OK, let’s jump in the DeLorean, set the year for twenty-o-ten, because in the words of the immortal Doc Brown, “We are going back to the future.” In 2020, Laurent Ferrier celebrated his 10th anniversary with what might initially seem like a counter-intuitive move, which was to launch his most accessibly priced and simplest watch. But this act of revisionist horological history has been in the works for a full decade. Says Ferrier with a smile, “It was important to me 10 years ago to position my brand at the highest level, with a watch that had a substantial technical value like the Tourbillon Double Spiral. But in my heart I was always dreaming to create something that was a core expression of my purest values. A simple three-hand manual-winding watch with a beautifully restrained movement expressing all my values — elegance, love for watchmaking history, ergonomy and finish at the highest level.”
The resulting timepiece, the Classic Origin Opaline, is a watch that is destined to make you smile, in that it is an expression of all that Ferrier loves. His wonderfully smooth Galet case shape, now in grade 5 polished titanium, is complemented with a uniquely stylized yet charmingly understated dial. I described Ferrier as a bridge between horology’s past and the present, constructed through nuanced details gleaned from vintage timepieces reaching as far back as the 19th century but perfectly reinterpreted for the modern day. Nowhere in his range is this more in evidence. Here, a unique combination of applied baton markers with printed indexes, a burgundy 13–24-hour scale (an amusing and unconventional addition) and continuous seconds subdial come together perfectly.
Turn the Classic Origin Opaline to the back and the beautifully and intuitively laid out movement will continue to charm in abundance. If the caliber LF116.01 looks familiar, that’s because it actually forms the base movement of the caliber LF126.01 used in Laurent Ferrier’s annual calendar. The differences between this and the LF automatic micro-rotor movement are significant. First, there is no natural escapement. Instead, here the movement uses a traditional Swiss anchor escapement in combination with a large free sprung balance wheel. Says Ferrier, “The free sprung balance was important to me because it’s far more stable than a balance that is adjusted using a regulator.” Ferrier refers to the regulator as a device that is used to effectively lengthen or shorten the hairspring to speed up or slow down the oscillations of the balance wheel. His preference is to regulate the oscillator using inertia screws which, when adjusted so more of their mass sits toward the center of the balance slows it down, and when adjusted so greater mass is at the perimeter speeds it up. Says Ferrier, “The free sprung balance is nothing new but it is to me the best way to create stability in timekeeping.”
The movement has all of the codes that we’ve come to love in Laurent Ferrier’s watches. There are three wonderfully finished bridges and a balance cock. The top bridge which retains the barrel features Ferrier’s signature black-polished flat-blade ratchet spring. The second bridge retains the direct drive seconds bridge while the third bridge exists to retain the escapement wheel. Note the use of a shock absorber integrated into the jewel bearing of the escape wheel pinion for greater autonomy from micro-shocks. The fluid shape of this bridge is echoed in the beautiful almost bird-shaped balance cock. All bridges received a micro-sandblasted treatment which contrasts nicely with their polished bezels and sharp hand-made angles.
So the point is that this “simple” Laurent Ferrier is also one of his most appealing offers. But if given the opportunity to run creatively rampant on the Classic Origin, what watch would be the result? For the answer to that, we would need to go back to the popularization of the sector or scientific dial watches. They began in the 1920s as a way of more clearly delineating time and were used on both wristwatches and pocket watches. They featured a circular track where the hour indexes would radiate outward. This means that the hour hand would align perfectly with this track and there could be no mistaking its placement. On the perimeter of the dial, you would have a clearly printed minute track that would align with the minute hand to provide ultimate clarity. Seconds could either be placed in a subdial at six o’clock, or read off a central seconds hand.
Further, different sectors of the dial would always have different decoration to more fully create a sense of information compartmentalization. Over the ensuing decades, brands including Omega and Longines, in particular with their tre tacche waterproof watches, became synonymous for this style of “scientific” watches.
Simply Ravishing Sector Dials
Laurent Ferrier has used the sector dial to great effect, in particular in his Galet Square with the Only Watch 2015 pièce unique, the two limited editions for Chicago’s Swiss FineTiming and even in a luminous version with the Borealis. But to me the most beautiful execution of this is the watch created by Aurel Bacs, the world’s greatest vintage watch auctioneer and expert. Around the time the Micro-Rotor watch emerged, Bacs came up with the idea of creating a pièce unique for himself with a sector dial. Using his extensive knowledge, he created what must objectively be called the most beautiful Laurent Ferrier watch of all time. It was so stunning that when he showed it to several of his team members at Phillips, including renowned experts and collectors Alex Ghotbi and Paul Boutros, they too wanted to order one. And finally the watch was anointed as an icon when it was also ordered by none other than the incredible Auro Montanari or John Goldberger, historian, author and collector ne plus ultra.