Manufacture Royale is one of the new independent manufactures which have become quite the vogue these days. Revived from an old company founded by French philosopher Voltaire in 1770, they celebrate the original founding with an interesting timepiece: The Manufacture Royale 1770 Voltige.
We had the opportunity to photograph the watch and handle it first hand when one of the founders (re-founders?) David Gouten was in town recently. The watch was embargoed till late last week. And here we bring you our hands-on first person review of the watch.
The Manufacture Royale 1770 Voltige
Based on the Manufacture Royale 1770, the Voltige is a new watch which wear its heart – the escapement on its sleeve (rather its dial). This is not a new concept. MB&F have their Legacy Machins, The LM1 was released in 2011 and feature a suspended balance. As did the MB&F LM2 and LM101. Arnold and Son also released several watches with a suspended balance, the most interesting of which is the Dial Side Dead Beat Seconds.
While the concept is not new, placing the escapement center stage reflects the importance timekeeping is to the makers. The visible escapement is a mesmerising sight. Like a voltigeur, French for acrobat, which inspired the name, the 1770 Voltige suggests precision and high technique, and also a kind of risk taking.
The case is typical Manufacture Royale. A domed crystal over a rather large 45mm case with a transparent back gives the 1770 Voltige a pleasant, curved silhouette. Like other watches in the collection, the case is held by two tubes which hugs the sides of the case, extending to form the lugs. Compare this to the Manufacture Royale 1770 Micromegas which we reviewed earlier. As with the Micromegas, the case is designed by Eric Giroud.
The most amazing talking point of this watch is of course the dial, and the suspended escapement visible on it.
The balance, visible at about 11 o’clock, suspended by its own semi circular bridge is made of titanium, and is ultra light. The rest of the escapement: the escape wheel and the pallet fork is visible, and is held in place by another semi circular bridge. The balance beats at 21,600 bph, and can be quite mesmerising to watch. The balance seems to be in a state of levitation, the dial having been swept free to leave space around the escapement. The hands are placed high, above the escape wheel and also appear to be floating.
The movement is the house manufactured MR05 caliber, and displays the hours, minutes and small seconds. It is automatic winding with a power reserve autonomy of 40 hours. The case is water resistant to 30m.
Movement finishing is unexceptional. We judge the finish to be at a good engineering level. Decorative and fine finishing is limited to the Côtes de Genève on the mainplate. Anglage is applied to the bridges, and visible from the sapphire case back, but the bridges themselves have a smooth, curvy shape, devoid of any sharp angles to show off the watchmaker’s craft. The bridges on the dial side look to be simply finished, and decorative and fine finishing seem absent, and is a bit disappointing.
The dial itself is rather interesting. The small seconds hand at 6 o’clock has a sieve structure. A ring surrounding the small seconds hand and the cartouche at 3 o’clock, provides a visual break to the dial’s satin sunray finish. The dial is available in either a grey anthracite or a rust coloured red dial which we feature in the pictures above. Also available is an 18 k rose gold version with a deep brown dial.
At CHF 27,000 (excl tax) for the steel versions and CHF42,000 (excl tax) in gold, it seem to be a reasonable price to pay for a unique movement in a unique case by an independent manufacture.
We continue to applaud new small manufactures who are independent, and continue to make interesting and unusual timepieces. This Manufacture Royal 1770 Voltige is a good attempt, and targetted at a rather entry level independent price. The spectacle of the suspended balance and hands is almost worth the price of entry alone. We just wished the finishing is at a higher level, but understand that a finer finish would mean a higher price, and a balance need to be struck somewhere. For us, we feel that this balance is tilted a tad too much away from the finishing aspect. But overall, we think this is a worthy consideration for a collector intending to enter into the world of independent watchmaking.