Incredible things can materialise when you combine the creative aspirations of a wealthy Singaporean vintage watch collector and the talents of an Italian master clockmaker. One of Benjamin Chee’s three watchmaking brands is the high-end Benjamin Chee Haute Horlogerie (BCHH), responsible for the beautiful Celestial Voyager made with Svend Andersen. Chee’s latest fantasy transcends mundane preoccupations and reaches genuinely galactic proportions. Conceived and handcrafted by Italian master clockmaker Alessandro Rigotto, the BCHH Celestial Infinity is a two-faced table clock: one dial hosts the hours and minutes with a pendulum-driven clock, while the second dial displays a stunning planetarium complete with a diamond-studded constellation that happens to be the largest rotating star disc in the clock-making world.
Three brands, one man
Benjamin Chee, the reputed Singaporean vintage watch collector with deep pockets is the man behind three different watch brands. Chee’s appetite for fine watches has resulted in the foundation of three brands with three very different proposals. Celadon, founded in 2012, is the Chinese arm of Chee’s three brands. Milléchron, founded in 2018, has a mix of Art Deco-inspired models and dressy sports watches, and Benjamin Chee Haute Horlogerie (BCHH), his flagship brand founded in 2019 and based in Switzerland is home to models like the stunning BCHH x Andersen Genève Celestial Voyager with a cloisonné enamel dial released in 2021.
In this video filmed by our friends at Watches TV, Alessandro Rigotto explains how his mechanical engineering background eventually led him to embrace watchmaking. Having taken courses at the British Horological Institute and studied George Daniels’ texts inside out, AHCI master clockmaker Rigotto set up a workshop in Milan to make desk and wall clocks. With a keen eye for contemporary furniture design and a taste for minimalism, Rigotto’s clocks hide nothing. Given the more generous dimensions afforded by table or wall clocks, all the essential parts of the movement are displayed in incredible detail. For the BCHH Celestial Infinity commission, Rigotto developed and produced the base movement and the astronomical complication entirely in-house.
The Celestial Infinity is housed in two structures that look very much like jet engines, conical structures that are wider at the front and taper towards the back, supported on a wing-shaped base lacquered in shades of blue and aluminium. The asymmetric design weighs a hefty 26kg and is 68cm long, 57.5cm high and 52cm deep.
Made of wood, the twin turbine jet engines are upholstered with plum-blue leather on the exterior and black Alcantara on the interior to absorb the tic-tok sound of the movement. The larger module on the left is home to the hours and minutes, and crystal plates at both ends contribute to the sensation that it is suspended in mid-air.
The 10-day mechanical spring-driven pendulum clock has an invar pendulum on the left, a compensation tube and a Graham deadbeat escapement. As Rigotto explains in the video, the hour and minute hands are independent. Equipped with an epicyclic gear (planetary gearing) train invented by William Strutt in the 1800s, the motion work is based on the Ferguson mechanical paradox, which “avoids the need for a 12 to 1 gear train between the hour and minute hand“. Beating at a sedate pace of 8,180vph, the power reserve of the Celestial Infinity clock is a full ten days. Fitted with an innovative locking system, the winding nest can be accessed from the reverse side of the movement.
The second, smaller dial has a diameter of 30.8cm and hosts the astronomical complication performing a complete rotation in 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds (sidereal day). Representing the constellations in Milan’s night sky, the stars and constellations are engraved into the anodised base and then filled with navy blue enamel before being set with 455 high-quality diamonds of different calibres (total of 8.03 cts). As BCHH points out, this celestial diamond sky is the largest rotating star disc in the clock-making world.
Made in Italy
It’s fair to say that the Celestial Infinity might have been conceived by Chee, but it is 100% Made in Italy. From its wooden casing that is joined and polished by hand to the leather covering with no visible stitches undertaken by an Italian pellaio (leather worker), or from the mirror-polishing of all the handmade and hand-finished components to the in-house astronomical complication, you get a real feel for the Italian handiwork involved.
The Sky is the Limit
The Celestial Infinity is a limited edition of five pieces, and customers have a wide range of customisation possibilities. These include a bespoke planetarium, different colour leather on the wooden case, a choice of palladium, 24k rose or yellow gold or DLC plating for the case, different colours for the hour and minute hands, personalised engravings, etc.
Currently a nominee in the Mechanical Clock section of the upcoming GPGH Awards 2022, the price posted on the GPHG website for the BCHH Celestial Infinity is CHF 148,800. For more information, please consult bchh.ch.