The world renowned Swiss watch maker, Louis Moinet has taken a step back in time, back to between 1815 and 1816, the time when his namesake invented the chronograph. The current CEO of the brand, Jean-Marie Schaller, announced the original brand chronograph was purchased in auction from Christie’s. Sold by a northern European family, the timepiece appears to have been well maintained and show the construction of the instrument started in 1815, and was completed the following year.
While the modern chronograph is seen as a single complication, reality shows it is a series of distinct inventions, and designed over a long period of time. The original idea behind the chronograph is attributed to one Nicolas Mathieu Rieussec, creating a device using ink to measure time intervals. The initial invention was used for timing horse races, and clocked intervals up to 10 minutes maximum.
The Rieussec first chronograph was large, but immediately work began to fit to a pocket watch. In 1844, Adolphe Nicole invented the return-to-zero mechanism and in 1862 it was crafted for the first movement. The rapid-reset was crucial in the modern definition of the chronograph, and therefore Louis Moinet’s claim that this design was created almost 30 years prior to Nicole’s took the watch making world by shocking surprise.
Certainly the accuracy of the chronographs changed through the years, but those changes took years of very dedicated and detailed work. Many great watchmakers contributed to the development of precision, but the very idea that Moinet’s counter measured 1/60 of a second 100 years before Edouard Heuer’s invention, that would be a miraculous revelation.
The identified original chronograph has a silver case measuring 57.7mm, contains a signed dial feature with three subdials. The 24-hour counter sits at 6 o’clock with a Breguet hand and identifying roman numerals to mark the first 12 hours. The hands are a blued steel, and all the hands except the central one must be reset by hand.
While there are additional details of the original design, history shows that the original design was created for astronomical measurement, and so he needed a power reserve of over 24 hours, and by measuring down to the 60th of a second, he could accurately set the distance between reticle lines on his telescope.
This brilliant design was the most precise instrument of its period and places Moinet as one of the greatest contributors of modern watchmaking. With the chronograph’s balance beating at 216,000 vibrations an hour or at the frequency of 30Hz, this makes him the father of high-frequency time measurement, and took a century for a watch to beat that record.
While the brand of Louis Moinet is rewriting chronograph history with this revelation, the man himself was modest and brilliant. Rather than seek profits he pursued knowledge and shared his research with all those other watchmakers. The motto of the man remains instilled in all those who knew him, and in his legacy, “The essential thing is never to depart from what is true.” Still today his brand stands true and seeks continued perfection.