Christophe Claret is an enigma trying to not be one. If you have been following the saga of complicated watches in the late 20th and early 21st centuries for any length of time, there’s a good chance you’ve run across his name, but in recent years it’s likelier in the context of watches bearing his own name, than not. However, his resum as a watchmaker goes back quite a bit further than the establishment of his own watch brand he began as a supplier of complicated watches to other manufacturers, starting in 1989 with the San Marco minute repeater, for Ulysse Nardin. While for much of his career, his time has been divided between his work as a complications specialist (particularly in the domain of repeaters and other chiming complications) he’s increasingly been more and more visible, in the last decade, as the creator of unusual watches under his own brand name, such as the constant force Kantharos, the casino-on-the-wrist Blackjack, the magnetism-harnessing X-Trem-1, and the Margot ladies’ complication, which lets the wearer play a mechanical game of He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not.
Each of these watches is extremely entertaining, each in their own way; Claret’s years as a complications designer has given him the ability to create watches that represent a significant departure from the more conventional ones that are the bread-and-butter of most manufacturers, who rarely depart from the normal spectrum of complications (with the simple calendar at one end and the repeater at the other). Such complexity comes at a cost but even for those of us not in the market for six figure watches, I think it’s fun to know this sort of thing is going on plus, personally, I always get a kick out of spending a few minutes seeing what he’s come up with when the opportunity presents itself. The Maestro is a fairly new watch for Claret; it was launched this year, and it represents his most accessible watch yet, price-wise, as well as clearly reflecting his idiosyncratic design language and showing off his desire to take conventional complications and shake things up a little.
The Maestro, as is typical for Claret is a relatively large watch however, at 42mm x 16.06mm it’s also much more in line with the upper end of conventional watch sizes than has been the case heretofore for Claret. For comparison, the Blackjack is 45mm x 15.92mm; the Ex-Trem-1, which has a rectangular case, is 40.80mm x 56.80mm x 15mm, and at those dimensions is by far the largest watch Claret makes, with around 45mm a fair average for Claret.
Rather than striving for what’s conventionally considered wearability or elegance in watch design, the Claret Maestro rolls back its architecture all the way to movement design of the first half of the 18th century, before thin watches with bridge calibers were even a gleam in Jean-Antoine Lpine’s eye.The standard configuration for watch movements has been, for centuries, the use of a mainplate, with the barrel and train wheels under one or more bridges, and the balance under its own cock (a bridge, in watchmaking, has two points of attachment while a cock has only one).
The Maestro, on the other hand, takes a very different approach. The balance is under its own stepped cock, with the mainspring barrels under their own bridge, and with separate cocks for the escape wheel and one of the intermediate wheels in the gear train for hand-winding. Conventional movement decoration is also absent; instead, the bridges and cocks are given a frosted, rose gold finish which derives much more from the English than the traditional Swiss movement decoration style. However, this style of movement design was widely seen on the Continent as well, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and in fact, Claret refers to it as “Charles X” style, the latter being the last reigning Bourbon king of France, who reigned from 1824 to 1830.
The date display is certainly one you won’t see just anywhere (in fact I don’t think I’ve every seen this particular configuration anywhere else at all). Technically, it’s a digital date display but with a twist; the ones and tens digits are shown on two revolving cones (adjustment of the date is via the uppermost of the two case pushers). The current date is shown sandwiched between two ruby pointers; the idea here obviously is to make a date display that harmonizes with and emphasizes the three-dimensionality of the rest of the movement design.
Just above the date “pyramid” as Claret calls it, there’s the Memo function. This is also a revolving cone, which is intended to act as an aide-mmoire, rather like tying a loop of string around your finger (does anyone do that anymore?) There are two jewels on either side of the cone one is a ruby, and the other, a diamond. When the Memo is activated (by the lower of the two pushers) the jewel visible at 6:00 matches the one atop the cone, to remind you of something it could be that it’s someone’s birthday, or that you need to stand up and walk around once an hour if you have a sedentary job (take that, Apple Watch) or what have you.
Once active, the Memo will retain the reminder configuration until midnight, at which time it will return to the “off” configuration in a process that takes about 20 minutes.
You’ll also note a few unusual features in the regulating system. The balance is quite large, with poising screws set into recesses in the rim. The balance oscillates at 21,600 vph, and there’s an overcoil balance spring held in place at its outer terminal by a really beautifully finished stud. The large upper jewel may or may not be functional it’s possible that it’s a sort of cap on top of a more standard anti-shock system, but in any case it makes a trio with the upper jewels on the date and Memo cones. Finally, there’s the fine regulating system; this consists of a threaded metal curve on which rides a kind of adjustable nut which, when turned one way or the other, controls the position of the regulator sweep. It’s a very precise system, and they were widely used in the late 19th century in American Elgin pocket watches (among other places) but in the modern era this system is very seldom seen Moritz Grossmann uses a variation on this system but offhand I can’t think of anyone else.
The view through the caseback is more conventional, and there are some traditional flourishes as well including the click spring and click, but in contrast with the retro-futuristic dial side, the back is rather more staid (to some extent, an inevitable consequence of the movement architecture). This is a watch with a tremendous amount of visual depth; about half the overall thickness of the case is the deeply domed crystal, which gives the various dial elements the feel of a Nemo-esque underwater city, or maybe an atmosphere retaining habitat on some colony world in the far future.
The Maestro is the least expensive watch Claret currently offers; the red gold model you see here is $76,000, and there is a titanium version, which uses blue sapphires rather than rubies, which is priced at $68,000. This is a watch for the (well-heeled) enthusiast who is in love with the machine-ness of watch mechanisms; the architectural quality of the layout, and the distinct identity it gives to each of the major components, both make the Maestro the apotheosis of a certain kind of true gearhead approach to watchmaking.
The Christophe Claret Maestro: case, 42mm x 16.06mm, rose gold, water resistant to 30m. Movement, caliber DMC16, hand-wound, 7 day power reserve, with pyramidal date display and Memo function; 36.25mm x 10.50mm.
For more, visit Christophe Claret online.