Chiming watches remain the most charming of all mechanical timepieces, mostly because they are discreet pleasures. After all, with a minute repeater for example, the beauty is in what it sounds like and the wearer is likely the only person who knows for sure. Visually, these rarefied watches that sound out the time often look like time-only pieces, with only the sliding piece on the case giving away the game. Skeletonising offers, to date, the best chance to transform a minute repeater into a feast for the eye as well as the ear. For 2017, the Cartier manufacture at La Chaux-de-Fonds clearly thinks it can do better.
With this striking timepiece, the Rotonde de Cartier Minute Repeater Mysterious Double Tourbillon, the Cartier watchmakers have created a mechanical wristwatch that has never existed in any form, anywhere. This is the first time a mysterious flying double tourbillon has joined forces with a minute repeater (which is skeletonized to boot). In fact, to our knowledge, this is the first time a mysterious indication of time has been seen alongside a skeletonised minute repeater.
Now, Carole Forestier-Kasapi and her team are no strangers to repeaters and Cartier is certainly the only major brand to associate itself with the mysterious watch – a tradition dating back to the clocks of Louis Cartier in 1902. Creating a cohesive watch out of old traditions and new know-how is where Cartier excels and where the brand often adds value to watchmaking as a whole. To put it another way, Cartier may not innovate by tradition but it certainly makes innovation in watchmaking seem like a proud tradition, a beautiful one at that.
Calibre 9407 MC
“We don’t have a long experience in fine watchmaking. We wanted to do things differently. This fact probably makes our watches appealing to the client. And our watches are beautiful! You know, just because we make technical watches doesn’t mean the watches have to be ugly. We have always had very good designers in the house of Cartier and this is one of our strengths,” said Forestier-Kasapi.
She was speaking at that time, in 2012, about the Rotonde de Cartier Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon, powered by calibre 9402 MC. When you see the numbering in the new model, calibre 9407 MC, the provenance is clear, which you might have guessed from those dial-side hammers and gongs. Having said that, looking back at the various forms the Minute Repeater Flying Tourbillon have taken at Cartier, there are clear differences here, made obvious by the open-worked movement and the position of the repeater push piece at 4 o’clock.
Triple Threat Pre-SIHH Novelties
We should say at the outset that Cartier never does anything by halfway measures so the Rotonde de Cartier Minute Repeater Mysterious Double Tourbillon is only one of three novelties to be revealed prior to SIHH 2017. The others are the Rotonde de Cartier Skeleton Mysterious Hour and the Panthere Joueuse de Cartier, which are certainly winning propositions in their own right but we’ll have to address those in another issue, possibly when we look at the SIHH novelties in full or in a shoot sometime next year.
Minute Repeater Mechanism
Turning back to the multi-complication of the pre-SIHH releases, Cartier definitely wants to window to show off this new watch before the onslaught of novelties begins. Truly, the virtues of the watch are obvious even as the mysterious mechanism remains fully, well, mysterious. Casual observers have already noted how well the calibre 9407 MC preserves the secrets of the mysterious flying double tourbillon, which it does. The visual pleasure of watching the tourbillon make a circuit in one minute, and then the entire assembly rotate in five minutes is delectable, as we have already seen with the Rotonde Mysterious Double Tourbillon in 2013.
The repeater portion of this calibre, which occupies the remaining 61% of calibre 9407 MC, is another matter. Doing a multi-complication is great and everything but does it compromise the quality of the delicate chiming mechanism? First of all, the many watchmakers we have spoken to over the years typically agree that adding a tourbillon to a movement with a minute repeater causes no problems overall and does not detract from the quality of the sound. In this particular instance, Cartier notes that the space for the double tourbillon is actually smaller than it was in the Rotonde Mysterious Double Tourbillon 9454 MC. This reduction of 1mm to 15.5mm was done to accommodate the repeater gongs.
Perfecting the Pitch
Ultimately, chiming watches must be judged on aural pleasure and that is entirely subjective. What we can highlight here is that Cartier has boiled down the essence of a successful minute repeater into four dimensions: intensity, tonality, tone and deadening. Those familiar with watches that strike the time will know a few more terms: volume, rhythm, harmony, pitch, duration, paired sounds and ready sounds… Happily, the Cartier manufacture’s approach with the Rotonde de Cartier Minute Repeater Mysterious Double Tourbillon is refreshingly approachable.
On that note (no pun intended), it is important to bear in mind that this is a 45mm watch in grade 5 titanium while the gongs are in the usual steel as per Cartier’s other repeaters. The manufacture’s own notes suggest that titanium was chosen to reduce the case-gongs mass ratio for better acoustic transparency. As you might have guessed, the entire 45mm case acts as a resonance chamber for calibre 9407 MC. Cartier makes no other assertion on the choice of material for the case, in terms of its suitability for sounding the time in a sonorous fashion.
The Mysterious Cage
The manufacture does take some pains to establish that it has tried its best to improve the transmission of vibrations from movement to case by creating no less than six points that the movement connects with the case. Four of these are via screws linking the movement and the case while two are screws that link the gongs themselves to the case (at 6 o’clock, in the middle of the hammers). If you are familiar with other Cartier repeaters, you might also recognize that the gongs present a square profile to the hammers at the point of contact, to increase the surface area that the hammers can work with. Cartier reports that this improves the vibration velocity.
The low-pitched gong (tourbillon-side) sounds the hours and is calibrated to strike in B (5th octave). The high-pitched minutes gong is set to D (6th octave), by way of contrast. Low-pitch and high-pitch notes are separated by 10 dB, which seems like a good split. Interestingly, the intensity of the notes has been clocked at 66dB, as opposed to the 68dB of the previous Cartier repeaters. You will of course appreciate the quality of the sound is more important here than the actual intensity, given that the difference is a mere 2dB. That quality is assured here – as in all Cartier repeaters – by the use of a flying inertial governor instead of the more traditional recoil anchor. The governor has been moved from its position in 9402 MC, in single axis with the tourbillon and gongs to a spot just below the mysterious double tourbillons.
As for the actual quality of the sound, for the moment we only have the specifications from Cartier to go on but we might update on the actual sound quality online from SIHH 2017 itself. See you there.
Movement Manual winding calibre 9407 MC, with mysterious double flying tourbillon and minute repeater; 84 hours power reserve
Case 45mm grade 5 titanium
Strap Black “Gomma” alligator