The tourbillon. Arguably one of the most superfluous and yet at the same time mesmerizing mechanisms in haute horologerie. Invented in 1801, this enduring creation is attributed to the genius of the late, great Abraham Louis Breguet, a fantastically talented watchmaker who at the time was seeking a way to eliminate the errors of rate caused by gravity on a pocket watch carried in a vertical position. What he created was an enduring legacy.
In essence the solution Breguet came up with was to create a mobile cage that housed all the components of the escapement, with the balance at the centre. The cage was to complete one revolution around its own axis (once every minute in most cases), thereby causing the balance wheel to oscillate at different positions in the course of its 360° journey, the theory being that this would result in the rate remaining as constant as possible.
Now, we could stand here and argue the validity and effectiveness of the above mechanism – and subsequent modifications to it – but I’d much rather spend my time looking at a superb watch that celebrates the tourbillon’s special place in watchmaking history. You may be surprised to learn though that the watch I will writing about is not a Breguet, but in fact the TE8 from the much lesser known Arnold & Son.
For those not familiar with the brand – and I can’t imagine there are many of you after the brand’s incredible showing last year at Baselworld – Arnold & Son is an “independent” Swiss watch manufacturer with adopted British heritage. I say “independent” because the company is actually owned by a large Japanese parent, who will remain nameless. That being said from what I understand they are pretty much left to their own devices, benefitting from a very healthy R&D budget, which allows them to develop and produce movements and watches at a rate other similarly sized brands can only dream of.
Their namesake and the source of inspiration for many of their timepieces is a man by the name of John Arnold, a highly accomplished English watchmaker from the 18th Century. History books reveal that he was held in high repute in the court of George III and was considered to be one of the most inventive watchmakers of his time, holding patents for a detent escapement, bimetallic balance and helical balance spring. He was also known to work quite closely with one Abraham Louis Breguet. In fact Breguet’s first-ever tourbillon was mounted in John Arnold’s No. 11 movement, a watch that still remains on display in London’s British Museum and bears a dedication to Arnold from Breguet. Which brings us back to Arnold & Son’s TE8.
The Arnold & Son TE8
According to the brand, the TE8 heralds a brand-new collection that combines classical styling with innovative, state-of-the-art technology. Having had the chance to spend quite a bit of time with this watch I have to say that this assessment is absolutely accurate. It is simply breathtaking to look at. The level of detail in the finishing is sublime and I must say quite unlike other styles I have come across. There are plenty of technical elements that only the most educated of connoisseurs will notice and appreciate – such as the symmetrical lay-out of the in-house A&S8000 Calibre – whilst at the same time there are more than enough visual treats to keep laymen (such as myself) coming back for more.
It’s hard to explain but there is just something so clean and pure about the construction and finishing of this watch, I could literally stare at it all day. Undoubtedly the triangular-shaped tourbillon at six o’clock is the highlight but at the same time you find your gaze constantly drawn upwards to the rose gold treated three-quarter barrel bridge above, with its large wave-shaped design and striking waves decoration unique to Arnold & Son.
Of course, if you ever get tired of looking at that then there’s always the manually chamfered bridges with polished edges, the screwed gold chatons and the mirror-polished tourbillion cage and bridge, not to mention the intriguing view you get when you turn the watch over. I have to say this is actually one of those timepieces that I imagine I would spend more time studying and holding up to the light than actually wearing on my wrist.
Presented in a 44mm 18 carat rose gold case the Arnold & Son TE8 is arguably a touch on the large side, although it certainly does not wear big in my opinion. An extremely comfortable hand-stitched brown alligator leather strap secures the watch to your wrist and really complements the rose gold case well. Make no mistake though, this is a showpiece, it will attract a lot of attention. This is certainly not a bad thing by any stretch but just be prepared to have a lot of jealous eyes following you around the room. Unlike many pretty things though, this beauty also has the brains to match, which I personally find very sexy.
There are three variants of the Arnold & Son TE8: the one pictured features the rose gold treated movement and is a limited edition of 25 pieces. There is another, almost identical variant which features a black ruthenium treated movement (an absolute stunner in my opinion), also limited to 25 pieces. Finally there is the very special TE8 Métiers D’art I, a limited edition of just 8 pieces, which features a uniquely decorated movement. I personally would wear any of the three in a heartbeat but if I had to pick one favourite I would probably go with the black ruthenium treated model as it is slightly less ostentatious than the rose gold variant. Only slightly though.
Even if the Arnold & Son TE8 doesn’t tickle your fancy I would strongly encourage you to keep your eye on Arnold & Son, as I firmly believe they will be one of the more exciting ‘up-and-coming’ watchmakers in the next few years. 2013 was a phenomenal year for the brand and they have already promised even bigger and better things for 2014. I for one can’t wait to see what they come up with.