Introducing the new Romain Gauthier Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette: a hand-finished skeletonised treat for the collectors
Bernard C. Meltzer, an eminent United States radio host once said, “Topcats often begin as underdogs”. In the world of horology, there are certain names — Holy Trinity for instance — that are so well established that the mere concept of fine watchmaking can’t survive without them. On the other hand, on the other side of the spectrum, like any creative & innovative industry, there are a vast number of upcoming brands. These so-called ‘independents’ may not form a huge chunk of the pie, but they sure make up for that with their horological innovativeness. Some of these may not survive the test of time, but there are definitely some that have the potential to go from the underdog status to the tomcat status. Romain Gauthier is one of them. And the new Romain Gauthier Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette Manufacture-Only Carbonium® Edition is a testament to that.
The Brand Context
Still short of being two decades old — established in 2005 to be exact — Romain Gauthier started the eponymous watch company as an independent brand that has over the years come to be known for its Haute Horlogerie approach to watchmaking and the high level of hand-finishing. Still very much independent, the brand creates limited timepieces — roughly 60 per year — primarily aimed at the collector market.
The Manufacturer began their journey with the manual-winding Calibre HM 2206, that powered their first watch, Prestige HM. This also gave birth to their first collection, called the Heritage Collection. Since then, the brand has divided its releases into three collections: Heritage, Freedom and Exception.
Despite creating unique timepieces, it was only in 2013 that their release named the Logical One managed to truly turn heads, making the Swiss watch industry really take note of the new brand. It featured the brand’s constant-force movement with friction-minimising ruby-link chain, snail cam, sapphire-lined mainspring barrel, and push-button winding. And later it went on to win the prize for Best Men’s Complication Watch at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.
The brand’s growing success was further cemented in 2016 when the Foundation de la Haute Horlogerie certified them as a “fine watchmaking” company and awarded them with the “contemporary brand” status in their first white paper on fine watchmaking.
So when I look at the history of this new brand, I realise that the brand is still in its infancy but has managed to accomplish a reputation for creating exceptionally high-end watches. In the short span of time they have existed, the brand has emerged as one of the forerunners in the race to be crowned the new king of the world of independent Haute Horlogerie. And now when I look at their latest release, the new Romain Gauthier Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette Manufacture-Only Carbonium® Edition, I realise why the above accolades are well earned.
The Watch Context
If I was to describe the new offering, I would say it is a combination of the brand’s technical achievements from 2011 to 2017. In 2011 they made their first titanium watch and only in 2017 came their first automatic watch.
Bluntly put, in theory, it is essentially an amalgamation of those two watches. In practice, it’s much more.
Their first titanium watch was the Prestige HMS Natural Titanium that launched their Freedom Collection. Featuring the use of high-tech materials and a more casual style, the Prestige HMS Natural Titanium displayed the functions of hours, minutes and sectorial seconds on a hand-frosted brass dial cased inside a 43mm natural Grade 5 titanium body.
On the other hand, their first automatic watch, the Insight Micro-Rotor, boasted of a finely-finished in-house calibre that featured a 22k solid gold bidirectional micro-rotor and an impressive 80-hour power reserve. The Insight Micro-Rotor displayed the functions of hours, minutes and small seconds, powered by a 32.1mm diameter and 6.8mm thick movement that comprised of 28 jewels, 206 components and beat at the frequency of 4Hz (28’800 vph).
Now marrying all the aspects the Manufacturer has come to develop and be known for, is the new Romain Gauthier Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette, that with its skeletonised, in-house movement encased inside an ultra-light, natural titanium body is an ode to the brand’s trademark concept of stunning hand-finishing.
Meet the new Romain Gauthier Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette.
USP – Carbonium®
I would say the USP of this release is the use of Carbonium®.
What’s Carbonium® you say? According to the brand, Carbonium® is a high-tech, high-performance carbon fibre composite invented and produced by French company Lavoisier Composites. It is made by employing a special compression-moulding process to ‘upcycle’ the epoxy resin and carbon fibres that were once earmarked to form part of an airliner wing or fuselage. The resulting carbon fibre in Carbonium® is three times more rigid than titanium, yet twice as light. And the final product? The new Romain Gauthier Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette’s encased movement ends up being an impressive 31.31g.
Simply put, it’s a carbon composite sourced from aerospace-grade fibres that is light, mechanically resistant and catches the light with its dynamic veining.
The Bare Truth
With this new release, Romain Gauthier bares open the time-only automatic calibre, showcasing the eight skeletonised, ultra-light natural titanium bridges and mainplate. But if you look carefully, you will also see the art of anglage in its full mastery.
Anglage is the art of bevelling, softening, smoothing and polishing by hand that beautifies the watch components by creating a polished bevel between its surface and flanks. In detail, this art sees the artisan create a bevel using a steel file, who then softens and smooths the material. What’s truly special is that each Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette movement features roughly 250 hours devoted to anglage alone, while the finished movement decoration that further includes hand-frosting, polishing countersinks, circular graining, straight graining and snailing, can take up-to 350 hours of work.
The reference MON00385 (Carbonium® edition) features the in-house Manufacture self-winding movement with a double mainspring barrel and is very similar to the 2017 version I talked about earlier. The 32.1mm x 6.8mm movement features 206 components — in varying materials such as 22k gold titanium (for micro-rotor), steel, stainless steel, beryllium copper, brass and German silver — 33 jewels, beats at the frequency of 4Hz (28’800 A/h), and boasts of an impressive 80-hour power reserve.
The movement is encased inside a 42mm diameter and 12.9mm thick Carbonium® case and has been superlatively hand-finished and showcases skeletonised mainplate and bridges in natural titanium.
Visible on the dial side and through the display case-back is the oscillating weight that turns smoothly between two bridges, each fitted with a friction-minimising, wear-resistant ruby bearing.
The Other Versions
Even though my favourite is the watch with the Carbonium® case, Romain Gauthier is also offering the watch in other case materials. I like this version more because the case, crown, dial and buckle are all made out of Carbonium®. Take these away and as impressive as the resulting skeletonised watches are, in my humble option they somehow don’t seem to have the edge that Carbonium® brings. That said, the brand has managed to include various customisable options that are sure to appease to the collectors.
The Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette is also available in precious metals or natural or black DLC Grade 5 titanium. Besides the materials used and the customisable dial colour options available, the main difference is that of the size; these variants come in at a smaller 39.5mm diameter which is more dressy and less sporty according to me. Like I said, I really liked the Carbonium® case option and the larger size not only makes it more masculine but also more sporty.
Even though they are customisable (more on that later), the brand has provided with two existing options that clients can choose from, if they don’t wish to fully customise their pieces.
The first one (reference MON00331) is in 18k red gold featuring an oven-fired black enamel dial that has been greyed by hand-frosting. The greyed look is complemented by 18k red gold hands and the watch is fitted with a grey, natural rubber strap with 18k red gold pin buckle.
The second combination variant (reference MON00307) is in 950 platinum featuring an oven-fired, satin-blue enamel dial made in house by Romain’s wife Ana Gauthier. The satin-blue enamel dial is complemented by the 18k white gold hands and the watch is fitted with a navy-blue alligator leather strap with 18k white gold pin buckle.
All the above variants are impressively 50m (5ATM) water-resistant. I say impressively because usually with carbon fibre watches, the movement is placed in a watertight cylinder within a non-waterproofed case. The brand has gone the extra mile that saw resin being injected into the micropores on the inside of the case to prevent water from entering it. So the skeletonised movement is protected from humidity by the Carbonium® case itself.
The sporty dial of the Carbonium® version shows the functions of off-centre hours, minutes (at 12’o clock) and small seconds on a Carbonium® dial. The dial is protected by a sapphire crystal with interior anti-reflection coating. Given the watch is essentially a homage to skeletonised movements and finishing, the dial is certainly the centre of attention. And the oddly positioned Carbonium®crown for manual winding and time-setting at 2’o clock further adds to the off-centered, quirky look the watch has to offer.
The blued matte-finished steel skeletonised hour and minute hands and blued solid small seconds hand really add a burst of colour to the otherwise understated and monochromatic toned dial. Further complementing this blue is the use of the blue natural rubber strap that comes on a Carbonium®pin buckle.
Being a skeletonised dial, the mechanics of the movement are open to display. Various elements can be seen, primarily:
- The winding and time-setting mechanisms, and Romain Gauthier S-slot screws are visible between 1 and 3’o clock;
- The mainspring barrels that are decorated by snailing can be seen at 5’o clock;
- The balance wheel at 6’o clock appears as though it is floating;
- The circular-grained gears with circular, bevelled arms can be seen at 7’o clock;
- And the snailed micro-rotor at 9’o clock sways more dramatically than ever between the stripped-down bridges.
Flip the watch and the show continues:
- The micro-rotor can be seen engaging the visible train of gears;
- The barrels and ratchet wheels are now more exposed and are highly decorated;
- The bridges are juxtaposed by the straight-grained, linear plaquettes adorning them.
Watch Ya Gonna Do About It
Before I wrap this review up, it is worthwhile to note the Carbonium® version is “Manufacture Only”, meaning that it won’t be sold through their retail partners.
And this has been done to enhance its appeal to collectors.
“Purchasing this timepiece directly from us, our collectors will know that they are acquiring an exciting timepiece that they won’t find anywhere else… Those who own it will, in a sense, become part of a club of owners who understand how this watch represents me in terms of the architectural movement, the extreme level of hand-finishing and the technical-yet-casual nature of the Carbonium® case. And they will know that they will have made a considerable contribution to supporting our watchmaking,” says Romain Gauthier.
Now wrapping this up, in a nutshell, I like the watch. As for collectors and enthusiasts, it could mean different things. Quite like the new Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref 6007A-001 actually, I think the collectors will lap this up, and the enthusiasts might have a hard time justifying the cost when so many other finely finished options exist from other well-established Maisons.
I also realise that the precious metal options might appeal more to people in general, given the Carbonium® is not entirely revolutionary and gold feels more exclusive and premium. I say Carbonium® is not entirely revolutionary as other watches do exist in the material: for instance the slightly bigger (43mm) Ulysses Nardin Freak X with the same water-resistance of 5ATM. Retailing for AUD$38’750, while it may not be completely made from Carbonium®, it still features the material for a much lesser price (the Romain Gauthier comes in at approx. 240000 or CHF 155’000 plus taxes). That’s a 200K difference. I also understand that for collectors that want watches such as the new Romain Gauthier Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette the price point will not be a deterrent, but it’s still worthwhile putting this release in context.
Price aside, the watch itself is very impressive in its technical and material innovativeness. I also appreciate that the watches can be customised.
All three versions can be customised to a certain degree, adding to the release of these timepieces a certain bespoke touch. The options are:
- Material of the case – precious material, Grade 5 titanium or Carbonium®
- Instead of hand-polished bevels, one can also choose to go for matte-finished bevels;
- Choose the colour of the steel hands;
- Colour of the dial and dial accents;
- Colour of the plaquettes and their engravings
- Choose the colour of the natural rubber strap; or a completely new material like alligator leather.
Overall, I think the new Romain Gauthier Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette is an excellent watch that will not only add class but also worth to any existing collection. It’s for people with deep pockets, appreciation for Haute Horlogerie and desire to stand out from the herd. Like the Bernard C. Meltzer quotation from above, amidst the entirety of the Swiss watchmaking industry, Romain Gauthier may seem like an underdog, but given its accomplishments in such a short span of time, they sure are in the direction of being amongst the crème de la crème of the watchmaking industry.
To find out more about them and other watches, please head to their website here. All photos are courtesy © Manufacture Romain Gauthier SA. All rights reserved.