is spectacular and fascinating.
The Brivet-Naudot workshop is located in the village of Le Monastier right in the midpoint of rural southern France, where for generations the family made its living from watchmaking. Several hundred kilometres from the Swiss border and the heartland of horology, the family business was small and localised; servicing, maintaining and restoring its neighbour's timepieces, yet growing up in the midst of this traditional profession, and inheriting the same curiosity for the mechanical as his ancestors, Cyril soon understood which direction his destiny would be taking him.
For him however, seeing how so many of the hands-on skills he had watched his grandfather toil over as a child had become almost redundant, as modern computerised cutting technologies offered reductions in cost, time and risk to the modern watchmaker, his instinct was to take the old road and journey back in time to create a piece in the Manibus Factum spirit of the founding fathers of horology. Three years in the making, Eccentricity is a piece which is utterly captivating, somehow austere yet rich in detail and absorbing in its idiosyncratic nuances, of which there are many.
Eccentricity is presented in a 39mm stainless steel case with a flat brushed waist and rounded bezel. Each lug is screwed onto the case and it takes a second to register that it has no crown. That's because the 40 hour reserve of the manual winding movement is rewound from the rear, where two tiny holes in the sapphire crystal contain ports for a key which cranks the barrel spring or sets the time. The release of that energy is regulated by an escapement which has been designed and manufactured in house, and is quite unlike any other. Inspired by the work of watchmaker Louis Richard circa 1860, the elaborate architecture involves a swinging pendulum like baguette arm, with a weight at one end and a round oscillating plate at the other, where a thin straight spring which runs along the top of the baguette slips in and out of a crescent cut into the receiving plate. Either side of the baguette, little pillars restrict its lateral to and fro movement, creating a very distinctive ticking when they touch, as the palettes rise and descend on the sharp and angled teeth of the escape wheel.
With the mainplate separating the balance above from the échappement partegé (or split escapement) below, the libre excentrique solution is the result of a collaboration with watchmaker friend Luc Monnet. An old concept which has been modernised for this watch, it is unique in its invention and how it works, and very beautiful in its execution, the design and looks like it could have been made two hundred years ago.
Through a gently domed sapphire the mainplate, which provides the background for the features on the dial side, is finished in a gold frosted surface, and fixed onto it with a blued steel screw the balance cock reaches inwards where a ruby holds the big free sprung wheel, calibrated only by four screw weights, which oscillates beneath at 18,000vph.
Even when it comes to displaying the hours and minutes, the approach is inventive, and take a moment of mental familiarisation to see how the numbered brushed steel ring displays the minutes, as it rotates in a sixty minute cycle past a blue teardrop shaped pointer which is screwed onto the plate. Inside the minutes ring, a small round steel dial with tiny hour pointer is embedded in a sapphire disc which completes a rotation every twelve hours with additional gearing keeping the display upright. The toothed minutes wheel and off centre hour wheel are drilled with round holes which add a touch of the contemporary, and perhaps the watchmaker's signature, to the traditional watchmaking principles he has created.
Underneath, the complexity of the technical innovation is almost belied, thanks to the seemingly simplistic form and finishing of the components within. The bridges which secure the escapement, gear wheels and the barrel are finger like with flat surfaces but as throughout the piece, edges are chamfered to a polish, the intricately cut sharp teeth of the escapement wheel and barrel ratchet, as well as numerous other little details such as the drilled wheels and rear bezel screws reinforce the sense of how accomplished this watch is.
It's only been a few days since Brivet-Naudot dropped the Eccentricity on us from out of the blue, but it's already creating a wave of enthusiasm among the independent collectors, as well as many of the leading watchmakers themselves. And it's deserved, because once in a while comes along a watch which, from the philosophy of its origins to its execution and aesthetics, just captures the essence of watchmaking in its purest meaning, and introduces a new - and importantly - young name. People like Cyril Brivet-Naudot are a rare breed nowadays, but thankfully they do exist, and as of right now their number can boast another member who is driven to preserve an increasingly scarce set of skills which can connect the twenty-first century with the earliest years of horology.
- REFERENCE: Eccentricity
- CASE SIZE: 39mm
- CASE MATERIAL: Stainless steel
- DIAL: Open
- MOVEMENT: Manufacture manual winding with key operation, 18'000 vph
- POWER RESERVE: c. 40 hours
- FUNCTIONS: Hours, minutes
- BRACELET/STRAP: Alligator
- BUCKLE: Pin buckle
- WATERPROOF RATING: 30 m
- PRICE: c. €60'000