Harry Winston Opus XIII - The obvious evolution of an Abacus?
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  1. #1
    Watchuseek Editor JMunchow's Avatar
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    Harry Winston Opus XIII - The obvious evolution of an Abacus?

    The Abacus; most people think of it as an ancient counting tool, something Chinese students use, or some weird thing they saw in a movie once. In reality, it is a very simple yet complicated calculating tool that was used to calculate almost everything up until the invention of different machines and complicated Algebra and Calculus. Being invented sometime around 2700 BC (and when I say around, I mean within a few hundred years because definitive dates are hard to come by that long ago) in or around Mesopotamia, it began as a simple table of columns and later developed into many different forms as different cultures adopted the very useful tool. It is even believed that the original Babylonian cuneiform had a character that was a representation of the Abacus, which means it was already a long standing tool to be included in a language system.

    While many Asian countries, and some others, do still use the abacus to teach their children (even resulting in the famous All Japan Soroban Championship with the highest competitors participating in Flash Anzan), the abacus and other counting systems developed into more complex versions. Machinery started to be invented which could help less skilled mathematicians with their equations, though nothing succeeded in completely replacing the need for hand calculations. Some machines came close for the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, but that is where they ultimately stopped. In the modern age, we even have binary abacus’ that replicate how computers deal with letters, numbers and figures. These are mostly used as teaching aids and aren’t very useful.

    Random culture-nerd side-note: Anzan is the Japanese word for “blind calculation” and this practice sees people imagining an abacus in their mind and doing mental calculations. Flash Anzan is just that, speedy blind calculation where you are shown 15 numbers in rapid succession and your goal is to calculate them as quickly as possible. The competition works like a spelling bee and the words are flashed faster and faster until people can’t read them anymore. The current world record holder was able to add all 15 numbers when they were flashed across a screen in a measly 1.70 seconds. Watch this video clip which has nothing to do with watches simply to be blown away!



    This brings me to a niche adding machine that I discovered a few years back when living in San Francisco. The Long Now Foundation, which among other things, advocates for long term thinking and sustainability. I visited their headquarters because of a special project that they are undertaking, a 10,000 year clock. Yeah, you read that right, a 10,000 YEAR clock. Check out their website for more info on that, you won’t regret it. I’ll even be returning to them in a future article because of how awesome they are. A part of that 10,000 year clock is an adding mechanism to keep track of all the extra bits besides the time. For that adding they utilize a serial bit adder, which is a mechanical adding machine. When I first saw this thing I was transfixed, it was so simple in its complexity that I just loved it. The way that it calculates things with the passing of time is using a pin and lever system to mark off rotations of a calculator disc and add up whatever the system is designed to add.

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    The reason I touch on this machine is that I recently discovered an incarnation of the basic mechanism in a much beloved place, a wristwatch. Of course, this is no mere ETA movement or standard offering from any normal brand. No no, this is none other than the latest Harry Winston Opus Series, the Opus XIII. Developed with Ludovic Ballouard, the man behind the eponymous brand and with pedigree from his days working with Franck Muller and F.P. Journe, the Opus XIII is a magnificently beautiful movement that made me giddy the first time I watched it operate (in a video I saw before Baselworld this year). Sadly, the fine folks at Harry Winston had many lovely ladies and very large gentleman blocking the way in to see the newest and greatest at Baselworld so I remain a simple fan who looks from afar.

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    Regardless of the fact that I have not personally seen the watch, they did release an AMAZING video showcasing the movement and how it works that I would like to share with you.



    Now for me, whenever I see a movement that I fall in love with, my first goal is to understand how it works. I guess that’s just the way I work, wanting to know the secret behind the curtains of Oz! As an aspiring watchmaker, I love the challenge. With the Opus XIII however, I must admit that there are a few details that I am not 100% certain on since a few elements of the system were not shown in detail and there are questions that remain in my mind. For the areas I am not sure of, I will give little detail, even though I have a general understanding. I do not like to comment on things that I could not draw out in detail, as you all know I like to do (sometimes with weirdly intricate results and explanations).

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    The minute hands are where this all begins. There are 59 of them, and every one of those tiny little devils needs two ruby bearings to pivot 40° from an off position to an on position. These hands pivot one at a time every minute until minute 60 when they all snap back and the process begins again. This is where the fun begins! There is a spring system which holds all the hands in an off position (a spring system made from one single piece of steel manufactured using LIGA technology) and they are only released when a pin pushes on a lever to unlock them and switch them to the on position. Here is a picture of the spring and pin system which shows the pin disc which rotates once an hour to unlock all of the minute hands one by one.

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    I’ll ask you to refer back to this picture later for a different piece of the puzzle as well. Now the pin goes by and pushes the levers against the springs and they flip from off to on and stay there until they are reset at the top of the hour. To get a better idea of this, check out this snippet from the main video.



    Pretty cool if you ask me, and based on how that serial bit adder worked, it is a fair facsimile of a mechanism! But how is that pin disc regulated to only move once every minute? By its own escapement of course!

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    As you can see by the picture, the interior of that pin disc is shaped to act similarly to an escape wheel, only larger and not needing to be as precise (Okay, still pretty dang precise, but compared to the escape wheel, it might as well be made from sticks and mud). Along with that escape wheel comes an escape lever too! That escape lever is controlled by its end being placed in a groove of a double rosette cam that you can see on the rear of the lever. It rides in the groove and is pulled and pushed by the rosette lobes to release the escape lever and let the pin disc rotate to release the next hand. Here is a snippet of how that works showing the pin release going by in the bottom of the frame, and the escapement being activated by the rosette cam in the top right.



    This is the basic function of this watch and what you will be paying attention to most of the time. But there is another interesting thing that happens I mentioned earlier. At the top of the hour, all the hands snap back to their original position and the hour hands (which also rotate, only 180°) advance to the next hour. But how is that possible with the mechanism unlocking them the way it did? Well it has a reset disc that also rotates 6° at the top of the hour. If you go back and look at the image showing the springs and levers unlocked by the pin, you will notice that on the levers opposite of the springs, there is a square toothed (crenelated) gear ring that the lever rests against. By minute 59, all of the hand levers are resting against those square teeth. A minute later, that ring is released and rotates a little, pushing all 59 hands back to their original locked position.

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    For me, that is more than enough to enjoy this movement, but there is more. The hour hands (of which there are only 11) rotate one by one every hour on the hour. This is where my thorough understanding fails since I cannot see the mechanisms to match the description given by Harry Winston. Basically a snail cam rotates against a lever once an hour that allows for the activation of a ring (similar to the one that resets the minute hands) and turns each hour hand 180°. As the lever falls to the bottom of the snail cam, it pulls a rack along a pinion gear that rotates the hour ring. There is a video below of this basic description. At 12 o’clock AM and PM, instead of an hour hand appearing, a small disc in the center of the crystal is opened to reveal the Harry Winston logo. Very nice touch sir!



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    After all of this amazawesomness and ingenuity, I have one minor complaint. For me, the Opus Series started as a unique way to play with the idea of watchmaking, and to give a showcase for talented watchmakers of the industry. I believe it has developed further into an arena for showing off wonderful mechanisms and complications. And so to that, I wonder why on earth a majority of the dial is a giant (slightly bulbous) crystal that hides all of the wonderful bits that we came to see!? I understand Harry Winston is a jewelry company first and foremost, but up until now they have done a good job at keeping that bit out of the Opus Series. I personally think that it seems like a weird or random afterthought that doesn’t fit well with the idea or complication of the rest of the watch. Would I strap one on my wrist? You freaking bet! But it would probably be upside down more than right-side up, that movement is WAY more attractive than the front of the watch to me. But hey, I’m a movement guy first and foremost, so it’s no surprise there!

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    Duh duh duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh! The breakdown!

    (Check out my original articles for descriptions of the categories)


    • Wowza Factor – 7.16 This watch has some wow factor, but it isn’t so much immediate awe as it is more of a “Huh, that’s different” kind of vibe. Of course once you see it work that figure rises steadily just like my nerdcitement.
    • Late Night Lust Appeal – 5.2 gn » 50.995 m/s2Watching the video for this timepiece , watching it tick the minutes away or gazing at the fabulous mechanism holds you in your seat like a top Luge run at the Whistler Sliding Centre!
    • M.G.R. – 66.7 Pretty darn high up there this movement is simply complicated and simply awesome with 59 minute hands, 11 hour hands, and enough rubies to impress the Queen!
    • Added-Functionitis – Benign Sticking by the definition of a complication leads to a diagnosis of negative for Added-Functionitis. The movement is amazing and the time display is innovative but lacking a true “complication” one can forgo the ‘Gotta-HAVE-That’ cream and enjoy this piece sans-swelling!
    • Clams Per Pound – $100,000/year This piece deserves some sacrifice from a watchmaking aficionado. Granted the dial crystal isn’t my favorite, but an Opus from the house of Harry Winston with Ludovic Ballouard behind the movement makes up for it in spades.
    • Ouch Outline – 8.96 – Breaking a tooth on a rock Gosh these descriptions make me cringe, and yet I would cringe a whole lot more to make sure that this piece was hanging on my wrist as I sat in that dentist’s chair to get my poor mouth fixed!
    • Mermaid Moment – Two Minutes That is the amount of time it would take to notice what the dial is doing and realize just how incredible the time display is. Then flipping the piece over would probably make you weep to see all that beauty hidden against your wrist!


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    Overall this timepiece is very enjoyable and I am super excited to be able to handle it one day. I might like the look of it backwards more than anything but that doesn't diminish from it's incredible architecture. Hopefully with the new ownership of Harry Winston the Opus Series will continue as it is a great source of inspiration for young watchmakers!

    As usual, I hold no rights to any of the images or videos, they are simply taken freely from the internet or created from the HD corporate video. Okay, well two of the images I took myself when I was in San Francisco at the Long Now Foundation, but if you want to steal them, fine, they really aren't anything special and anyone can visit and get those images themselves.

    Have a great week and come back next week!

    Cheers & Happy Watching,

    Joshua
    Last edited by JMunchow; July 15th, 2013 at 19:24. Reason: Image conflict
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  2. #2
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    Re: Harry Winston Opus XIII - The obvious evolution of an Abacus?

    It won't be about the cost of servicing with that one, more like time, gonna need two.
    JMunchow likes this.

  3. #3
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    Re: Harry Winston Opus XIII - The obvious evolution of an Abacus?

    I really like the movement mechanism but the outside design isn't my style.
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  4. #4
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    Re: Harry Winston Opus XIII - The obvious evolution of an Abacus?

    I like the Opus XII much, much more. The complexities of this watch are insane, but style isn't my cup of tea. But they really do make some amazing videos.
    JMunchow likes this.

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