Complications keep things interesting. Chronographs, perpetual calendars, minute repeaters, day/dates, moon phases, and many more mechanical wonders that do more than just tell the time – complications can be both the reason for a watch to exist, as well as to purchase them. But, new complications – developing complications – tend to be an art limited to the higher end, and understandably so. R & D for such things is expensive and daunting.
Yet, there’s a brand that has always firmly played in the approachable side of the pool, and still has managed over its history to develop some impressive complications in-house: Christopher Ward. With today’s launch of the Christopher Ward C1 Bel Canto they’ve shown, once again, that ingenuity, horology, and a taste for the exotic aren’t limited to five and six-figure watches.
It’s easy to overlook, or perhaps forget, that Christopher Ward has developed several of its own modules for complications over the years (and an in-house movement, but that’s a different story). There’s a huge, central moon phase, a criminally neglected Unitas-based mono-pusher chronograph, a couple of clever world timers, and a briefly used regulator (that might not count as a complication… but they still had to make it), but the complication that always stands out, and is relevant to today’s launch, is the jump hour.
Back in 2011 (yes, over a decade ago) Christopher Ward launched the C9 Harrison Jump Hour, developed in-house by then-employee Johannes Jahnke. It was a funky 43mm watch with a semi-classical demeanor, powered by the JJ01, an ETA 2824-2 with a jump hour module. They sold the watch for $1,585. As this was in the first year of Worn & Wound, my comprehension of how profound and rare of a watch this was and would be wasn’t quite there. In the years since, I can’t recall any other brand attempting such a task. In other words, this was really an incredible moment.
There are two reasons why the jump hour is relevant today. First, because the new module is based on that one, and second, because the C1 Bel Canto represents another moment that should be properly noted. This is a big deal. This is not something that is going to be common. In fact, who knows if it will happen again, at least at a relatively affordable price point. The C1 Bel Canto is a member of the incredibly rarified category of watches called sonneries. Watches that make sound.
Starting with buzzing alarms and ascending to minute repeaters (and now beyond, thanks to Omega), these little audible masterpieces quickly get into six-figure pricing. At their most complex, a series of hammers chime out the time to the minute in an elegant dance for their discerning owners. From the mechanisms themselves to the timbre of the gongs, there is a lot more at work than in a traditional watch. Now, Christopher Ward didn’t make an affordable minute repeater, rather something perhaps in between that highest of high-end complication and the utilitarian alarm. The Bel Canto is a sonnerie au passage, it chimes at the top of the hour.
That would be enough for excitement on my part, as it was with the Meistersinger Bell Hora from last year. But, Christopher Ward went the extra mile – errr, kilometer – by bringing the complication dial-side, and moving the hour and minute hands out of the way. A more complex modification, this elevates into even more rarified territory. I’m speaking coyly, as though you’re not looking at the images in this post… as you can clearly see, this doesn’t look anything like any other Christopher Ward you’ve seen before.
The dial is an open terrain of mechanics set on top of a plate in azzuro blue. Exposed gears, a floating chapter ring, truss-like supports with polished anglage, and polished screws sit within a semi-circle of polished metal. A keen eye can tell that the latter is a gong, wrapping around once. At the bottom, center lies the sound-making mechanism. A hammer on the left, actuated by a snail cam just below the center of the dial, visible through a keyhole cutout, strikes on the hour, every hour, unless turned off. The little red arrow opposite the hammer indicates this status, which is toggled by the pusher at what would be four. An uncommon sight, to say the least, at this price point.
But, another is located just north, the eccentric, floating “dial.” In order to make bring the complication dial-side, they had to make room, thus they moved the hour and minutes away from center, creating a mini-dial. This is another uncommon sight at the price point… Frankly, other than regulators, which move the hour up, I can’t think of another that has this feature at this price. This gives the C1 Bel Canto an exotic look that is typically reserved for the high-end.
Continuing the exposed theme, the mini-dial is not solid, but rather a chapter ring with applied markers that is apparently affixed to the bridge below. This puts the gear works that turn the hands on display as well. While a solid dial might have aided in legibility, as there is a lot going on at a glance, this design detail plays off of the concept well and further pushes the watch into modern, exotic territory.
What’s lacking is any Christopher Ward branding, which is a bold move in itself. Swiss-made can be found on the floating chapter ring, but the brand’s twin flag logo is only on the crown. That they would hold back on placing their logo front and center on what is one of their biggest achievements is a curious move. Certainly, they aren’t ashamed, rather they are perhaps showing a level of restraint that is distinctly British. Either way, the dial is a bit cleaner for it.
Powering this remarkable creation is the FS01 movement, which is composed of the chiming module and a Selitta SW200. Named after the brand’s technical director, Frank Stelzer, the FS01 module is based on the JJ01 jump hour, with over 60 new parts to create the striking mechanism. It took over three years to achieve the desired chime in terms of tone and volume. As minute repeaters have separate barrels powering their hammers, they have a lot more power to play with. The FS01 had less but was still able to hit nearly the same volume, granted with a single chime.
The C1 Bel Canto features a 41mm x 48mm x 13mm grade 5 titanium case, chosen for its ability to amplify sound. Though called a “Light-catcher” this case is less complex in terms of curves and finishing than what Christopher Ward typically puts out these days, with vertical side walls and a single bevel. According to their release, the case was designed also to amplify sound. At this point, 41mm, sounds large, but for a watch like this, it seems and feels appropriate. The dial and mechanism need room, literally, to work and maintain legibility. The reduction in weight from using titanium makes it more comfortable regardless. The solid case back features a sound wave motif, which is a nice touch as well.
So, what does the Christopher Ward C1 Bel Canto cost? On leather, it’s $3,595, and on a full titanium bracelet, it’s $3,975. Inexpensive? No. Priced fairly for what it is? Absolutely. Beyond fair, actually, it’s truly an incredible price. There’s really no context for this, save the Meistersinger Bell Hora, which is a related product, and starts at $4,249 (frankly, still a good deal). Throw in the dial-side elements, the finishing, the off-center hour and minutes, and… well, if they had asked for something closer to $10k, I might have been less happy, but I would have said, “yeah, that makes sense.”
The recent announcement of the Omega 1932 Chrono-Chime created a great moment for Christopher Ward to introduce the C1 Bel Canto, though it was happenstance. A truly momentous piece of horology, the Omega had a price to match. It was them showing off what they can do when the price is no object. But, for Christopher Ward, price is always a part of the equation. It’s what the brand was built on. So, instead of making something beyond approach, they brought a little piece of the highest end of watches down into the realm of the accessible. Doing so wasn’t easy. It took them years and resulted in a watch that looks unlike anything they’ve ever made. But they did it and did it well.
Christopher Ward is a brand that often gets overlooked by the snobs out there. But, I have a feeling that’s going to change now. Like I said before, this is a big moment. Not just for Christopher Ward, but for watches. It’s a first of sorts in an industry that is often rinse-and-repeat. That seems to fear trying new things or taking risks. For fans of the brand, fans of complications, and frankly, fans of horology, the C1 Bel Canto shouldn’t be overlooked. Limited to just 300 pieces, I have a feeling these will be truly cherished collectibles. Christopher Ward