After both iterations sold out in just a few hours, the extraordinary C1 Bel Canto shows that Christopher Ward customers know a horological great when they see one
The C1 Bel Canto has been a worldwide phenomenon
Available in both Azzuro Blue and Verde Green (and limited to just 300 per colour), this hourly chiming watch sold out within hours of going on sale. A watch that demonstrated, not just Christopher Ward’s ambition, but its commitment to bringing haute horlogerie to as many people as possible.
Christopher Ward has always pushed the creative envelope. It’s this philosophy that produced in-house movement Calibre SH21, and was responsible for the legendary JJ calibres (named after our first master watchmaker Johannes Jahnke) – unique modules piggybacking on existing movements.
Today, the key to the C1 Bel Canto is FS01, a new chiming movement named after current technical director Frank Stelzer. In all horological history, little has tested the watchmaker like creating sound, so it’s no wonder Bel Canto took three years of tortuous development.
Bel Canto is what’s called an hour chime, or – more romantically – a Sonnerie au Passage complication, which translates as ‘Passage of Time’.
“Bel Canto is an extrapolation of the C60 Concept, in that we’re taking the best hand-finished components and putting them within reach of many,” says Jörg Bader Junior, head of product at CW’s Biel atelier. “But in terms of technological challenge, it’s taken us into uncharted territory. We had to figure everything out for ourselves.”
With each JJ calibre, the desire wasn’t just to produce a complication, but to do it in a fresh, efficient way. Ten years ago, JJ01 was designed to offer the most accurate jumping-hour function possible and, by spreading the load over an entire hour, Johannes managed it. This success became one of the starting points for FS01.
It’s a little known fact that Christopher Ward creates watches for Meistersinger, the German specialist in single-hand timepieces. A few years ago Frank made a new model for them, the Bell Hora, a Sonnerie au Passage. Would it be possible to do something similar for Christopher Ward?
“The Bell Hora was a stepping stone,” says CEO and co-founder Mike France. “But with Bel Canto we wanted to bring the striking mechanism to the front, so the wearer could watch it in action. The question became: could we make a chiming watch both look and sound beautiful at the same time?”
“Finding a way to split out the components so they felt balanced across the entire face, took years,” says CW watch designer Will Brackfield. “Each time we moved one piece, it had a knock-on effect on the others. The platine – the blue module plate behind the important elements – would have a gorgeous sunray finish, so we needed to find a way to hide minor components behind that too.”
Frank began with a Sellita SW200-1 automatic base movement paired with JJ01, which charges incrementally over an hour to then make a single movement. But his modifications would eventually involve the creation of 50 new components, and become a race against time once an on-sale date of autumn 2022 was confirmed.
“One of the great challenges was striking the right balance between note and loudness,” says CW’s head of product design, Adrian Buchmann. “We soon learned that the case would have to be made of Grade 5 titanium, a material we’d never used before, with lots of empty space and resonance points. It’s a very dense metal – and creates a sound cage with the best possible vibrations.”
So, what exactly does the chime sound like? “Elegant,” says Mike. “Luxurious,” says Will. “A long, high-pitched note,” says Adrian.
No one can quite define it – it is more like a xylophone, or a hotel bell? – but all agree that it’s delightful. Technically, it turns out to be a D, also known as Re (“a drop of golden sun”) on the fixed do solfège system, familiar from The Sound Of Music.
“One thing everyone comments on is how the bridge structure towards the bottom looks like a bird,” Mike says. “The red ‘beak’ is actually the on-off mechanism, controlled by a pusher at 4 o’clock, and moves to indicate whether the chime is on or off, while the hammer is its tail. Bel Canto means ‘beautiful singing’, so there’s whimsical humour going on which seems very Christopher Ward.”
Other details are equally as ambitious. The dial consists of intriguingly stacked layers, rising from the platine through the bridges to the time-telling subdial, while the 41mm Light-catcher™case has been given a subtle sporty makeover.
Of course, CW couldn’t do this alone, and the C1 Bel Canto is also a tribute to many brilliant suppliers and partners, all noted specialists in their fields. Perhaps the most famous is Armin Strom, maker of high-end open worked watches, which contributed the platine, but Chronode (the bridges, hammer and gong) and Viquo Deco (the special wheels required) were also crucial.
Quite simply, no brand anywhere has made the art of sound so accessible, or opened up the possibility of owning such high horological art to so many. And its chime has been heard around the world.
What the press say about the
C1 Bel Canto
“Christopher Ward has just set a new benchmark in the watch world with what is one of the most affordable Swiss mechanical chiming watches.”
– Ambrose Leung
“This is a big moment. Not just for Christopher Ward, but for watches. It’s a first of sorts in an industry that is often rinse-and-repeat. That seems to fear trying new things or taking risks. For fans of the brand, fans of complications, and frankly, fans of horology, the C1 Bel Canto shouldn’t be overlooked”
– Zach Weiss
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