Karlsruhe, Germany – Reported by Elizabeth Doerr for Elite Traveler, the private jet lifestyle magazine
At Baselworld 2011, the talented master watchmaker behind Blancpain’s famed 1735 and Omega’s La Rose des Temps—both highly complicated wristwatches unveiled in the 1990s—launched his first timepiece as an independent watchmaker. Though it is a grande complication in the classic sense, it is in no way orthodox in design, and its name, 1f4, even less so.
The watch’s cryptic name is derived from the famous chess opening coined by Henry Edward Bird, emphasizing watchmaking as “a mastermind’s game.” The timepiece is actually the world’s first dual automatic grande complication and grande sonnerie with instant dial reversibility (meaning it can be worn with either side showing) in wristwatch size. Its compendium of complications boasts a full 32 functions, instant and invisible (patented) dial reversibility and two dual automatic rotors to provide all the energy needed for this miniature marvel. While the watch contains no fewer than 1,000 components, its case remains relatively svelte at 45.2 mm in diameter and 16.64 mm in height. Manufactured entirely by hand in Switzerland, the first timepiece bearing Loiseau’s own name needed six full years (15,000 man hours) of research and development before the master with the sonorous voice and golden hands was satisfied. Only two pieces in solid platinum or yellow, red or white gold can be handmade each year.
“How we work is so rare and unique that every piece is like tailor made,” Loiseau explains. “This is also why we directly sell [our timepieces] to the end consumer. We want to be the bridge between the traditional master watchmakers of the 18th and 19th centuries and the modern era. We strive to establish a direct link between us and the clients, who are impatient about the piece we [have been commissioned to] manufacture for them. By doing so, we also ensure complete confidentiality for our clients.”
Loiseau underscores that the timepieces manufactured in his workshop on the shores of Lake Geneva are all truly made by hand using traditional techniques, but with modern tools that allow much higher precision. His masterful results have been widely recognized, as recently demonstrated by Girard-Perregaux, which asked him to become an adviser, and by the fact that each piece brings in two million Swiss francs plus tax.
François Quentin, an independent designer since 1986, also introduced his new boutique brand at Baselworld 2011, though he laid the cornerstone for 4N in 2009. In the watch world, he has become specialized in contemporary timepieces and his extensive experience lent him the confidence to strike out on his own with a model that had been growing within him. Until now, his best-known endeavors in horology have included the 2004 HL models for Hautlence and co-designing Louis Vuitton’s Tambour.
As he is a full-blooded French designer, it may seem strange that Quentin’s talents are so varied. Personally interested in mechanics and computers, he has worked in rather unusual and diverse business sectors, including machine tooling, glasses and web design. Looking to strengthen his watchmaking expertise, Quentin also earned a diploma in watch repair in 2006. Today, he is completely specialized in watch design.
Borne of the desire to create a simple digital display and a mechanical alternative to analogue timepieces, his brand was christened for the four number places of the digital counters that represent the hours and minutes.
4N’s timepieces are produced in a limited edition of 16 pieces per version. The spectacular manually wound movement of the 4N-MVT01/ D01 powers a 12-hour digital display whose mechanics are based on a clever configuration of rotating disks. Three disk sub-assemblies housed in cage-like structures move with each other to reveal the time on a display that changes every time a minute passes. The energy consumption of the movement’s 520 components is guaranteed to remain at a minimum regardless of winding tension thanks to a constant force device, which allows for an exceptional power reserve of ten days.
The dial, covered by sapphire crystal and encased in white gold or platinum, is lively with its bright orange figures. A sapphire crystal case back reveals the subtleties of the mechanical movement. Only four pieces will be manufactured this year, though Quentin intends to double that for next year (about $186,000 in white gold; about $261,245 in platinum).