A Few Minutes with the Pioneer Cylindrical Tourbillon Skeleton, and How Moser is Pushing the Limits of Creativity in Watchmaking

One of the pleasures of an event like Watches & Wonders is being able to see and experience watches that would never otherwise cross your path. Some of the rarest and most special watches in the world are here this week, and if you’re an enthusiast it’s basically a candy store of exotic treats. It’s easy to get a sugar high and subsequently fall into the coma that inevitably comes right after if you’re not careful. One type of watch hovers above the rest, seemingly plentiful at Watches & Wonders while being hyper rare outside the walls of the show. Of course, I’m talking about the tourbillon. 

Even for people who are in the watch industry, tourbillons are almost never seen in day to day life. Even if they aren’t exactly your thing from an aesthetic standpoint, there’s no denying the skill and craft involved in making a good one, and the labor toll and high price tag that results means that you just don’t come across them too often, even when dedicated watch people are mixing together. An event like Watches & Wonders though is really an exception, with high luxury brands coalescing for a single event to bring out their biggest flexes of the year. Those flexes, frequently, involve a tourbillon, and H. Moser has a particularly strong one this year with the Pioneer Cylindrical Tourbillon Skeleton.

The Pioneer Cylindrical Tourbillon Skeleton uses the same case platform as the Pioneer “Mega Cool” that I reviewed last year. On that watch, I felt that the case was the weak link in an otherwise impressive package, being just a little too big for my taste to wear daily, which is really the point of Moser’s entry level Pioneer line. But a tourbillon is by its very nature not a daily driver, so I think some clumsiness from the 43mm diameter can easily be forgiven here when you consider the spectacle taking place when you look at your wrist to check the time. There’s a lot going on. 

The movement here is a skeletonized version of the Moser’s HMC 811 automatic movement, featuring a one minute flying tourbillon and a cylindrical hairspring. The cylindrical hairspring has its roots in 18th century marine chronometers, and rises perpendicularly around the balance spindle. This provides a great deal of additional visual drama while simultaneously reducing friction and improving isochronism, resulting in more stable timekeeping throughout the watch’s power reserve. 

I really appreciate the science of watchmaking and continually strive to understand the finer points, but I’m far from an engineer, and to me the aesthetic punch of this watch is its great strength. A skeletonized movement done well is a pretty cool thing, as it allows the wearer of a watch to appreciate the movement architecture in a highly direct way, and if you’re interested in watches with contemporary or avant-garde design, this is really the center of it. The skeletonization and visual stimulation of the tourbillon in motion just have a wow factor that, for me at least, outweighs the impact of any practical timekeeping benefits derived from the movements.  

The small dial at 12:00 in Moser’s signature “Funky Blue” provides a thematic link to other watches in their catalog, and the dark tones are a great match for the anthracite PVD finish on the movement’s main plate and bridges. Finishing in general is impressive wherever you look, combining traditional touches like a hand-beveled balance with more modern flourishes like the aforementioned PVD coating.

Tourbillons aren’t for everyone by their very design, but being in front of one, and then having it on your wrist, is an undeniably fun experience and one that watch enthusiasts should take advantage of if given the chance. A watch like this is a reminder of the creativity and ingenuity still at work in the watch industry, and one of the reasons I personally respond to Moser in particular is their willingness to take an aesthetic risk. Case in point: a one-off experimental Streamliner, its case, bracelet, and dial completely coated in Vantablack. This is more art than horology, and it’s really pushing the limits. A watch like this, and the tourbillon, might not be practical, but at an event with the word “Wonders” in its very name, it feels somehow appropriate. Moser

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.