With a stunning, skeletonised, in-house movement featuring superlatively hand-finished mainplate and bridges in ultra-light, natural titanium
This year marks the 15th anniversary of Romain Gauthier. It is fitting, then, that the Swiss watchmaker’s latest creation, Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette, calls on an area of craftsmanship for which he and his team have been heralded since the birth of the brand in 2005: hand-finishing.
By opening up and stripping down his high-end, time-only automatic calibre, Romain has created a truly contemporary skeleton watch that is a technical and artistic tour de force. Not only do the skeletonised, ultra-light natural titanium bridges and mainplate help to reveal the mesmerising mechanics of the in-house movement, they also provide the perfect platform for the Romain Gauthier anglage specialists to demonstrate their immense skills. For each Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette movement features as many as 250 hours devoted to anglage alone, that’s to say the bevelling, softening, smoothing and polishing by hand of the bridges and mainplate, in an extraordinary demonstration of watchmaking artistry.
Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette is available in a 42mm case made out of Carbonium®, a cutting-edge carbon composite sourced from aerospace-grade fibres that is light, mechanically resistant and catches the eye with its dynamic veining. This is a customisable “Manufacture Only” edition available exclusively via Manufacture Romain Gauthier. Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette is also available as customisable 39.5mm precious metal or titanium “Special Orders” through Romain Gauthier or its retail partners. To show the mouthwatering possibilities, Romain has created two Special Order examples, one in 18k red gold and another in 950 platinum.
INSIGHT MICRO-ROTOR SQUELETTE IN DETAIL
Skeletonising Insight Micro-Rotor
For either technical or aesthetic reasons, not every calibre lends itself to skeletonisation, and Romain Gauthier’s in-house movements are no different. “If you skeletonised my first movement Prestige HM/HMS, there would be sizeable voids leaving little to see except the hair on your wrist, and that’s not ideal,” says Romain. “The open architecture of my Logical One means that if you opened it up even more, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to view more of the mechanics than what you can already see. However, my Insight Micro-Rotor jumps out as a natural fit for skeletonisation.”
Insight Micro-Rotor is Romain Gauthier’s high-end, automatic timepiece of which the hour, minute and small second indications are powered by an in-house calibre boasting bidirectional micro-rotor made from 22k solid gold. Visible dial side and through the display back, this oscillating weight turns smoothly between two bridges, each fitted with a friction-minimising, wear-resistant ruby bearing. In whichever direction the micro-rotor swings, it winds a serially operating double mainspring barrel offering 80 hours of power at full wind. For Romain, the architecture of the arcing bridges, the position of the balance and micro-rotor, and the layout of the gears and barrels meant skeletonising this movement would really add something.
He says: “As I worked on the design and explored potential executions, it became clear that skeletonising Insight Micro-Rotor would not leave awkward gaps, but would instead reveal previously hidden details and create new ones, making this movement even more expressive.”
Material decisions: Making the mainplate and bridges in ultra-light, natural titanium
Romain’s design for opening up the Insight Micro-Rotor entailed skeletonising the mainplate and eight bridges that, until now, have been made in solid brass. At the thicknesses he envisaged, going as thin as 0.7mm, skeletonised brass bridges wouldn’t have necessarily held up. Grade 5 titanium, however, offered the requisite strength and a lightness that could reduce the overall weight of the movement to 15.95g, the ability to look good naturally without the need for galvanic deposition, and the ability to be hand-polished. All the same, machining titanium has its challenges.
“Titanium takes longer than brass to machine the material into the required shape. Progress is slower and more incremental, with more steps required for each piece,” says Romain. “It wears down tools and can break them more easily. There is always a risk of fire, so you must avoid unmonitored machining during the night. And it also tests the machine operators’ ability to work within +/- 2-micron tolerances because if any holes are a fraction too small, the jewels could break when the watchmakers drive them in.”
Manufacture-Only Carbonium® Edition
Romain Gauthier always knew that if he was ever going to create a timepiece that collectors could purchase exclusively through Manufacture Romain Gauthier, it needed to be something special with a strong identity. And so, for his first ever Manufacture-Only edition, Romain has chosen to present probably his sportiest looking watch to date: An Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette with case, crown, dial and buckle made out of Carbonium®.
Carbonium® is a high-tech, high-performance, carbon fibre composite invented and produced by French company Lavoisier Composites. It is made by employing a special compression-moulding process to ‘upcycle’ the epoxy resin and carbon fibres found in prepreg tapes sourced from the aerospace industry – fibres once earmarked to form part of an airliner wing, fin or fuselage.
Romain says: “I have been interested in presenting a watch in carbon fibre for some time, but I was always waiting to find the right material, one that is a bona fide, technical carbon composite. I found that material in Carbonium®. I was drawn to Carbonium® because not only does it possess excellent mechanical properties, but it also looks fabulous and wears light on the wrist.”
To make each of the Carbonium® elements for this timepiece, Lavoisier Composites creates Carbonium® blocks which are then finely shaped on a 5-axis machining centre before being matte-finished for a slightly silky surface appearance. In accordance with Romain’s wishes, Lavoisier chose a long fibre length of 50mm, in their eyes the sweet spot between mouldability, aesthetics and mechanical properties.
Indeed, the carbon fibre in Carbonium® is three times more rigid than titanium, yet twice as light. The fully assembled Carbonium® case for Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette weighs in at just 15.36g. So with the cased-up movement weighing 31.31g, it is fair to say this Carbonium® edition feels like a feather on the wrist.
What is more, at 42mm in diameter, this case is larger than the Insight Micro-Rotor case in precious metal or titanium (39.5mm). That is because the rigid and fibre-rich nature of Carbonium® means localised increases in case dimensions needed to be made in order to machine it optimally. The extra couple of millimetres only serve to increase the assertive presence of the Carbonium® which bears a striking, organic-looking, veined pattern. As you turn the watch, the veins take it in turns to reflect the light, lending the case a real vivacity.
With carbon fibre watches, often the movement is placed in a watertight cylinder within an unwaterproofed case. Romain was keen to avoid this ‘hack’ and instead wanted the skeletonised movement to be protected from humidity by the Carbonium® case itself. To that end, Lavoisier Composites performed a multi-step waterproofing process developed especially for this Romain Gauthier case, that saw resin injected into the micropores – invisible to the naked eye – on the inside of the case to prevent water from entering it.
As for the “Manufacture Only” status of this edition, Romain Gauthier feels that this will enhance its appeal to collectors. “Purchasing this timepiece directly from us, our collectors will know that they are acquiring an exciting timepiece that they won’t find anywhere else,” says Romain. “Those who own it will, in a sense, become part of a club of owners who understand how this watch represents me in terms of the architectural movement, the extreme level of hand-finishing and the technical-yet-casual nature of the Carbonium® case. And they will know that they will have made a considerable contribution to supporting our watchmaking.”
Customisable elements include the final finishing to the bridges and mainplate (hand-polished or matte-finished bevels); colour of the steel hands, dial accents and plaquette engravings; and colour of the natural rubber strap. The example here features hand-polished bevels, Pacific blue and white dial accents, and Pacific blue steel hands and natural rubber strap.
With Insight Micro-Rotor Lady Opal, Romain Gauthier has created a luxury ladies’ watch that sees colour, sparkle and sublime craftsmanship spectacularly come together.
The hour-minute subdial, small seconds and mainplate cover are made out of semi-transparent Australian crystal opal that has been skilfully finished by hand. This gemstone exhibits flashes of pink, green, purple and turquoise in a majestic play of colour.
Powering the indications is an in-house, automatic calibre that boasts a 22k gold bidirectional micro-rotor, the front of which is snow set with brilliant-cut diamonds of varying sizes.
The scintillating micro-rotor is framed by a cut-out in the opal-adorned mainplate. It turns smoothly and inaudibly between two bridges, each fitted with a friction-minimising, wear-resistant ruby bearing. In whichever direction the micro-rotor sways, it winds a serially operating double mainspring barrel offering 80 hours of power at full wind.
The glorious opal subdials and mainplate cover set off the red gold hands, gilded balance wheel and red gold treated plaquette and bridges that are hand-bevelled and straight-grained, while the arcs of the bridges neatly marry with the inside curve of the red gold case. The case’s 39.5mm diameter, combined with the white natural rubber strap that mirrors the contours of the lugs, provides a snug fit on slender wrists.
Other design details of the case include a lip in the caseband that flares out to join with the bezel; the crown positioned at 2 o’clock to free up space for wrist movement; and the bombé sapphire crystal which rises so that its highest point is over the hour-minute display, the de facto centre of the dial.
More of the movement can be admired through the display back. Here, the micro-rotor can be seen engaging the visible train of gears, beginning with the reversing gear that gives the mechanism its bidirectionality. The gears and ratchet wheels are notable for their circular spokes which have been bevelled.
Finally, the golden bridges – which feature hand-made, hand-polished bevels and jewel countersinks – are secured in place using Romain Gauthier’s in-house screws with S-slot heads. The sweeping shapes of the bridges contrast with the linearity of the straight-grained finishing and four plaquettes.
Insight Micro-Rotor Lady Opal is a five-piece limited edition in 18k red gold.
INSIGHT MICRO-ROTOR LADY OPAL IN DETAIL
Australian crystal opal dial and mainplate cover
The semi-transparent crystal opal used to make the dial and mainplate cover of Insight Micro-Rotor Lady Opal is from the town of Coober Pedy in South Australia, often described as the opal capital of the world. It was collected at source by a connoisseur of rare gemstone almost half a century ago.
This precious opal is regarded as the finest thanks to its highly stable internal structure that makes it diffract light, resulting in a resplendent play of colour. Its compactness and low porosity mean its vibrant appearance will remain constant over time.
Once the raw opal is carefully selected, a wire saw is used to remove an ultra thin slice which is then fixed onto a heated baseplate with tree resin, after which the outline of the hour-minute subdial, small seconds and mainplate cover are cut using a three-axe machining centre.
The one-piece mainplate cover bears a complex shape with a figure of eight cut in the centre to accommodate the small seconds and balance wheel.
The lapidary then fixes the slice onto a brass block with resin before rubbing it by hand on a glass board covered with a mixture of diamond powder and water in order to make the opal the right thickness – 0.28mm for the subdials and 0.35mm for the mainplate cover.
In fact, the lapidary leaves 0.06mm more than is needed so he has enough opal to work with for the polishing stage which consists of pressing the opal gently against a turntable covered with fine felt and white cerium oxide solution.
Given that each opal dial and mainplate cover is different, and each arrangement of the diamonds decorating the micro-rotor is different, no two Insight Micro-Rotor Lady Opals look the same.
In-house automatic movement
Developed, produced, decorated, assembled and regulated at Manufacture Romain Gauthier in the Vallée de Joux, Switzerland, Insight Micro-Rotor Lady Opal’s movement has been designed to be highly visible so the observer can acquire an immediate appreciation of the mesmerising mechanics and immaculate hand-finishing, hence the moniker “Insight”.
The bidirectionality of the micro-rotor is accomplished via a reversing gear. The axis of this gear glides side to side, guided by an aperture cut within two arc-shaped steel plates that have been black-polished to enhance the gear’s rotation and lateral movement. When the micro-rotor changes direction, it drives the toothing of the reversing gear in the opposite direction, making the reversing gear slide this way too.
Given the relative weight of the micro-rotor, Romain Gauthier has chosen to sandwich it between two bridges for superior stability, rather than designing a ‘flying’ rotor supported by just one bridge from beneath.
Both ends of the micro-rotor axis turn in a ruby-lined pivot hole. The rubies have a high wear resistance and low coefficient of friction helping to create a silent, fluid rotation of the micro-rotor compared to, say, metal ball-bearings, which can entail wear and noise.
The two mainspring barrels offer 80 hours of energy when fully wound. The barrels are in series for more constant power to the regulator that features the Romain Gauthier balance wheel featuring curved arms and calibrated eccentric weights, as well as a hand-assembled pallet lever that is triangular for more rigidity.
Last but not least, the superlative movement decoration includes hand-made and hand-polished bevels, hand-frosting, circular-graining, straight-graining and snailing, in addition to hand-made and hand-polished jewel countersinks.
The Founder of Romain Gauthier, Romain Gauthier, granted us an exclusive interview during the SIHH 2018 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Romain Gauthier was born in 1975 in the Vallée de Joux, Switzerland, the cradle of fine Swiss watchmaking. It was here that Romain developed his passion for traditional haute horlogerie, his grasp of mechanics and engineering, and his eye for design.
Having studied precision-mechanics at technical college, Romain qualified as a constructor of precision machinery in 1997. A year later, he started his first job as machine programmer-operator at a horological components manufacturer that he helped turn into one of the best-performing facilities in Europe.
Determined to build from scratch, not just his own high-end watch, but also his own high-end watch brand, Romain completed an MBA in 2002. His final thesis was the business plan for his own watch company.
After working behind closed doors on his own timepieces for three years, he launched the Romain Gauthier brand in 2005, unveiling its first timepiece Prestige HM at Baselworld 2007. This was followed by Prestige HMS (2010), Logical One (2013), Logical One Secret (2014), Insight Micro-Rotor (2017) and Insight Micro-Rotor Lady (2018). These encompass classically refined pieces, contemporarily casual creations and ethereal objets d’art, all featuring supremely finished in-house movements.
In 2013, the jury of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève – the Oscars of watchmaking – awarded Romain Gauthier’s Logical One the prize for Best Men’s Complication.
ROMAIN GAUTHIER – http://www.romaingauthier.com/
Interviewed by Alberic Virchaux