Any collection in its infancy almost always begins with simplicity – simplicity of choices and designs of the collectable. When an individual begins a collection, there is anxiousness to build the collection quickly. In doing so, an individual is normally not discerning in their choices and anything that may fall under the umbrella of their collection is quickly snapped up and prized as if it were truly a rare find.
As the collection grows, so does the knowledge of our avid collector. They realise that although their collection may have grown exponentially, their simple choices and design have not added value to their collection. So the search for something special and a little more complicated begins and, over time, that initial overtone of simplicity dissipates and in its place the search for that one piece that has all the qualities our collector yearns for takes over.
Nothing is truer when collecting watches. Even the most simple of watches can command the highest of respect when the firm of watchmakers has put a high degree of effort into the creation of simplicity. For example, it is almost a certainty that most collectors of fine timepieces did in their earlier years acquire a 'simple' piece whose features where limited to a beautifully enamelled dial, with roman numeral markers and blued dauphin hands.
It is again almost a certainty that whilst such a piece may satisfy a collector initially, it will not be long until the craving of complication begins. It is at this point that our collector has matured and aims to add timepieces to their collection that are not only functional and satisfying to look at, but also have any one of a number of complications.
A watch 'complication' is any additional feature of a watch other than the time telling function and includes the watch's ability to tell the wearer the day, date, month, the time in a second time zone and even what phase the moon is in!
These are of course all self-explanatory. The more interesting complications and certainly the most sought after are 'repeating' watches, 'tourbillons' and 'chronographs'.
Although deceptively simple to look at, one of the most complicated of all timepieces are repeating watches. The feature of such a watch is the ability of the timepiece to sound the time at the wish of the wearer, by the movement of an attachment to the watch. They have their origins in the mid 1600s and were designed before the advent of electricity and night lights, to make easier the telling of time at night rather than striking a tinderbox!
The category of repeating watches comprise timepieces that sound the previous hour and quarter hour (quarter repeaters) to those that will sound the precise time! The latter (minute repeaters) are the most complicated and of course the most collectable.
The sounds made by repeating watches can range from a symphony of notes, with such watches being known as Carillons, to the dull thud of a "dumb" repeater, which is designed to tell the wearer the time by feel rather than sound.
First developed in 1795 by the famous watchmaker Breguet, the tourbillon forms part of a mechanical watch's movement and relates to the accuracy of the timepiece.
The power from the mainspring is controlled through the escapement, the balance wheel and the balance spring. When the watch is worn, the natural pull of gravity can adversely affect the rate of the movement so, to compensate, the balance wheel and escapement are enclosed in a cage mounted on a pivot. This cage rotates on itself, generally once a minute, to correct any shift in position caused by outside movement, thus keeping the rate constant.
The tourbillon design, like repeating watches, requires extreme skill to produce and is usually only found on watches of high quality. Again, much like repeating watches, apart from the small aperture on the dial from which the tourbillon can be viewed, these watches are deceptively simple looking at first glance.
"Chronograph" translated literally means 'time writer' and is a device that allows time to be measured on the dial. It is a timepiece that constantly shows the time and also includes an independent chronograph mechanism.
The most simple of chronographs has one constantly moving second hand plus a second, longer, manually operated second hand out of the centre. In addition, there is usually a small subsidiary dial (near 3:00 or 12:00) with a small minute counter, which can show, for example, a total elapsed time of 30, 45 or 60 minutes.
Many of the earlier, and now more sought after chronographs, are "one-button chronographs" that allow the wearer to operate all functions, such as start, stop and zero using one button, which was normally located at 2:00 or 4:00 or in the winding crown.
In later years the more common two-button chronographs evolved that allowed the wearer to depress the button at 2:00 to start and stop the chronograph as many times as they wanted, and the one at 4:00 to move it back to zero after being stopped. This evolution made it possible to time several separate intervals one after another and add them up without resetting to zero, something that was impossible with the one-button chronograph.
As time progressed, so did the complexity of the chronograph. The simple division of time was no longer satisfactory and scales were developed and included on the dials of chronographs that allowed the measurement of distance in kilometres (telemeters), speeds (tachometers), a person's pulse frequency (pulse-register chronograph), and even breathing rates (breath-register chronograph). If it was possible to measure, a watch was built to measure it!
The complexity of collecting travels full circle when a Grande Complication is acquired and added to a collection. Such a timepiece combines the repeater, tourbillon and chronograph into one timepiece. These panaceas epitomise the finest qualities of watch collecting. Most are housed in simple unadornedcases of gold or platinum as outside embellishments outside are not required, when the collector knows that there is complexity and perfection within.
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