Jean-Marie Schaller: Memories of the Future
We frequently say that everything in watchmaking was invented in the 18th century and Jean-Marie Schaller arrived to prove this to us, on the first day of spring of 2013. The ‘1/60th Timer’ is a spectacular chronograph, beating at 30Hz and which already dates back 197 years, which has come to once and for all change the History of Haute Horlogerie!...
First published on veryimportantwatches.com
Constantin Stikas: Man has conquered 4Hz, he remained at 5Hz for more than four decades, and then we have seen watches beating at 50Hz, 500Hz or even 1000Hz in the years 2011-2012!... On 21 March 2013 you presented a timer beating at 30Hz and belonging to the very distant and at the same time very glorious past, namely the 18th century. Would you like to recount this so riveting story for us?
Jean-Marie Schaller: For me, the story began at the dawn of the 00s. I decided to launch a Louis Moinet revival. This watchmaker, who was very famous during his lifetime (1768 – 1853) had since fallen into obscurity. When I began my project, the only extant references were a biographical notice of about fifteen pages. Ever since, my journalistic quest has been to reconstitute the totality of his work, conceiving of timepieces that he himself may have created, had he been alive today.
At the historical level, we have uncovered exceptional pieces, manufactured for prominent personalities of his time: Napoleon, Thomas Jefferson or the King of England, for example. We have been able to acquire certain of these, the most famous of which is the one created for Marshal Murat, King of Naples. Whilst reading through his Treatise (1848), I understood the technological importance of this timer, which he baptised ‘Compteur de Tierces’, since the word chronograph did not exist. We had sought for this piece over many years. Finally, we were able to acquire it during a Christie’s auction, held on May 20th 2012 in Geneva. Up until then, it had formed part of a private collection belonging to a princely European family.
CS: What historical proof is there attesting that Louis Moinet was the first one to realise the high frequency movement in watchmaking, in 1816?
JMS: The 4 hallmarks on the back of the case, which have been analysed by the biggest horological experts and historians of the International Horlogerie Museum. This did not come as a surprise to me, because I had acquired Louis Moinet’s private correspondence, in which he stated on more than one occasion that he had started making this piece in 1815 and completed it in 1816.
CS: How does the ‘Compteur de Tierces’ ensure the return-to-zero of the chronograph?
JMS: The general principle underlying the return-to-zero of the ‘Compteur de Tierces’ chronograph is similar to the resetting mechanism of a contemporary chrongraph. However, the return-to-zero does not take place via the intermediary of a column wheel system, but through a system of a double-effect navette acting directly on: 1) the balance, then 2) the escapement wheel, which bears the zero-setting index of the ‘1/60th Timer’.
CS: What is the chronograph’s autonomy?
JMS: More than 30 hours.
CS: What are the distinctive characteristics of the chronograph?
JMS: Redescovering this chronograph is akin to discovering the Leonardo da Vinci of watchmaking. Louis Moinet was 100 years ahead of his time in the domain of high frequency (216,000 VpH); 46 years ahead in returnto- zero technology (patented by Adolphe Nicole in 1862) and he simply created the most accurate object of his time (measuring the 1/60th of a second, whereas at the time they had only been able to measure up to 1/5th, eventually up to 1/10th of a second in 1820).
CS: Do you intend to present timepieces inspired by the ‘1/60th Timer’ in your current collection of Louis Moinet House?
JMS: Yes, we have some ideas for creating an exceptional chronograph.
CS: What is your personal relationship to speed?
JMS: I adore driving my car…
CS: Do you think that a speed limit should be imposed on motorways and, if yes, at how many km/h should it be set?
JMS: That depends on the quality of the motorway. I think that 130km/h would be good.