Some seriously complicated watches have been unveiled recently—and we're not just talking perpetual calendars and minute repeaters. We're talking about entirely novel ways to count and tell time by utilizing new power systems, integrating liquids with mechanics and combining existing complications in new ways.
Although Francois Quentin's 4N essentially displays the time with a digital-style readout, this watch's mechanism is far from an easy achievement. Years of prototyping and reconceptualizing bring the 4N to this final stage. As each minute changes, the particular minute's discs swirl around to display the new time, and at the turn of each hour the entire array comes to life. The cages holding the number discs may look like carbon fiber, but they're actually a nickel and silicon alloy that has been hand-finished to the highest level. It's this attention to the little details that makes the 4N what it is.
Having liquid inside your watch is usually a cause for concern, but last year HYT turned this dynamic on its head with their H1: using fluid to tell the time. The brand's latest release, the H2, continues this vision. Using a bright green liquid pumped through a pressurized tube with a pair of bellows to count the hours and a traditional hand to track the minutes, the H2 combines liquid and mechanical timekeeping in one cohesive package. That there is also a temperature indicator and all the functions can be controlled by the single crown makes this watch all the more impressive.
Taking his inspiration from sports like boxing and racing, Christophe Claret created the Kantharos, a monopusher chronograph that chimes when you start, stop, and reset. That itself would be enough to make this a special watch, but Claret added a constant force mechanism and the chronograph sub registers are multi-layer discs that make only the relevant numbers visible as they rotate. As with all of Claret's creations, the movement is beautifully finished and both the constant force escapement and the cathedral gong are also visible through cutouts in the dial.
While many brands are trying to push the boundaries of speed and accuracy, Antoine Martin has introduced the Slow Runner. As you might guess from the name, the Slow Runner's balance wheel beats at a hypnotizing 1Hz (3-4Hz is considered standard). From the front you notice the little second hand only moves twice per second, but it's looking through the sapphire case back that you see the massive 24mm balance swinging back and forth. It almost looks like the Slow Runner is breathing, and it's this poetic effect that watchmaker and designer Martin Braun was going for.
Even calling Romain Gauthier a "brand" seems to lose some of the independent watchmaker's charm. Gauthier himself controls every step of research, development and manufacturing of his extremely complicated watches (something that speaks to his background in engineering as opposed to watchmaking). His Logical One is complicated not because it had additional functions such as a chronograph or a calendar, but because it uses new technologies to make the watch as accurate as possible. Things like a snail cam anchoring a ruby-link chain, a proprietary power storage system and a button-operated winding mechanism are the stuff that true watch-nerd dreams are made of.
Images courtesy of Hodinkee, Romain Gauthier watch image courtesy of manufacturer.