By Roberta Naas | March 12, 2013 | Watches & Jewelry
Girard-Perregaux’s master watchmakers spent four years perfecting the Vintage 1945 Jackpot Tourbillon.
Christophe Claret watchmaker Stéphane Pourchet demonstrates the precision of his craft while working on a 21 Blackjack watch.
Seeing the inner workings of this Girard-Perregaux watch is nearly as much fun as the game.
Roulette is one of three games you can play on the 21 Blackjack.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: The Vegas watch ($74,500), from Franck Muller, features a roulette wheel on its dial, offering easy, discreet gaming. Roman Times, The Forum Shops at Caesars, 702-733-8687. Christophe Claret’s 21 Blackjack ($200,000– $215,000) automaton watch offers three casino games and consists of 501 parts and 40 jewels. The case comes in gray titanium or black PVD titanium (with 18k white or pink gold or platinum). There are just 21 of each version. Wynn & Company Watches, 702-770-3520. Created in 18k rose gold, the Girard-Perregaux Vintage 1945 Jackpot Tourbillon ($718,000) features a completely integrated movement that allows the slot machine game to be played via a pull of the handle or arm on the case side. Radiance, Aria, 702-590-8725
Lady Luck has entered the world of high-stakes watchmaking. The craftsmanship of luxury timepieces has always been about precision, excellent engineering, and elaborate complications. But a handful of truly gifted watchmakers have zeroed in on the “daring design” piece of the action and shaken things up by elevating the timepiece to a new dimension: game piece. And Las Vegas couldn’t be a better fit.
Brands such as Christophe Claret, Franck Muller, and Girard-Perregaux have spent years in research and development to create complex watches that are also elaborate games for the wrist, where it’s now possible to try one’s chances at roulette, dice, slots, and even blackjack.
“At Wynn, we have clients who will wait years for one of these very complicated timepieces to be introduced,” says Michael Ryan, watch buyer for Wynn Resorts. “They offer discerning watch collectors and gaming aficionados the chance to wear a masterpiece of design that is unique and embodies Swiss horology excellence.”
It was just two years ago that Christophe Claret unveiled his revolutionary 21 Blackjack watch, followed last year by a second gaming watch, Baccara. The complex automatons break all previous molds of watchmaking, as they enable the wearer to interact with the watch while offering three casino games each: blackjack and baccarat, respectively, plus roulette and dice.
Claret, perhaps best known for his incredible work with minute repeaters, has built some of the most famous timepieces in the world during his long career, but he didn’t start his own brand until 2009. Since then he has introduced some unusual masterpieces. “Timepieces are always inspired by my clients’ way of living,” Claret says. “Even though I am not a gambler, I understand the culture of gaming, so I could build what the player really loves.”
Claret’s blackjack is a complex signature game utilizing the elaborate dial of the watch. The player’s four cards appear on the lower half of the dial—two are hidden and two are visible. The upper half displays the dealer’s cards, one visible and two hidden. To play, the wearer presses the push piece at 9 to arm a spring that triggers the seven disks on which the cards are printed. The disks are randomly stopped by a jumper spring: three cards face up—two player cards and one dealer card. To offer the player or dealer another card, the wearer presses the pusher at 8 or 10, respectively. As a card is revealed or dealt, a bell rings.
Dice and roulette can also be played. The game of dice is visible on the case side and is played by simply shaking the case. Roulette is found on the rear of the case, with the rotor serving as the wheel. It is played by giving the watch a gentle shake, thereby spinning the rotor (and also winding the watch). When the rotor stops, an arrow inlaid into it stops at one of the 37 numbers applied to the internal flange. “To create and invent the mechanism for something truly unique,” Claret says, “is a great challenge and honor.”
Claret has been making watches since he was 14 years old, so it should come as no surprise that he isn’t done yet. The 21 Blackjack and Baccara were but the first and second in a trilogy. The third—offering a three-player Texas Hold’em poker game—is slated for fall 2013.
While Claret took the concept of gaming watches to a new level, his were not the first. In 1999, Franck Muller unveiled his casino-inspired Vegas watch collection, changing the landscape of watch building and deftly making a statement about the dichotomy between precision and unpredictability. For Muller, the watch embodies his idea of the gamble that time represents.
The dial of the Vegas watch features the hours, the minutes, and a colorful, working roulette wheel. “The idea came to me when I was in Las Vegas, totally immersed in the fantasy and flamboyant world of casinos,” Muller says. “It turned out that this innovation meant developing a sophisticated, complex mechanism.”
That mechanism was a truly technical advance in watchmaking that was finally made possible by the invention of a patented module added to the movement to make room for the gambling function. To play roulette, the wearer activates a push button coaxial to the crown. This releases a central needle that spins very quickly, then stops randomly on the winning number. Still made today, the watch is considered the forerunner of wrist games.
In 2007, Girard-Perregaux went a few steps further, unveiling its first-ever Vintage 1945 Jackpot Tourbillon, with the game on the dial side of the watch in full view. The spin-till-youwin watch was not only fitted with a tourbillon escapement (the pinnacle in watchmaking feats) but also featured a complete slot machine.
To achieve the miniature technology and breathe gaming life into the timepiece, Girard- Perregaux’s master watchmakers spent four years perfecting it. The concept was not to fit a game mechanism as an added module into a watch, but to integrate all the functions and moving parts into the caliber as one movement. The Jackpot Tourbillon consists of more than 500 parts, all of which work in unison to tell time while also operating the slot machine, via a rack that starts and stops the reels and activates the chimes.
The rectangular case of this limited-edition watch is fitted with a moveable handle that at first glance is barely noticeable as it connects internally to the rack and wraps around the crown. The fun begins when the wearer pulls the handle (like a slot machine), which slides the rack up. When it reaches its highest point, it starts the three reels spinning and slowly slides back down. About two-thirds of the way down, it activates stoppers that cease the spinning reels one by one and simultaneously triggers the striking mechanism, which chimes like the casino game.
The spinning reels are revealed through a row of three apertures at 12. Each reel is fitted with five symbols, offering 125 possible combinations. The symbols—lacquered spades, hearts, diamonds, horseshoes, and the Liberty Bell—are reproductions of those found in the world’s first mechanical slot machine, the Liberty Bell, created in the late 1800s. The only winning jackpot on the wristwatch is three Liberty Bells in a row.
Win or lose, a spin on one of these amazing toys for the wrist is a sure bet for any top timepiece connoisseur.
Photography by jeff gale and jeff crawford; Styling by Terry Lewis