This evening, in the Fryderyk Chopin Institute of Warsaw, a new brand created in honour of the famous Polish pianist makes its debut. The fledgling brand – Chopin Watches – will unveil a 56-piece limited edition watch designed by Antoine Tschumi and made by the reputable independent Swiss watch manufacture, Schwarz Etienne. Inspired by the composer’s Étude in C Minor Opus 10 No.12 (aka Chopin’s Revolutionary Étude) the watch features numerous references and symbolic allusions to the pianist’s life and his support of the Polish Uprising of 1830.
Polish Heritage and background
Michal Dunin, Polish entrepreneur and CEO of Blonie Watches, and his partner Maciej Maslak are the men behind the new Chopin Watches brand. Their background in watches started in 2012 when Dunin and Maslak decided to resuscitate the historic Polish Blonie watch company. Today the brand produces models that hark back to the brand’s heyday between 1958-1968 as well as pilot watches commemorating the heroic Polish aviators of Squadron 302 formed in England during WWII.
The Chopin project got underway in 2015 and revolves around the colossal figure of Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849), Poland’s most celebrated Romantic pianist and national hero. A daunting task by any stretch of the imagination, the new brand, known simply as Chopin, will honour the memory of “one of the greatest treasures of Polish culture” with a limited edition watch, the Chopin Op. 10 No. 12 timepiece.
Associating a product with the name of a famous composer is not new to the watch world and the affinities between the two worlds – creativity, composition, precision and mechanical perfection – are consistent. But how does one go about distilling the essence of a virtuoso pianist of the Romantic era in a watch?
Official backing and reputable suppliers
Legitimacy was key to the project and Dunin’s team has obtained an exclusive licence from the Fryderyk Chopin Institute (NIFC) to use the composer’s name and produce a limited edition run of 56 watches in 2019. As a national cultural asset, Chopin’s legacy is promoted and protected (in the form of concerts, conferences, courses, publications, and as the venue of the prestigious International Chopin Piano Competition, etc.) under the auspices of this Institute established in 2001 by the Polish parliament.
Speaking to Michal Dunin just ahead of the launch, he explained that the Institute helped them select the most fitting work for their project suggesting the watch be developed around the Étude in C Minor Opus 10, No.12, also known as the Revolutionary Étude. The Institute, he added, also facilitated access to the museum to examine personal items of the composer, including a pocket watch given to Chopin by Angelica Catalani in 1820, and letters from 1831 of the pianist in response to the failed Polish Uprising.
Having secured permission and settled upon a theme, the next step was to create a watch. Antoine Tschumi, founder of the Swiss design studio NeoDesis, and Schwarz Etienne the Swiss watchmaker were chosen as partners for the project. Over the past 20 years, Antoine Tschumi has supported some of the biggest names in watchmaking – Greubel Forsey, Harry Winston Opus, Czapek and Schwarz Etienne, specifically with the concept behind the Roswell watch. Schwarz Etienne, as our readers of MONOCHROME know, is an independent Swiss watch brand renowned for its dynamic, asymmetric openworked compositions and high level of vertical integration on the production front. With only a small portfolio, Schwarz Etienne watches are imaginative and beautifully constructed
Chopin’s compositions incarnated the soul of his beloved homeland. His interpretation of folk music in the form of mazurkas and polonaises struck a deep chord in his co-nationals and consolidated his status as a defender of patriotic values. Although he died in Paris, he requested his heart – preserved in alcohol – to be taken back to Poland where it was buried in one of the pillars of the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw. Chopin’s Étude in C Minor Opus 10, No.12, aka the Revolutionary Étude or the Étude on the Bombardment of Warsaw, is a solo piano work written in 1831. The failed November Uprising of Polish insurgents (1830) against the Imperial Russian Army marked him profoundly and galvanized this powerful, moving composition.
The Chopin Op. 10 No. 12 is presented in a 43mm stainless steel case, something that comes as a bit of a surprise given the highly exclusive nature of this timepiece. Although the case height is not mentioned, this is by no means an ultra-thin watch. The finishes are pleasant with polished and contrasting satin-brushed surfaces throughout. The two bands of criss-crossed (or tapisserie) engravings on the sides of the case were directly inspired by the guilloché pattern on the pocket watch gifted to the 10-year-old prodigy by Angelica Catalani in 1820.
Schwarz Etienne’s characteristic openworked dial reveals an intricate stage of overlapping sandblasted bridges and parts of the manual-winding movement. The timepiece, with its hour, minute, small seconds and power reserve indicator is an unusual mix of contemporary architecture with traditional elements, like the blued Breguet-style hands (which would have been fashionable during Chopin’s lifetime) and the plaque bearing Chopin’s signature at 12 o’clock.
There are only two numerals at 10 and 12 o’clock, a direct reference to Chopin’s étude, the rest of the markers (all blue) are applied baton-style set on an elevated chapter ring that looks a bit like the seats of an amphitheatre. A large indentation in the ring, between 8 and 11 o’clock, has been carved to accommodate another reference to the pianist in the form of a piano keyboard, in turn doubling up as the power reserve indicator.
The interior of the small seconds counter bears the name of the opus that inspired the watch and the year 1831. Behind the counter, a rim of bright red carnelian stone peeks out, a reference to the (bloody) November Uprising and Chopin’s heart safely tucked away in a pillar at the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw.
The red heart in the movement
Having an openwork dial means limited surface areas but since Chopin (brand) wanted to include more allusions to the artist’s life, the caseback and movement provide another canvas. The 96-hour power reserve generated by the two barrels is a direct reference to the 96th anniversary of Chopin’s death when his heart was buried in the church.
The uppermost barrel is engraved with one of Chopin’s adages “Time is the best censor and patience the most perfect of teachers”, while the lower barrel features seven key dates in his short life. The hand-bevelled bridges are engraved with extracts from Chopin’s manuscripts giving voice to his frustrations following the failure of the Uprising, and the heart of the watch, the balance wheel, is a deep red colour. Making a red balance wheel was a challenge for Schwarz Etienne’s watchmakers but will become the distinguishing feature of future Chopin brand watches.
The manual-winding movement – Schwarz Etienne calibre MSE 210 – features the brand’s in-house balance wheel and hairspring (without the SE initials). Based on the MSE 100.00 calibre, the first movement and cornerstone of Schwarz Etienne’s modular movement concept, it features two barrels in parallel to ensure a power reserve of 96 hours and beats at a frequency of 3 Hz.
Availability and Price
As mentioned, the Chopin Op. 10 No.12 timepiece is a limited edition of 56 pieces and will be available to buy online via a dedicated website: www.chopinwatches.com. The watch will retail for CHF 14,500 or EUR 12,750.