In the small world of independent watchmaking, competition is tough. Not only do you have to compete with big names, such as Richard Mille, Greubel Forsey or MB&F, you also have to offer “that little something extra” that makes your creation extraordinary. Innovation in this realm of specialists can be found in a profusion of complications or in a strong design, like a new way to display time. In a two-part story we’re going to introduce two amazing timepieces from two brilliant and innovative watch brands: 4N and Cabastan. Today, in part 1, we’ll start with 4N.
When you think about reading the time, you will almost certainly imagine a round circle with three hands running on it – or four black numbers on a green screen if you lean digital and are still stuck in the 80’s. Of course some complications in Haute Horlogery – and even in common Horlogery – have been created to offer some new ways to read time: jumping hours displayed in a window, retrograde hands, rotating discs… (more watches with a different way to display time here.) During Belles Montres 2013, we had the chance to get up close and personal with two truly innovative watches. First one is the 4N-MVT01, a watch employing not fewer than 10 rotating discs to offer a really legible time display.
4N was born in François Quentin’s mind with an elegant idea that he defines as “a simple digital display powered by a mechanical engine.” 4N is not a first for François Quentin. As the co-founder of Hautlence, he had already designed complicated timepieces with innovative mechanics and a different way to display time. When you talk about jumping hours, most of the time, the movement uses a single disc for the hours, and one for the minutes. The goal of 4N (4N refers to 4 NUMBERS) is to display time by revealing the highest legibility possible. The numbers are large, centered on the dial and emphasized with a sort of screen.
Here, the time is indicated with 10 rotating discs: 5 for minutes on the right side, 1 for the tens in the centre and 4 for the hours on the left side. These subgroups of discs are kept in a caged structure and the whole system is moving on itself, meaning that not only are the discs turning, but also the cages. Hard to describe in words, the ballet performed before our eyes is astonishing (to see it for yourself, please watch the video). Not only is the show amazing to look at, but it’s also properly functional, as the time comes up right in front of your eyes. The path to simplicity is not easy in Haute Horlogery. We’ve seen so many complicated watches with unreadable dials. Here the dial is clear but at the same time shows a high degree of complication.
To achieve such a display, François Quentin teamed up with APRP (Audemars Piguet – Renaud & Papi) to develop the movement. Besides all the issues brought to bear in the discs’ implementation, the biggest question was how to control the energy. The device uses a system of jumps by constant force to minimize the energy required to run it. The double main spring barrel delivers 10 days of power reserve – impressive, especially considering the degree of complication. The 4N-MVT01 uses what Giulio Papi calls a “mechanical transistor,” meaning a spiral spring, which gets loaded during a minute or an hour (depending on the cage) and then released to make the cage turn a quarter/fifth of a revolution. A combination of gears under the cage drives the rest of the discs to make them turn.
The back of the movement shouldn’t be overlooked, with its very nice hand finishing, polished bevelled edges, re-entrant angles and furthermore a very nice arrangement of the elements. On the dial, we can observe 2 bridges, also hand finished and bevelled. However, the dial is not carbon-fibre as you might imagine, but a crossed “Côtes de Genève” that gives the front of the watch a modern and distinctive look – once again an imperative with regard to Haute Horlogery for 4N. The whole design of the watch is strong and unique. Last thing to say about this timepiece: you can switch the straps by only pressing two buttons on each side. 4N consistently pursues simplicity, and yet its entire concept is wholly clever.
The 4N-MVT01 will be available in 16 pieces, in titanium, rose gold, white gold or platinum. The first you’ve seen here (titanium DLC) is a prototype and will also be available in a limited edition of 16 pieces. Retail price is from € 168.000 Euro ($230,000 USD) in titanium to € 242.000 Euro ($330,000 USD) in platinum. This watch is a really impressive first model for 4N but certainly not the last. François Quentin is actually working closely with APRP on two new models, always built around digital display.
Thanks to François Quentin for his time and explanations on the 4N-MVT01. More information on the 4N website.