After we relaunched The Collector’s Series last week, with Brice interviewing myself about my lovely old Daniel Roth Small Seconds with salmon-colour dial, we reached out to a few collectors. What I have always liked so much about this series is to find out more about the motivation of why people buy a particular watch. We spend a (more often than not) serious budget on something that tells time, but more importantly, gives pleasure. And I love to tap into that and find out what drives a collector to make his/her choice; what’s the ‘rationale’ behind a choice. Today we’re proud to feature someone with a remarkably good Instagram name, namely @WineWhiskyWatches, and we’re talking about his Armin Strom Mirrored Force Resonance with a beautiful guilloche dial by Kari Voutilainen.
WineWhiskyWatches (the gentleman remains anonymous for privacy/safety reasons) has a pretty pleasant collection, comprising much more than the ‘usual suspects’ like Patek and Rolex. WineWhiskyWatches will tell us what he likes so much about the Mirrored Force Resonance, about the brand Armin Strom, about collecting watches and what’s on his wish list… If you want to tell your story about a particular watch in your collection then don’t hesitate and get in touch (see contact form here.)
Frank Geelen – Why an Armin Strom?
@WineWhiskyWatches – I’ve never been one to be swayed by marketing. As someone with a history of innovation myself, albeit in an entirely different field, I always hope to recognize meaningful innovation when I see it. When I saw the watch that you’re interviewing me about today, and then I understood it, I was hooked. I was also intrigued. The Armin Strom brand, the one that I was vaguely familiar with, should never have been able to produce a watch like this. So I wanted to know more. What I soon realized is that today’s Armin Strom is a somewhat misunderstood independent brand – one that bears very little resemblance to the company that was sold in 2006. They produce a much, much higher class of watch than what the brand was known for prior to that sale. I found their transformation story to be an interesting one – and it’s become part of the “lore” around my own watch.
For nearly 40 years, watchmaking at Armin Strom was focused almost exclusively on skeletonization, movement finishing and movement decoration. They were exceptional craftsmen, but they weren’t exceptional watchmakers. Their particular set of skills, however, was exactly what Serge Michel and Claude Greisler, the current owners of Armin Strom, really needed to accomplish their objectives. As I understand it, when Serge and Claude set out to establish their own independent watch company, they were understandably confident that Claude’s design talents and his background as a movement designer for Christophe Claret would provide them with all of the engineering heft that they’d need to succeed. But they wisely also recognized that the movement finishing bar had risen over the years – and also that the development of world-class movement finishing competencies would be one of their biggest challenges.
When Armin Strom, the man, was ready to retire, Serge and Claude recognized the opportunity to acquire a top-tier movement-finishing team and skill set that other new independents had been so challenged to develop. Blessed with access to capital, they saw more opportunity in the 2008 financial crisis when they were able to acquire hard-to-find equipment for pennies on the dollar – or “rappen on the Swiss franc” to be more accurate. Within two years of that 2006 sale, Serge and Claude had established a full-scale vertical Manufacture that now designs, builds and decorates their own in-house movements. Their high level of vertical integration gives Claude the freedom to design his movements without limiting his vision based on what outside suppliers can provide. The realization of an uncompromised vision is a rare thing – and it’s one of the main reasons that we value independent watchmaking as much as we do.
That’s all to say that, aside from maintaining the original brand DNA of making movements visible and decorating them at every stage of their production, today’s Armin Strom bears very little resemblance to the company that changed hands in 2006. One of the best proof points for that perspective, of course, is the watch that you’re interviewing me about today: my Armin Strom Mirrored Force Resonance.
That’s a great segue to my next question. Why an Armin Strom Resonance?
I have a long-standing appreciation for Resonance watches. I also happen to own a second-generation F.P. Journe Resonance, so I was familiar with the resonance phenomenon – and the chronometric stability that it can provide. It’s clear to me that what resonance watches do best is to eliminate the variations in balance wheel beat rates that result from the ever-changing positions of the human wrist. They leverage the resonance phenomenon to synchronize two balance wheels in a single watch and get them to operate “in a state of sympathy.” That allows them to maintain a common and constant oscillation frequency in the context of the constantly-shifting positions of the human wrist. By virtue of having to deliver a consistently stable beat rate in all positions, it’s easy to view resonance watches as being the world’s only true “wrist” watches.
That said, the really intriguing part for me about the Armin Strom resonance watch is that it works on a completely different principle than the Journe does; one that’s based on the theories of Christiaan Huygens instead of Breguet. It’s interesting to me to see Instagrammers argue that the Breguet approach is the original and only valid method of achieving resonance in a wristwatch, when in fact Christiaan Huygens died 52 years before Breguet was even born. For those who don’t know, Huygens was the inventor of the pendulum clock in 1656. He’s also credited as having been the world’s first theoretical physicist and the originator of mathematical physics – so his accomplishments as a watchmaker are only one aspect of his legacy (see Wikipedia here.) The Huygens approach to resonance, which Armin Strom relies on, is based on his experiment in 1665 to demonstrate how two pendulum clocks, when hung from the same wooden structure, will always oscillate in a state of resonance based on the vibrations transmitted via the wood.
In contrast, the Breguet approach – as manifested in the Journe – relies on sonic resonance and a precise positioning of the two balance wheels without a vibrational intermediary. As a result, its operation can appear almost magical. The Armin Strom method, on the other hand, had a different target in mind than the Journe did. Claude’s overarching goal was to create a superior alternative to the tourbillon both visually and operationally; one that could be “better” than the tourbillon at both counteracting the effects of gravity on the escapement – and one which would also be more captivating than an exposed dial-side tourbillon from a visual perspective. So Claude spent years attempting to leverage the experiments of Christiaan Huygens in order to develop a patented mechanical “clutch spring” as a vibrational synchronization regulator – a coupling whose movement could also produce the watch’s mesmerizing dial-side “pulsation” effect. I think that Claude succeeded brilliantly. The synchronized motion of the two balance wheels in combination with the hypnotic, rhythmic pulsation of Armin Strom’s resonance clutch spring, is authentically captivating. And that compelling visual benefit could only have been achieved based on the Huygens approach.
Armin Strom actually makes four distinctively different resonance watches. What led you to choose the Mirrored Force Resonance over their other models?
This will sound like a bad pun but the Mirrored Force Resonance is the one that really resonated with me. There were three reasons for that. First, it has this modern, industrial-looking aesthetic appeal with a beautifully finished open-worked dial that shows off the movement, more so than the other models – and I can see it in all it’s glory every time that I look at my wrist. Second, I prefer the sportier look of the Mirrored Force Resonance case over the slightly smaller and lower profile case of Armin Strom’s Pure Resonance. I have an oversized wrist so take that comment in context. Third, I absolutely love Kari Voutilainen’s dials. The Mirrored Force Resonance is the only one that could be fitted with the stunningly beautiful 12-sector hand guilloché “soleil” patterned dial that was produced by the incomparable Kari Voutilainen – and I think that it really complements the overall aesthetic of the watch that I chose.
How well do you think that your two resonance watches co-exist in your collection?
The two that I own are, from my perspective, fundamentally different from each other: in concept, appearance, dimensions, wrist presence, and of course the method by which they each achieve balance wheel resonance. One has a retro Art Deco vibe and is classic, thin and elegant with a pink gold case, whereas the other is steel, sporty, modern and very machine-like. They look and wear so differently that I don’t see why anyone would feel precluded from owning both. As anchor pieces, I feel like they actually complement each other.
What insights can you offer as an owner of an Armin Strom Mirrored Force Resonance?
Serge, Claude and the entire Armin Strom team have been incredible people to work with. They really care about doing their best for you – and about making sure that they exceed your expectations. In my case, I can’t imagine how they could have done anything better. Great people.
I recently posted an owner’s review with my top 10 insights about the watch. I noted:
- First, the Resonance effect is incredibly stable. The “flyback zero reset” hasn’t been used in the five months that I’ve owned the watch.
- Second, it’s super-comfortable on the wrist (even after an 18-hour day). The case design, weight and alligator Hornback strap (after a short break-in period) were obviously designed for comfort.
- Third, as I’ve already mentioned, the synchronized motion of the two balance wheels, the Kari dial and the hypnotic pulsation of the resonance clutch spring collectively deliver a captivating dial-side show that doesn’t get old.
- Fourth, I offered the random insight that, if you wind the watch while looking at the back of the case, you can see the two large mainspring barrels turn.
- My fifth observation was that the clasp is well-engineered and secure. It has the Armin Strom signature “lip” extending the design DNA of the case, which I somehow failed to notice until after my first month of ownership.
- Sixth, I noted that it was a bit difficult to wind for the first week – but that I had no complaints after that.
- Seventh, I mentioned that despite all that’s going on in the dial, legibility is excellent. I had worried that the stainless steel hands might be hard to read against the grey Kari Voutilainen dial, but the contrast with the guilloche pattern really makes the hands pop.
- Eighth, I confirmed that it operates with marine-chronometer precision; meaning that it gains exactly the same number of seconds every single day regardless of what position I leave it in or how many hours I wear it. No variation. That’s the resonance phenomenon at work.
- Ninth – I thought it noteworthy that the “wow” factor of this watch is off-the-charts. It attracts more attention from people who know nothing about watches than all of my other watches combined. That sometimes triggers a discussion about the resonance phenomenon. Scientific types seem to get a kick out of the resonance discussion given the connection to Christiaan Huygens – who they generally know only as history’s first theoretical physicist and the originator of mathematical physics. I also mentioned that collectors and non-collectors alike always seem keen to mention that they’ve never seen this watch in the metal before. I suppose that’s understandable. Armin Strom produces just 35 Mirrored Force Resonance watches a year in a wide diversity iterations that experiment with both color and guilloché patterns – so any one of them is going to be pretty rare.
- Tenth, I noted that I experienced absolutely no buyer’s remorse. It’s always nice when that happens.
I concluded by saying that I reach for this watch as my default choice almost every day. It engenders a reassuring sense of bulletproof reliability (particularly when compared to other Haute Horology watches that I own). So much so that I’ve become comfortable wearing it as my everyday watch.
Any tips for people who like Armin Strom watches and want to buy one?
I had a hard time actually seeing one of these in person. Armin Strom didn’t have a dealer anywhere that was accessible to me. I don’t believe in buying watches sight unseen because the reality of a watch can be very different than the impression you may get from photos of it. I must have mentioned that concern online and I was soon contacted by someone at Armin Strom who asked me if I would like to meet Claude and see the watch. Coincidentally he’d been planning a vacation that would require him to pass through my city on the drive to his ultimate destination. Of course, I answered yes. We met three months later and spoke for a few minutes over coffee before Claude showed me the watch. I think that he was shocked that I tried to buy it within less than a minute of first seeing it. It’s an expensive piece after all. Actually, I had convinced myself prior to the meeting that I would buy one if it looked as pleasing to my eyes as it did in photos that I’d seen on Instagram. What I wasn’t prepared for was that it would look so much better in person than it did in photos. I’ve since understood that it’s a hard watch to photograph – as my own efforts to do it justice have proven. All of that is to say that you should contact Armin Strom if you’re intrigued by one of their watches. My guess is that they’ll find a way to let you see it in person.
So, what’s next on your wish list?
Someday I hope to buy a Haldimann H2 and thereby own one example of a Resonance wristwatch from each of the only three watchmakers that have ever managed to build one. At some point I also imagine that one of them will find a way to build a resonance watch that incorporates a constant force mechanism – and I’m sure that I’ll want to own that one too.
I’ll also say that the immensely positive experience that I had in my interactions with Claude and Serge and the rest of the Armin Strom team inspired me to collaborate with Claude and commission a unique piece for myself, which will be a special iteration of their dual-barrel Tourbillon. I’m looking forward to taking delivery of it as soon as the current coronavirus crisis is behind us.
You can follow @winewhiskywatches on Instagram.
Photos are almost all done by Alessandro at Time and Watches. Thanks for letting us use them!