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Watches: Double Trouble

James D. Malcolmson

Pierre Koukjian, owner of the 3-year-old deLaCour watch company, claims he has been working these last few years toward one goal: building the BiTourbillon, an ultrawide behemoth with two side-by-side tourbillons. However, as a trained interior designer, painter, sculptor, and jeweler, Koukjian was better equipped to design the watch’s flamboyant exterior than to address its many inherent engineering challenges.

With no capacity for developing its own movements, deLaCour turned to tourbillon specialist Christophe Claret, who has a reputation for being a rather prickly partner. “Christophe is very picky about whom he works with,” says Koukjian, “but he saw that I had an intriguing idea and wanted to try.”

At the watch industry’s Baselworld fair last spring in Switzerland, after three trying years spent overcoming myriad technical obstacles, deLaCour unveiled a working version of its highly complicated masterpiece. The design, like those of similar models recently released by Roger Dubuis and Breguet, is intended to heighten accuracy by mechanically averaging the rates of the two tourbillons. DeLaCour has produced only four of the watches, three of which are priced at approximately $550,000. Each is distinguished by a unique case: One is encrusted with baguette diamonds, and the others have been embellished by artisan Kees Engelbarts with fantastic engravings depicting a scorpion, a phoenix, and a laurel tree.

In 2004, Koukjian conceived a similar but far less complex timepiece with two supplied chronograph movements in an expansive tonneau-shaped case. He says the purpose of the BiChrono project was to generate funds for developing the BiTourbillon. He submitted a rendering of the BiChrono to the annual Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève watch design competition in 2004 before even building a prototype. Upon learning that his entry was under consideration for the award, Koukjian had to scramble to produce a functioning watch. Although it did not win the accolade, the BiChrono did impress some influential entertainment industry and professional sports figures, who provided deLaCour with valuable exposure.

The BiTourbillon shares the BiChrono’s double-wide dimensions, but it represents a far more complicated mechanical achievement. During the watch’s development, problems persisted with the tourbillon mechanisms, which would not synchronize properly, and with the additional functions that Koukjian envisioned. The design called for both jumping hour and jumping date indicators, which display digits in apertures rather than with conventional hands. This type of display requires extra power—more than the first prototypes could supply. For a dramatic flourish, Koukjian’s design included a shooting star display on a sapphire disk that would streak across the top of the moon phase every six minutes, but several modifications were required to make it work.

By spring 2005, the BiTourbillon’s projected launch date, watch industry rumors indicated that deLaCour’s double tourbillon did not work. But in Basel a year later, Koukjian, dressed like a rock star and dripping with titanium jewelry, defied news of the watch’s death by introducing the first functioning model. Now that he has built his masterpiece, presumably he will stick around to produce some other, equally imaginative timepieces.

deLaCour
203.227.9082
www.delacour.ch

Photo by Darin Schnabel
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