Towards the end of last year, Christophe Claret kindly opened up his workshops to WorldTempus for a private visit. At this state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, nestled in the hillside above Le Locle, the company produces five different highly-complicated calibres for its own requirements and a further three for 12 external customers.
Few other brands, even those belonging to the major groups, can boast a level of technology approaching that found at Christophe Claret. Some of them may have the same type of high-speed camera (100,000 images per second) to view the intricate workings of a mechanical movement in slow-motion, but none have airtightness testing equipment that is a miniaturized version of the machines used in the aerospace industry (where, for obvious reasons, total airtightness is crucial), or a profile turning machine that can cope with diameters up to 32mm. Many other manufactures are proud of their five or seven-axis CNC machines, but Christophe Claret’s can work on 16 different axes and thus machine both sides of a case or movement plate in a single operation (it can even run over the weekend and be controlled via Internet). The Flashcut laser machine that the company uses to cut 80 per cent of its components (which, for example, cuts the time to machine a tourbillon cage to 25 seconds from 25 minutes using wire erosion and thus saves the equivalent of 68 hours of electricity per day) is only just being adopted by other brands. These are just a few of the impressive machines housed within the factory, which you can discover in its entirety on a virtual visit to Christophe Claret.
Born of Roman ruins
Christophe Claret has a particular interest in the site of Aventicum, the capital city of the Helvetii tribe that occupied much of the Swiss plateau in Roman times and celebrates its 2000th birthday this year. Excavations at a site near the modern-day town of Avenches have unearthed precious artefacts, including a priceless solid-gold bust of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, which was found in 1939. It is this bust, together with a 3D film showcasing the relics from Avenches that Christophe Claret worked on (to be presented later this year), that serves as the inspiration for the new timepiece the brand is now launching.
On our factory visit, Christophe Claret showed us a component for the watch, confident that we would have no idea what it was. And he was right. The component in question was a convex ring that was clearly too large to be any part of a mechanical movement or even a conventional dial. Yet it is this very component that forms the centrepiece of the new Aventicum model, since it houses a mirascope that projects a hologram of the bust of Marcus Aurelius above the dial.
After Greubel Forsey developed a microscope to view the miniature painting inside the crown of its Art Piece No. 1 model presented last year, Christophe Claret is the first to develop a miniature mirascope for a watch, consisting of two identical parabolic mirrors arranged one on top of the other. When an object is placed at the centre of the concave mirror at the bottom of this elliptical shape, the convex mirror above it creates a reflection above the hole in its centre, at the same time magnifying the object’s size almost two-fold.
As a result, the 3mm micro-engraved bust of Marcus Aurelius at the centre of the watch appears to float above the centre of the dial. This world first also means that the hour and minute hands have to turn on invisible discs around the circumference of the watch, from where they point inwards to the Roman numerals engraved on the cover of the mirascope, which is decorated with a typically Roman labyrinth motif. The invisibility theme also continues on the back of the watch, with a sapphire crystal winding rotor bearing five metallised Roman racing chariots. In the playful fashion typical of Christophe Claret timepieces, where there is always an extra form of entertainment on the case back, the rotor comes to a halt randomly after losing its momentum from winding the watch and the chariot above the “A” of “Marc Aurèle” in the 6 o’clock position (marked by a discreet indicator) wins the race.
Powered by the Christophe Claret AVE15 self-winding movement with twin barrels that offer a power reserve of 72 hours, the Aventicum is available as two limited editions: one with a case in red gold and anthracite PVD-treated titanium (68 pieces) and one with a palladium-rich white-gold case with anthracite PVD-treated titanium (38 pieces).
Given the complexity of the watch and the materials used, even the price seems to add to the illusion. Starting at a “mere” 49,000 Swiss francs, the new Aventicum competes head-on with much more mundane pieces from bigger brands and is a fraction of the price of the other models in the brand’s collection. The Christophe Claret Aventicum therefore makes the brand accessible to an entirely new type of customer. And that’s no illusion.