For the 10th anniversary of Calibre SH21 – and the 20th of Christopher Ward – comes The Twelve X (Ti), the pinnacle of The Twelve Collection and a showcase for the misunderstood glories of machine finishing

The watch industry has long been awash with myths: one of the hardiest being that the best watches are entirely hand-made.

Of course, the skilled hands of a watchmaker will be involved somewhere down the line, but to believe everything is hand-constructed is to ignore the ranks of CNC machines at every atelier, and asks you to believe that a factory-made Porsche is inferior to a kit car.

Christopher Ward has generated some myths of its own. Myth #1: that it’s barely out of nappies. Sure, by some standards it’s a virtual foetus, but 20 years in the game – Christopher Ward was founded in 2004 – is nothing to be sniffed at. Myth #2: that it only started to be truly ambitious recently. In fact, the in-house SH21 movement is now 10 years old, and the first JJ Calibres – modules adding bespoke functions to existing movements, such as a moonphase or a single-pusher chronograph – are more established yet.

Two great anniversaries then, and the watch Christopher Ward has created to celebrate both is rather special. The Twelve X (Ti) is the peak iteration of the company’s most recent hit, the integrated-bracelet Twelve, and the latest addition to an impressive range of high-end pieces: think Apex, Concept, and, of course, Bel Canto.

These are watches priced in the low thousands, while still offering incredible value for money. Everything at CW dances to the tune of the same philosophy – that a piece should never be sold for more than three times the cost of manufacture – and the radical implications of this become more apparent as you push upmarket.

At £1,000, Christopher Ward offers the design, finishing, materials and general quality of a watch typically seen at twice the price. But in the £3,000-4,000 ballpark the contrast becomes even more stark, and it doesn’t take long to find watches from storied makers that offer the exact same qualities as The Twelve X (Ti) for five or even 10 times the price.

The Twelve X (Ti) is the first Twelve to be powered by SH21, the first to feature both Grade 5 and Grade 2 titanium in its case, and the first to feature a new micro-adjustable bracelet. It’s also the first to be skeletonised, stripping away the traditional dial to reveal the mechanical movement’s workings from the front of the watch, framed by a rhodium dial ring around the outside with an applied luminous Globolight© wedge at 12 o’clock.

The Twelve X (Ti) is the first Twelve to be powered by SH21

“We’ve removed more material than ever before, exposing parts of the movement that have always previously been hidden”

“We’ve removed more material than ever before, exposing parts of the movement that have always previously been hidden,” says company co-founder and CEO Mike France. “And the results are spectacular. We’ve simplified shapes, added more contrast between finishes and colours, and generally punched up the look: this is a bold watch, with a strong, cohesive sense of identity. You can perhaps most easily see this by looking at the rotor on the back, which echoes the triangle shapes of the bridges. But don’t think of this as the concept car that wows them at a motor show; instead, it’s the more refined production model that comes after it.”

One of the great strengths of SH21 is its twin-barrel design, giving an incredible 120 hours of power reserve, so it’s gratifying to be able to show these barrels through the front of the watch: now you can actually watch the springs wind and unwind, the power being generated and used. Of course, with far less tucked away, each exposed part has to be finished to higher standards than ever: this means, for instance, that many are deliberately made just a fraction of a millimetre too tall, so they can be polished down using custom-made diamond cutters.

“Naturally, this demands the highest quality CNC machines, as any vibration will leave fine wrinkles on the surface,” Mike says. “But get it right, and the results will almost match the most perfect hand polishing.”

That’s right: the company’s being very up front about how much machine polishing The Twelve X (Ti) employs, and rightly so. This is an open series, designed to be built in high numbers, which makes it the perfect piece to showcase Christopher Ward’s new commitment to machine finishing as entirely appropriate for high-end watches. After all, now that the best machines can do the same thing as the human hand, or very nearly, it becomes a brilliant tool to help deliver one of CW’s key missions: making high end watch-making accessible to all.

“One big question, of course, is what is hand-finishing anyway?” asks Jörg Bader Jnr, head of product at Christopher Ward’s atelier in Biel, Switzerland. “If an electrical motor is doing the polishing, but it’s held by a person, is that really different to a machine doing it all? These days, even the most expensive watches aren’t hand crafted the way they once were, and, with this in mind, The Twelve X (Ti) is designed to push machine finishing like never before.”

Most of the really fine finishing revolves around the bridgework: sturdy but delicately shaped triangular shapes that support each part of the movement. The platine features almost free-floating arms, while such critical components as the train bridge, automatic bridge and balance bridge are all made in house.

SH21’s twin-barrel design, giving an incredible 120 hours of power reserve

“With The Twelve X (Ti), we’ve been working with exceptional people, and truly state-of-the-art machines, to achieve the best finish possible at this price – and results are gorgeous,” says watch designer William Brackfield. “The challenge for me has been to design pieces that can be made efficiently by machine, while retaining a traditional aesthetic; do that, and it becomes virtually impossible to tell the difference.”

The polished, brushed, and sandblasted case is another triumph. Made of two different types of titanium – the Grade 2 of the regular Twelve (Ti), and the ultra-high quality Grade 5 of the Bel Canto – it conspires to appear tough and elegant both at once. The bulk of the case is Grade 2, with the denser, higher grade material used for the bezel and case back, considered essential there as it’s both more scratch resistant and easier to finish to a high standard.

The Twelve X (Ti) is also unusual in that it features box crystals at both front and rear. This is, at heart, a comfortable, easy-wearing piece, so shouldn’t stick out too far out from the wrist – not the easiest thing when powered by SH21.

“Being such a robust movement, SH21 can be a problem when paired with a slim watch case,” William says. “Which is why I’m so pleased we got this down to 12.3mm high. We also added the box sapphire case back, to visually mirror the one at the front. This means we needed less metal for the sides, which exposes the movement yet further, bringing it closer to the eyes and making the watch feel like it’s floating on the wrist.”

Although not a test-bed as such, there’s at least one innovation The Twelve X (Ti) introduces that will appear across the range: a redesigned clasp, this one with the sort of quick-adjustment mechanism that was, until recently, unknown on an integrated bracelet.

“The classic butterfly clasp has one big disadvantage – it has no quick adjustment,” Mike says. “Well, we had to see what we could do about that. So now you can easily adjust the length in seconds – by just 1.5mm on each side, or 3mm in total, but it makes all the difference.”

So that’s The Twelve X (Ti). It’s not just about the anniversaries, or bringing SH21 to more people, or about hammering home the Christopher Ward value proposition as never before; it’s also about evangelising the joys of high-end finishing, however it’s achieved. In pure value for money terms, it’s one of the company’s most impressive offerings to date.

The Twelve X (Ti), available from £3,750 | $4,495 | €4,850
Discover The Twelve X (Ti)

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