Words By: Sam Kessler
If on some whim you identified a pressing need to psychoanalyse Maurice Lacroix, you’d find a split personality worthy of Harvey Dent. On the one hand you have cool, accessible pieces like the recent Eliros, on the other some true high complication pieces. We’re not about to say which side is the masochistic serial killer, but you have to admit they’re pretty much polar opposites.
Even in the past there’s always been this paradoxical division in the midst of Maurice Lacroix. The majority of their pieces cruise the entry level margin in the wake of industry standards, pieces like the Pontos or the Miros great watches in their own right.
Yet at there’s a whole other side to the Swiss watchmaker. Mystery watches, fully-skeletonised chronographs, even the silicon-laced Gravity watches, Maurice Lacroix’s Masterpiece collection is home to some timepieces which are more than a little impressive in their own right.
If all you’ve ever seen of Maurice Lacroix are those entry level pieces, you could be forgiven for not exactly longing for their name in your collection. It’s a balance that’s not easy to manage, and it’s taken some serious effort on the watchmaker’s part to ensure both poles stand up on their own merits.
So why then this drive in the direction of ground-breaking haute horology? We’re certainly not complaining; far from it. There’s barely an entry in their aptly named Masterpiece collection we don’t feel would look rather handsome on our wrists. They’re just not pieces you could imagine many other entry level brands making.
Quite honestly, it’s just because they can. Maurice Lacroix’s standard workshops in the Jura region are relatively impressive, yet when it comes to haute horology they have a secret up their sleeve – the phenomenal Saignelégier Manufacture.
In a way, Saignelégier’s its own entity. Home to the highest expressions of Maurice Lacroix’s craftsmanship, it’s here that the Masterpiece collection is researched, developed and realised, all under one roof. In the last ten years alone, that’s led to a remarkable 14 brand new, in-house movements. Considering the amount of watchmakers that simply ‘borrow’ from third parties, that’s a staggering number.
Part of that is the ability to produce low-volume components that would otherwise be impractical for production watches; silicon balance springs, unique complications, elements developed for a specific layout, etc. But it’s also about having that focus, that dedicated approach to that one area.
That level of development has allowed Maurice Lacroix to take those movements in any direction they want. Granted each takes a while to bring to fruition, but it has led to some particularly idiosyncratic approaches to timekeeping. Take what we’d call their haute horological flagship, the ML 215 – known less technically as the Masterpiece Seconde Mysterieuse.
Most mystery movements hide something otherwise relatively simple. The entire aim is to make a component – normally a small seconds, sometimes a tourbillon – seem to float unsupported by bridges. Complex to achieve, easy to understand.
The Seconde Mysterieuse however take a very different approach; there’s still the floating, but here the hand actually moves across the large subdial. As it spins, it indicates time on something more approaching a line graph than a traditional dial. It’s got quite a lot going on to simply state the second.
That’s certainly the most visually extreme example of the Saignelégier workshop, even amongst the host of skeleton and retrograde movements, and is among our favourites of Maurice Lacroix’s collection. But then, that’s not down to the movement alone; indeed, there’s far more to the Atelier than technical accomplishment.
As well as the highest expression of Maurice Lacroix’s technical achievement, the atelier complements its innovations with the finest in artisan techniques. The Masterpiece Réserve De Marche for example has its own suite of different finishes, be it the swirling guilloche at the centre or the opaline and sun brushed finishes on the finer details. Any one of these is a little too time-intensive for Maurice Lacroix’s standard collections; all of them on one timepiece is utterly beautiful.
Possibly the easiest way to come to terms with the two side of Maurice Lacroix in your mind is to not think of them as such. Yes they both bear the same name and share a good number of aesthetic similarities, but that’s where it stops. Not only do they not share the same level of accomplishment, they don’t even share the same manufacture.
That’s not to disparage what Maurice Lacroix have achieved at the other end of the scale of course. It just so happens that what they are is not a patch on the Maurice Lacroix Masterpieces. The latter have earned their name.
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