It’s been so difficult to keep quiet about this watch.
Needless to say I was completely enamored with it. However, I was compelled to wait five months to be able to speak to Manuel Emch (RJ-Romain Jerome CEO) about it, an additional two more months in order to see the actual production piece, and then — “Suzanne, I said to myself, good things deserve your patience” — another month for the embargo to break.
There’s a Bob Marley song with these recurring lines: “Summer is here / I’m still waiting there / Winter is here / And I’m still waiting there”. It seems an appropriate soundtrack for this occasion.
I have waited nine months to talk about the RJ-Romain Jerome Spacecraft.
So let’s go.
The Spacecraft is like nothing else in the rest of the brand’s catalogue, except perhaps in terms of its science-fiction mythopoeic spirit. It’s a casquette-style timepiece with a lateral, linear, jumping retrograde hour (a world first, according to Jean-Marc) and running minutes, designed by the extraordinary Eric Giroud. I must say, although the design doesn’t tap directly into any single reference that I can pin down, it’s immediately recognisable as an artefact of the retro-futuristic aesthetic that occupies a very particular area of design vernacular. I attribute this to Eric’s flawless creative instincts. Bravo, Manuel, for approaching the absolute perfect collaborators for this watch!
When I was in RJ-Romain Jerome’s Geneva office on the Sunday before the SIHH week, I got to handle the disassembled pieces of the case — divested of their movement. The hollow case resembled nothing so much as some kind of interplanetary hangar.
It’s an association that immediately feels right and proper in context of this particular jumping hour, which is indicated by a mobile red panel that travels up and down the length of the transparent numerals etched into the metallised sapphire crystal glass. (Linguistic trivia: the word “planet” stems from the Greek word for “traveller”.)
RJ-Romain Jerome refers to this red panel as a “cursor”, which to me is just awesome, because lurking at the periphery of unassisted memory is a time when on-screen computer prompts took shape as blinking, large-pixelled blocks. (Second piece of linguistic trivia: an obsolete definition of “cursor” relates to the marker on a slide rule, which seems entirely congruent with how the retrograde panel of the Spacecraft operates.)
A combination of factors (my relative youth, lack of cinematic interest) makes it hard for me to identify the films and first-generation video console games that the Spacecraft is doubtlessly trying to reference. There’s something about the case design, however — the black PVD titanium, the triangle motif, the prismatic form — that brings very strongly to mind Pink Floyd and the album cover for The Dark Side Of The Moon. So far, the Spacecraft is pushing all the right buttons for me.
Of course, the watch works perfectly. I say this with absolutely no bias despite my deep affection towards Agenhor and what they create. You know it’ll work, because the retrograde module is simple and it is robust, which minimises any potential for screw-ups. Plus it is built (if I’m not mistaken) on an ETA 2892, firstly because: why the hell not, and secondly: talk about ease of servicing!
One other small thing I worried about before actually seeing the actual watch was that it might be hard to read both the hours and the running minutes (on the top of the watch) at the same time. Rest assured, however, that this is not an issue at all. The Spacecraft is eminently readable.
Here I want to break away for a bit to talk about something quite specific I saw in the movement.
No doubt the upper bridges of the RJ-Romain Jerome Spacecraft movement are meant to evoke some sort of intergalactic vessel. (Jean-Marc and his team specialise in custom movement components that echo the watch narrative.) But something that struck me to the core is how the retrograde lever bridge also resembles the double-atria, double-ventricle muscle that is the human heart. Because — what brings us back to our beginnings and our pasts, against our intellectual striving for incessant progress, what makes us yearn for the way things were — what is nostalgia but a function of the heart?
To me, everything about the retrograde display speaks of a return that is both mundane and transcendent — it is a longing for the past. And for the retrograde to be anchored to a bridge that resembles the human heart, and for this movement to be housed in a case that fractures the present and brings vintage aesthetic through in all its brutal sleekness — it’s pretty heavy going, it’s extremely meta, and it’s also indescribably wonderful.
The following quote, slightly truncated, is from that wonderful, heavy-going, philosophical meta-novel by Czech writer Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
“The brain appears to possess a special area which we might call poetic memory and which records everything that charms or touches us, that makes our lives beautiful. […] Love begins with a metaphor. Which is to say, love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory.”
The retrograde is how an inanimate mechanism can metaphorise its way into our poetic memory.
And this is why I consider myself irredeemably attached to the RJ-Romain Jerome Spacecraft. For almost a year now, the watches I find myself tending towards have been of the classic, simple and ultra-slim variety. Just over the last two days I have been rhapsodising high and low about the new Vacheron Constantin 1972 Prestige (it’s so beautiful!). So how did a behemoth like the Spacecraft manage to barge its way into my active consciousness and stay there for nine months?
Through the story it tells. Through the links it forges with the treasured things of our past. Through the infallible combination of strong concept, smart mechanics and sleek design.
(By the way, the recommended retail price for the Spacecraft is — I’m not even kidding — €19,500. I told Manuel, “You’re not going to be able to keep these babies around for long! Can’t you make more than 99 pieces?” He just smiled. Dude, seriously, what kind of answer is that? Manuel, if you’re reading this…)
In the Kundera novel, which wrestles with the Nietzschean concept of eternal return, the protagonist Tomas addresses the great conundrums of life with one particular question again and again. He is met with the same response again and again. This very question and response is mirrored in the last movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16, titled Der schwer gefaßte Entschluß (The Difficult Resolution).
Q: Muß es sein (Must it be)?
A: Es muß sein (It must be)!
Earlier I mentioned that the jump hour was an entirely appropriate function to be housed in a spaceship-shaped case. Put another way, however, the juxtaposition of a retrograde (returning, always returning) display in a case that relentlessly looks into the future is an endlessly fascinating dichotomy. Is this what the Spacecraft promises? That you can conquer outer space whilst simultaneously also exploring inner space?
Es muß sein!