Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4 - Are you still the most complicated watch on planet earth?
Touching with your own hands the most complicated watch ever made and meeting the man, who has literally hand-sketched its mechanism, is a privilege that very few people are granted. The watch I'm talking about is the Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4, while the man behind it is Pierre-Michel Golay, without a doubt one of the most admired creators of mechanical complications in the world. If you also want to meet the two of them, you need to visit Watchland, a small watchmaking town, where Franck has wisely gathered together all the different brands and subsidiaries that are part of the Franck Muller Group. There, in a showroom and protected by a case, sits a Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4.
Are you curious to find out how it all started? Franck Muller is widely recognized as a master of mechanical complications, his timepieces have long impressed the world thanks to their incredible and crazy mechanical wonders. Even before the idea of creating something different from the ordinary had been conceived in someone's head, Franck Muller's creations were already on the market: just think for a moment about the so-called "de-structured hour visualization" concept and the numerous watches that sit on top of my wishlist (like the mind-blowing Crazy Hours for example.) Technically speaking, I sincerely think that Franck Muller has paved the way for the birth of independent watchmaking, while still managing to retain a classic style. I'm quite familiar with this brand for a very simple reason: I was born in Naples and lived there until I was 27, close to my house was a shop that was one of the very first Italian retailers of the brand (the shop is called "Bartoli Jewellers") and today it still has some of Franck Muller's masterpieces on display.
I can't confirm 100% that the Mega 4 is currently the most complicated watch on the market (I would have to make a few comparison tests with the latest creations released by Patek and Vacheron), but it's no surprise that this watch features an incredible array of complications that have all been hand-designed by Pierre-Michel Golay. The Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4 contains a total amount of 1483 different parts and 99 jewels and it features 36 complications: a mechanical Tourbillon, a Carillon-Westminster on four hammers and four gongs, a Chronograph with Fly-back mechanism and only one push-piece, a Perpetual Calendar Secular, an Equation of Time, two additional timezones, an Automatic self-winding mechanism for the movement and a Westminster carillon.
To make it short it is as if you were to put together all the mechanical complications ever conceived in the history of watchmaking, pack them inside a Cintrex Curvee case and make them fully operational. Think about an orchestra and the difficult in making all of the musicians play in perfect harmony; you might well realize what a tremendous effort the creation of this watch was, even for the most experienced watchmakers in the world. What has literally left me speechless, however, is that this timepiece's movement has been originally sketched on paper by simply using a pencil and a compass, something that makes me think that Pierre-Michel is a real genius and that he clearly deserves an honorary degree in advanced micro-engineering. Designers have actually managed to craft what this man had originally hand-drawn: what an amazing achievement!
According to official sources, the greatest goal achieved during the making of this watch was managing "to fit the large Tourbillon into the space normally reserved for the Great Alarm along with fitting the Great Alarm and its four hammers into a Curvex case". The Grand Tourbillon measures 14mm in diameter and it features a balance wheel with platinum adjustment screws and a Breguet spring. One of the two barrels is used to guarantee this timepiece 3 full days of Power Reserve, while the other one optimizes the energy used by the Sonnerie. The Grand Sonnerie chimes three low pitch notes followed by the very same four notes that you can hear outside the Westminster cathedral, while the Petite Sonnerie is activated via a tiny push-button placed at 2 o'clock.
The Minute Repeater adds the additional minutes that are missing using low and middle pitch sounds. In designing the Perpetual Calendar, Pierre-Michel has opted for a technical solution that is the same one used for the Gregorian Calendar cycle, where the leap year cycle stops during those centuries that cannot divided by 400 (the next one would be year 2100); this means that the next adjustment, as far as this complication is concerned, will need to be carried out in 2400, when the leap year cycle will start again. The Equation of Time mechanism is synchronized with that of the Perpetual Calendar, that means that if the latter is reactivated and corrected because it hasn't been used in a while, the Equation of Time mechanism starts to work in accordance with it.
Two small counters placed on both sides of the Tourbillon allow you to change hour whether you're moving eastwards or westwards and they are activated by pushing the buttons placed at 4:30 and 7:30. I've quickly summarized some of the 24 visible complications of this timepiece out of the 36 existing ones. When this watch was officially released, it costed around 2,7 million USD and it is needless to say that this is the kind of watch that deserves a book by itself to be fully explored; a long reading about one of the greatest achievements in watchmaking that you could enjoy while slowly sipping a cup of tea.
(Photo credit: Google; Horbiter's proprietary photo-shooting)
Gaetano C. @Horbiter