Collector's Pocket Watches, Wristwatc...

Noga Hilton, Geneva, Apr 12, 2003

LOT 559

The World's Smallest TourbillonFritz-André Robert-Charrue, Le Locle, dated 1945.Magnificent, highly important and exceptionally small 18K gold keyless chronometer with one-minute tourbillon regulator, winner of a prize from the Société Suisse de Chronométrie, and masterpiece of the 1949 Swiss Exhibition in London. In original leather fitted box, accompanied by copies of maker's original designs, award notifications and other documents.

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Sold: CHF 619,500

C. Three-piece, glazed on both sides, drum-type, brushed band, polished bezels. D. Matte silver with applied gold radial Roman numerals, subsidiary seconds. Blued steel "bâton" hands. M. 19.7 mm. (8 3/4'''), 3/4-plate, maillechort, going barrel with "reserve" click, steel equidistant three-arm tourbillon carriage with lateral calibrated lever escapement, monometallic balance with gold and platinum screws, self-compensating Breguet balance spring, entire train jeweled, the carriage and center jeels in gold screwed settings.Signed on the back plate.Diam. 23.8 mm.

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Grading System
Case: 2
Movement: 2
Dial: 3 - 01


In 1927, the undisputed master of tourbillons, James Pellaton, made a 10 1/2''' (23.6 mm.) tourbillon watch. At the time it was the smallest tourbillon in the world. Pellaton said he was confident it would remain the world's smallest, because creating a smaller one was just not possible. Little did he know that 18 years later in 1945, his own apprentice would create a tourbillon watch of 8 3/4''' (19.7 mm.), which still remains the world's smallest tourbillon movement. This tourbillon is the prsent watch.Miniaturization has always been considered a proof of skill in horology. With the discovery of the tourbillon carriage, the trend was in full swing. The best makers tried their skills at creating the smallest watch possible. This was a means of impressing their clientele, as well as their peers, and of proving their skill. The Swiss were particularly fond of miniaturization, making ring watches and very small pendant watches, fitted mostly with cylinder or sometimes virgule escapements. At the frst Universal Exposition in London in 1851, Patek Philippe showed a watch whose movement measured only 4''' (9 mm). Others tried to follow but not many succeeded. At the time a watch was considered to be miniature if it measured 10''' or less, and miniature watches were considerably more expensive than others. For instance, a Breguet 7 or 8 line watch cost an average of 3000 francs, while one of his normal sized watches could be purchased for 1000 francs.The 20th century saw the miniaturization of precision timepieces, of which the tourbillon is no doubt the most difficullt to execute. Not many makers even attempted miniaturization of tourbillon movements. All together there are only five miniature tourbillons known. In 1876-77 Ernest Guinand, the famous tourbillon maker from Le Locle, miniaturized the tourbillon to the then unheard-of diameter of 31.9 mm. (14''') which Antiquorum sold on April 13, 2002, lot 64. He made two others, one of whiche sold on October 19, 2001, lot 105, and a third one whose whereabouts are unknown today. Guinand made them at the end of his career, his many years of experience enabling him to make them so small. If his intention was to leave a record for posterity that would remain unbroken for a long time, he succeeded. It took almost 40 years to make a smaller one. In 1927 that record was broken by James Pellaton with a 23.7 mm. (10 1/2''') tourbillon movement. That watch is in the collection of the Museéedu Château des Monts in Le Locle. All four watches were based on a circular movement. Three years after Pellaton's record, Ernest Lipmann Frères (LIP) from Besançon made a tonneau movement of 28 x 18 mm. Though very small, it did not beat Pellaton's record. Pellaton's movement was 440.9 mm2., while the LIP one was 504 mm2. (it is now in the National Time Museum of Chicago). The general feeling at the time was that it is not possible to make a tourbillon movement smaller then Pellaton's. Charrueas to prove this wrong.Fritz-Robert Charrue (1908 - 1983)Began his watchmaking training under Louis Dubois, a teacher at the Horological School at Le Locle and later the Dean of the Horological Academy in Denver. In 1949, Dubois stated in an interview that one "can not place Charrue in any category because he is too good". After finishing his studies, Charrue had the honor of being taken as an apprentice by the then already famous James Pellaton (he later succeeded him as director of the Le Locle Technicum). After finishing his apprenticeship, he quicly advanced in the horological world. Very soon he became head of production for Doxa Watch Co. In partnership with his friend Edmond Georges Fallot, he established the watch company Lovary in Le Locle which was a supplier to Rolex, among others. Later, Charrue founded a company which specialized in coin watches. Charrue supplied the best watch companies with his tourbillons, though in very limited quantities; Breguet for instance received only five from him. He spent countless hours behind theench, which once led his wife to jokingly remark that she knew him best from behind.Charrue conceived the idea of building a 8 3/4 ligne tourbillon before 1938, while at the École d'Horlogerie at le Locle. He discussed technical aspects of his project with the famous "Fils de Victorin Piguet", makers of complicated movements for Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and others.The actual making of the watch must have begun in 1939 or 1940, and it took Charrue about five years to complete it.For the plates he used maillechort, an alloy of copper, nickel, zinc, and sometimes lead. It is a strong, practically non-corrosive, easily machined, wear-resistant alloy with a pleasing appearance (in fact most of the so called "nickel movements" are in fact maillechort).The execution of the movement and the finish are remarkable. To fully appreciate the exactness of the finish, the uniformity and the degree of the polish, one must use a microscope. Looking at Charrue parts through a microscope, one can not help but admire the maker's skills, patience and persistence. The entire carriage has a diameter of 8 mm. with the width of the arm and rim being 0.5 mm., the thinnest part of the rim being 0.28 mm., For the escapement he chose the so-called mixed lever escapment (sometimes also called tangential), a cross between one with circular pallets and one with equidistant pallets. It creates not only a better action of draw and lift but also allows the lever to be planted on a tangent or as near as possible to it. The lever's total length is 2.5 mm. It is exceptionally well-finished with all correct angles carefully polished. Even its screws with a thread of 0.25 mm., are polished and beveled. The jewel holes are olive, the top ones are in gold châtons fastned by screws which are placed in special steel washers, both exceptionally well-finished. The smallest jewel has an outside diameter of 0.6 mm. It is extremely rare, even for the most skillful watchmakers, to find lines so harmonious and such perfection in parts as small as these. No wonder it took Charrue five years to complete it.The present watch is Charrue's masterpiece. It brought him fame, rewards and permanent place in the history of horology.Exhibitions: Geneva 1948, exhibited by Vacheron & Constantin. London 1949, Chambre Suisse de l'Horlogerie. Geneva 1949, Congres International de Chronométrie. Bruxelles 1958, Universal Exhibition. La Chaux-de-Fonds 1996, Musée International d'Horlogerie, "Le Tourbillon" exhibition.Literature: Numerous articles in the press from 1948 onward: La Tribune de Lausanne, p.2 of May 11, La Feuille d'Avis de Neuchâtel, p.8, May 10, and many others; "Grands Artisans de la Chronometrie" by A. Chapuis, Neuchatel, 1958, p. 222; "Le Tourbillon" by Reinhard Meis, Editions de l'Amateur, Paris 1990, p. 184; Exposition "Le Tourbillon", La Chaux-de-Fonds, 1996, p. 16.Chronology:Year Name Shape Dimention Surface Area1876-77 Ernest Guinand circular 31.9 mm. 798 mm21927 James Pellaton circular 23.7 mm. 440 mm21930 E. Lipmann Frères (LIP) tonneau 28 x 18 mm. 504 mm21945 F.-A. Robert-Charrue circular 19.7 mm 304 mm21947 Omega circular 30 mm. 706 mm2Provenance: Sold directly by Charrue to the present owner.