The BOVET 1822 Virtuoso XI
From the very beginning, skeletonization was a desired decoration in pocket watches and later on in wristwatches. Skeletonization was first used on a large scale in clocks, due to weight and material limitations. Therefore, many of the large clocks were open designs from the beginning. The arrival of portable clocks and pocket watches changed this open concept due to the need for miniaturization. However, the new tiny components were too fragile and complex to manufacture, so the open design was no longer an option. With the evolution of tools and skills, skeletonization was used on a larger scale in high-end pieces. The next level was to decorate the watch skeleton with engravings.
A more serious issue sometimes forgotten is why various decorations appeared. For instance, the Côtes de Genêve were introduced to keep the tiny dust particles away from the fragile escapement and wheels, trapping them between the “waves” (the first pocket watches were not hermetically sealed; moreover, before the crown was invented, one had to open the watch to set and wind it). The skeletonization of a movement meant that all moving parts were susceptible to breakage due to accelerated wear and tear. So, it only made sense when pocket watches became sufficiently sealed (glass or crystal on the top, double lid on the back, crown). Fortunately, today’s watches are tightly sealed (even waterproof), allowing for the free expression of horological art.
The BOVET 1822 Virtuoso XI
“In today’s world of mass-produced luxury, here at BOVET we focus on handcraftsmanship and the human touch,” says Mr. Pascal Raffy, owner of BOVET 1822. “I am proud to introduce the Virtuoso XI, which combines contemporary high watchmaking with artisanal hand-finishing and hand-engraving. This piece is an ode to BOVET’s artisans, who take such pride in every step of the process.”
BOVET 1822 spoiled us with various opening designs, not only in the traditional Fleurier Collection but also in the complication-rich Dimier Collection or the ultra-technical BOVET by Pininfarina.
Traditionally, skeletonization means that an existing movement is further decorated by removing metal mass from each suitable component. In the case of BOVET 1822, I have the feeling that the design was conceived and engineered as an open design from the very beginning.
The BOVET 1822 Virtuoso XI is part of the Fleurier Collection – a contemporary tribute to pocket watches, with BOVET’s unique crown and bow at 12 o’clock, bearing an uncanny resemblance to centuries-old pocket watches.
The 44mm diameter case is manufactured in 18K white gold and has the brand’s signature Writing Slope shape. It is available in a fully engraved version (bespoke options are available) or in a highly-polished and diamond-set version. The piece presented here is the understated version with high polish on all external components.
I have to admit that the version with an engraved floral motif extending across the case and the baguette diamonds set on the bezel is the one closest to my heart, although it is a quite tricky piece to wear on a daily basis.
The resemblance to the pocket watch is mainly due to the large top lug that incorporates the gorgeous crown with a generously sized cabochon in its open space. The axe of the lug also features cabochons at each end. These elements tend to catch the light at various angles, shimmering from light blue to black, depending on the angle and amount of light.
The smaller lug at the bottom of the case is surrounded on the sides by the alligator strap and has a cabochon at each end. The vertical balance is pleasant and very organic – perhaps due to the centuries-old image well imprinted in our subconscious.
The case is protected against occasional splashes or dirt with a 30m water resistance certification.
As a natural consequence of its decoration, Virtuoso XI does not have a traditional dial. The time is displayed centrally with two blued heavy spade and whip (hours and minutes) hands with luminescent inserts.
One of the best and most spectacular ways to enjoy the seconds is through the blue pointer placed on the patented double-sided flying tourbillon cage.
The exceptional power reserve of ten days (240 hours) is indicated above the main barrel by a blue baton hand with a round counterbalance against a pointed semicircular track with colored dots corresponding to a one-day power reserve per index. The large barrel is easily wound by the patented and fantastic-looking spherical differential winding system, which halves the number of turns required for a full wind.
The 283-component movement features 36 jewels, and beats at a rather slow (yet often met in pocket watches) frequency of 2.5Hz (18.000vph).
The BOVET 1822 Virtuoso XI is a true feast for the eyes. All the components are finished by hand. Even the patented BOVET double-sided flying tourbillon, as well as the hairspring and the regulating organ are entirely made in-house.
The decoration of the movement is an elaborate process, the engraving alone requiring 60 hours of skilled work. The decoration used is BOVET’s own Fleurisanne motif. The Maison has been using it for decades. It is inspired by the tree leaf pattern on ancient Greek columns. This motif is one of BOVET’s signatures, and its name comes from the small village of Fleurier, where this style originated.
The absence of the main plate makes the architecture spectacular but also raises some technical issues. Everything must be perfectly executed so that no loose tolerances can interfere with the proper and correct functioning. The watch uses a combination of bridges and cocks. Each bridge was opened, brushed, chamfered, and finally engraved. The decorations are present on the top and bottom of each component. Only the sides are left with fine brushing.
A keen eye might notice the polished edges and the polished sink of the burnished jewels. The visible screws feature polished heads with beveled edges and have been thermally treated for a dark blue color. Like all the other components, the steel screws are hand finished in-house.
The main barrel presents a different type of engraving: positive engraving (where the decoration stands out against an engraved space – visually similar to embossing). I suppose a mechanized tool was used to create the frosted background, while the resulting model was given a circular brushing (as a final step).
Although beautiful on both sides, the double-sided tourbillon excels on the front of the watch. The cage, with its two highly polished curved arms, gives this modern piece a nostalgic touch. The balance wheel, visible in the foreground, features six timing weights, a sign of BOVET’s dedication to precision and chronometry. On the back side, the tourbillon carriage reveals the escapement, which seems to be an interpretation of the traditional Swiss lever escapement. The patented double-sided tourbillon, which features the escapement and the balance spring on either side of the central fixation point, enhances the chronometric performance and aesthetics.
The BOVET 1822 Virtuoso XI is a tour de force in decoration. Not only because of its spectacular, airy construction, which makes ingenious use of the sloping shape of the case, but also because of the flawless execution of all the decorations. I have met and seen BOVET 1822’s artisans at work, I have witnessed the calm and serenity of the craftsmen who perform, without error, the artistic ballet necessary for all the round grooves. I was amazed by their sense of craftsmanship and their commitment to this fine art of watchmaking.
No wonder the Virtuoso XI has won the Lifetime Masterpiece Award!
I am a fan of the Maison BOVET 1822 – I was won over by their original designs with a strong focus on watchmaking excellence. The Virtuoso X is a watch that fascinated me from the very first moment. An unusual architecture (the brand’s area of expertise) and superb decoration in a watch that sits well on the wrist. It is a piece for someone who enjoys traditional watchmaking in a modern interpretation.