Here at Monochrome we love watches. All sorts of watches. Big, small, elegant, rugged, divers, chrono’s, tourbillons, you name it. Each and every one of us has certain preferences though, and of course, all of us have grail watches. Our contributor Robin had the chance to extensively review one of his grails, the platinum Ludovic Ballouard Upside Down in blue, and here’s the full rundown.
If you recall the article we wrote on the Girard Perregaux 1966 blue dial then you’ll know our definition of a dress watch. Simple, discreet, elegant and thin enough to fit under a cuff. While the GP 1966 does exactly that and a little more, there is also a category for wristwatches that fit the “dress” description but also do a whole lot more. The Ludovic Ballouard Upside Down looks deceptively simple and elegant, is discreet enough and fits under a cuff: so far, ticking all the right boxes. Its additional element of drama comes from an unusual display of the hours and a highly complicated movement.
Ludovic Ballouard, born a Frenchman with a Dutch mother, is now based in Switzerland. As an independent watchmaker, he creates truly unique watches, but with a very subtle look. At first glance, it is tricky to see just what sets this watch apart from others, as you have no clear indication of the technically complex movements this man is capable to create.
The Upside Down is the very first model from Ludovic Ballouard, who strives to introduce a new model every two years. With a background at Franck Muller and F.P Journe, working on Sonneries and other complications, he released the Upside Down in 2009. This was followed by the Halftime (coverage here and here) in 2011, which split hour markings on rotating discs. The theme of Ludovic’s watches becomes apparent if you look at the incredible Opus XIII, a collaboration between Harry Winston and Ludovic Ballouard, and can best be described as “instant power mechanisms”. Movements focused on harnessing and storing power which can then be released in one single moment to indicate a time.
The platinum case looks sleek and refined. The warm “glow” of the case is quite appealing to the eye and touch. Using blue for both the strap and for the dial means that the Upside Down goes with just about any outfit you add it to. True, this piece will not really make sense with a speedo and flip-flops but I doubt its owners would be that rebellious when wearing a watch like this.
As mentioned before, the deceptively uncluttered and uncomplicated-looking case and dial grab only a little attention at first. If people have no previous experience with platinum in watchmaking, inconspicuous complications or with this brand in general, you are not likely to get a lot of remarks. Even when you step into a boardroom with multiple watch aficionados, you will likely still receive only restrained attention, in keeping with the watch’s first impression. Restrained, that is, until you flip it over and start sharing its cleverly concealed beauty – but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Features (and display)
The Upside Down uses time indication with a jumping hour mechanism, a centrally mounted minutes hand and a small seconds indicator, positioned at 6 o’clock. The numerals for the hours are placed on twelve discs surrounding the titanium dial, partially tucked underneath the bezel. The fun part of this timepiece is that every hour there is 1 disc right side up corresponding with the hour of day, and the rest is turned upside down (hence the name). The part that is obscured by the bezel when upside down, reveals an indicator-dot while turned right side up. This helps the wearer in quickly finding the correct hour when checking time, and it becomes intuitive after a couple of days.
A very minor thing we encountered was when it was almost time to switch to a new hour, it becomes a bit distracting: when you look at the dial, and see the minute hand pointing upright, it could either be a just before or a just past the full hour – i.e., the hour marker has already jumped or is about to do so. Just a minor detail, and you do get the treat of watching a split-second jump of the discs if you happen to gaze down right between hours.
Case and Strap
There is more than just a platinum case that meets the eye when it comes to the Upside Down. The concave caseband, for instance, results in an upside-down image of whatever is reflected in it, a nice touch befitting the concept of the entire watch, and a playful little detail to share with people if you have the opportunity.
Measuring 41mm across, and 11mm in height, the Upside Down is perfectly sized as a dress watch. The non-screw down, platinum crown is protected by elegantly shaped crown guards. Time is set by pulling out the crown one step, then turning it, which moves the minute hand forward. At every whole hour two discs jump simultaneously, one jumping right side up, and the other upside down.
The Upside Down is fitted on a comfortable alligator strap, in a very dark blue color. The strap is long enough to fit on larger wrists (Robin’s measure 19 cm in circumference) and is lined with black leather. The buckle is a stylized B-shape, as in “Ballouard,” and is executed in platinum as well. Probably the best part about this buckle is that it doesn’t seem to dig into the strap as much as other pin buckles might tend to do, thus prolonging the lifespan of the strap.
How does it feel on the wrist?
The modesty sized (by today’s standards at least) case of 41mm combined with the slim profile of the case make this watch very wearable. The curvature of the lugs is spot-on, although a strong downward angle isn’t necessary due to the slim build of the watch. The smooth, leather-lined alligator strap feels very refined and also ensures a comfy fit.
Shirts with double cuffs are no problem with the Upside Down – it really could almost be an everyday watch. Despite the high complexity of the movement, this piece could visually blend in with more common (if quite fine) watches so that only the owner would be aware of its secret pedigree.
Of course there are occasions where a sportier watch would be more useable, but there are few settings wherein this very elegant, platinum watch would feel out of place. It certainly is a party-piece to explain to family and friends, co-workers or anyone with even the slightest interest in watches.
Inside the Upside Down ticks the LB01 in-house movement. The central snail-shell wheel transfers the power from the running gear of the movement by slowly pushing back the spring-loaded lever that cocks onto the toothed ring when the necessary amount of power has been accumulated.
On the full hour, the lever snaps back over the tip of the snail-shell wheel and pushes the inner ring forward one position. The inner ring, equipped with teeth that grab into the Maltese crosses that need to be turned, jumps forward and executes the rotation.
Just as with the running gear from the Halftime, Ludovic Ballouard uses the gear train, barrel and ratchet of the Peseux 7001, but the rest of the movement is developed in-house and finished to the highest level. The entire 35mm large movement is built-up with 228 parts, has 36 hours of power reserve and operates at a frequency of 21.600 bph.
On the dial side, it almost becomes an addiction to check it every single hour and see that “jump” in action while you’re wearing this watch. The jump isn’t as noticeable as it is in the Halftime, where you can really feel the movement of the discs; but if it is quiet enough, you can still hear the Upside Down jumping.
Conclusion – Pros and Cons
- Solidly meets all requirements to fit the general definition of a dress watch
- Inconspicuous complication (not at all gaudy)
- Excellent finishing of case and movement
- Unique approach to telling and displaying time
- A watch that can fly under the radar if needed
- Perhaps a bit TOO-inconspicuous complication (hardly noticeable at first sight)
- No anti-reflective coating on crystal
The Ludovic Ballouard Upside Down in blue is priced at CHF 55.000 before taxes. There are also several more versions available (for instance, one model boasts a mother of pearl marquetry dial in a rose gold case). For more information about Ludovic Ballouard and his creations, please check out his website.