John McGonigle is a name that will immediately sound familiar to some of the most seasoned watch collectors. After a career in high-end watchmaking, working for some of the most prestigious watch manufactures, creating some of the finest grande complications, it was time for the Irishman to return home. John didn’t leave horology though, and he’s now presenting his latest project – Oileán Watches – and the inaugural model, the H-B1 Chronograph, a high-end modern watch based on a fully reworked vintage Valjoux movement.
Oileán is Gaelic for “island”, and in a single word, it symbolises John’s comeback to his roots. But not only his comeback to his beloved Ireland, but also a comeback to independent watchmaking and the art of finissage. To do that, John has created his new brand and now presents the first watch in the collection, a modern design chronograph with triple calendar and moon phase, powered by one of the most important movements of the 20th century, a Valjoux 88 – which has been drastically reworked and entirely redecorated.
Visually speaking, the H-B1 Chronograph Triple Calendar mixes classic elements of watches powered by this historical movement – the display is very traditional – with a contemporary approach to design. No vintage inspiration here for the case or dial. The case is a classic 40mm diameter and 14.20mm height and is executed in grade 5 titanium with polished, brushed and matte surfaces – especially the recessed areas on the side of the lugs, a nice touch that is quite difficult to achieve. Elegant rectangular pushers are found on the side.
This modern feel continues dial-side, with a smoked sapphire base, revealing some of the calendar parts, including the weekday and month wheels and levers and wheels for the moon and the date. The dial plays on black and silver tones, with a black hour chapter ring and a silver date flange. The same colour scheme is applied to the chronograph sub-counters. Touches of colour are provided by the gold-plated movement plate and the well-executed hand in blued steel. The main hands (hours and minutes) are rhodium-plated with luminescent tips.
The pièce de résistance in the Oileán Watches H-B1 Chronograph is its movement, based on a vintage Valjoux 88 ébauche. But as you’d expect from John McGonigle, the movement isn’t simply ‘encased’ but has been intensely reworked. It is treated the same way as John used to treat minute repeater or tourbillon watches, with all the parts decorated by hand and multiple parts have been recrafted to give the movement more reliability and more ‘smoothness’.
As John explained to us: “All functions are polished to reduce friction. The result of this is that the springs end up being thicker than they need to be, so I thin them to end up with a more appropriate force. The movement ends up being more efficient and the functions smoother and lighter to use. All the bridges and steelwork are bevelled and polished by hand. The steelwork is straight-grained with a shellac stone and all screws are bevelled and polished on a tin block with diamond paste.”
“I’ve also made various components out of steel, where they had been originally made out of copper-beryllium or brass. I did this both for the longevity of the components and in order to give a higher level of finish with polished and bevelled steel components. I’ve also made a couple of bridges to give the HB-1 its own identity.”
The result is a superbly finished movement, with plates and bridges available with either gold or rhodium plating. And there’s the look itself of the Valjoux movement, with its attractive column wheel/horizontal clutch architecture.
Price and availability
The Oileán Watches H-B1 Chronograph will be limited in production to eight pieces a year – due to the time-consuming decoration process and the low availability of movements. It can be ordered directly from the brand on this page. It is priced at EUR 23,500 (excl. taxes).
More details at www.oilean.watch.