Today, for another instalment of The Collector’s Series, we leave the stage to one of the finest watch enthusiasts we have encountered, a man with an impressive knowledge of independent watchmaking and, important in this column, a real strategy when it comes to collecting watches. @Watch_Time_It_Is presents a very unusual yet fascinating timepiece, made by an equally fascinating watchmaker, Planetarium Millennium watch by Christiaan van der Klaauw – a watch that brings the solar system to your wrist.
How did you come to choose a watch from Christiaan van der Klaauw?
Time exists both independently and fully because of our inventions to measure it. Astrological time (years, days) has existed before and will exist after humanity, but the ways we measure and apply our constructs (seconds, hours, weeks, months, etc.) allows for alignment across individuals and geographies. Christiaan van der Klaauw brings these two aspects together in ways other watchmakers do not.
With astrological elements such as horizon lines, moon phases, true noon, tides, and constellations, in addition to hours, minutes, seconds, date and months, he reminded us how small we are in the universe and yet how myopic we can be. He transports us into the isolation and quiet of space, away from the crowded noise of individual(s) time.
My collection criteria include iconic watches from watchmakers, not watch brands. Christiaan is such a watchmaker. While he no longer leads the firm that bears his name, he remains an important figure in the independent watchmaking world.
So, I was on the lookout for a piece made during his time at the firm, and preferably early enough that he may have worked on the piece himself.
And why this particular watch?
The Planetarium Millennium was the first watch to bring the solar system (six of the planets at least) to a wristwatch. It is an advancement and complication that must be considered iconic. While there are modern and new pieces with the planetarium module (including a stunning if not overly jewelled one from CVDK and Van Cleef & Arpels) these are from the brand, not the man as Christiaan turned over leadership of the firm in 2009.
In addition, this piece was made in the early 2000s increasing the likelihood that Christiaan himself may have been hands-on in making it. It is such an early piece it has a Glashütte Original movement which – while I would prefer an “in-house” movement – was strong enough for the planetarium needs.
I like the inclusion of the month and date. It helps balance and transition from astrological time – some orbits measured in several earth decades – into individual time beyond hours, minutes and seconds. It grounds me to the ‘now’, to ‘today’ preventing me from drifting too much into space. There were a few other early Planetarium Millennium available including in platinum but the dial design, blue solar system, and contrasting gold case of this one spoke to me.
The first owner (whom I acquired it from) kept it in amazing condition with original papers, box, and winder. Some of the paperwork is signed by Christiaan himself, and while I cannot be certain, it is my hope that Christiaan was personally involved in making this piece. If he was (and happens to be reading this) it is my hope to meet him someday and have a picture of the watch and the watchmaker – as I have done with other independent watchmakers whose pieces I have the pleasure of collecting.
Is there anything else from Christiaan van der Klaauw that is on your wish list?
Not really. I feel this is the perfect piece for my collection. However, once I got the Rose Gold Planetarium Millennium, the platinum version started to take a different feel. More dress, a little more understated. Not sure I “need it”, but if the right deal came along, I might take it.
I would welcome a “complete” solar system version that adds the missing ice giants Uranus and Neptune. However, with orbits of 84 and 164 years, it is understandable why they do not appear. In perspective – since the first pendulum clock in 1656, Neptune has orbited the sun only 2.3 times.
What is it in his work that you admire so much?
For me, it is hard not to admire the ability to construct a mechanical device capable of measuring time accurately – even simple time. But to conceptualize, engineer, design, assemble and convert astrological movement into mechanical time at the scale to be worn on the wrist – that must be admired.
Many – even the most gifted at their craft – simply apply the legacy of mechanical time measurement techniques and do not contribute to the science. While I believe there are planetary clocks, I feel Christiaan’s contributions are noteworthy.
Finally, there is a concept known as the Principle of the Dangerous Precedent that states (in part) that: “Every public action which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.” Christiaan was the first man in space (for wristwatches at least) and this certainly set precedence. His “one small step for man” was one giant leap for watch collectors.
What is your advice for anyone in the market for a Christiaan van der Klaauw?
- Decide if you are looking for a new or early model. New are easier to find and continue the astrological journey Christiaan started.
- If you are looking for earlier models, there are a few well-informed collectors and dealers in the Netherlands with long histories and connections who can help.
- Be ready to keep the watch on a good winder – resetting the solar system if the watch stops is a big undertaking as you’d imagine. (I have not needed to do that yet).