Baume & Mercier announced last year that it would be the first of the Richemont Group brands to offer a watch with a silicon balance spring, in a new watch: the Clifton Manual 1830, with which we were able to go Hands On in August of 2017. The Clifton Manual 1830 was fitted with the new Twinspir balance spring, which is formed of two layers of silicon with their crystal structure oriented in different directions. The two silicon layers are separated by a third layer of silicon dioxide, which provides temperature compensation – something necessary for all silicon balance springs, as their elasticity varies with temperature.
Now the next step in the evolution of silicon technology at Richemont, and at Baume & Mercier, has been announced, and in a new watch: the rather pithily named Clifton Baumatic, which features a new movement, as well as new technical features that make this Baume & Mercier’s most technically advanced watch to date – as a matter of fact in certain respects, it’s the most technically advanced watch you can get right now from any Richemont Group brand, at least taken from the perspective of basic timekeeping technology.
The Clifton Baumatic gives an immediate impression of dedication to precision; everything from the long, sharply pointed "lancet" hands, to the discreet minute markers, cross-hair dial, and sharply delineated Roman numerals all combine to give one the feeling that this is a watch that’s serious about the business of keeping time accurately and telling time legibly, without any extraneous nonsense. For this sort of watch design to work, it’s important for the watch to have the courage of its convictions and the Clifton Baumatic quite consistently hews, throughout, to a back-to-basics clarity. I suppose you could say that the design is vintage inspired, but only insofar as it’s a throwback to a design philosophy that puts clarity ahead of novelty and unnecessary ornamentation. It’s not a coincidence that the Baumatic bears a bit of a resemblance to some of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic models, including the Geophysic True Second.
Generally in writing about a watch, we tend to follow certain habits, including discussing the cosmetics and design elements before talking about the movement. It’s a reasonable approach but for the Clifton Baumatic, it would almost make more sense to do the opposite, since the design of the externals is so much an expression of what’s going on under the hood.
Under the hood is the caliber M0A10436. This is a self-winding movement with a five day power reserve, and it’s a fairly close match in terms of dimensions to the ETA 2824 (the M0A10436 is 12 1/2 lignes – just under 28mm – in diameter, and 4.2mm thick, vs. 11 1/2 lignes and 4.6mm for the caliber 2824). Like the Clifton Manual, which preceded it, the Clifton Baumatic has a Twinspir balance spring, but it also has a silicon escape wheel and lever, and the latter have an optimized geometry for better transfer of energy via the lever, from the escape wheel to the balance (the design is called the Powerscape escapment by Baume & Mercier).
Like the dial and case, the movement conveys an air of relative lack of concern with ornamentation, and with an emphasis on technical features. Baume & Mercier says the caliber M0A10436 should, thanks to its technical innovations, maintain chronometer-grade accuracy over the entire 120 hour power reserve; the use of silicon for the balance spring, lever, and escape wheel also means a relatively high level of resistance to magnetism. The minimum standard for an antimagnetic watch is outlined in ISO 764, at 60 gauss or 4,800 A/m and the Clifton Baumatic can tolerate a field strength of at least 1500 gauss.
As with the Clifton Manual 1830, the Baumatic answers one question – when is the Richemont Group going to begin using watches with silicon components? – but raises another, which is, why choose Baume & Mercier as the launch brand for critical timekeeping technology? I think the answer to the latter question is pretty straightforward: Baume & Mercier is, of all the Richemont brands, the most democratically priced and for them to be the first to offer a high performance, relatively low-cost wristwatch oriented towards offering real engineering advances makes a great deal of sense from a brand identity perspective.
And the Baumatic will be very affordable: just $2,790 in the USA when they become available in September. Larger brand and group strategy aside, our first impression after seeing the watch in person is of a practical, well-designed, unostentatious wristwatch very much intended to function as a daily companion, and to run reliably over the long term (Baume & Mercier says that thanks to the optimized escapement and lubricants, the Baumatic can run for years longer than the usual industry standard 5 year service interval; the movement has been tested for up to ten years of simulated daily use).
Certainly, the Clifton Baumatic adds a new dimension to Baume & Mercier’s offerings and moreover it has the potential to attract a new group of clients to the brand – in particular, enthusiasts looking for a higher-performance wristwatch than typically can be found at this price point, and in general, anyone looking for a sub-$5,000 Swiss-made wristwatch with vintage-esque styling and something interesting going on under the hood. (To drive home the point that they’re serious about performance Baume & Mercier will even provide a COSC certificate for each individual watch "on demand.") I wouldn’t expect this basic technology to stay exclusive to Baume & Mercier within the Richemont Group indefinitely; silicon components have so much to offer from a basic performance standpoint, and are so essential for other Group brands (Panerai, IWC) to stay competitive in the tool-watch realm that such restriction wouldn’t be realistic. But for now, it’s a Baume exclusive, and a good looking one at that.
The Baume & Mercier Clifton Baumatic: case, stainless steel, 40mm x 10.3mm, sapphire crystals front and back with antireflective coating; water resistance 50 meters. Movement, caliber M0A10436, COSC-certified chronometer, with silicon balance spring, lever, and skeletonized silicon escape wheel; freesprung variable-inertia type balance, 120 hour/5 day power reserve; frequency, 28,800 vph. Price, $2,790, and available in the USA in September 2018.