Watch manufacturers have been developing their own automatic movements since the 1940s. There are many outstanding examples out there, including the Rolex Caliber 1570, the 85 series from IWC, Seiko‘s 61 series, and the 560 series from Omega. But there are a few movements that have earned the title of “masterpiece,” such as the Patek Philippe 27-460AT, the Audemars Piguet 2120 series, the Vacheron Constantin 1120 series, and the Chopard L.U.C 1.96. Each of these movements boasts unique designs and the finest workmanship in the industry.
Of course, some automatic movements are even more exquisite; however, when it comes to functionality and sentimental value, there’s no beating the movements listed above. Let’s take a closer look at the Chopard L.U.C 1.96. While the other calibers mentioned debuted during the golden age of watchmaking in the 1960s, the L.U.C didn’t enter the scene until 1996. Chopard set out to surpass the masterpieces of years gone by, and watch enthusiasts from around the world were delighted with their ambition.
Watches with added automatic modules
Up until the late 1950s, most automatic watches were actually manual movements with automatic modules added on. The only exceptions were the micro-rotor calibers from Universal, Piaget, and Büren, and the Omega 550 with a full-sized rotor. These movements all had integrated automatic winding mechanisms. In the early 1960s, the demand for thinner self-winding watches started to grow. In response, more and more manufacturers began developing slimmer movements with built-in automatic winding mechanisms. One good example from this era is the Jaeger-LeCoultre 920 from 1967, also known as the Audemars Piguet 2120 and the Vacheron Constantin 1120. Since then, all basic automatic movements have had fully integrated winding mechanisms.
Chopard’s flat caliber
Chopard always strives for top-quality results when building their in-house calibers. The traditional manufacturer is known for crafting very flat movements with efficient winding mechanisms. They utilize a micro-rotor system, which is a small rotor that winds the mainspring. Moreover, the automatic mechanism has an extremely elaborate stopwork construction.
Numerous automatic winding systems have appeared since the 1940s, but only three have ultimately survived. The first is a mechanism with a central rotor that winds the mainspring in two directions using variable gears. This mechanism can be found in many Rolex and ETA movements, for example, and is considered the current industry standard. Its construction is relatively straightforward and allows for a lot of freedom in terms of design. On the other hand, the components tend to wear down quickly, and winding is difficult without sufficient lubricant. There are, however, a few notable exceptions from Rolex, Seiko, and Chopard that don’t have those weak points.
The second type of mechanism also relies on a central rotor that winds the mainspring in two directions, but it manages to do so with much less friction. This is due to a rocker switch that balances the left and right rotation of the rotor. This type of mechanism is common in Jaeger-LeCoultre movements. In addition to causing less wear, this construction takes up less space. On the other hand, it is much less efficient in terms of winding. For this reason, it is primarily used in expensive gold watches from manufacturers like Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, and A. Lange & Söhne, all of which outfit their watches with heavy-duty gold rotors. Jaeger-LeCoultre also developed an automatic caliber with this technology, but the rotor was far too lightweight. Unfortunately, it would be a stretch to call the movement a good one.
Movement with ratchet winding mechanism
The final type is a ratchet winding mechanism. Abraham Louis Breguet developed this technology for his “Perpétuelle” watch in the late 18th century. In 1945, Longines equipped their 19AS movement with this type of winding mechanism. Other manufacturers then perfected the technology, leading to the caliber 85 from IWC (1950) and Seiko’s Magic Lever (1957). The Patek Philippe 27-460AT from earlier in this article also features an exquisite automatic ratchet winding mechanism. Well-designed examples are highly efficient. IWC still uses a nearly identical version of their Pellaton automatic winding system from 1950. That being said, these mechanisms tend to be very expensive and take up a lot of room in the movement. Seiko managed to overcome both of these barriers with the introduction of the Magic Lever in the 1990s.
Chopard commissioned independent watchmaker Michel Parmigiani to create their first in-house automatic movement. He combined a ratchet winding system with a flat micro-rotor and, in doing so, crafted an extremely ingenious automatic caliber. Not only did the design ensure a high level of isochronism, but it was also made of 22-karat gold. Chopard’s aim was clear: to outperform Patek Philippe’s caliber 240 – a movement known for its masterful micro-rotor.
Moreover, Chopard decorated the movement with the industry’s highest level of finishing. This includes fine perlage, Geneva stripes, and hand-finished chamfered bridges, all of which earned the movement the Geneva Seal.
Chopard L.U.C 1860
Chopard equipped the L.U.C. 1860 with the caliber 1.96. However, the watch was unfortunately not a huge success. Bar a small circle of watch enthusiasts, the timepiece was not well-received by the wider public. Many struggled to wrap their heads around the extraordinary movement, even though they knew it came from the maker of the Happy Diamonds. That being said, now, almost 25 years after its initial debut, this masterpiece of automatic winding is increasing in value every year.
If you find a watch on Chrono24 that houses this movement, there are a few things you should know. To start, don’t expect the winding efficiency to be very high. Chopard has achieved the highest level possible, but the construction is understandably dated, and the mainspring is likely not as taut as those in modern automatic movements. Therefore, if you end up buying a L.U.C 1860 and spend a lot of time sitting at your desk, I’d recommend taking a short walk every now and again. The hands on the L.U.C 1.96’s decentralized minute wheel also tend to jump when setting the time. Chopard has remedied this issue in most newer movements, but here’s a quick tip that may help: Let the watch run a little and then push the crown back in when you reset it. If the hands still jump excessively, it might be worth getting it serviced by Chopard.
Despite these minor faults, the L.U.C 1.96 is undoubtedly a masterpiece that is on par with Patek Philippe’s 27-460AT, the 2120 series from Audemars Piguet, and the 1120 series from Vacheron Constantin. If you are passionate about watch movements, you should definitely take a closer look at this caliber. It truly marks a milestone in watchmaking history and is a symbol of the renaissance of mechanical watches.