Friday, September 19, 2014

Julien Coudray 1518 Manufacture Competentia 1515

Julien Courdray 1518 Manufacture Competentia 1515 circa 2013
There is absolutely  nothing wrong with a perfectly traditional looking watch with stunning craftsmanship.  After covering the new Apple Watch, reviewing a watch such as the Julien Coudray 1518 Competentia 1515, once again satiates my horological appetite after the past weeks abstinence due to technological advancements.  (Now do not get me wrong, the Apple hype of yesterday, today and tomorrow was met upon by exuberant teenagers who had already ordered an iPhone 6 from mom or dad)   

Company's Inspiration 

  Although the company's name, Julien Coudray 1518 manufacture sounds like a company who rubbed shoulders with the likes of Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci, the company actually is very new. Of course, there was an original Julien Coudray, who was watchmaker to King Louis XIII of France as well as Francois I.    Julien Coudray was highly creative and contributed to the flourishing artistic Renaissance Era.  He worked with Leonardo de Vinci under the auspices of King Francois I. In 1518, the year adopted by the current company, the original Julien Coudray created the first portable watch at the request of Francois I. The watch was a spring-based movement fitted into the pommel of two of the king's daggers. Half a millennia later, Julien Coudray 1518 of today honors his name with the creation of outstanding timepieces. At the helm of the company stands Fabien Lamarche who is somewhat of a modern day Julien Courdray.  He has worked for high end watch companies like Roger Dubuis and Breguet and has experience in micro-mechanics, robotics and computers.  In addition he is a designer and inventor and passionate about the past.  He even writes his letters using parchment and seals.

500 Years Later ...
 Founded in 2012 by Fabien Lamarche , Julien Courdray is a highly exclusive watch brand based in Le Locle.  This highly haute horloger produces annually, fifty timepieces, one at a time.

Julein Courdray Competentia 1515 solid yellow gold 2N
This may not seem like much, but creating watches of this refinement is comparable ,on a larger scale, to a builder building a building.  The production is not about quantity and all about quality. As the name suggests "Manufacture", means most of the watch components are manufactured in-house.  For Julien Coudray 1518 Manufacture means 95% in-house.  Thus from concept to final inspection 46 different highly skilled artisans work under its one roof. Only the sapphire crystal, bracelets, seals, jewels and springs  are purchased from outside manufactures. The reason being is that these components do not vary much from watch to watch and are often made with materials such as silicon and rubber, which require a very specific manufacturing process far removed from actual watchmaking.  In addition, a company cannot dabble in small scale silicon processing, rubber processing or synthetic ruby making.  It just does not make sense.  For these type of components it makes more sense to leave it up to that particular large scale industry.  If you see a company claiming to be 100% in-house, inquire as to how they manufactured the synthetic rubies and screws. However to the company's credit, it does have quite an impressive range of high tech watchmaking machines for such a small company, so much so that some high end parts components are actually sold to other companies.  Not only that, Julien Courdray 1518 Manufacture also makes most of its own tools.  

 Julien Courdray 1518 prides itself in creating traditional well made masterpieces concentrating on exceptional dial construction, which we will get to later.

The Julien Courdray 1518 Manufacture Competentia 1515 in platinum 950  is a $478,000 manual wound 43mm Jardin à la Française inspired timepiece powered by a Calibre JC 1515 tourbillon movement and equipped with a power reserve indicator, four year service indicator, day and night indicator (back of case) and a one minute tourbillon. 

The Julien Courdray 1518 Manufacture Competentia 1515 Watch Case: 

The 43 mm diameter case, is crafted from Platinum 950. Platinum 950 means that 95% of the metal is pure platinum and 5% is another metal. Since this number is determined by weight and Platinum is very heavy with an atomic weight of 195.078 , you may have much more of the other lighter metal by volume.  For example fill half a bag of feathers with half a bag of gold.  By volume the feathers and gold are equal, but by weight gold makes up 95%. There are commonly four different alloys used when working with platinum resulting in different Vickers of hardness: 5%  Iridium (atomic weight 192.217-  Vickers hardness - 80 ); 5% ruthenium (atomic weight 101.07 - Vickers hardness - 135); 5% cobalt (atomic weight - 58.9332 - Vickers hardness - 135); 10% iridium ( atomic weight 192.217 -Vickers hardness - 110).  The choice of the alloy depends on the malleability at the workbench and the hardness of the end product.  As you can see Iridium with an atomic weight almost identical to platinum will result in a volume most closely representing 95%; however, the end product as you can see the resulting Vickers hardness is 80, which translates into a soft alloy susceptible to dents.  Of course it is very easy to work with, but not very resilient. The 5% ruthenium has excellent longevity, but is not very malleable and prone to cracking, but once set last forever. A cobalt alloy turns the platinum a delicate shade of blue - since it is a particularly light metal and thus more of it is required by volume to make up the platinum percentage by weight. In addition cobalt is magnetic which is certainly not a good choice for the delicate equilibrium of movement required in a precision timepiece. Thus using the correct platinum 950 alloy is crucial in the resilience and longevity of the watch.

For Julien Cordray 1518, the platinum 950 chosen is critical, since in a Julien Courdray 1518 timepiece the metal of the watch case is the metal of the movement. The front and back of the watch is protected by a transparent scratch resistant Sapphire Crystal through which  the dial and movement is clearly visible.  The back of the timepiece also features a day/night indicator. The watch renders a sophisticated elegance and fits flat on the wrist due to its thickness of 9.82mm. The lugs arch gracefully upwards serving as the foundation for securing the band.

The Movement Material: 

The entire movement is made from platinum and decorated by hand. Platinum is the least reactive metal which translated in layman's terms to a metal which is highly resistant to corrosion.  The movement thus will last practically forever, long after other watches have corroded into lumps of metal. It is very rare for a watch company to fashion watch movements exclusively from platinum - the reason being that although platinum is quite malleable and ductile it is the 2nd most dense metal's and thus very difficult to weld, grind and machine. 
Even if companies say that the movement is platinum, often the smaller components are fashioned from white gold. Platinum casting is notoriously difficult  requiring centrifugal machines due to its high melting temperature. In addition, platinum requires the use of carbide tools and a carbon free environment.  Platinum becomes brittle in the event of carbon contamination and brittleness of metal is a watchmakers nightmare.   Thus the work area must be immaculate and any steel tools is out of the question.  Tungsten Carbide is thus used for polishing.  Tungsten Carbide is abrasion resistant and can withstand high temperatures as required when working with platinum.

 Since this is not a metallurgy blog, I will not go into all the difficulties in working with platinum, but suffice to say working with platinum  requires high expertise to attain the perfection required by each and every component manufactured by Julien Courdray 1518. In creating this movement Julien Courdroy 1518 took upon an immense challenge, and after two and a half years of tireless effort and 3.3 lbs of solid platinum per watch, defeated the challenge very well.  The result is exceptional and very very rare.    In a world of horological abundance, true rather than proclaimed rarity is highly appealing.
Thus out of 300 components, the Competentia 1515 is 95% platinum. Competentia in Latin means Competence, which as you can see ranks high at Julien Courdray 1518.


The Movement: 
The Caliber 1515 15" PT mechanical movement is manual and thus has no rotor.  This means the mainspring is wound ay the crown. Although the movement is platinum, Julien Courdray 1518 did not simply create a "simple movement", but incorporated a 48g tourbillon.  A tourbillon places the escapement and balance wheel in a rotating cage thereby counteracting the force of gravity and improving watch precision.  Although this idea was quite receptive in 1795, nowadays the tourbillon more of a testament to competent watch making abilities.  I wouldn't quite say that a tourbillon is a complication, as it does not perform an extra function other than being aesthetically pleasing and arguably dispelling gravity. However crafting a tourbillon from platinum 950 is quite remarkable.  On second thought, I am not sure I have ever come across a platinum tourbillon. Tourbillon housed in platinum are a plenty especially when it comes to special edition anniversary watches, but actual movements are rare and with a tourbillon even rarer.

In addition, the watch movement has a total of 60 jewels, quite a bit more than the usual 17, 21 or 25.  This is probably due to platinum differing friction coefficient to gold and its denser properties as well as an esthetic appeal.  In addition the jewels are set directly into platinum without the use of a jewel collets markedly reducing friction.  This requires precise measurement of the jewel hole, for if the hole is too big, the jewel will simply fall out; if the whole is too small, the jewel will not fit into the designated hole or simply crack.  

 In addition, the tolerances of every component at all angles is calculated and indicated on  the technical drawing prior to prototyping and long before the manufacturing process commences.  This is crucial as the indicated tolerance will have an impact on manufacturing methods. Another aspect of working with platinum is the necessity to recalibrate all the machinery after manufacturing one platinum movement, as apposed to a more common brass movement. This reason being is that the platinum, being as hard as it is, resists change and places an enormous amount of stress on the machinery.  Think of it as trying to carve a figure out of ebony rather than pine.  Since Julien Courdray 1518 is one of the only companies to manufacture  platinum movements, they had to make there own tools as well, since most tools on the market designed for manufacturing movement components such as plates and bridges simply cannot handle working with platinum. After each and every component is made, it is carefully hand finished to achieve the utmost in perfection.

The movement has a vph of 28,800 and is equipped with a 55 hour power reserve exquisitely indicated as an arch above the 8 and 9 'o'clock. The movement is extensively decorated by hand creating a picturesque landscape dotted with rubies, blued screws and the constant tourbillon rotation.

The Dial:
Being so taken by the movement, I delayed in writing about the breathtaking dial.  Without a doubt, this dial is one of the most spectacular dial structures I have ever seen. Julien Courdray chose to use Palladium on the dial, as this metal is much less dense than platinum and can be beaten into thin leaf forms. Julien Courdray 1518, as young a company as it is, it has already gained quite a reputation for its high standard of dial enameling. This is because, Julien Courdray 1518 has only experts and highly talented apprentices under one roof.  The master craftsman is highly skilled with years of training who divulges his craft to a hand picked apprentice thereby following a centuries old horological tradition.

Julien Courdray 1518 does not use paint or glue, as these techniques are not conducive to the longevity of the timepiece, rather the dial is enameled by hand and the dial hands are heated to reach its final blue color. In this way the signature Roman Numerals are expertly enameled on the dial by a single artisan, and another enameler is designated for unique one-of-a-kind dial artistry. Each hand painted Roman Numeral on the dial is on an individual white plate featuring domed enameling. The center of the dial features a translucent light blue plique-à-jour ("letting in daylight")  enameling which requires high expertise to create the perfect hue of this blue. The transparent enamel is applied to gold and then heated to a fiery 800°C. The dial decoration is inspired by the  Renaissance era  "Jardin à la Française"  or French formal garden where symmetry directs nature.

 Just beyond the 12 'o'clock position is a tiny aperture, which is actually a four year service indicator. Fitted on all Julien Courdray timepiece, the four year indicator is actually a disc connected to the going train of the movement.  This slow turning disc completes its revolution after four years, after which a service is needed.  The first of which is on the house at Julien Courdray 1518.  

After 9 months of work, the Julien Courdray Competentia 1515 is completed.  The watches are limited to 15 pieces, the exact number of which is clearly engraved on a gold plate at the 8 'o'clock position. The final product is presented on a hand stitched alligator leather band hand secured to the wrist by a platinum 950 buckle. The watch is presented with a hand written letter from company founder and CEO Fabien Lamarche as well as an engraved metal box.  The box, which contains an extra sapphire crystal, assortment of watch components and a complete escapement,  is engraved with the model name, serial number and watch material. The Competentia 1515 is also available in solid yellow gold 2N, 18k rose gold 5N, 18k white gold as well as 18k solid Pd 125.