The Restoration of my Soul: Monestier La Tour and the Chopard L.U.C Flying T Tourbillon
Somewhere in late January I wrote an Instagram post about how psychiatrists should look into the long term effects on non-stop, in-the-wind, trans-continental, 24/7 travel and its long term effects on the human brain. To put it in context. This was after a week at the menswear trade show Pitti Uomo, then Milan Fashion Week, then the Geneva Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, a visit to Patek Philippe, a jaunt out to Omega in Bienne where unfathomably our train broke down and we had to take two of the world’s most expensive taxis to complete our trip, a week in London working on the expansion of my magazine The Rake’s e-commerce business and now about as I was to depart for Bordeaux, I hit the proverbial wall. If you want to watch something morbidly entertaining enter “hit the wall” into YouTube and watch a host of endurance athletes experiencing the total and sudden, soul crushing loss of energy and mental capacity when all glycogen stores have been eradicated from the body and you lose all control of your limbs and flail spastically and inexorably toward the ground. This is particular amusing in some creative montages when accompanied by the one hit wonder Paul Engemann’s, “Push It to the Limit,” from both the Scarface and the Rocky III sound tracks.
For me it was that sudden departure of energy after four weeks of smiling, hand shaking, deal making, client entertaining, smart glib statement making, being endlessly charming clever, witty, enthusiastic, that I found myself totally incapable of interacting with another human being. I wanted to go find a hole in the woods and dwell there for time immemorial. Granted I wanted my cave appointed with a Hastens bed, my Anderson & Sheppard dressing gown, a few Por Larranagas, a couple of tins of decent Périgord foie gras and some Vosne-Romanee and perhaps an anti-social sausage dog named Claude as my sole equally misanthropic companion. I wanted to read Kierkegaard and Immanuel Kant and delve deep into Paul Tillich and Christian existentialism while blasting punk rock legend Stiv Bators and the Dead Boys at unconscionable ear splitting, grey matter reformatting levels. But of course such reprieve was not to be mine. Instead one rain grey Sunday in London I decided to immerse myself in the restorative balm that is a solo trip to the closest cinema where accompanied only by a tub of popcorn the size of a child’s bathtub, I would let the Lumiere Brothers’ waves of light-borne escapism wash over me and ideally extinguish the burgeoning flames of angst within.
The thing in London is that movies take forever to come on the screen. There are only so many commercials for adult diapers that I cared to watch. Which is why I asked the jowly irascible curmudgeon seated behind the ticket desk what time the film in question, The Favorite, started. “2:30 PM,” he stated and so I found myself a few doors away tucking into a bowl of sublime curry ramen. When I returned to the theatre that same man told me curtly that it was now 2:34PM and he would not be selling me a ticket. Suddenly all I saw were the black lights. Something just snapped as if weeks of rage and frustration came exploding to the surface of my consciousness. Any way my rant against this individual was well documented on my social media feed but left me feeling even more bereft of faith in humanity. It was in this pained, psychologically depleted and emotionally bankrupt state that I would find myself boarding a plane to France the following day. By the time I arrived in Bordeaux and made the 2.5 hour trip to the Bergerac region, all I wanted to do was drink a fish bowl full of wine, puff a cigar in the rain while staring emptily into the distance and go to sleep.
OK, let’s pause here to discuss something more uplifting, which is my friend Karl Friedrich Scheufele. In 1996 he unveiled what I consider to be one of the seminal acts of modern watchmaking with his creation of the Calibre 1.96. He had intended this movement to be a symbol of his vision for the in-house movements of Chopard L.U.C. And it was a revelation. The first micro-rotor movement of note since Patek Philippe’s lauded Calibre 240, the automatic winding system was completely redesigned by his in-house team when it was found the original system designed by Michel Parmigiani who consulted on the movement during the very initial stages, would not wind efficiently enough.
Scheufele demonstrated a pioneering streak when he became one of the first to mount his bi-directional winding rotor assembly on ball bearings rather than a traditional pinion. Further Scheufele insisted on a very modern and shock resistant 4 Hertz vibrational speed as well as a 70 hour power reserve. In the context of the mid ’90s, modern in-house automatic movements were so rare as to be anomalies with the vast majority of the industry content to rely on stalwart calibers that had been created many decades before. To demonstrate the chronometric value of a stunning swan neck regulated caliber Scheufele ensured that every movement was COSC certified.
To underscore their aesthetic value Scheufele also insisted that each movement received the Geneva Seal. The following year Scheufele placed this horological treasure in his very first Chopard L.U.C watches, the stunning 1860 model made in a run of 1,860 watches. With cases that measured 36.5mm in diameter, resplendent massive gold guilloche à main dials that bear a spiritual kinship with the dials of Philippe Dufour’s Simplicity (both were manufactured by Metalem) the 1860 was one of the most ground-breaking, ravishingly beautiful and eternally appealing timepieces ever created. My ongoing love affair with the watch resulted in my collaboration with Karl Friedrich Scheufele on a 10-piece limited re-edition of the white gold, salmon dial version of this icon. But my point to this story is that Karl Friedrich Scheufele doesn’t do anything by half measures. It is innate to his character to achieve things with full legitimacy and overwhelming authenticity. What I love about Scheufele is that he is a man that that takes zero short cuts. When he does something he does it as close to perfection as he can and this is something I find profoundly inspiring about him.
So it was that when I learned that he and his lovely wife Christine Scheufele acquired the Bergerac wine domaine named Chateau Monestier La Tour, I was immediately intrigued. I had at this point been invited to several lovely meals with Christine and Karl-Friederich and wine was always a focus of attention and topic of conversation. It so happens the Scheufeles have the enviable occupation of being Domaine de la Romanee-Conti’s Swiss importer as well as owning the magnificent enological Aladdin’s cave known as Bacchus. They seemed amused by my declaration that one day when I die, my wish is for my ashes to be scattered throughout the undulating hills of Les Petits Monts, a climat in Vosne-Romanee still exclusively worked by horses and when brought to life by the hands of transcendental alchemists like Louis-Michel Liger-Belair or even Veronique Drouhin is transformed into precisely what the Eucharist wine in Heaven should taste like. And when I learned that it would be at Monestier La Tour that Scheufele would unveil his 2019 L.U.C novelties, I was delighted and honored to be invited. Indeed the idea of engaged wine and watch conversation accompanied by no small amount of consumption was the last thing enabling me to retain my tenuous grasp to sanity. And so I would slowly be brought back to life by the inspiring excellence of the Scheufeles’ wines and Karl-Friedrich’s wonderfully authentic take on horological finery. Let me explain.
There has always been something of a debate regarding the relevance of the tourbillon complication in a wristwatch. The device which was patented by the legendary Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1801 was created to compensate for errors caused by gravity when a watch – specifically a pocket watch – was in the vertical position. At the time pocket watches lived the majority of their lives in vest pockets or on table stands and as such were highly susceptible to non-concentric breathing of the hairspring and also additional friction caused by remaining vertical for the long term. Breguet’s solution was to place all the regulating components of the watch – balance, hairspring, escapement – inside a cage which turned on its own axis once a minute thus averaging the errors in this position.
When the late 20th century gave rise to the renaissance of the tourbillon it also brought with it contrasting perspectives on its efficacy on a watch that adopted multiple positions throughout the day. Tellingly it was only Patek Philippe which provided COSC certification for its admittedly tiny production of tourbillon watches. But when Karl-Friedrich Scheufele decided to add the tourbillon complication to his family of L.U.C watches back in 2003 he did so with his typical integrity. He explains, “Essentially no one else was providing COSC certificates to prove that their tourbillons were chronometers which to me is at the very heart of this complication. We were able to do so because we designed out tourbillon from the very beginning to run at 28,800 vph as opposed to the industry norm of 21,600 vph which made our tourbillons more resistant to micro shocks experienced by wristwatches.” In addition to that Scheufele brought a four-barrel power supply to his Geneve Seal receiving Quattro tourbillon.
Says Scheufele, “The architecture of the Quattro tourbillon was quite specific with this two level bridge and 8 day power reserve indicator. But for the ultimate act of horological elegance I always dreamed of a flying tourbillon.” A flying tourbillon is a watch that has no bridge on the front and the entire weight of the tourbillon is born by the pinion and bridge at the back of the movement. It is considered one of the most visually exquisite and technically refined watches of all time. And the moment at his vineyard he placed his new L.U.C 2019 Flying Tourbillon in my hands, I immediately felt the full restoration of my soul, so exquisite was it.
The beauty of the L.U.C Flying T Twin is that it is in many ways the celebration of the 22-year history (yes that’s near a quarter century) of Scheufele’s ceaseless series of technical achievements with Chopard L.U.C which recently culminated in the world’s first minute repeater with sapphire crystal gongs. But the Flying T is as much a tribute to the past as it is a symbol of the future in that it uses the marvelous Caliber 1.96 that was Scheufele’s very first overture into in-house manufacturing as its base caliber. Which means the tourbillon is equipped with twin barrels as well as a micro rotor for automatic winding. On the front of the watch in all its glory you see the ethereal 4 Hertz tourbillon now unencumbered by a bridge.
The 40 mm case and guilloche à main massive gold dial combine to create what I feel is one of the most beautiful modern classic flying tourbillon on the market. However, I will add to this one caveat. Today the majority of complicated movements are large and bulky entailing that their cases be similarly ursine. As an industry we are in essence stuck with oversized complicated watches. However because the base of the Flying T Twin is the Calibre 1.96 you could theoretically create a 36.5 mm version of this timepiece. Which to me makes it utterly unique in the watch industry and results in the single most stunning flying tourbillon on the horological landscape. The Flying T Twin and Karl-Friedrich Scheufele’s edifying approach to true legitimate watchmaking had my cup running over literally and figuratively. The ensuing two days in Bergerac also saw the launch of several other very beautiful watches, a truffle hunt and a wonderful dinner with the owner of Pontet Canet joining us, but it was this watch and the magnificent man that created it and OK a good measure of his wine, that truly restored my faith in humanity.