Reports of the demise of form movements have been greatly exaggerated! Admittedly, the public at large is not particularly aware of this theme and many brands merely ignore it by placing round calibres inside variably shaped cases. An authentic form movement is at the opposite end of the spectrum. The vocation of this pure masterpiece of horological consistency lies in having a case and calibre with perfectly matched dimensions. One of the most enduring examples of this principle is the Reverso, created in 1931, featuring a rectangular case housing an equally rectangular movement. Several watch companies perpetuate this watchmaking art.
Manufactures showcase their formal mastery
Historically, it is the great traditional manufacturers that perpetuate this art. Cartier is definitely one of them. This year, the Maison returned to the SIHH with one of its legendary models, the Crash. When it was created in 1969, the watch was equipped with a round calibre, whereas the Manufacture has now entirely recomposed it in a skeleton version with a slightly larger case. The base calibre has in fact now become a form movement.
Vacheron Constantin has a number of references with form calibres and it continues to cultivate this expertise on a number of different models. The Malte collection is a perfect illustration, notably with its tonneau-shaped, skeleton-worked and tourbillon movements. The Métiers d’Art collection also comprises a superb baguette 1905 movement, whose design smoothly hugs the extremely elegant cases designed for ladies. And in a domain closely akin to that of fine wristworn horology, the latest table clocks of the House, unveiled at the SIHH, feature Calibre 9260 that was tailor-made to fit the dimensions of the Arca.
Finally, the other major ‘institutional’ name with a penchant for form movements is Breguet. The Reine de Naples collection houses a number of form movement variations moulding the curves of its egg-shaped case (see the large image at the top of the page).
Independents flex their muscles
The revival of form movements has been instigated and riven by independent brands. Many of them have developed calibres featuring asymmetrical, innovative and often downright revolutionary contours. The youthful DeWitt caused a sensation in 2008 with the Concept Watch 1 and its unprecedented shapes, powered by a retractable, ultra-futuristic modular movement.
Four years later, Christophe Claret followed suit with the X-TREM-1: a flying tourbillon inclined at 30°, mounted on a three-dimensional curvex titanium baseplate and equipped with a retrograde hours and minutes display system.
Far more recently and indeed barely a few weeks ago, HYT revolutionised form movements with its imposing H3. The model is built on a longitudinal format and features a double (liquid and mechanical) retrograde display. The aesthetic approach here recalls that of the Monaco V4, distinguished by a belt-driven transmission system reflected in the crisp lines of its rectangular case.
The principle is very much the same at Greubel Forsey. The asymmetrical Quadruple Tourbillon is one of the many brand’s many creations – and second fundamental invention – associating visual art with the art of watchmaking in a highly distinctive manner: the movement is the dominant element and appears to have been literally squeezed into a case of which it is constantly pushing the limits.
While the latter Manufacture is devoted to the Haute Horlogerie elite, the final one we will mention in this context is on the contrary dedicated to making fine watchmaking accessible to the broadest possible audience. The catalogue of Eterna, a brand that currently insists on its capacity to supply movements to third parties, includes the 3505 Madison Spherodrive movement.