Christopher Ward has come a long way, but one of the biggest leaps it’s taken – more so even than the launch of Calibre SH21, its own in-house movement – was with the arrival of the JJ Calibres.

This series of modules, designed to piggyback on existing movements from ETA or Sellita, brought complications more often associated with the most high-end watches to a wider audience. “They were our first forays into the world of ‘serious watchmaking’,” says CW co-founder Mike France. “And they put us firmly on the map.”

There are four JJ Calibres: JJ01, a jumping-hour module currently temporarily retired; JJ02, a single-pusher chronograph, which will soon be permanently retired as a slim store of vital components is running low; JJ03, a worldtimer, released in two distinctly different versions; and JJ04, a moonphase, the current star performer with exciting developments ahead of it.

All were developed by Johannes Jahnke, Christopher Ward’s master watchmaker, now working as director of development at movement manufacturer, Sellita.

Johannes was already with Synergies Horlogères when that company – a small Biel-based watch developer, founded by Jörg Bader Snr, now head of the CW atelier – first became a major supplier to CW in 2008. In the background, Johannes had been working on what would become the first JJ Calibre, JJ01, which would offer a jumping-hour complication generally only found on expensive and specialist pieces from the likes of Audemars Piguet and A. Lange & Söhne. With a jumping-hour, there’s no hour hand sweeping around the dial every 12 hours: instead the hour is indicated by a disc viewed through a window in the dial; it’s a style that delights some and confuses others.

“Johannes’ jumping-hour complication already existed, and he was working on his single pusher chronograph too, but nobody was taking them up,” Mike says. “When they first came to our attention, we became really excited. Getting involved with their development seemed exciting – but we did shy a bit at the implications. After all, we knew we’d have to sell the resulting watches at over £1,000, expensive for us then. At the same time, we were just so taken by the cleverness of what he was doing.”

“The starting point for each of what became the JJ Calibres was usually a car ride,” remembers Jörg, who oversaw their development. “They shut Johannes and me off from the outside world, and we loved to dream. Johannes has such a ‘3D’ understanding of things that he could practically figure out, while driving the car, if an idea would function or not. We decided that what we needed to do was come up with small but powerful horological solutions based on existing movements. The results might or might not be unique, but they’d definitely be far ahead of the competition at Christopher Ward’s price point. You could call it disruptive, as usually watchmaking of this type uses base movements unattainable by most aficionados.”

Johannes at the atelier in Biel

“Each of the JJs is unique in the way it tries to solve a particular watchmaking issue,” says Peter Ellis, another CW co-founder. “The clever thing about Johannes is the way he comes up with insightful, and often not very complicated, solutions to difficult problems. None of the JJs has been created from the perspective of adding cost for the sake of it – quite the opposite – but instead to be affordable and commercially viable. JJ01, it seems to me, is an especially adept piece of watchmaking.”

Mike, meanwhile, puts Johannes’ approach down to his East German background, which brings with it a love of utility.

“It means the way he goes about his horological problem-solving chimed with our own approach,” Mike says. “It’s always elegant, never over-egged. We always felt what he was doing was right for us, and he found in us a brand prepared to support his ‘riskier’ developments. I remember him saying he wanted to board a plane, walk down the aisle, and see Christopher Wards on wrist after wrist.”

JJ01, it seems to me, is an especially adept piece of watchmaking

Johannes was the driving force behind the JJs, but he didn’t do it alone. Indeed, much of his work on JJ02 was done in conjunction with a famous watchmaker called Jean Fillon, then in his 80s. When they first met, Jean had been working on a single pusher but was unable to complete it, so Johannes took the project on.

“JJ02, to my mind, is still probably our finest horological achievement,” Peter says. “Johannes’ great innovation was to invert the single pusher element of it, so you could see what was happening when you pressed the pusher. Sadly, though, the remaining parts we’d taken from Jean were so few in number that the ME109 will be the last of our single pusher chronographs.”

JJ01, it seems to me, is an especially adept piece of watchmaking
It was a brilliant idea from the start, shown off to greater effect than ever by the current C1 Moonglow, a radical reinterpretation of the traditional moonphase watch made possible by a further modification of JJ04
C1 Grand Malvern Worldtimer

Sometimes, of course, an innovative complication isn’t exactly what the market wants, and so it was with JJ03, the worldtimer, which exists in two distinct versions: the original, in which everything was presented on a 24-hour basis, and the most recent, more conventional (and far more successful) 12-hour version.

“It proves that being brilliant isn’t always enough if you don’t bring your audience with you,” says Mike.

And then there’s the moonphase module, JJ04, which came about because the CW co-founders specifically wanted one. “When we’d get together with fans and customers, it was the one complication they’d always ask for,” Peter says. The problem was, most moonphase watches on the market were unforgivably dull. “They looked old fashioned, with very small moons, and we couldn’t get excited about them,” Mike says. “Then one day we were chatting with Johannes, and we all came up with the idea of making the aperture much bigger than usual so the moon became the hero of the watch. The moon would track smoothly with the passage of the real thing, rather than jerking at points as every other moonphase does. And if you keep it wound, it’s accurate to 128 years.”

C1 Grand Malvern Worldtimer
It was a brilliant idea from the start, shown off to greater effect than ever by the current C1 Moonglow, a radical reinterpretation of the traditional moonphase watch made possible by a further modification of JJ04

“They looked old fashioned, with very small moons, and we couldn’t get excited about them,” Mike says. “Then one day we were chatting with Johannes, and we all came up with the idea of making the aperture much bigger than usual so the moon became the hero of the watch. The moon would track smoothly with the passage of the real thing, rather than jerking at points as every other moonphase does. And if you keep it wound, it’s accurate to 128 years.”

It was a brilliant idea from the start, shown off to greater effect than ever by the current C1 Moonglow, a radical reinterpretation of the traditional moonphase watch made possible by a further modification of JJ04, created by Christopher Ward’s technical director, Frank Stelzer. A technician with particularly strong chronograph knowledge, Frank joined SH back when Johannes was working on SH21, and actually did a lot of the behind-the-scenes work on the JJs. His more recent JJ04 modification has been such a success that further watches featuring that module are very much on the cards.

“We’re definitely not finished with the JJs,” Jörg says. “Frank has perfected the manufacturing procedure for the existing ones, and actually functions, in many ways, just like Johannes did years ago – though now it’s often him and Jörg Bader Jnr, my son, talking about and planning things, rather than Johannes and I, as it was back in the old days.”

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