Baselworld 2014 is almost upon us and so I thought now would be a good time to look back at one of the surprise hits of last year’s show: Antoine Martin Slow Runner. The brand first made its presence known in 2012 with the launch of the wonderfully complex Tourbillon Quantieme Perpetuel, which as the name suggests, features both a flying tourbillon and perpetual calendar. Undoubtedly a masterpiece in its own right, this stylish piece received its fair share of praise at launch.
Arguably though it wasn’t till 2013 that Antoine Martin really solidified its presence, with the launch of the highly unconventional Slow Runner, the third collection to come from this innovative watch manufacturer – co-founded by industry veteran and master watchmaker Martin Braun.
Although nowhere near as complex as its predecessors, it was the uncanny nature of the Antoine Martin Slow Runner that really captured people’s attention. The idea was simple enough; we all live in a busy, fast-paced world that seems to only get busier and faster as each day passes.
Consequently our focus is always on finding ways to do things more efficiently, which inevitably translates to doing things quicker, but quicker is not always better. At least not according to Antoine Martin. So what’s the solution? Create a watch that runs slower of course!
That last statement may be a little misleading so I should probably clarify that the Slow Runner does not run slow in the traditional sense, by which I mean it keeps perfect time. Rather it is the movement itself that runs slow, at least by traditional standards. You see unlike conventional mechanical watches, which tend to beat at around 28,800 vbph (4hz), the in-house AM36.001 movement beats at just 7,200 bph or just one hertz.
At the time Antoine Martin claimed that this was not even half as fast as the slowest-running designs available in the modern watch-making industry, making it the first and only wristwatch in the world to operate at such a slow frequency whilst still retaining all the characteristics of a precision mechanical timepiece.
This has been achieved in large part through the development of an extremely large (relatively speaking of course) balance, 24mm in diameter, which dominates the rear of the movement, complete with a silicium balance spring that the brand says is much more stable than a classic steel spring.
Supposedly the unusually large diameter of the balance allows it to build up so much kinetic energy that the influence of small impacts or sudden, extreme movements are so minimal they are hardly felt at all.
Of course that is somewhat oversimplified explanation of the inner workings of this little mechanical flâneur but I don’t really want to bore you with all the intricate, technical details. Suffice to say that Braun and his team of engineering boffins spent many an hour refining and testing the design and construction of the movement, making small adjustments where necessary before they arrived at the final solution they were searching for.
That’s enough talk about the inner workings though, let’s turn our attention to the outer design and more importantly, how this cheeky little wristwatch wears on the wrist.
I am happy to say the news is positive on both fronts. At 42mm the Slow Runner wears slightly bigger on the wrist than you might expect but this is definitely not a bad thing. The nicely finished case feels solid and substantial without being bulky, whilst the dial is extremely easy to read thanks to its clean design.
As you can see in the pictures the focus of the Slow Runner’s face is on the seconds indicator, which provides a graphical illustration of Antoine Martin’s ‘Slow Run’ approach on a large sub-dial at six o’clock. The seconds hand advances at a rate of exactly twice per second, a dead giveaway to those in the know that something is a little different about this timepiece.
To the right is the time and date display, whilst a power-reserve indicator at 10 o’clock lets you keep track of the hand-wound movement’s remaining 92-hour power reserve.
Many would argue you though (myself included) that the real show is happening on the other side of the watch. Fortunately all you need to do is turn the Slow Runner over and you are instantly rewarded with uninterrupted views of that incredible 24mm balance wheel complete with striking blue silicium balance spring, beating at a steady rate of just 7,200 bph or one hertz.
The entire philosophy of the Slow Runner is captured in this one instant and to be honest it is difficult to look away. More than once I recall walking past the Antoine Martin stand and smiling as I noticed some helpless onlooker staring at the Slow Runner as it undertook its mesmerizing dance.
I’ll admit, although I’m embarrassed to do so, that on several such occasions I too found myself inexplicably drawn in to stare at it once again. I think it’s something to do with the impressive size of the balance wheel, there’s just nothing else like it.
It didn’t hurt also that the Slow Runner was very reasonably priced. Intended as entry-level pieces to anchor the Antoine Martin brand, the collection was comprised of three different versions, two in stainless steel (one with a silver dial and the other black) for CHF 19,500 (which based on exchange rates at the time was approx. US$20,650) + taxes and the third in rose gold (also with a silver dial) for CHF 34,500 (approx. US$36,500 based on rates at the time) + taxes.
Not too much has been heard from Antoine Martin since then, other than an announcement late last year to say that the incumbent CEO Bruno Jufer would be leaving the company, with Martin Braun replacing him effective from 2014. There is plenty of time for surprises though, so we’ll just have to wait and see what Baselworld 2014 holds for Antoine Martin.