If you haven’t yet heard of Montres DeWitt, allow us to introduce you to a small company that makes some of the most beautifully different and intriguingly ingenious watches in the world. This boutique haute horlogerie Geneva based firm was founded in 2002 by Jérôme DeWitt, who comes by his fascination with watchmaking honestly –the son of a White Russian nobleman who fled Russian in 1919, he’s descended on his mother’s side from Jérôme Bonaparte, Napoléon Bonaparte’s youngest brother, who amassed a distinguished collection of watches a part of which is still owned by his descendant. Since the firm’s founding, it has rapidly become known for its bold designs as well as its of rare and exotic complications, such as the constant force mechanism, or remontoire d’egalite, which provides the regulating system of a mechanical watch with an unvarying amount of torque no matter whether the mainspring is wound tightly or nearly slack (such mechanisms were historically used only in watches and clocks built for high precision split-second accuracy, such as ship’s chronometers.)
It was this spirit of innovation that led to the creation of one of DeWitt’s most unusual and interesting watches: the Twenty-8-Eight Regulator A.S.W. Horizons. The story of this watch begins with the name. Traditionally “regulator” means a clock or watch with a separate, smaller dial for the hour hand, allowing absolutely uncluttered reading of the minutes hand, but this dial became associated with the name “regulator” because regulator clocks were very precise and often used to set other clocks and watches. While the Twenty-8-Eight Regulator does not have a regulator dial it lays legitimate claim to the name with its sophisticated design. The A.S.W. (short for Automatic Sequential Winding) system is unique to DeWitt, using a peripheral rotor to provide an unobstructed view of the movement, and employing a winding system with a mechanical clutch that engages when mainspring torque falls below 92% and disengages when it hits 96%. This means that the power reaching the regulating system of the watch (the escapement) is always in the “sweet spot” necessary for optimum accuracy.
The Twenty-8-Eight Regulator is fitted with a tourbillon, which is a rotating cage that houses the regulating system of the watch and is intended to combat the disruptive effects of gravity on accuracy. In a further nod to the tradition of high precision timekeeping, the Twenty-8-Eight Regulator also has what is known as a “dead seconds” complication (also sometimes called a dead-beat seconds complication –no relation to the slang for someone who won’t pay their bills!) Ordinarily the seconds hand of a mechanical watch moves ahead in small jumps several times a second (for each tick) but in a watch or clock with a dead seconds complication, the seconds hand jumps exactly once per second. Ironically that’s a feature now associated with quartz watches but for most of the millennium long history of watchmaking, it was a sign of a high precision mechanical timekeeper.
Obscure? Maybe a little, but it’s also a sort of secret handshake between owner Jerome DeWitt and other initiates into the inner circle of those in the know about watchmaking’s proudest traditions.
The Twenty-8-Eight Regulator isn’t just a technical masterpiece though –it’s an elegant homage to the era of high Art Deco design, with a dial inspired by the writings and work of Norman Bel Geddes, who designed the General Motors “Futurama” pavilion for the 1939 World’s Fair and introduced the concept of streamlining into industrial design. The dial recalls the New York skyline and the great skyscrapers of the early 20th century, which expressed the optimism and can-do spirit that’s still part of New York City today. In its combination of Deco-era futurism and mechanical sophistication, the Twenty-8-Eight Regulator captures a thoroughly modern vision of both the science and art of watchmaking.
Jack Forster is the Editor in Chief of Revolution Magazine, a quarterly publication celebrating the world of fine watchmaking, and he also manages Revolution Online www.revo-online.com the foremost information and discussion site on the internet for watch enthusiasts.