In all the hustle, bustle, and general mayhem of BaselWorld it’s difficult for any one company, much less any one watch, to stand out, but thanks to Jacob Arabo and Jacob & Co. that was manifestly not a problem at BaselWorld 2014 –where he introduced easily the most talked-about watch of the fair, the Astronomia Tourbillon. It’s the kind of thing that only Jacob & Co. would do –a spectacularly sized, extravagantly proportioned colossus of a watch with a whole mechanical microcosm ticking away under one of the most deeply domed sapphire crystals ever made.
Jacob is no stranger to horological extroversion, of course; when you have, as we did at one point in our meeting, $3.3 million worth of watches on a tray and it’s two watches, you know you are not in Kansas any more. But despite the incredible variety of jewelry watches, it’s also mechanical complications that have set tongues wagging in years past –the SF24 Split Flap GMT timepiece as well as the Quenttin 31 Day Tourbillon are both clear evidence that Jacob & Co. intends to be taken seriously for complicated watchmaking as well.
The Astronomia Tourbillon, however, raises the bar considerably. It’s not the largest watch we saw at BaselWorld, but it’s close –at 47mm in diameter and 18mm from the base of the movement to the top of the fishbowl-like sapphire crystal. It seems even larger thanks to its proportions. Much of the height of the watch is the sapphire crystal itself, which houses a four-armed carrousel. On the end of each arm are a display for the hours and minutes; a white gold globe representing the Earth, with the oceans represented in blue flinqué enamel; a 1 karat briolette cut diamond opposite it, representing the moon; and finally, a triple axis tourbillon.
The tourbillon rotates on three axes –the cage itself rotates once every sixty seconds, and the second axis of rotation carries the entire cage assembly once around every 5 minutes. Finally, the arm on which the tourbillon is carried rotates once around the central axis of the watch every 20 minutes (as do the other three arms.)
To say there were technical challenges involved in making the watch work is to say nothing at all. The power requirements are enormous; to meet them, the entire base of the watch contains a mainspring that fills the whole diameter of the case. Power reserve despite the huge power requirements, is 72 hours. The creation of the white gold Earth was also a major challenge, as the enamel had to be applied on a spherical surface; and the globe despite the material from which it’s made had to be as light as possible to avoid throwing the four armed carrier out of poise, as well as to decrease the risk of damage to the watch from shock (and in fact, a hapless journalist who shall remain nameless actually did drop the Astronomia on the first day of the show. We can only assume they left Basel that evening, under cover of night and wearing a false mustache; the Astronomia had to have emergency overnight surgery in Geneva but was ticking away nicely again when we saw it.)
The balance beats at 18,000 vph, and is a classic side-lever design, with a mathematically correct Philips terminal curve to the balance spring. The steelwork is finished to haute horlogerie standards, with edges beveled and polished; despite the avant-garde design the Astronomia gives a very classic impression up close, thanks to the use of traditional movement finishing techniques.
The display for the time is mounted on differential gearing so that 12 on the dial is always pointed up, as it rotates around the central axis; this is necessary to make it possible to read the time accurately.
The entire display revolves in front of a background of midnight-blue aventurine, whose star-like mineral inclusions reinforce the impression that one is observing a universe in miniature. To help keep the weight of the watch in wearable territory, the case is made of a tough polycarbonate composite –and indeed, Jacob Arabo assured us the watch, despite its size, complexity, and apparent fragility, is very much meant to be worn. The design is his own, and the technical challenge of creating the watch was met by horological complications specialists Studio 7H38, with whom Jacob & Co. collaborated on the SF24.
It’s a polarizing watch; aside from its exuberant design, which is not everyone’s brand of vodka, it is also not an astronomical complication in the conventional sense –the orbital periods of the Earth and Moon, for instance, don’t correspond to the real world; instead, both rotate on their axes once every sixty seconds. As Jacob explained to us however, his goal was not a literal recreation of the movements of the heavenly bodies –rather than make an orrery for the wrist, he wanted to make a dynamic visual composition that reflected the emotional experience of looking up at a star-bedecked night sky.
If the enormous buzz the watch created at BaselWorld is any indication, if creating emotional impact with a work of unique mechanical art was the goal, well, mission accomplished –and then some.