Jean-Marc Wiederrecht’s Agenhor has spent the past nine years reinventing the chronograph, with watch partner Fabergé the first to benefit
By James Buttery
Why do chronographs look the way they do? Why is the display of information split between numerous sub dials? These are the questions that Agenhor, Jean-Marc Wiederrecht’s ingenious Genevan movement house, asked themselves when embarking on an ambitious project to redesign the chronograph.
The answer to both of these conundrums is, on the face of it, undoubtedly ‘because that is the way it has always been done’. For a more technical and historical context, we hand over to expert watchmaker Peter Roberts, who tells us that:
Agenhor, which has now created four complications for the reborn Fabergé, two of which have won GPHG awards, then cast aside more than two centuries of convention (Louis Moinet created the first chronograph 202 years ago) and delved into the perceived shortcomings of the chronograph – both mechanical and visual. It was a large, and potentially thankless, task – reverse-engineering and improving on the chronograph as it has successfully existed for more or less two centuries.
What are these weaknesses that needed correcting? What’s wrong with traditional chronograph movements? Legibility is one; although that could fairly be said to vary widely between existing chronographs depending on their subdial configuration anyway. The resulting AgenGraph movement displays chronograph seconds, minutes and hours using a centrally positioned sub-dial of three concentric scales and three dedicated hands; you effectively read elapsed time in exactly the same way you read normal time on a three-hand watch, so in theory at least your brain should be that much quicker at tallying up whatever you’re timing. It is an intuitive approach and definitely has the potential to be more effective, especially once you’re used to it.
The idea of doing away with multiple sub dials is not new in itself, in recent years Patek Philippe’s 5960 brought chronograph minutes and hours together on a single – if not central – sub dial while De Bethune’s five-handed DB29 MaxiChrono managed all three (not to mention incorporating timekeeping hour and minutes). It could be argued that the Fabergé achieves the most instantly legible solution yet; without having had the chance to try it out, we’ll leave it at that for now.
More quantifiable is the scope for technical improvements: traditional chronograph movements rely either on a horizontal or vertical clutch, both of which come with pros and cons (you can read our handy guide to the workings of a chronograph here if you’re in need of a refresher). They rely on cams and springs for stopping and re-setting which run large amounts of energy through the movement every time you use them. And the power demands exerted by the chronograph on the movement are inconsistent, placing irregular strain on the balance.
Agenhor’s solution goes a long way to countering all of these complaints. Like any simple, intuitive user interface all of the hard work goes on behind the scenes, which is instantly apparent once you turn the watch over. Its full-width sapphire crystal caseback reveals the architectural complexity of Fabergé’s 477-component Calibre 6163 – solving those problems has not been easy and this is one of the most complex caseback views we’ve ever seen. Mercifully, the watch isn’t outsized at 43mm across.
The AgenGraphe movement which, despite Fabergé being first to market with a watch using it, is not exclusive to the brand – features five patented developments and is made possible because Fabergé introduced peripheral hands to its Visionnaire DTZ (not to mention its Fabergé Dalliance collection for women) last year. Without a central axis there is space at the middle of the movement. Wiederrecht’s team has now filled that hole with its new chronograph, essentially bolting in as a module.
A lot of the stresses present in a traditional chronograph, such as the high tension springs present in the reset mechanism, have also been replaced by low tension solutions based around snail cams that will result in far less wear and tear on the components. Those same snail cams also ensure that chronograph hours and minutes advance in precise increments rather than gradually.
The snail cam system also means that the hours and minutes are effectively being driven constantly, ticking round with each rotation of the cam. So the power demands of running the chronograph are balanced out, and Agenhor claims the watch will run for its stated 60-hour power reserve duration even if the chronograph was constantly in use. The clutch combines (in a nutshell) the best of vertical and horizontal worlds, minimising shocks and ensuring smooth action for the user.
In fact, the Agenhor clutch is claimed to obviate the need for strong springs throughout the chronograph mechanism. It’s the strength of these springs – holding wheels in place when the chronograph is not in use – that determines how hard you have to depress the pushers to start, stop and re-set the chronograph. With that element removed, Agenhor raises the intriguing possibility that the chronograph feel could be tailored to the style of watch in which it is housed; stiffer for something sporty, and softer for a dressier chronograph. We’ll have to wait and see how that one pans out.
Two variants of the 43mm watch will be presented at Baselworld later this month; one in titanium and rose gold, the other in DLC-treated ceramic and titanium. Rest assured this is one watch we will be coming back with an in-depth hands-on report on.