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Alain Silberstein And The Triumph of Whimsy

In the late 1980’s, Parisian Alain Silberstein upset the staid watchmaking world by producing fanciful watch pieces the likes of which had never been seen before.

A professional interior architect and industrial designer, Silberstein was so enamored with watches and timekeeping that he created his own watch company. A business with no roots in watch history.

The results were spectacular.

Silberstein’s team concentrated on chronographs which are stopwatch watches. Many were also chronometer rated which meant they kept precise timekeeping.

Note the three buttons on the right hand side. The top button starts the chronograph feature which is simply a timer. Hitting that button a second time stops the counter. The bottom button resets the mechanism. Just the thing for timing your horses at an early morning workout at the track.

The squiggly yellow line is actually the second hand indicator for the stopwatch feature. Rolex and Omega made beautiful chronographs at the time but they never did squiggly.

To be fair, Rolex once went mad with a chronograph using rubies, diamonds, and sapphires around the bezel to create a rainbow effect. The watchband was rose gold and you might pick up an example today for around $50,000. It might be still in production, don’t know.

All those jewels, though, won’t tell you the phases of the moon like a Silberstein. Yes, Alain included a happy looking moon dial that kept track of waning and waxing and gibbous and and all that other moon stuff. So you could track the moon when you weren’t tracking your ponies.

The Rolex Daytona Rainbow or whatever it is called. More gaudy than whimsical or innovative. A sledge hammer approach, hitting you over the head with jewels to say they are the most important thing.

Here’s the Silberstein I bought months ago, photographed by the only authorized Silberstein watch repair company in the United States. Silberstein is still alive but it has been twenty years since he produced these timepieces. My Kronomarine is undergoing a complete service and rebuild. It would have been cheaper to replace the mechanism inside the watch instead of rebuilding it, but I wanted to preserve a crazy part of late 80s’s art. (Which I write a bit more on here – internal link)

For watch geeks, I was sold the watch by a known dealer who did not disclose that the watch could no longer be manually wound. The crown simply spun around but the watch did work after I wore it a while. The chronograph feature worked perfectly. The movement is a 7751 Valjoux.

The watch dealer did agree to pay for about half of the repair cost which was _extremely_ high. The repair service said the self-winding mechanism and the setting mechanism needed repair (damaged set lever clutch and detent), that the amplitude was weak, and that the oil was dry. Along with damage where the stem interfaces with the movement. Sheesh. They will calibrate it, time test it over 72 hours, and then replace the seals and pressure test it. I might get it back in another month or two. As with all watch repairs like this, you pay upfront.

My watch looks much better in person than on this repair bench but I didn’t get a good photograph before I sent it off. Here is a stock photo.

Only 500 of these were produced. In truth, I would prefer a lighter colored Silberstein like the ones pictured above. But I am happy for now and perhaps I can trade it later for a white dial model.

Silberstein paraphrased Flaubert by saying that “True happiness is making your passion your profession.” Or, let’s see if I can get this right, ““Le vrai bonheur est d’avoir sa passion pour métier”.

In their words:

“A watch capturing the quintessence of time, a unique object viewed with a new eye; such are the latest creations of Alain Silberstein. Traditional watchmaking is reconciled with creative vitality. Tecbnology begets poetry. The ‘Formes du Temps‘ collection embodies the thought process of a craftsman, transforming inert matter into vitality. Design and mecbanism are one. The architecture of an Alain Silberstein creation is styled down to the last micron. A warm aura blunts the the sting of time, muting the cold demands of technological prowess. Freedom. Freedom to break the bonds of time and discover a more agreeable tempo of life.”

Double click these images for their full size. This manual is rarer than the watch and sells for over a hundred dollars on eBay when you can find it.

Front page of the Kronomarine instruction pamphlet

Back page of the Kronomarine instruction pamphlet

Front cover of the rare Marine Collection Catalog

Inside pages showing off these wonderfully colorful and playful watches. Double click for full size awesomeness. Right click to save the image.

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A Different Look at Time

Isn’t this amazing? This is a Ressence watch, their TYPE 1² Squared.(external link)

The indicators or complications are disks that revolve and are always in motion, just as the hands of a conventional watch are always revolving. The orange tinged indicator is the power reserve dial, showing how much time this mechanical watch has left before winding down.

This watch is in the $20,000 range, never-the-less, we can always enjoy amazing industrial design simply by looking at it.

This is a speeded up look at the watch, in real-time videos the watch is far less playful. Still, I get the idea and I like it. Ressence makes other fascinating models.

This might be what an alien or a supercomputer might produce, when tasked to design a timepiece without giving it any images of existing watches.
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Styling Today in the Bauhaus Way

NB: Links are unsponsored and developed on my own.

Bauhaus design lives on. These two German watches show it off. And a third might qualify with imagination.

This first is a Nomos Orion which retails for between $1,800 and $4,000 US. I like the colors.

The second is a Sternglas Zirkel which retails from $300 to $500. No color. True minimalism.

Watch authority Teddy Baldassarre said in a recent YouTube video (external link) that he is constantly asked about what company makes an affordable Bauhaus style watch. I didn’t know Bauhaus was still alive.

Here’s another contemporary example, a self-labeled “bauhaus watch” by the E Watch Factory of New York and sold by Zazzle.

Zazzle’s product page mentions the surrealism of Joan Miró. This watch does have colors Miró might have used. The claimed Bauhaus association must rest from arranging the irregularly colored shapes of abstract art into a clean edged geometric design. $57 US. That page also has ten other designs the E Watch Factory calls Bauhaus.

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