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Shared Movements, Distinct Watches: Fascinating Examples of Intriguing Watch Design

Watch movements are often shared across different brands and models, with creative design variations producing highly discrete timepieces powered by the same base caliber. We take a look at some captivating examples of this phenomenon.

By Henri Lee

It always amazes me how very different-looking watches can share the exact same movement. Under the constraints of movement architecture, watch designers are tasked with creating novel and intriguing timepieces. We must admire the creativity and resourcefulness of these designers.

Sharing watch movements also makes perfect economic sense, given the high costs and time required for developing new movements. One manufacturer can sell movements to other brands, and multiple brands may collaborate to develop a new movement. Within a single manufacturer, it's essential to utilize existing movements for as many models as possible.

For watch collectors and enthusiasts, learning about and tracing the origin and history of movements is part of the enjoyment of this hobby. Delving into the details at GTGs (get-togethers) is what connects us. The more we learn, the greater our appreciation for this horological art.

Today, we will explore four fascinating movements that hide behind vastly different dials and cases.

Vacheron Constantin Caliber 4400 AS

The year 2021 marked the 100th anniversary of the iconic American 1921, originally developed by Vacheron Constantin for the US market. To commemorate the centennial, VC released four models under its Historiques collection that year. These pieces quickly became coveted by collectors. The romantic story of a watch designed for life on the fast lanes of the 1920s is irresistible.

With its elegant, striking, and unconventional design, this iconic timepiece immediately turns heads. The round dial is framed within a curved, square case that radiates Art Deco style.

The prominently tilted crown boldly stands out between 1 and 2 o'clock. The numerals tilt the same way, allowing for diagonal reading of the time, while the small seconds hand sweeps smoothly between 3 and 4 o'clock. The American 1921 is a true conversational piece thanks to its charming history and eye-catching design.

Design Trick

To achieve such a unique dial and case design, one might expect Vacheron Constantin uses a specialized movement. However, the brilliant designers at the company simply rotated an existing in-house movement 45 degrees to recreate this unusual classic model.

To illustrate this ingenious watch design trick, consider the Vacheron Constantin Patrimony manual-winding 1110U/000G-B086, with its 42mm white gold case. This slim dress watch has a seconds sub-dial at 6 o'clock and is powered by a Vacheron Constantin Caliber 4400 AS. Could you believe the same 4400 AS movement is inside the 40mm American 1921?

If we mentally rotate the 4400 AS movement behind the dial by 45 degrees, we see the crowns and sub-dials line up perfectly! This demonstrates that the movements inside these two very different timepieces are indeed the same.

Lang & Heyne UWD 33.1/33.2

Sinn is a German brand renowned for advanced technologies and rugged, tool watches. Lang & Heyne is an exclusive high-end brand respected for classic German watchmaking and fine finishing. J.N. Shapiro is a rising American star best known for exquisite guilloché work.

In 2016, Sinn launched the 6200 Meisterbund, a rare high-end dress watch for the tool watch specialist. It was perfect for Sinn fans needing an office and formal watch. This year, J.N. Shapiro released the Resurgence with an in-house movement to great buzz. However, his first-generation Infinity Series put Shapiro on the horology map for its guilloché artistry.

Two years ago, Lang & Heyne jumped into sports watches with its Hektor line. The limited editions with blue, green, gray and salmon dials have since become highly sought after.

Believe it or not, the Sinn 6200 Meisterbund, the J.N. Shapiro Infinity Series, and the Lang & Heyne Hektor all use the same UWD 33.1/33.2 movement from Lang & Heyne. The 33.1 has sub-seconds, while the 33.2 has center seconds. The movement is beautifully finished, and its manual winding means there is no rotor blocking the view.

Miyota 821A

Independent brand MB&F is at the top of its game, with each piece bearing its name costing at least CHF 60,000. To thank collectors and fans, the brand decided to release the CHF 2,900 M.A.D.1, making MB&F creations accessible to more people. This intriguing design became the talk of the watch world, even winning the Challenge prize at the 2022 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève!

To keep costs low, an off-the-shelf Miyota 821A movement from Japan was chosen. Ingeniously, the movement is inverted in this insanely mind-blowing design to be visible on the dial side. The M.A.D.1 has become a symbol for true watch geeks, with pre-owned pieces trading hands at several times the original price.

It’s hard to believe but a neat blue-dialed pilot watch from Laco has, until recently, been powered by the same Miyota 821A movement (though now the brand uses the Miyota 8250).

It is a Type A Flieger (German for airman or aviator) with a very clean dial, priced even more affordably at CHF 330. This is an extreme example of a watch's value being determined, primarily, by coveted design over the movement inside.

F.P. Journe Caliber Octa 1300.3

The Octa is the name of F.P. Journe's self-winding movement first launched in 2001; its current reference number is 1300.3. This exceptional caliber has three main attributes.

First, it offers 120-plus hours of power reserve without compromising timing performance. Second, the unidirectional winding efficiency is quite high, meaning it winds well even with less active wear. Third, its integrated design allows various complications to be added.

Let's examine some very different looking F.P. Journe watches created with the same Caliber 1300.3.

At first glance, the Automatique Lune and the Divine are completely distinct timepieces. The Divine's rare small second disc indicator is especially amazing. Both watches look elegant, uncluttered and spectacular!

Looking more closely, we see the date, power reserve, moonphase, and subdial are identically positioned, as the movements are the same! Do you wish to own both, as I do? They are kindred yet intriguingly unique. The stunning and exquisite watches are connected by Caliber 1300.3.

Flexible Architecture

The LineSport Automatique Réserve is F.P. Journe's interpretation of a sporty weekend watch. With its titanium case and bracelet, the watch is quite light. Note the crown at half past four, and the big date, power reserve indicator, and subdial positions. Compared to the Divine, we see the movement has been rotated 45 degrees clockwise – amazing!

Yes, this Journe sports watch also has the Caliber 1300.3. The only difference is a day/night indicator instead of a moonphase, which makes sense for a sports watch. The flexible Octa architecture enables such changes. Additionally, the aluminum alloy movement with titanium rotor further reduces weight.

Final Thoughts

Watch brands are diligently working to craft captivating novelties that enchant watch enthusiasts. Their new designs span the spectrum from classic to contemporary, and even the whimsical.

To achieve economies of scale, the strategic use of existing movements is the preferred approach. Ingenious watch designers have unveiled numerous alluring and compelling timepieces, as showcased here.

For aficionados of horology, these delightful creations, skillfully built upon shared movements, have unquestionably elevated our watch-collecting experience, making it more enjoyable and tantalizing.

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