Jeffrey P. Hess
Michael Harer has a vision. His brand, J. Chevalier, has been around for over 20 years and started, as many watch companies before his, by producing watches for "everyman." Harer, a sturdy and straight forward fellow from the watch manufacturing capital of Pforzheim, still the home of Jean Marcel as well as many other horological concerns and once the home of venerable movement maker PUW (Pforzheim Uhren Works), has built a no-nonsense company which makes watches that typify the Swambien area of Germany, known also for the production of fine motorcars such as Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volkswagen. Harer, a "man of arts' (he sponsors a huge outdoor opera event in Pforzheim every year that draws tens of thousand of attendees) and a man of action (he has also sponsored race cars in vintage automobile races for years) has utilized the same attention to detail in concert with the high-quality standards expected from this hard working region to achieve great success in a relatively short time period. And like with many brands, as the overall quality increased and the styling became more advanced and cutting-edge, a huge cult following developed.
J. Chevalier has previously been known as a company that makes cutting-edge gold watches and complicated watches that use high-grade movement from ETA and Valjoux (such as the 7750 and 7751) for their chronographs; high jeweled Swiss ETA movements for their quartz watches; and the Unites 6497-2 base caliber for their Chevalier caliber CH1740 in the oversized "Grand Plateau" model. Many J. Chevalier movements are "constructed from basic versions of well-known ETA and Valjoux calibers, which are specially modified." They have also produced watches for collectors, (such as skeleton watches with Peseux movements - the same movements used by Nivrel and Nomos Glash?tte, (two other well known German brands) and Blancpain, as well as a variety of pocket watches.
But Harer "ups the ante" a few hundred notches with the unveiling of his new tourbillon, while also introducing us to his newest project, the luxury line Joseph Chevalier. The name is derived from Joseph Chevalier, a Swiss watchmaker who, with his family, produced fine handmade chain-driven watches in the year 1742, and is one that Mr. Harer is proud to carry on. Michael Harer, always the innovator (and ever the traditionalist) has brought his new upscale brand to market with the tourbillon as its crowing glory. When upstart movement maker, Progress, brought this marvel forward in late 1999, many companies immediately announced plans to build a timepiece exploiting it. Elmar Mock and Peter Gschwind, the brains behind Progress, have lots of experience in the technical end of the watch business and reportedly were the brains behind many of their former employer's (SWATCH GROUP) inventions and have been rumored to be behind several of the key SWATCH patents. They were both employed at SWATCH for man-years in the 1980s and were quite active there. It is said that Mr. Hayek at SWATCH recognized early-on the genius that these two fellows were capable of and encouraged them to innovate. So, as the story goes, Messrs. Mock and Gschwind started Progress Watch Corp.. Mock, a micro-engineering and materials expert and Gschwind, a watch-maker-cum-marketing guru, made a good team and were able to pull off the unthinkable. Their tourbillon (or "turning frame") movement is the first tourbillon to be more or less mass-produced and thus "affordable." Traditionally the tourbillon was a show-off watch that companies used to show their commitment to fine watchmaking and as homage to Abraham-Louis-Breguet, the inventor of the tourbillon. Audemars Piguet, for instance, sells their platinum version, the "Canapé," for $125,000 and Breguet retails their own for $137,000 in 18kt yellow gold. Now with the advent of the Progress movement, (one that has reduced the number of parts to well under 40 from approximately 100 parts is a more conventional Breguet-style tourbillon) and with the resulting lower price point, "everyman" can finally afford one. (Joseph Chevalier plans to retail their watch for $16,000, but they are reportedly going for even more.) And Progress Watch Corp. even claims that their tourbillon is extremely more durable than standard tourbillons! Progress further says that their "revolutionary tourbillon movement, first presented at the annual watch exhibition in Basel April 1999, is the first 4Hz tourbillon in the world, and features higher accuracy, significantly improved possibilities for individualization in less space, has approximately 50% fewer parts than existing tourbillons, and is thereby more reliable and shockproof, with properties in high demand within the watch industry."
Tourbillons, with their fascinating mechanical construction, eliminate the negative gravity influence on accuracy by turning the entire carriage holding the escapement wheels and they are considered the "Masterpiece of Watchmaking," only found in the highest end brands, and incorporated in watches selling at US $50,000 or more. Double shock absorbers on the new Progress design and a strong simplified construction made their movement, they claim, shock-resistant enough for daily use and even for sports watches.
Apparently, Harer's new Joseph Chevalier line was among the first to make an affordable tourbillon happen, unveiling a working model at Basel 2001 last year and delivering them to their dealers. (By the way, I am not unbiased here, as I am a Joseph Chevalier dealer and have taken delivery "1," "2," and "3" of these fine timepieces at my store in St. Petersburg, Florida in October of 2001.) The Art of Watchmaking at Bergdorf-Goodman in New York is amongst the many other companies that carry this brand. Michael Harer has reiterated that the same guarantee of quality and workmanship that he has stood behind on his more classic and elegant standard chronographs, manual-winding and even quartz timepieces that the brand has been traditionally known for, will be upheld 10-fold for their higher (and more expensive) Joseph Chevalier line. And if this beautifully hand-finished " Calendar Tourbillon" is any indication, his new line will be a success indeed!