French watchmakers in the 1780s and 90s faced what admen would call “a unique market challenge”. Watches were eye-wateringly expensive – the preserve of the rich and titled. In revolutionary France, being rich and titled had a nasty habit of ensuring a one way trip to the guillotine and your head in a basket. Even better, being associated with the rich and titled meant a similar trip. Not good for business.
Possibly the finest watchmaker in history, Abraham-Louis Breguet, quickly realised that a trip to Switzerland made a lot more sense. Once there, he began making a correspondingly unique watch – the Souscription. It had a single hand that simultaneously indicated the hours and minutes. In the case was a beautifully symmetrical and simple movement that he could produce in some numbers. Mind you, “simple” in Breguet’s definition actually meant “so stunningly gorgeous it still gives most modern haute horlogerie a run for its money”. But, given the straitened times, clients bought the watch by putting down a deposit – a souscription.
It would be too much to compare MeisterSinger’s new Circularis to the Souscription in any way but loosely – but there are definite similarities. The single trademark hand. The symmetrical, highly-finished movement. The use of the movement as part of a series. And – to some extent – the exclusivity of price.
MeisterSinger’s founder, Manfred Brassler, has created a rather busier dial than the maker’s other watches, the Nos 1, 2 and 3 particularly. The circular recess at the centre of the dial, the serifed font for the numbers, the slightly more complex indicies – all add more design elements that move away from the simplicity of the other models. You still get a 43mm stainless steel case, 5 bar water-resistance, a sapphire glass and a display back. And your choice of sunburst silver-white, sunburst sapphire blue and ivory dials.
But this is a watch where the contrast between the relative simplicity of the dial and the complexity of the movement decoration couldn’t be more marked. Because the movement is where this watch flies.
The buffs among you will spot there’s a distinct similarity between the MeisterSinger’s MSH01 movement and Christopher Ward’s SH21. It’s not too surprising – both have their genesis in collaboration with Swiss maker Synergies Horlogéres. The 27 jewel MSH01 is finished to a beautiful standard and is handwound over the SH21’s simplicity and automatic winding, but the common roots are clear. And why not? Both do their job very well indeed in their own way. And they’re different enough to be individually interesting. It’s also massively encouraging to see new, different and exciting movements starting to challenge the established makers.
The MeisterSinger wins on sheer damn visual appeal. The lack of winding rotor means the rhodium plated movement plate can shine through with its blued screws, côtes circulaire and gold inlay. And you get a splendid view of the twin, series barrels that give the watch a five day power reserve and the unique bridge design. The single, long hour hand needs to run absolutely precisely, so MeisterSinger have also integrated a dial train with spring wheel so its backlash is minimised. Neat.
This really is a movement to sit and enjoy. In fact, wear it back-out and use your phone for the time – it’s worth it.
Here’s the full spec on the Circularis:
Manual wind, 5 day power reserve
- Mechanism bridge rhodium-plated with côtes circulaire
- 32.7 mm diameter
- 5.4 mm height
- 27 jewels
- Glucydur® balance
- 28,800 vibrations per hour (4 Hz)
- Incabloc® shock protection
- Twin in-series mainspring barrels
- Blued screws
MeisterSinger plans to make the MSH01 the foundation of a series of watches in the same way Christopher Ward plans to use the SH21. Each will make quite different watches, particularly given the prices differences between the two makers.
You can strap a Christopher Ward C9 Harrison with an automatic SH21 movement to your wrist for £1,500/$2,420. A MeisterSinger Circularis on its alligator strap will set you back around £3,150/$5,080 (if Euro prices translate closely into sterling).
The watches – and their movements – have very different characters. It’ll be interesting to see if buyers think they’re different enough to justify the price tags.