The Birth of the Chronograph

It is a well known fact that nothing sells a luxury timepiece more than the romantic story that gives rise to its existence.  So here goes…

Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec, 1781–1866

 

Once upon a time, in 1817 to be precise, a young French watchmaker by the name of Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec was appointed the 6th Watchmaker to King Louis XVII (Horloger du Roi).  He was one of the newest appointees and a contemporary of the brilliant Louis Breguet.

The Rieussec story was borne out of the King’s passion for horseracing.  The legend goes that the King asked his royal watchmakers to invent a device that could measure the time that elapses between the point that the horses leave the paddock and the point at which they cross the finishing line.

It was in a horserace in Paris in September 1821 that Nicolas Rieussec presented his amazing box, which not only boasted a timekeeping accuracy to within a quarter of a second, but could also record the individual timings of each horse in the race.

A replica of the Nicolas Rieussec “Time-Writer” box, invented in the early 19th Century

 

The beauty of the Rieussec concept lay in the simplicity of its use.  The wooden box had two rotating discs and a spring-loaded bridge with two nibs dipped in ink.  Each time a horse crossed the finishing line, the bridge could be made to descend on both discs, thereby marking or writing on the discs the time that had elapsed.  This process could be repeated for each horse as it passed the finishing line.

Rieussec named his device the “time-writer” and it has always been considered the very first chronograph.  In fact, the name chronograph is etymologically derived from the Greek words chronos and graphos, which when put together actually mean time-writer.

Thus the ubiquitous chronograph was born, with its familiar multi-subdial face and multiple buttons.  Practically every respectable watch brand since then, from Swatch to Tissot to Longines to Breitling to Rolex has a collection of easily-recognizable chronos in their line-up.  Chronographs are often associated with sports and sport-timing, where split-second accuracy is key to a successful outcome.

Montblanc Headquarters in LeLocle, Switzerland

 

Now cue Montblanc, who since 1997 has been producing fine watchmaking movements at its own manufacture at Montblanc Montre S.A. in Le Locle, Switzerland.  Their atelier is located in a striking Swiss villa built coincidentally in the early 1900’s, at around the same time that the brand came into existence.

The maison introduced, in 2008, a stunning line of monopusher chronographs dedicated to Monsieur Rieussec and if you look carefully, the design of the dial features two small, calibrated discs from which the elapsed seconds and minutes can be read off with the help of fixed hands, which are a dead-ringer for the ink-laden bridge of Rieussec’s invention.  It is no wonder that the design took 10 years to come to fruition.

Montblanc Homage á Nicolas Rieussec

 

Why is this watch different to all the others?  Because unlike the classic chronograph found in traditional watch-brands, where the dial is static and the hands rotate around the dial, the Montblanc version is true to the original Rieussec model, in which the hands (in this case the double bridge) are static and the discs do the rotating and timekeeping.

Montblanc Nicolas Riussec in stunning 18K gold

And all in a beautifully engineered mechanical complication which is set in motion by a singular monopusher.

This unique design makes the Montblanc Star Nicolas Rieussec Monopusher Chronograph a fitting tribute to the ingenious watchmaker and his ground-breaking chronograph invention almost two hundred years ago.

The complete line of Montblanc Rieussec timepieces and indeed the entire Montblanc Haute Horlogerie line is available tax-free at www.antonioboutique.com.

Happy shopping!

Suresh Mahtani, Antonio Diamond Boutique Gibraltar

 

The First Blog

Welcome to our shiny new website and to the first ever Antonio Diamond Boutique blog. Over the last few months, a lot of thought, energy and flair has gone into designing a functional, inspirational web experience for the discerning watch buyer and well, we think we got it right. And yet the launch of our new site comes at a time of game-changing challenges for the Swiss watch industry.

Firstly the recent news that the Swiss National Bank has ditched the longstanding cap on its exchange rate with the ailing Euro. Let us not kid ourselves – this will only have one effect and that is to raise prices across the board. Watch lovers can expect price hikes of between 7% to 11% in the coming weeks and these will affect all Swiss production, from Swatch to Tissot to TAG Heuer to Rolex to Patek Philippe. Add to this an increasingly less valuable Euro and the price increases in the Eurozone will be felt even more. It is no wonder that nobody was smiling when Swatchgroup CEO Nick Hayek called it a “tsunami” for the Swiss watch industry.

The next challenge for Swiss Haute Horlogerie is the popularization and globalization of the Smart Watch. A lot of hype has been created around the soon-to-be-launched iWatch from Apple Computer and Samsung is already marketing the prodigious Gear 2.0 to critical acclaim. Love them or hate them, the Smart Watch is here to stay and the battle lines are now being drawn in the sand. On the one hand we have super-smart software in a tiny package that effortlessly provides wrist connectivity to your existing household devices, audio and video recording and notifications, not to mention access to your music library, e-mails and an ever-increasing arsenal of downloadable apps. On the other hand, the romance and appeal of a mechanical perpetual calendar, the covetous nature of a hand-wound spherical tourbillion or the horological timelessness of a minute repeater movement. It was Al McGuire who said “When a guy takes off his coat, he’s not going to fight. When a guy takes off his wristwatch, watch out!” Yes, we live in very interesting times.

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The third challenge facing the industry is the growing threat from the Chinese watch industry. As the Economist magazine recently stated, “Swiss-made” has become one of the world’s most valuable brands. Is it any wonder then that large Chinese corporations like Haidian Ltd, which distributes the Citizen and Casio brands in China, have arrived on the scene armed with a seemingly endless amount of cash available for Swiss brand acquisition and have made no bones about their intention to create a portfolio of Swiss maisons. Stalwarts like Corum, Eterna and recently Rotary, are already Chinese-owned and the onslaught shows no sign of abating.

Top 10 Watch Brands

There can be no doubt that 2015 promises to be an eventful year for an industry whose humble origins stretch back to the 1700’s but whose future, by all accounts, is brighter than it has ever been before.

Happy shopping!

Suresh Mahtani, The Antonio Diamond Boutique, Gibraltar