WORLDTEMPUS – 14 December 2012
When you take on the name and the heritage of one of England’s greatest 18th c. watchmakers, it’s fair to say that you have some sizable shoes to fill. Yet the modern incarnation of Arnold & Son has never shied away from this challenge, instead choosing to see the famous past of its namesake as a source of inspiration as opposed to intimidation. This is just another of those pleasantly surprising British traits of the brand. I say surprising because it is actually Swiss owned: no matter the circumstances, just keep calm and carry on as the Brits would say. And carry on it has, producing several notable timepieces over the last few years that celebrate the life and achievements of John Arnold.
A watchmaking legend
Just who was John Arnold and why is he so worthy of celebrating? The short answer is that Arnold was a very well-respected English watchmaker who plied his trade in the court of King George III in the late 1760s and ’70s. He first attracted real attention when he presented what was at the time the smallest repeating watch ever made to the aforementioned king and his court. This triumphant event saw his popularity skyrocket, and it wasn’t long before he was servicing a very wealthy and exclusive clientele.
What really caused Arnold to stand out from his peers, however, was his ingenuity and desire for originality. He is renowned for being one of the most inventive watchmakers of the time and held patents for a detent escapement, bimetallic balance and helical balance spring. Perhaps one of the most significant milestones in his career was the simply named No. 36, the first timepiece ever to have the title of chronometer bestowed upon it.
Fast-forward 250 years to find that little has changed as far as the modern-day incarnation of the brand is concerned. It shares the same philosophy of excellence through creativity, using the best technology available to create high-quality, innovative timepieces that will faithfully serve their new owners in the years to come. To illustrate this, let’s take a closer look at Arnold & Son’s TB88, a timepiece whose complexity is matched only by its symmetrical beauty.
The TB88 was created to pay homage to John Arnold’s unrelenting quest for accuracy in mechanical timekeeping. It features the brand’s own True Beat escapement (the TB in the name), which enables the precision timekeeping required for navigation at sea. It may sound a bit strange to us now but in John Arnold’s day, when long sea voyages were the norm, ships’ navigators relied on precise timekeeping instruments to help determine their longitude, which would then enable them to estimate their current location on the map. As such, the more accurate the timekeeping instrument the more accurate the calculation, a challenge that Arnold took very seriously.
To reproduce the high-level of accuracy required, the escapement of the TB88’s hand-wound, 32-jewel Caliber A&S5003 uses a single-pallet design that measures out time in complete one-second steps rather than the fractions usually determined by the balance frequency. Manufactured entirely in-house, the movement also features twin spring barrels that provide an impressive 100-hour power reserve when fully wound as well as a Breguet overcoil balance spring.
The design and finishing of the movement have also been inspired in part by another of Arnold’s creations, his earliest known pocket watch, simply called 88. The number is represented by the perfectly symmetrical layout of the movement, with the twin barrels at the top, the balance wheel between 4 and 5 o’clock and the True Beat seconds indicator between 7 and 8. The inverted movement was designed in typical English fashion with straight-cut bridges – of which there are 16 in total – with hand-beveled and polished edges. A ruthenium coating lends the movement a distinctly modern look. All of this is housed snugly in a 46 mm stainless steel or rose gold case complete with a cambered sapphire crystal and a sapphire exhibition case back.
For Baselworld 2017, Arnold & Son unveiled yet another masterfully skeletonized watch which carries the brand’s conceptual DNA forward. The Arnold & Son DBG Skeleton is the newest addition to the DBG (Double-Balance GMT) set that we reviewed the first, non-skeletonized version of in greater detail here back in 2013. For those unfamiliar with this piece, it’s essentially two movements which share a winding system, housed in 1 watch. Skeletonized, this view looks incredible and is the best example of Arnold & Son’s persistent progress.First, a little bit more about Arnold & Son’s DBG system. Every time display is powered by its own barrel, with its own gear train, escapement, and equilibrium, while sharing a single winding system. Even though this isn’t always unprecedented, due to the offsets of the shared elements when compared with the independent parts, it isn’t always pretty, and seldom skeletonized. However, with all the DBG Skeleton, we see virtually perfect symmetry about the dial along with caseback.The unusual nature of the in-house A&S1309 movement permits for a few additional mechanical and practical benefits. For instance, because of the distinct barrel, gear train, and escapement/balance, the GMT purpose comprises a “minutes” hand rather than the standard 24-hour counter only. Each time zone screen from the Arnold & Son DBG Skeleton could be set to incremental quarters of the hour. So for some Indian, Australian, and Canadian time zones which are off by half-hours, for instance, the watch can account for that. Additionally, the Equation of Time display at 12 o’clock decides the gap between each screen, in addition to whether it’s day or night in the next time zone. The A&S1309 defeats at 21,600bph and features a 40-hour power reserve.
A lasting legacy?
Attempting to meld the past with the present whilst also keeping a firm eye on the future is an endeavor fraught with challenges and pitfalls. Focus too much on one at the expense of the others and things can quickly fall apart around you. If you can achieve the right balance, however, and combine it with a steadfast commitment to quality and innovation, then you might just have a winning formula on your hands. So far it seems Arnold & Son are well on the right track but as the old adage goes, only time will tell what the future holds. For now, let’s just enjoy some truly exceptional watchmaking.