The Collector’s Series – Gavin Foo and his more-than-special Cabestan Luna Nera

He’s a father, part of the Deployant.com team and collector. An interesting fact about Gavin Foo (that he happened to mention before our interview), is that despite his best efforts, he still can’t seem to complete level 53 of Metal Gear Solid V… Good to know… Oh, and in his collection, he happens to own the mind-blowingly cool Cabestan Luna Nera.

So for those of you new to Cabestan let’s start from the beginning. It is an independent Swiss watch manufacture nestled in the heart of the Jura Mountains, in the cradle of watchmaking, the Vallée de Joux. Since 2003, Cabestan have been developing stunning timepieces with a focus on their vertical oriented movement.

The Luna Nera was created in 2013 and is limited to a series of 135 timepieces. It is the result of Eric Coudray’s (master-watchmaker) imagination. He has managed to achieve what very few watchmakers have ever been able to achieve. He has combined by the vertical capstan wheels, chain and fuse, with a glorious moon phase in 3-dimensions. As you will see in the images below, the sapphire crystal acts as a looking glass to observe the mechanism of the watch and more particularly the 3D moon, as astronomers do from their observatories.

Cabestan Luna Nera Collectors series Gavin Foo - 2

The Luna Nera is composed of a manually wound movement. A caliber CAB EC 102L, with 46 rubies to be precise. The mechanism indicates the hours, minutes, seconds and power reserve by drums. The time is semi-jumping for easier reading, and the moon phase, meanwhile, is at the centre of the movement and is represented by a sphere of 7.40 mm diameter. The torque is transmitted from the drum barrel to the fuse via a chain. This concept allows a constant torque transmission throughout the power reserve (72 hours), ensuring greater accuracy in the measurement of time. The regulating component is composed of a tourbillon with a spring balance which has a frequency of 3Hz making one rotation per minute. The balance spring has a Breguet terminal curve with a Geneva stud. An end plate uniformly distributes the curve of the spring.

The winding and time-setting are manually adjusted by two distinct crowns, a third one allows the setting of the moon. Enough of the technicalities, let’s find out how this unique independent watchmaker came to the attention of Gavin Foo.

When did you get into watches Gavin?

I’ve always liked watches. I remember when my grandfather would sit me on his lap, smoke his pipe, and wind this Eterna-Matic he always wore. But it was a superficial understanding of watches I had then – that it looked good, and that it portrayed a sense of status and style. It was only when a friend – an avid watch collector I met at a social event – introduced me to independent watches that the more intrinsic and meaningful values in horology started to stir in me. Of course I was really much more interested in the lady with the pink butterfly brooch seated next to him, but the courteous thing to do was to first complement him on his watch, then strike a conversation with the former.

Cabestan Luna Nera Collectors series Gavin Foo - 4

What drew you to Cabestan as a manufacturer?

Acquiring a Cabestan, I would say, represents a certain maturity in my collecting journey. Like most, I started with the ‘big’ brands – Omega, Rolex, and the like. My very first independent watch was an MB&F Horological Machine 3. It was a watch that was quite simply, out-of-this-world both then and now. Then came many more HMs and one LM (Legacy Machine), a De Bethune DB28 Aiguille d’Or, Mosers, Urwerks, and even a Romain Gauthier – all in the space of 24 months. This rapid exposure to the universe of available independent brands, watchmakers, and even trips to manufactures and major tradeshows like SIHH & BaselWorld taught me a lot about what goes into every single watch – the dreams and foresight of a founder; the inspiration of the designer; the intricacies of how a project is put together – for better or worse slowly revealing for better or worse the realities of the watch industry both for the little guy, the independent ‘rebels’, and the big brands. This exposure – coupled with a fast-growing and close-knit independent collector community in Singapore – allowed for a true ‘360 degree’ envelop of horology. It’s like a Jedi padawan being surrounded by not just one, but dozens of Jedi masters training, coaching, teaching, sharing on a regular basis while Galactus, Thanos and other Titans visit once in a while and have lunch with you to talk watches.

Cabestan Luna Nera Collectors series Gavin Foo - 5

Do you tend to favour independent watchmakers?

One of the most important lessons that I learnt was that the manufacture of watches and their movements differ vastly even if it doesn’t appear to be in brochures. Very few independent brands can have integrated manufacturing capabilities like Lange, due to the expense necessary to setup or even upkeep such operations. Even fewer are those that go the way of Philippe Dufour or Roger Smith – making as much as possible the entirety of the watch in-house and even by hand, much less hand-finished. Some like Max focus on inspiration and dreamscapes while subcontracting design, movements, casework and finishing to specialists like Giroud, Mojon, GP and Kari – resulting in mechanical masterpieces which I have once remarked as the ‘Rolex’ of independents – impeccable casework, inspiring design, totally reliable movements. Nevertheless, supporting independents are like supporting artists – your purchase doesn’t go towards enriching a board of directors and countless of public shareholders; your purchase goes to fund the next watch.

What attracted you to the Luna Nera over other references from the Cabestan?

Imagine a watch of over a thousand parts some smaller than a human hair; a vertical tourbillon; a fusee-and-chain constant force power train; a small sphere of solid gold representing the moon in 3D – interacting with a series of minute gears and levers manipulating gold rollers that tell time in jump hours, minutes and seconds. Now imagine that each of these 1000-plus parts is milled and hand-finished in-house – even the case is cut from a block of gold via their own CNC machine – and that each watch is made by a single watchmaker from start to finish. (only the sapphire, some screws, springs and strap is outsourced). At the manufacture, I literally saw bales of raw maillechort tubes getting sliced while a hardworking CNC and electrospark machines were cutting these slices into German silver baseplates. Imagine a Lange facility just much messier and then some – it’s like Yoda’s messy cave: everything you need to be a good Jedi but nowhere as pretty as Palpatine’s digs in the Capital.

Now couple this with the fact that a Cabestan isn’t a watch put together by focus groups or an R&D board helmed by a suit. Cabestan’s DNA stems from the crazy inclinations of one of the living ‘gods of horology’ Vianney Halter and designer Jean-Francois Ruchonnet in what must have been an alcohol-induced wet dream. It must have been some dream because the first watches out of the door by the duo didn’t work. And it took another crazy genius (another living ‘god of horology’) Eric Coudray (aka ‘Fat Jesus’) – the inventor of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s groundbreaking gyrotourbillon – to finally make it work.

This gathering of horological genius is best represented by my Cabestan – the Luna Nera. Every single component is out in the open, protected only by a single curved sapphire glass (which by the way is still finished by hand even though it is outsourced). Every anglage, perlage, ribbing, brushed or mirror polished surface – displayed with pride in a symphony of light and shadows depending on the time of day. The multiple layering of the movement provides for a sense of dimension and depth that I have never come across in any other watch – you can stare at it for hours and get lost in those depths. The 4N gold case I chose contrasts perfectly with the 5N gold rollers – a yellow on rose gold interplay – and lends an even more steampunk-modern feel to the watch.

Cabestan Luna Nera Collectors series Gavin Foo - 1

But apart from the looks is performance. Because of the vertical tourbillon coupled with the constant force provided by the fusee-and-chain, each Cabestan is rated accurate to +- 1 to 2 seconds a day, making it even more accurate than a quartz in some cases. Winding is buttery smooth via an integrated winch-and-handles system, and the jumping hours mechanism is deadset to flip every 00.

Is the Cabestan a keeper?

The Cabestan is a lifelong keeper. It is the embodiment of my maturity as a watch collector. At these price points, I am no longer content with watches that have inspirational design, but largely outsourced. It must be hand-finished in-house, if not mostly hand-made in-house – and in-house meaning literally ‘made within the confines of the manufacture’ not some loose term used to describe ‘time-exclusive reserved movements by an outsourced ebauche maker’. The movement should be designed from ground up. It should be kissed by a ‘god of horology’. And of course, it must look awesome. (for those that know me, it MUST be available in rose or yellow gold).

What would be your advice to aspiring collectors?

My humble advice for independent watch collectors? Start out with an MB&F – they are exceptional works of collaborative art that are well priced. I call them the ‘Rolexes’ of the independent world – good value, good resale, impeccable casework, awe-inspiring designs that impress. Then, as you learn and experience more in the world of haute horlogerie, you will invariably look for watches that are largely hand-made and hand-finished, and done in-house – not just a marketing term more and more brands are using loosely, but literally and physically in-house. And of course, the fact that a horological grandmaster worked on your watch helps.

Like a friend once commented: “If Richard Mille created what you’re wearing and slapped their brand on it, it’ll cost millions” ‘Fat Jesus’ rules!

6 responses

  1. Fun review (!), even though I don’t share his taste. I admire MB&F but as with Cabestan, their creations don’t all wear nicely. Watches ought not to merely be miniature miracles that you can slap a strap on, but little wonders that look good to wear too. This Luna Nera would ruin a good suit… There has to be a balance; there are independents that look wonderful whatever it is you’re wearing (and I am not thinking Roger Smith watches, which are rather dull from a design point of view). What is more, MB&F is becoming the corporate independent alternative: too common…

  2. Thanks Oktori, I hope you liked reading it! Yup, most of the watches in my collection are large, funky looking stuff that you’ve rightly put will never fit under a standard cuff. I think i looks great with a suit not in a traditional sense, but the juxtaposition of a spunky alien chunk of gold with the traditional lines of a standard suit – makes for great conversation starters at any corporate or off-work event. However, I’ve also learned that having 6-pack abs (instead of my current 1 pack) would probably help as much at picking up the fairer sex. Oh well…

  3. Ha ha! You sound like a lot of fun to hang out with; I am sure the fairer sex will notice that (and your watches) too. 😉

  4. The moon appears in most of the pictures to be half in half out of the sapphire crystal. I exist at a much lower level of collecting but I share your fascination with the “mechanics” of a watch. The perfect minature engines in these watches can keep us entertained for hours. Thank you for sharing your precious wonders with us.

  5. Wonderful writing and shared insights. Crazy watch and concept but i love it. This helps me develop and trigger my search for more Original, mechanical watches. Fusee and chain are gorgious, and functional, and historic relevent, everythung you want in a watch in a `modern ` lay out. Never mind wearability, thats long behind us, praise the achievement and the people who buy and share these Independents !
    Looking forward for more.

Leave a Reply