Lume was first added to watches in 1930s. The Chopard L.U.C Full Strike has no lume. Because before there was lume, there was sound. And oh boy does this new Chopard have sound. Listen.

Typically, a minute repeater uses a button or slider to wind and then immediately release a set of hammers that strike metal gongs to sound out the hours, quarter hours, and minutes when it is too dark to see the dial or you need to impress your date (or both) (you just heard 12 hours, 2 quarters, and 6 minutes, i.e., 12:36). The Full Strike keeps to that count, but this first minute repeater from Chopard is meant to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their in-house manufacturing and so it introduces a few amazing technical innovations.

Foremost, the gongs are glass, not metal. The sapphire crystal extends down the inside of the case of the watch to create a glass cylinder that the steel hammers strike to create that airy sound. The face of the sapphire resonates the sound like a speaker diaphragm, projecting it up and out into the world. The glass is machined out of a single sapphire block, the minute register carved into the face. The result is a remarkably loud and clear chime. Chopard claims it “chimes as a silver knife were delicately tapping a Bohemian crystal glass placed on the table of a gourmet restaurant.” I’m not sure what the quality of the food has to do with it but, yes, it does sound like that.

Also, the pusher nestled inside the crown does not wind the chiming mechanism, it simply releases it. The winding is done by the crown; turned clockwise it winds a spring for the manual calibre 08.01-L movement and counterclockwise it winds another for the striking mechanism. A dual power reserve at 2:00 keeps track of both springs. The dedicated barrel spring gives the hammers enough power to ring more almost 350 notes—more than 3 minutes of sustained singing—before being rewound.

The crown also incorporates three failsafes to ensure proper function of the repeater: First, when the striking mechanism power reserve drops too low, a semi-toothed wheel deactivates the minute repeater chime, preventing an incomplete chime. Second, the regulator at 8:00 that controls the striking does not rotate until the last possible moment, to conserve energy. Third, the crown is disconnected from the movement when the chime rings, making it impossible to set the time or double-activate the chime, which could damage the movement.

All these innovations took six years and 17,000 hours to prefect. These engineering feats are set inside a 42.5 x 11.5 mm case made of 18k “Fairmined” rose gold. This is the Fair Trade coffee/Conflict Free diamond of the metal world, sourced “from a cooperative whose operations are certified as ethical, fair and sustainable.” The alligator leather band closes with a pin buckle of the same gold and the band, too, is certified sustainable.

Your very own example of this 20-piece limited edition will set you back CHF 265,000.

This is the kind of watch that reminds you why mechanical watches matter. It used to be that a mechanical watch was the best way to tell the time. It used to be that a minute repeater was the only way to tell time in the dark. But we do not need a complex wrist-machine to do any of that anymore. We have digital wrist-computers, after all. Chopard didn’t make this watch to serve any practical purpose, it made the watch because it was a challenge and because it demonstrates their ability to do a very specific thing, very well. Its existence is a celebration of ingenuity.

A smart watch is its own kind of technical achievement, but a smart watch can never match the miniature intricacy of a mechanical watch’s gears and levers and springs jumping to life to accomplish one specific task. Looking at this extreme example you realize that mechanical watches matter because they do something so simple in a complex way. Like a Rube Goldberg for your wrist. It’s not the best way to tell the time, but it’s the most fascinating way.

That is why a mechanical watch is a luxury item that brings joy to a certain kind of mind, regardless of how many complications it packs into the case or what that case is made of. In that sense, a watch like this isn’t all that different from a Seiko 5 or a Sistem51. They are all exercises in engineering for engineering’s sake, all totally unnecessary celebrations of complexity. One just costs more than most houses—and sounds like it should.

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Last Update: January 11, 2017

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