Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era

The last thirty plus years have been a real renaissance for the Bras en l'Air design.
Neither Gübelin nor Vacheron entirely forgot the Bras en l’Air concept. In the 1990’s, they both resurrected the concept, but in very different ways.

GÜBELIN

Gübelin’s revival of the Bras en l’Air, first under Richard Daners and then under Thomas Prescher, produced some unique designs. Both Daners and Prescher are better known for their work on double and triple axis tourbillons. But both also created some amazing Bras en l’Air watches.
Daners, originally from Essen, Germany, worked for Gübelin in Lucerne from the early 1980’s onwards and did some amazing work there, both in new designs and the restoration of some complicated watches.7

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Richard Daners

One of the new creations was the “Colossus of Rhodes”, a Bras en l’Air  wrist watch.
The watch was conceived by Richard Daners in 1990 with first production in 1991. Only four pieces with the dial " Colosse de Rhodes" were sold through Gübelin. The mechanism and dial are completely hand crafted in Gübelin's Lucerne workshop.8, 9  He retired in 1995 but still produces custom pieces for clients.
The original statue stood about thirty-two metres tall, almost the height of the Statue of Liberty. It was built around 300 BCE and stood guarding the harbour of Rhodes for fifty-six years, until an earthquake caused its collapse.

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era   Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era   Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Colossus of Rhodes wrist watch. Four were produced. The movement is the Peseux 320


Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Thomas Prescher

Thomas Prescher began his professional watchmaking life as an apprentice with IWC, finishing in three instead of four years as their star pupil.
He joined Gübelin in Lucerne where he too produced at least one Bras en l’Air watch, the "Icarus."

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era      Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
The Icarus watch, front and back. The well-known story of Icarus' flight too close to the sun.  The Peseux 320 movement.

The “Horse Race” is likely one of Prescher’s too, but I am not absolutely certain.

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Horse race watch: Two horses and their jockeys. The jockeys’ whips indicate the time.
Here the whips descend to indicate the time as they descend upon the unfortunate animals.
Perhaps the jockeys are just trying to make time run faster. The watch should be called “Bras en les chevaux!”


The Daners and the Prescher watches made for Gubelin all utilized the Peseux 320 movement, a robust, single-plate, thin (3mm), hand-wound unit. It had the gear train all on one layer and thus allowed significant room on the dial side for adding a module such as the Bras en l’Air mechanism. The 320 movement was built for many years with several variations, and it enjoyed wide success. Peseux movements were actually used by many watch companies including GP, Tiffany, and Cartier, as well as Gübelin. The company was eventually acquired by ETA and the last movement they made Cal. 7001 (1975-1985), was reintroduced as the ETA 7001 years later.10, 11

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Basic Peseux 320 movement

After leaving Gübelin, Prescher formed his own company. He was elected into the AHCI (Academie Horologere des Createur Independants) in 2003, and that year demonstrated his first Bras en l’Air watch, "The Falcon."12

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Prescher's Falcon watch

Prescher continues to produce watches with the Bras en l’Air design including custom pieces under the Tempus Vivendi name. Here are a few examples: 12

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era   Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
The Crane and American Eagle watches by Thomas Prescher

Instead of using the Peseux movement, Prescher went to an automatic one, the ETA 2824-2, which he used as an ebauche.
The movement came in four different qualities including a chronometer grade and was highly configurable.
Prescher’s modifications were quite spectacular!

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era    Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
The basic ETA 2824-2 movement and Prescher's highly customized and embellished version.

Using this movement, the time could be turned backwards using the crown (unlike the Peseux).

The display could also be run either continuously indicating the time or just at the press of the pusher.

Prescher actually built his double retrograde mechanism as a module to fit on any movement.


VACHERON and CONSTANTIN

Vacheron’s approach was entirely different. Their Bras en l’Air concept was brought back to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the cartographer/geographer Gerardus Mercator.

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Gerardus Mercator, cartographer extraordinaire

The watch was introduced in 1994 and a total of 638 were produced in different variations including enamel and etched dials.
The dials presented continents, countries and regions as they existed at the time of Mercator. Several were also introduced
in non-cartographic themes such as the Chinese Zodiac and the Ferrari.13, 14
The map versions were designed and executed by the Genbrugges, Jean and Lucie, in Belgium, who also did the great Explorers watches.

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era

Production of the Mercator pieces continued until about 2004.
Because of the champlevé technique only about two to three watches could be produced per month.
Some watches were in a series of a hundred and others in as few as 10 pieces.

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Mercator Watch: Iberian Peninsula and Portugal 15

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Mercator watch: France and Western Europe13


Time is indicated by the use of 2 pointers resembling marine calipers, one for minutes and one for hours.
The arcs look as if they subtend an angle of 60 degrees instead of 120 and the pointers  share a common axis. But if you look closely, there is really only one continuous arc of 120 degrees divided into two parts, with the pointers at the centre of the circle. No doubt, this layout is technically more demanding to execute.

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Pointer side of the movement

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Underside of module (Courtesy of Bill Lind, Vacheron Forum on the Purists site) 16

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Vacheron-Constantin Calibre 1120

The watch used the caliber 1120 which has found its way into many beautiful Vacheron timepieces including the “Jump Hour” and “Saltarello” as well as many of today’s watches.
The caliber which was produced by JLC, ironically was never used by them. It was however used by Vacheron (1120, 1121, 1122), Audemars-Piguet as the 2120, 2121 and 2122 and Patek-Philippe (28-255) between 1970-80 in their Nautilus model.
Its thinness of only 2.45mm makes it very suitable for the Mercator design, allowing the double retrograde movement to fit on without unduly thickening it. In the reference section you will find a link to an excellent article on this movement by Walter Odets. The movement really is a thing of beauty! Here is a photo from that article showing the main plate in the Vacheron version. 17

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Vacheron-Constantin Calibre 1120 main plate, showing the beautiful perlage and finishing.

The Mercator has become an iconic watch for Vacheron maintaining the idea of the Bras en l’Air, albeit in a slightly modified presentation.
But the current and perhaps most spectacular and artistic iteration of the design came from an unlikely source, one known more for its jewelry than its watches.


VAN CLEEF & ARPELS

In the late 1990’s, Van Cleef & Arpels, who had worked in the 1920’s with Verger Freres, embarked on their own high fashion, haute horologie endeavour. Without using Art Deco designs, Van Cleef nevertheless achieved the same combination of luxury and exoticism of their predecessors in the 1920’s. Their Poetry of Time series, including the “Fairy”, “Butterfly Symphony”, and “le Pont Amoreux,” as well as the “Enchanted Ballerina” (Ballerine Enchantée) and “From the Earth to the Moon,” all used a double retrograde module to display a Bras en l’Air display, but to a level never seen before.

Van Cleef & Arpels has had a fascination with these tiny fantastical beings for some time, creating beautiful jewelry.

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era   Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era   Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Jewelry inspired by these tiny winged creatures

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
The Fairy Watch

In this, their fairy watch creation, they continue this whimsical enchantment. Time is told by the fairy’s magic wand and one of its wings.
The beautiful dial of this watch was done by Olivier Vaucher, no stranger to Vacheron-Constantin.

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Olivier Vaucher and Christian Selmoni

Vaucher had worked with Audemars-Piguet, Gübelin, Ulysse Nardin, Alain Siberstein, and Corum before creating the dials for the 250th anniversary “Quatre Saisons” watches, including the “Chariot of Apollo.” This success was followed soon after by the beautiful “Les Masques” series.18, 19

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Butterfly Symphony watch with the dial also by Olivier Vaucher


Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Le Pont des Amoreux watch

In this most iconic watch, two lovers approach one another across a bridge, with the woman’s parasol and the man’s rose indicating the hours and minutes.
The approaches the middle of the bridge every hour awaiting his love, who finally joins him in a fleeting kiss at noon and again at midnight.
The following link shows the movements action (speeded up). In this video, one can see the movement of the two lovers and the JLC Calibre 846.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9DjXS6Bu6M


Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
A module developed by Jean-Marc Weiderrecht for the double retrograde action. Each watch design has its own variation.

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era     Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Details of the Pont des Amoreux and the Butterfly Symphony watches


Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era     Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era

In the “Ballerina Enchantée,” the time is indicated by the edge of the tutu which is at rest.
With a push of the button (at the 8 o’clock postion), the tutu rises to become butterfly wings and indicate the hours and minutes.
The concept is more or less based on a quote by the famous ballerina, Anna Pavlova:
"J'ai rêvé que j'étais une ballerine, et que je passais toute ma vie à danser avec la légèreté d'un papillon..."
(I've been dreaming that I was a ballerina, and that I was spending my whole life dancing as lightly as a butterfly...)

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Details of the Ballerina movement showing the tutu and the mechanism controlling its movements.

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
"From the Earth to the Moon" watch, courtesy of Foversta (François-Xavier and the PuristS.)20

This watch takes its inspiration from the Jules Verne novel, or perhaps also from the Offenbach opera.

All these magnificent dials could not show their splendour without the custom movements powering them.
To provide the workings beneath the surface of these watches, Van Cleef & Arpels turned to the talents of
master watchmaker, Jean-Marc Weiderrecht.

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Jean-Marc Weiderrecht

His name is certainly not as well known as the great watch manufacturers, but among the cognoscenti, his name and reputation are very well know and very much respected.
Interestingly enough, his career began as a teenager when he was at loose ends and, on the suggestion of his father, visited a local watchmaker. Observing what was going on, he was “blown away.” (ebloui, emerveillé) As he has written:
“I opened the door, stepped inside and something just totally hit me. I was instantly fascinated by the work of the craftsmen who, back in the days – in the mid 60s, did absolutely everything. They had this talent, this ability to create fully-fledged objects, to make cases, dials, to sculpt metal, assemble movements.

“I knew right then and there that I’d found what I was looking for. I went back to this workshop regularly before, during and after my training at the Ecole d’Horlogerie de Genève (Geneva Watchmaking School). It played a key role in my future.” 21
After completing his qualifications, Weiderrecht started his own company in 1978. In 1996 he formed Agenhor with his wife, Catherine. The company is dedicated to the production of custom movements and Weiderrecht holds several patents on his creations. He has worked with Harry Winston, Hermès, and of course, Van Cleef & Arpels, where he has provided the exquisite modules for the Bras en l’Air concepts.
His designs utilize the JLC Calibre 846., the same one used in their Reverso watches and also by Chopard. When asked why he used this particular movement, Weiderrecht replied that it was because of its small size, which allowed the bi-retrograde module to be placed alongside it thereby maintaining a thin case. (All the watches using a Bras en l’Air design employ a thin caliber for this reason, Peseux 320, ETA 2824 and the VC 1120.)

Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
JLC Calibre 846. Mechanical manual wind 2.9mm thick. 40 hours power reserve. Introduced in 1975

Within the movement of a particular watch, Weiderrecht has sprinkled in elements of the dial’s features, such as miniature butterflies in the “Butterfly Symphony” watch and tiny lovers in the “Pont des Amoreux” watch.

Van Cleef & Arpels has created other examples of the Bras en l’Air idea, but they are scarcely recognizable as such. The recent “Poetic Wish” is composed of two watches, each depicting one of the lovers gazing at the other, from the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris respectively. 22


Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
Poetic Wish pair of watches.

These watches do not use the JLC 846 calibre. The movement is made entirely by Weiderrecht and his team at Agenhor. The enamel work is by Dominique Baron.
To be sure, the Bras en l’Air concept is not dead. Instead, it has evolved with each revival. Each iteration has been an improvement on the previous. The current variations are intriguing indeed and have reached a new level of beauty, sophistication, and refinement.  Watch aficionados continue to be charmed by this double-retrograde Bras en l’Air concept, the dials as well as the movements. It remains a unique method of displaying the time while providing pleasure and delight to all that view them.


I want to extend a special thanks to Alex, Bill (Lind), François-Xavier and all the others at THL and The PuristS
who posted comments and photos relevant to this topic, in all its variations.



REFERENCES, FOOTNOTES AND LINKS

1.      Personal collection
2.      This watch is currently displayed in the museum of the  National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC)
3.       From the Sir David Salomons Collection in the Museum of Islamic Art, Jerusalem, Israel, and in the catalogues of the collection:
Watches and Clocks in the Sir David Salomons Collection, Georges Daniels and Ohannes Markarian
The Art of Time, The Sir David Salomons Collection of Watches and Clocks (reprint of the original in colour, by the L.A. Mayer Museum of Islamic Art.)
 
4.         The Mikado, Lyrics by W.S. Gilbert; Music by Sir Arthur Sullivan. If you wish to see this little ditty performed here is one link. There are many.
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8PpVPZit1M
 
5.         In 1848, modern Switzerland emerged as a confederation. The same year Benjamin and Leopold Haas opened a workshop in Geneva for the manufacture of high-grade watches. It was called B. Haas. From 1895 the company was known as Haas Neveux & Cie.

“Among the products were pocket watches with chronographs, repeaters or calendars, and the movements were without exception of excellent workmanship. In 1896, the company introduced a manually wound movement that was only two millimeters high. This revolutionary caliber became the talking point at a watch exhibition in Geneva. Competitors felt they also had to come out with thin movements. Haas Neveux also had something to offer in jewelry watches, thereby becoming the first watchmaker to exhibit at the Paris Salon. In 1914 Haas Neveux won a Grand Prix at the Bernese national exhibition for its elegant watches for men and women. At the 1918 Geneva Salon Haas introduced its first minute-repeating wristwatch. The brand fell victim to the economic turbulence of the 1930s, and an attempt to revive it in the 1990s failed.”

            From: www.joseph-watches.com
 
6.         http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B707Ava4wrY
 
7.         NAWCC Bulletin, Volume 39, issue 307, April 1997
 
8.http://catalog.antiquorum.com/catalog.html?action=load&lotid=402&auctionid=241
 
9.         http://ahci.watchprosite.com/show-forumpost/fi-16/pi-4922703/ti-745103/t-ahci-richard-daners/
 
10.      http://www.ranfft.de/cgi-bin/bidfun-db.cgi?10&ranfft&&2uswk&Peseux_320
11.      http://www.christophlorenz.de/watch/movements/p/peseux/peseux_320.php?l=en
 
12.       ww.prescher.ch/Company/tabid/54/language/en-US/Default.aspx
 
13.      http://www.thehourlounge.com/index.php?module=Thread&action=viewEntire&threadid=62645
 
14.      http://www.thehourlounge.com/thread/view/the-history-of-vacheron-constantin-s-alternative-time-displays-part1_21178_21178.html
 
15.       Personal collection
 
16.      http://vacheron.watchprosite.com/show-forumpost/fi-14/pi-4897208/ti-742103/s-0/t-vacheron-constantin-survey-of-the-caliber-1120/
 
17.      http://people.timezone.com/library/horologium/horologium631686780396906210
 
18.      http://www.europastar.com/magazine/highlights/1003661262-olivier-vaucher-44-master-engraver-investigating.html
 
19.      http://www.oliviervaucher.ch/
 
20.       http://home.watchprosite.com/show-forumpost/fi-17/pi-4922188/ti-745483/s-0/t-horological-meandering-a-visit-at-van-cleef-arpels-place-vendme/
 
21.       http://www.agenhor.ch/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/18-Guest_TWM34_Ang5.pdf
 
22.       http://montre24.com/news/2012-01-26/569/

 
Many thanks to Van Cleef and Arpels. All photos of their watches originate from them or their website.
 

 
 
 
 
           
 





Joseph, just a fantastic dual article
03/11/2014 - 04:50
A lot of hard work and love obviously went into this For me as well, alternative time displays are just mesmerizing, combining art and engineering. Van Cleef's pieces just blow me away. It has just been so difficult to see them in person. I tried in Paris and New York. I still hope someday. In the meantime, my Saltarello and Mercator remain dear to me Thanks again for these wonderful presentations Best, Joe
Re: Joseph, just a fantastic dual article
03/12/2014 - 17:34
Thank you very much, Joe. I am delighted you liked the article. I did see the Pont des Amoreux and the 2 Poetic Wish pieces at the SIHH last year. They are really incredible. I saw the latter two pieces working and it's quite amazing. A real tour de force! Best, Joseph
A most interesting and comprehensive read, JB
03/11/2014 - 09:42
Thank you for sharing your passion and love towards the alternative time display horology. This is really fun to read. Although I have never owned a 'bras en l'air' watch and have never considered owning one you might say I got as close as to it by wearing my Bi-Retro Cortina. Thanks for the input in educating your fellow Loungers. The bridge watch is really romantic...
Re: A most interesting and comprehensive read, JB
03/12/2014 - 17:36
Hi Radek, Thank you for your kind words. Watching history is full of really interesting "stuff" :-) and very pleased to share it with everyone. Best wishes, Joseph
A delightful read.
03/11/2014 - 11:08
Thanks Joseph for taking the time to make this wonderful article. It must have taken a lot of time to gather all the information. As a reader here at THL  I'm very pleased to have you here making all your contribution on subjects that I don't normally come around.   Best Kent
Re: A delightful read.
03/12/2014 - 17:38
Thank you Kent. I am very pleased you enjoyed it. It turned out to be a bigger project than I thought but nevertheless was a fascinating one. Warm regards, Joseph
You my dear sir have an amazing talent, une très belle plume. Thank
03/11/2014 - 17:53
You for such a delightful read
Re: You my dear sir have an amazing talent, une très belle plume. Thank
03/12/2014 - 17:40
Merci mille fois, Alex! It took a while to get all the info and sort through it all. Quite a bit was left on the cutting-room floor as they say. But it was impossible to include it all. Anyway I am delighted that you enjoyed it and thank you for your help. Some of your previous posts were very helpful. Best wishes, Joseph
JB, both Part I and II represent amazing research and
03/12/2014 - 09:00
hard work on your part.  I am surprised you are not part of the watch industry ! And I mean this seriously.  To dig so deep into the past an make all this history and information come alive the way you do is remarkable.  Like I always tell Alex, perhaps VC/THL should print out all such informative research posts of yours, print it, and send them to all the Loungers.
Re: JB, both Part I and II represent amazing research and
03/12/2014 - 17:42
Thank you, Kunal. It warms my heart to read your kind comments. I am most gratified that you found the article enjoyable and informative. All the best, Joseph
Part II...
03/12/2014 - 19:43
Joseph, collating information and data is, itself, a daunting task, however, the hardwork follows, in your own words, on the 'cutting room' floor. The secret thereafter is knowing what to leave out rather than knowing what to put in. That's the magic key! The overall result is an accolade for your commitment, patience and tenacity. I thoroughly enjoyed your article, beautifully compiled and written.  Deeply appreciated. Regards Tony  
Re: Part II...
03/13/2014 - 15:18
Many thanks to you, Tony. It's always nice to hear from you and it pleased me greatly to see that you enjoyed the article. I thought of you and Gary (Hewitt) when I put in that little G&S reference. I couldn't help myself devilwink All the best, Joseph
Thanks Joseph
03/13/2014 - 10:16
Very poetic watches, the work that Van Cleef and Arpels has recently showed is fantastic. cheers François
Re: Thanks Joseph
03/13/2014 - 15:21
Merci François, Le plaisir est tout à ma part. I'm glad you enjoyed it. You are quite correct about the VC&A pieces. But I think they were twice lucky to have found Olivivier Vaucher and Jean-Marc Weiderrecht. Best wishes, Joseph
Thank you, Joseph!
03/13/2014 - 15:05
Just back from a few days away travelling and I was delighted to find this two-part article that you have kindly created for us.  This is really an excellent article and so wonderfully illustrated.  Like you, I find alternative time displays fascinating. I am glad you included shots of your own Mercator. Portugal is one of my favorites among the series.  As you know, I am on the hunt, and almost any variant will do to sate the desire, but that Portugal is really special.  The thing about the cartographic Mercators is that it is such a coherent design with the marine calipers hands. Thanks again fro this great article. Best regards, Robert
Re: Thank you, Joseph!
03/13/2014 - 15:24
Hi Robert, Thank you so much for your kind words. When I was deciding which Mercators to include, I was think of you and which you would like to see. I found so many and Alex's previous article overflowed with them. But I chose the Portugal since I knew you liked it and there was the photo of the Genbrugges working on one as well. So it seemed a good idea. Warm regards, Joseph
:-)
03/13/2014 - 15:48
Yes, I was pleasantly surprised to see the photo of the Genbrugges working on the Portugal dial specifically.  Thank you for thinking of me.  smiley Best, Robert
Re: Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
04/01/2014 - 21:32
Thanks, Joseph! Absolutely inspired by Mercator. Is there any chanche to find it at VC boutiques?
Re: Re: Bras en l'Air - A History, Part II, The Modern Era
04/03/2014 - 17:08
It was discontinued about 10 years ago. You would need to try the auctions or dealers who specialize in vintage pieces. They are difficult to find especially the enameled ones. Joseph