Laurent Ferrier’s Galet Micro-Rotor probably isn’t on your shopping list, but it should be. Any watch collector considering H. Moser & Cie., F.P. Journe, or even Romain Gauthier needs to put Ferrier back on the shopping list for 2021. Ignore the company’s messaging stumbles since 2017; let me explain why the Galet Micro-Rotor should be your next watch.
First, an apologia is in order. With enthusiasm for independent watch brands at an all-time high, Laurent Ferrier’s catalog of standout products should place the Geneva watchmaker in pole position to win watch collector dollars and ardor. But Ferrier’s messaging has failed to break through to the watch-collecting scene at a time when low-volume craft horology is red hot.
And yes, Laurent Ferrier buys all of its components from – the finest – suppliers in the industry, but so did Vacheron Constantin for almost 250 years, and no one put La Doyen of the Swiss “holy trinity” in the doghouse for it.
Forget all that. The Galet Micro-Rotor remains as desirable today as when it launched amid a crush of accolades in 2012. Originally designed as a more affordable volume model to run alongside the GPHG 2010 laureate Double Spiral Tourbillon, the Micro-Rotor actually surpasses its vaunted predecessor in sophistication. From the dial to the movement, the Galet Micro-Rotor is a perennial candidate for the title of the “best three-hand watch” a watch collector can choose.
Start with the movement. Everyone knows by now that La Fabrique du Temps, an LVMH company, assists in the design and fabrication of Laurent Ferrier calibers. This is a world-class arrangement. If you were building a car, and Ferrari offered to supply engines, the only correct answer to be to scream “YES!” before the Italians changed their minds. It’s like that.
Caliber “FBN 229.01” correctly credits Christian Ferrier, Enrico Barbasini, and Michel Navas – the latter two of La Fabrique — for their contributions to this opus.
The engineering is world-class. As with F.P. Journe, Kari Voutilainen, and Charles Frodsham, the Ferrier team opted for an ambitious double direct-impulse escapement. This system, which is inspired by A.L. Breguet’s 1802 “natural escapement” concept, eliminates the Swiss lever and allows two nickel-phosphorous escape wheels to impulse the balance directly – and only in its direction of travel. State-of-the-art LIGA and DRIE are required to fabricate the wheels and the silicon blocker used in this modern day echappement naturel.
Ferrier’s unconventional escapement allows a relatively small single mainspring barrel to provide 72-80 hours of power reserve. Additional refinements include an overcoil hairspring for concentric “breathing” of the spiral in any physical position, a free-sprung balance for precise regulation and shock tolerance, and six-position adjustment.
That final refinement sets the caliber 229.01 apart from the majority of chronometers and high horology movements; these are regulated in five positions. In general, manufacturers tend to dial in the five tested positions and leave all of the imprecision – the crap – hidden in the one untested position. Of course, that’s no assurance of performance once the five-position watch is exposed to the vagaries of wrist movement.
More refinement and ingenuity can be observed in the micro-rotor winding system.
In contrast to most modern systems, which employ ball bearings, Laurent Ferrier’s system is based on ratchets and a jeweled staff. At the center of the 22-karat gold winding mass, a rotor staff – like the balance staff but far tougher – sits within upper and lower pivot jewels. A massive bridge supports the winding pivot. Two gorgeous pawl ratchets perform the duty of transmitting the kinetic energy of the rotor to the mainspring. The result is the smoothest and quietest winding system available at any price in any watch.
Finish is world class. Forget Ferrier’s competitors at Moser and Journe. The execution of the FBN229.01 is on par with the collector reference points including Gauthier, Lange & Heyne, Kari Voutilainen, and even Greubel Forsey. The Côtes de Genève on this movement are broad, lustrous, and richly textured in a fashion that only the most exacting abrasive-wheel application can create. Each screw head is “black” polished with a chamfered slot and circumference; each undoubtedly requires hours to fabricate.
Anglage on these bridges is a mile wide, mirror-smooth, and requires no magnifying optics to appreciate. Where bevels meet, razor-sharp interior creases confirm that the Swiss robots were benched for this scrimmage. Black polish also appears in huge sections courtesy of the balance cock; its four interior angles dunk – hard – on rivals from brands as disparate as Philippe Dufour and Patek Philippe. Even the click spring for the mainspring barrel is a rounded mirror bright enough to scorch a retina.
As far as cases are concerned, watch buyers have options. The Galet Micro-Rotor is available in the classic Galet (“pebble”), Montre École (“school watch”), or Galet Square shapes, and stainless steel is offered for those who prefer to skip the precious metal premium. Metallic, lacquered, and even enamel dials are offered, and Laruent Ferrier often works through suppliers to honor requests for custom dial colors or designs. Dress watch purists can order gold with an enamel dial; sports watch enthusiasts can get steel with a luminova-enhanced “Boréal” dial.
At $44,000 for the most basic steel Galet Micro-Rotor, the price of admission is higher than comparable watches from competitors. However, so is the technical sophistication and detail beauty of the Ferrier. No, Laurent Ferrier isn’t coming to your hometown for a Journe-style collector powwow. And he’s not going to play for laughs in lederhosen like Edouard Meylan of Moser. But if you can get over the lack of a charismatic brand figurehead, and you’ve made your peace with dispersed Établissage watchmaking, then the Galet Micro Rotor should be your next independent brand watch.