Naissance d’une Montre 2: A Handmade Future Built on the Foundations of the Past by Oscillon, Greubel Forsey and Urwerk
Welcome to the Future, brought to you by The Past™,
Hold on to your top hats because you know we’re moving fast.
It’s not so much a replay as it is a reignition,
Certain things will have to change but we always stay on mission.
The Future comes in every sort, just choose the one you wish,
We’ve got red or blue or black or purple with every color stitch.
Yesterday is so passé and the present is turning stale,
So buy a couple while you can, they’re currently on sale.
Just ignore that old price tag, this Future’s completely new,
It isn’t the one that first came out when you were only two.
Years were spent on R&D and focus groups suggestions,
Then was tossed away in favor of a marketer’s decisions.
What’s old is new and new is old, that’s the party line,
So you don’t notice when we launch the same thing 16 times.
Around and round we go creating false need and desire,
Just so that our balance sheet will continue to rise higher.
Some work hard to innovate and others hone their skills,
But all we do is churn out junk promoted by paid shills.
The Future is always what we sell no matter when or why,
Because the consumer wants to feel that they are finally alive.
We sewed longing and loneliness with glossy magazines,
And now you all will call out that “I’ll take Future in green!”
So step right up and get yours now before they’re all sold out,
The Past™ is even happy to offer a moderate discount.
If you don’t want the Future before this sale has ceased,
Just come back by next weekend for the re-re-re-release!
Even though that poorly written poem is written in mostly jest, sometimes it becomes obvious that we are being sold old ideas that have been rewrapped into something vaguely familiar but shiny and new: all so companies can produce almost the exact same thing and rake in easy money.
Hollywood has been struggling with that for a while, and the fashion industry is more nostalgia-driven than any industry I’ve ever seen. But in most cases, products don’t need to be brand new for them to still have value, in fact, some of the most valuable products are ones that have been produced for decades.
The watch industry is a good example of this. Brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Audemars Piguet have become juggernauts for sticking to a very narrow range of winning designs. They aren’t necessarily going to be improved by massive margins so why mess with a good thing? Independent brands focusing on innovation and design creativity are usually at no risk of falling into this niche, even though they are masters at maximizing the revenue from a demanding R&D process.
If you look closely and are paying attention, we can see when great ideas make their way into a variety of pieces, either across multiple brands or multiple models, within a brand. The most beneficial method for getting a return on development costs is to tweak a movement base for use in something else, allowing all of the months or years of troubleshooting and prototyping to be amortized over more pieces.
This is where I return to Dominique Buser and Cyrano Devanthey, co-founders of Oscillon and the people in charge of Urwerk’s skunkworks prototyping atelier. In partnership with the Time Aeon Foundation, which includes illustrious members like Robert Greubel, Stephen Forsey, Felix Baumgartner and Martin Frei.
The Oscillon duo of Buser and Devanthey have created the second release of Naissance d’une Montre with the Naissance d’une Montre 2. Using Oscillon’s own L’instant de vérité caliber as a base, one already designed to be made entirely by hand, the Naissance d’une Montre 2 brings the glory of the past to something that would make sense in any futuristic setting.
Naissance d’une Montre 2
As a continuation of the L’instant de verité, the Naissance d’une Montre 2 (NDM 2) presents the same indications with central hours and minutes, off-center seconds, and a power reserve, but how it is all presented is completely different. The NDM 2 is first and foremost an inverted movement which means the balance and escapement, the constant force mainspring differential, and most of the gear train are all visible from the front underneath the hour and minute hands as well as the sub seconds dial.
As the movement is upside down, these hands would have run in reverse and that was one of the big mechanical changes from the Oscillon version.
The power reserve is on the previous front of the movement, which is now the rear, but instead of being a small hand on one small section of the dial it now is the feature on the rear alongside the dual Tensator mainspring barrels.
This presentation is extremely impressive as the rear has nearly as much depth as the front of the movement, making the watch feel larger on the inside than it should be. The case construction helps with that as it is a complex multi-part sandwich that looks pulled directly from the mind behind the contemporary futurism of Urwerk, Martin Frei.
The movement construction is a mashup of Urwerk and Greubel Forsey with many of the shapes and applied finishing being pulled straight from a Greubel Forsey Invention Piece sketchbook and a touch of UR and Opus 5 thrown in for good measure.
This comes as no surprise since Dominique Buser helped Urwerk develop the Opus 5 with Baumgartner and Frei. Altogether, the NDM 2 feels akin to the Experiment ZR012 (a joint project between MB&F and Urwerk back in 2013) in that it brings together the best aspects of everyone involved to create something that no individual member could have created on their own.
Legacy of the movement
Since it is a Naissance d’une Montre watch, the focus on handcraft is paramount, leading to the original choice to start with the L’instant de verité caliber. Dominique Buser and Cyrano Devanthey started Oscillon with the distinct goal of creating a watch in the most traditional way possible and to the highest level they could.
Their first creation was the L’instant de verité, built on fully manual machines with no automated processes, using manual techniques and finished entirely by hand. This meant that it was designed from the ground up as a watch that could be produced without the aid of CNC and it wouldn’t hurt the quality of the end movement. Therefore, it was a perfect candidate for a reimagining with some varied creative input.
As a previously developed caliber with a lot of the troubleshooting already completed, it allowed the focus to be on modifying it for style and layout of the mechanics. Turning it into an inverted movement is a fairly straightforward task, but changing the location and layout of the mainspring, power reserve, and keyless works was a much bigger challenge.
And there was considerable effort put into making sure the movement followed aesthetic cues found in both Urwerk and Greubel Forsey, leading to a movement that was both possible to make entirely by hand and looked incredibly high end and futuristic.
One big change with the inverted movement was the ability to show off the Tensator constant force mainspring, previously hidden under the dial of the Oscillon caliber. The mainspring uses the concept of a long, flat, counter-wound spring that provides very consistent force during the majority of its range of motion.
A unique use in a wristwatch, the Tensator constant force mainspring was specially designed from the ground up to understand the characteristics of such a small form factor, requiring a custom design for the differential due to the unforeseen application of force.
It really pays off with a very cool concept able to be presented in an entirely handmade watch like the Naissance d’une Montre 2, and the power reserve helps to show it off. Instead of a small hand off to the side, the new power reserve hand spans almost the entire width of the movement and points to a scale covering almost half of the entire caliber’s edge.
It also demonstrates the simple concept of the Geneva wheel stop mechanism to protect the mainspring from overwinding, all side by side with the updated style cribbed from Greubel Forsey.
Juxtaposition of style and techniques
The original L’instant de verité and the NDM 2 share a core identity but differ as much as siblings with one different parent. It’s clear they partially came from the same source, but there was a hugely different influence injected into the caliber and case design.
The bridge shapes, black polished half barrel arms, satin finished surfaces adjacent to polished bevels, it all is very reminiscent of something one might find in the Greubel Forsey Tourbillon 24 Secondes Architecture combined with the Balancier. The case is clearly influenced by the Urwerk UR-105 and UR-210 with futuristic details of angles, flutes, and carefully applied recesses, all while considering the handmade nature of the end product.
Building upon the origin of the piece and combining multiple inspirations could easily spell disaster for less talented designers, but the group worked together to understand what aspects made sense together. Some of the styling found in Greubel Forsey pieces would have felt off in this context, even details in the specific pieces I mentioned, the same as on various Urwerk pieces.
The goal of handmade perfection for a very technically advanced wristwatch was captured brilliantly by each piece found in the caliber and built into the case.
There is no aspect of this piece that makes it clear or obvious that it is completely handmade. In some pieces, obvious handcraft is very welcome as it can set a watch apart from the more mass produced aesthetics found in all sorts of wristwatches.
But with all of the minds involved in the Naissance d’une Montre projects, there is no room for leaving craft on the table. Greubel Forsey is there to ensure that every possible surface and detail of the components are (hand) manufactured and (hand) finished to the utmost ability of those creating the pieces.
Why it is so exciting
Urwerk is there to guarantee that this watch doesn’t feel old, stale, or boring, which this watch could never be said to be. Obviously, the style is a significant shift from the first Naissance d’une Montre piece created by Michel Boulanger as that was intended to be an example of a Montre École, or School Watch, and the style fit that incredibly well.
But this second edition is clearly showing off how far the concept of completely handmade can go and still excite those that like watches with more atypical design aesthetics.
That is probably why this watch reminds me so much of the spirit behind the Experiment ZR012, not because they are similar in style or mechanics, but because the collaboration bore fruit that none of the parties involved could have predicted, and it was all the better for it. Everyone involved in the NDM 2 is passionate about the handcraft of traditional watchmaking (or at least modern, pre-automated watchmaking) so that was the shared base for the project.
But Greubel Forsey approaches watchmaking differently than Urwerk, who approaches it differently than Oscillon did when it first produced the L’instant de verité. The group could not create the end result themselves, it just wouldn’t follow their typical output, but by collaborating and having a shared core goal, this type of magic was able to be found.
Sadly, the Naissance d’une Montre 2 is a unique piece and was already auctioned at the Geneva Watch Auction by Phillips in May 2023, so I will have to get very lucky to see it ever again.
It seems unlikely that there will ever be another piece created, especially since the development and fabrication took such a long time. The next Naissance d’une Montre has already been announced and is in development with Ferdinand Berthoud, and Oscillon is still at work releasing incredible handmade watches, but the NDM 2 is a shooting star of a watch, shining brightly but briefly, yet giving us a glimpse into the upper echelon of fine watchmaking and knowledge of what can still be accomplished in the age of highly automated manufacturing.
It is pieces like this that keep me excited about the future of both independent and traditional watchmaking, even if the chance to spend any time with a unique piece like the NDM 2 is exceedingly rare.
Still, the future of the Naissance d’une Montre seems in very good hands, hands that are actively passing down information and skills so that projects like these won’t retire with today’s masters.
So what might, to some, seem like being sold the past repackaged and shined up the people behind Naissance d’une Montre are ensuring that we will actually get new ideas in the future because a foundation is being strengthened with every watch created.
I won’t even try to break this one, but I will break it down!
- Wowza Factor * 9.5 The style and presentation are wild enough but it gets even more impressive when you know it was all done by hand!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 95 » 931.632m/s2 The time it takes to make a watch like this is mirrored in the late night hours spent lusting over the unattainable Naissance d’une Montre 2!
- M.G.R. * 71.8 The level that this movement reaches is something rarely seen in the industry and it is hard to argue that it isn’t nearly perfect for a variety of reasons!
- Added-Functionitis * Mild A power reserve is indeed the most useful complication for any manually wound watch and given the intense effort that went into making this entirely handmade watch, a diagnosis requiring children’s strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream doesn’t even begin to cover how much horological swelling could be possible!
- Ouch Outline * 12.8 Falling out of bed onto LEGOs! It isn’t quite as bad as stepping on a LEGO since the bottom of our feet are much more sensitive, but you still don’t want to fall on a pile either. Still I would gladly be pushed from my slumber onto a giant pile if it meant I got this watch on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * Handmade again!? The Oscillon is hard to believe it is completely handmade, but the Naissance d’une Montre 2 is almost impossible to believe. Once you learn it’s true you start looking at the calendar to set a date for the ceremony!
- Awesome Total * 984 Begin with the width of the case in millimeters (41) and multiply by the length of the case in millimeters (48), then divide by the edition of the Naissance d’une Montre that this watch is (2) and the result is a mind bogglingly awesome total!
For more information, please visit https://timeaeon.org/projects/naissance-dune-montre-2.
Quick Facts Naissance d’une Montre 2
Case: 41 x 48 mm, 18k white gold
Movement: manually wound Naissance d’une Montre 2 caliber, 80-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds, power reserve
Limitation: Unique Piece (Sold at the Geneva Watch Auction by Phillips in May 2023)
Auction Hammer Price CHF 406,400