FROM THE HOUSE OF HAPPY DIAMONDS:
THE CHOPARD L.U.C. CALIBER 1.96

By Walt Odets

 

In an age when horology seems often  more about marketing than about authentic product, and many Swiss manufacturers would have the horologically knowledgeable remain ignorant of the innards of their timepieces, there is an occasional, significant  surprise.   One such surprise is the recent production of a Michel Parmigiani design, by Chopard, of an entirely new automatic caliber, the L.U.C. 1.96.  This is an extraordinary development, particularly from a house often thought of, in recent years, more for jewelry watches than for significant horological craft.  From the standpoint of both design and execution, the caliber 1.96 is probably the finest automatic movement being produced in Switzerland today.  

Technically, the 1.96 exhibits a number of original  approaches, not all of which are apparent in the specifications.  This is is a 12''' (27.4 millimeter) movement, and it is 3.3 millimeters thick.  Thus it is roughly the thickness of the Patek 315 or Jaeger LeCoultre 889.  But unlike the other two, the 1.96 uses an inset micro-rotor and is thus truly a 3.3 millimeter movement where it counts.  The result is a robust, durably constructed caliber with twin mainspring barrels stacked one on top of the other. 

 

The barrels operate in series (one switching in progressively as the first exhausts), vastly improving the isochronism of the watch over its longish 70 hour power reserve.  Other benefits of the thickness include an automatic winding system that is simple, robust, and provides bidirectional winding.

Among the other design features not suggested in the specifications is the durability of the movement.  With 32 jewels, the 1.96 is jeweled back to the barrels.  The automatic winding system is also fully jeweled.  But the automatic winding also uses no less than four ball bearings. 

The caliber 1.96 is a 28,800 bph movement and utilizes a three-armed Glucydur balance.  Carrying the Geneva Seal, the 1.96 uses an adjustable stud carrier (right, 1) characteristic of Genevois movements.  Among other items, the Geneva standards require a stud of unique design as a demonstration of technical ability.  A micro-screw fine adjustment for rate is provided (2) with a swan's neck spring.  Shock protection is provided by KIF units (4).   Most importantly the balance uses a Breguet overcoil.  Finishing of the escapement, as throughout the watch, is absolutely immaculate.  The fine regulation mechanism is illustrated right.  Note (arrow) that an extension designed into the spring mount assures that the regulator index and adjustment screw remain aligned.  Such design detail is apparent throughout the 1.96.

 

As with all fine movements, the craft of the 1.96 extends to the exquisitely-finished bottom plate.  The keyless works ( left, 1) and automatic winding cover are as well finished as the top plate. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An unusual and intelligent design feature (left) is the use of three cabochon jewels set into the keyless works cover.  These  reduce friction on the minute wheel rotating underneath.  Also note the perfect finishing of the cover and the hour wheel (left side)

 

 


AUTOMATIC WINDING


The automatic winding of the caliber 1.96 is certainly among its more original and interesting features.  As shown right, the very massive 22K winding micro rotor (1) winds the double barrels (2) through a remarkably simple mechanism contained almost entirely under a small winding bridge (3).


 

 


As illustrated right, the heavy, 22K rotor (removed in the photograph) is carried on a ball bearing hub (1).  Under the hub is a three-lobe cam.  A rocker (2) is pivoted at (5) and carries two ball bearing rollers (hidden at 3) that ride on the cam.  A pawl (hidden at 4) attached to one arm of the rocker winds the first transfer wheel (6).


 

 

 

 

 

 

The winding rocker (1) is illustrated right.  The rocker pivots at (2), driven by the ball bearing wheels (3) riding on the three-lobe cam.  The movement is wound by the double-toothed pawl at (4).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Much of the beautifully-finished winding system is visible (and serviceable) from the bottom plate (right).

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

The three-lobe cam (right, 1) can be seen with one of the rocker rollers (3) riding its perimeter.  The ball bearing race for the heavy 22K rotor is visible at (2).

 

 

 

PERFORMANCE


The performance of the caliber 1.96 is exemplary.  As shown on the COSC certificate supplied with the watch, the average daily variation from the reference standard was only 1.6 seconds, with a standard deviation of only 1.1 seconds (below left). 

The most remarkable figure, however, is the difference between horizontal and vertical positions.  The largest difference was only  0.3 seconds.  This kind of positional performance is a result of the Breguet overcoil, as well as very careful hand adjustment of the watch.   My own electronic timer tests showed figures almost identical to the actual performance tests shown on the certificate. 

Interestingly, the Chopard watch is also supplied with a paper copy of the Geneva Seal (left).  Chopard is clearly avoiding no pains in asserting the immaculate pedigree of the watch.

CONCLUSIONS


By any technical and aesthetic standards, the caliber 1.96 is a triumph--and from a most unexpected quarter.  While this is certainly among the finest--if not simply the finest--automatic caliber currently manufactured  in Switzerland, one must wonder where it places Chopard among Switzerland's  manufacturers.  As a manufacturer, Chopard is not among the very best. Chopard has been able to produce only a handful of the 1.96 movements since its introduction almost two years ago (and a slightly greater number of the caliber  3.96, which is not nearly so well finished).  Chopard also makes a large range of high-quality watches with excellent Jaeger LeCoultre and F. Piguet ebauches, most of which are also extremely good values in the current market.  But, with the exception of a few of their complications, these watches are not a horological contribution of the significance of the total output of companies like Patek Philippe, Jaeger LeCoultre, or Lange. 

It is difficult to imagine that Chopard has produced the 1.96 simply for the current "limited" edition watch (1860 pieces in each of three case metals).  If we are lucky, Chopard will elaborate on this successful  movement with a series of complications and will do so in the idiom of the 1.96--novel and intelligent designs, and completely uncompromised excellence of excecution.  That would make Chopard a very important manufacturer among Switzeland's very best.  I hope they do it.   


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