Over the past 5 or so years, Vianney Halter has created his niche in the world of independent watchmaking with designs that always surprise, and often delight and astonish. Even those who do not like the style of his watches generally recognize that they represent a good-faith effort by a remarkably imaginative and capable watchmaker to realize a vision which truly is unique in a field already crammed with derivative products. Although generally produced in vanishingly small quantities, the range of Halter's watches in this brief time is considerable; below are publicity pictures of his Antigua (and associated Contemporaine), the rectangular Trio and Goldpfeil edition, the original version of the present Classic and the still-evolving Opus 3 for Harry Winston:
While it seems that most of Halter's line is not really intended for series production, the Classic was shown
in Basel as a concept in 1999 and 2000, with availability sometime in 2001. I remember reading about it and seeing very small pictures, and I have to admit to having no immediate interest. It certainly was not as outwardly brash and creative as the Antigua, and it seemed genuinely likely that Mr. Halter's effort to sell something more mainstream might result in a watch lacking the distinctive design of its predecessors, but still attached to a very high price. That there were no reviews or owner's experiences to reference, and only undetailed pictures available hampered my interest even more.
Although I followed Halter's career in the meantime, I never seriously considered ordering one of his watches until I was offered one last August. Actually, I was offered a place in line for a Classic in rose gold, for delivery some 5 or so months later. I was also offered the opportunity to speak with another customer, a very sophisticated watch-appreciator who had recently taken delivery of this watch, and he was so enthusiastic and sincere in his admiration for not only the design and unique features but also the actual watch, the meticulous execution and the sheer aura it seemed to possess. Admittedly, I hadn't quite grasped these attributes from the few public relations descriptions and pictures I had as yet encountered, but now I was beginning to sense that this watch was a real Vianney Halter, less expensive and less rare, and yes, less outrageous, but not a lesser product. I placed my order, watched the dollar/franc ratio gyrate, and waited...until April, 2004 as it turns out, only a few months past due.
Click the pictures for even larger!
For me to say that I am impressed with this watch is a severe understatement. I would characterize it in terms of density; the Classic is massive, a solid 36mm piece of gold fitted with movement and dial, not a contract case with thin walls and spacers. It is dense with details, the uniquely shaped and 3-dimensionally curved hands,the 4-piece dial, the 22 white gold grippers emerging from the crown which allow one to set the time despite the hidden stem, the transparent rotor, weighted so that the legends are always upright and readable... I have come to appreciate that while the Classic is not in and of itself a bold step into the horologic and aesthetic deep, neither is it a pallid and diluted version of its atelier-mates. Rather I see this watch as a distillation of VH's aesthetic, circa 2001, incorporating all the necessary elements of it's identity and unique creation into a simple, 3-hand watch, round and of medium size, priced a magnitude lower than its more astonishing brethren and produced in dozens per year, rather than per lifetime.
While the mechanics of this watch are not intended as a great horologic adventure, Halter uses the unusual and very highly regarded Lemania 8810 movement, adding some jewels and reshaping the bridges in a soft, organic manner. The striping is quite distinctive, wide, and alternating lighter and heavier sections in a precise pattern. The attention to detail and finish is in my opinion first rate, not a bit below any competition at this price point, and just as impressive as the rest of the watch. The sapphire rotor is of course a highlight, allowing automatic winding without obscuring one's view of the beautiful movement below, and spinning delightfully before finally setting to rest with its legends always properly oriented.
The details of the Classic are simply breathtaking. The alternation of brushed flat surface and polished angles defines the front of the watch, the bezel and dial. The broad blue hands are seriously sensuous, and the wide polished ring surrounding the dial offers an exotic reflection of the numerals and chapters. The little white gold half-globes which adorn the bezel at each hour are a visual and tactile delight; they mirror the endposts of the lugs and apparently really do help hold the case together. There is not one part of this watch which looks to me like it has been chosen casually or as a compromise simply to ease construction.
In the picture below the crown is pulled out for setting, showing how the 22 imbedded posts enable gripping although the stem is hidden away somewhere inside. Note that the alternation of brushed and polished surfaces is still carried forward, even in these small details.