Time suspended. Named after the French word for acrobatics, the Manufacture Royale 1770 Voltige puts the light on the beating heart of the watch – the escapement and the balance wheel – unusually placed on top of the dial, as if floating poetically over it. This hypnotic piece to be worn on the wrist is nonconformist and offers a captivating view on the steady cadence of its mechanics. Here are our thoughts after wearing the Manufacture Royale 1770 Voltige for a few days.
The story of the name Manufacture Royale starts with a war known as the ‘watchmakers war’. In 1685, the revocation of the edict of Nantes by French King Louis XIV entailed many protestants to emigrate, causing a sudden influx of population in Geneva. In the following years, restrictions on the economic rights of the “natifs” – inhabitants of foreign descent established in Geneva – were promulgated. Enlightenment writer and philosopher Voltaire, who always denounced injustices, took actively part in the conflict between the citizens and the “natifs”. He encouraged the underprivileged “natifs” to establish outside Geneva where the “Manufacture Royale des Montres de Ferney” was set up in 1770, with a number of workers soon growing to a few hundreds. In Geneva, the exile of these cabinotiers (craftsmen of the watch industry) was weakening the industry… in 1792, following the French revolution and with civil changes in Geneva, political equality was finally adopted.
In 2010, Manufacture Royale was reborn with the aim to pursue this heritage, to revive the spirit that lead to the creation of the Manufacture Royale, at the time of Voltaire: enlightenment. Back in the 18th century, the famous and influential watchmaker Jean-Antoine Lépine collaborated with the Manufacture Royale, living in Ferney for some time. Among numerous important inventions, Lépine is known for radically modifying the architecture of the movement. The usual practice was to hold movement parts between two plates while the balance wheel was mounted outside the top plate. Lépine exchanged the two plate arrangement, with a single plate onto which the moving parts were fixed with bridges, giving birth to what is today the traditional design for mechanical movements… but the 1770 Voltige, we are reviewing here is nonconformist and brings back the balance wheel onto its plate.
Horological gallows pole: the unusual circular cock and balance of the 1770 Voltige shot before assembly in the brand’s manufacturing facilities in Vallorbe. The aluminium balance was blued for a limited edition. Lower on the support, the blackened brand cartouche and skeleton sword-shaped hands of this limited edition.
The heart of the Manufacture Royale 1770 Voltige beats above its dial. The watch, and its MR05 movement, were built around the concept of putting the oscillator and escapement centre stage. The motion of the anchor and escape wheel, traditionally hidden, is really eye-catching. The balance is simple but large and beats at 21’600 vibrations per hours (3Hz) – slow enough to enjoy its motion. Its rim is super-thin and it is manufactured in aluminium for lighter weight and maximum diameter. It floats above the dial, held by a semi-circular bridge that slowly rises to its high point. The idea of volume and three-dimensionality is highly architectural and visually aerial.
A watchmaking lesson on the wrist. Upclose with the Manufacture Royale 1770 Voltige – Slow motion
The dial of the Manufacture Royale 1770 Voltige comes in metallic red or anthracite grey, with satin sunray finish or opalin white. It has been swept free to leave space for the escapement and oscillator, a cartouche bearing the brand’s name and a small second subdial at 6 o’clock. In its centre, the sword-shaped skeleton hands seem in levitation high above these elements.
Case and movement
The generous 45mm 1770 Voltige case, in stainless steel, wears well and fits comfortably around the wrist. Like other Manufacture Royale cases, it is held with screws in between two brancards hugging the sides of the case to form the lugs. Its transparent back reveals the large movement with automatic winding. It displays hours, minutes and small seconds. The openwork on the rotor allow to see the Geneva Stripes decoration on the bridges, which are also decorated with polished bevelled angles. The MR05 calibre and the vast majority of its components (the hairspring is outsourced) are manufactured in Vallorbe, where the brand is headquartered. The production facilities are rather impressive, gathering under the same roof an important machine park and different skills.
Strap and buckle
The watch we had for a review comes with a large scale black alligator strap and pin steel buckle. The red matching stitching and alligator lining add a further touch.
The visible escapement and regulating organ of the Manufacture Royale 1770 Voltige has indeed a captivating effect on the wrist. Its clean and aerial design contributes to make it unusual. Retail price is 27,000 Swiss Francs. For more watches from Manufacture Royale with their heart laid bare, the 1770 Haute Voltige, an evolution of the model featuring a second time zone was presented at Baselworld 2016.
Specifications of the Manufacture Royale 1770 Voltige
- Case: 45mm diameter x 13.8mm height – stainless steel – sapphire crystal on front and back – 30m water resistant
- Movement: MR05 caliber, in-house – automatic – 40h power reserve – 21,600 vibrations/h – hours, minutes, small second, inverted suspended balance wheel and escapement
- Strap: alligator leather strap with pink buckle
- Swiss retail price: 27,000 CHF