Simply silver

| Beat Weinmann

“I want a silver watch for myself.”

It was 2007. Ludwig Oechslin and I were discussing what case materials we wanted to use for our own, personal ochs und junior watches.

Oechslin wanted silver!

Silver is unique. Over time, this precious and relatively soft material acquires a characteristic patina. All the little scratches show that this watch is being used and loved. Like grandfather’s pocket watch, which shows traces of a whole life lived, traces of use, experiences carved into it.

Silver is a material that is only rarely used for watch cases nowadays. The modern demand of luxury consumers is for highly polished cases and exquisitely finished surfaces. A watch made from precious metals is supposed to look perfect and undergoes a “facelift” at every service in an effort to keep it that way. Every wrinkle, every scratch is evened out and polished away. Today, a watch is supposed to show no traces of life or of its use.

Ludwig Oechslin thinks a silver case that tells a story is more interesting. That’s why he wanted silver for his own watch.

Oechslin mills out all his prototypes and leaves them with visible machining marks. It was therefore quickly clear to us that we wanted all our ochs und junior watches to show how they had been manufactured. Our attempts to have such cases made by one of the established producers of watch cases all failed. None could provide sufficient precision in their manufacturing process to forgo any final reworking of the parts, such as polishing or satin-finishing.

We had to think creatively for our next step. In the 1990s, I had worked with Peter Cantieni and I knew that someone who was as excellent in building prototypes as he was would be capable of producing our parts for us. Cantieni is the expert for working with titanium. However, Cantieni had never worked before with precious metals.

Since silver is very soft, it is extremely difficult to mill. We decided to make our initial tests with this very demanding material, thinking that if Cantieni succeeds with silver, he’ll have no problems working with gold or platinum. Since Oechslin wanted silver for his personal watch anyway, the idea worked out well. And though silver was just thought of as a test material for our own use, the material fascinated quite a few of our first clients as well. So we didn’t stop at prototypes and soon began offering watch cases in sterling silver 925.

Later we added the special buckle and the crown in silver. Now we truly had silver watches. How about producing a watch that consists of only one visible material  –  sterling silver 925?

The idea took hold at the beginning of 2014. Besides my ochs und junior watches with titanium cases, which I have been wearing in all kinds of situations, I have worn ochs und junior watches in silver cases since 2008.

Oechslin’s wish for a silver watch had thus become mine  –  although I wanted to take it even a step further. Could we make the case, crown, buckle, hands, and even the functional dial of an annual calendar in sterling silver 925?

It was a challenge for Peter Cantieni, and not an easy one. He has never done more demanding work for us than the manufacturing of the sterling silver dial of the annual calendar. At its thinnest, where the month and the weekday gears fit into it, the functional dial is just 0.25 mm thick. The difficulty was to mill the dial in such a way that the surface would be even despite the differences in thickness.

To mill the 0.2 mm internal screw threads that set the month and weekday disks directly out of the dial – in a soft metal like sterling silver  –  a very demanding task!

Cantieni is an artist with his machines. He has prefect control and just as Oechslin loves the intellectual challenge when inventing new designs for functions, he loves the technical challenge of manufacturing parts like this one.

The surface of the dial has been hand-patinated dark gray. It could have been lighter or darker than this; my choice was for high contrast. You can see a distinctive swirl right around the month disk. An outcome of the patination process – it shows it’s mine! The markers were afterwards milled into the dial, revealing the metal beneath.

And so I am now carrying an annual calendar watch on my wrist – not for sports, perhaps, but for work or for the opening of a new exhibition at the Museum of Art in Lucerne – with only one visible metal, sterling silver 925. With no color added, and yet, with perfect contrast.

I have never worn a watch made from precious metals that reflects the light more spectacularly than this sterling silver 925 annual calendar. Candle light on its case is enchanting, sunlight is brilliant, but completely different – and with the right light, the watch shows beautifully in photography.

I am curious to see what stories this watch will be telling in a few years. What patina it will collect. Of course, I could polish it with a silver cloth and bring back that typical silver shine at any point. I don’t think I will, though. I want this watch to age with grace, just like us …

CHF 15’000 — including 8% Swiss VAT.
CHF 13’800 — export price excluding VAT.