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7 of the Most Emblematic Watch Movements You Must Know Today

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A number of movements have stood the test of time and have become as famous as the watches that carry them. We take a look at the reason behind their prominence.

A legendary sportscar may be known for its chassis as it is for the powerful engine under its bonnet. Much in the same way, iconic watches are also remembered for the movements that power them. Typically they tick a number of boxes, such as being innovative, influential, reliable, or as simple as being a thing of beauty.

While in the past, movements tended to be hidden beneath a solid caseback, these days, more often than not, movements are exhibited through transparent casebacks to showcase the fastidious care that has gone into their production. They are designed to be celebrated and admired. The list of emblematic movements is inexhaustible. But if there are only seven in current production that you should know, here they are.

Breitling Calibre B01

Breitling_Navitimer B01 Chronograph 41_Cortina Watch

Breitling’s dependable B01 movement has influenced the designs of other Breitling in-house movements

Known for its rich tapestry of chronographs, namely Navitimer, Premier, Chronomat and Top Timer, Breitling has a well-established leadership in producing chronographs. In 1969, it introduced to the world one of the earliest examples of the automatic chronograph. Today, the aforementioned collections boasting unmistakable designs are icons in their own rights. Many of which are powered by the in-house calibre B01, which debuted in 2009. The presentation marked the end of a painstaking endeavour that began in 2004, when Breitling undertook the initiative to develop a modern chronograph movement, whilst signalling a new dawn to Breitling’s future chronographs equipped with its own innovative movements.

At the top of the B01’s draw cards are its outstanding reliability and precision. Breitling is revered for its steadfast champion of chronometers. It means any individual movement it produces must be able to pass the stringent examination dictated by the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute (COSC). The movement shines with a generous 70 hours of power reserve, while it is endowed with practical innovations such as a column wheel, an index regulating system and a vertical coupling system. The latter eliminates undesired hand jumping when the chronograph function is activated.

Bvlgari BVL Calibre 180

Bulgari_Octo Finissimo Ultra_Cortina Watch

One of the main highlights of the Bvlgari Octo Finissimo Ultra is the QR code, which is laser-etched onto the mainspring barrel’s ratchet wheel

In the past decade, Bvlgari has deftly transformed itself into the maker of impossibly thin timepieces. Not just any ultra-thin, many of them are world-record holders and bona fides featuring highly complex mechanisms designed to be practical. Beginning in 2014, Bvlgari went on a roll to snatch the crown to the world’s thinnest tourbillon, minute repeater, self-winding watch, self-winding tourbillon, chronograph (self-winding with second time zone), tourbillon chronograph, and perpetual calendar. In 2022, Bvlgari shocked the world again with the Octo Finissimo Ultra, which was the world’s thinnest watch at the time of launching. The watch at its thickest measures a mere 1.8mm.

Harnessing the extreme learning while developing its acclaimed Octo Finissimo series, the Ultra condenses the movement to reduce verticality while switching over to innovative materials to improve rigidity. The caseback doubling as the mainplate of the movement is milled from a single sheet of tungsten carbide, a metal matrix composite far harder than conventional metal alloys.

Other out-of-the-box adaptations include a flat spring in the balance spring, the omission of a regulator index, and a balance that oscillates under a three-armed balance bridge, in lieu of a traditional balance wheel. The task of winding or setting the watch is left to a pair of knurled wheels set to the side of the watch. Remarkably, the watch still beats at 28,800 vph while boasting 50 hours of power reserve, all courtesy of the ground-breaking BVL calibre 180.

Franck Muller Calibre MVT FM 708-SQ

Franck Muller_Vanguard Slim Skeleton_Cortina Watch

For the Vanguard Slim Skeleton, Franck Muller tailor-makes an in-house skeleton movement

Franck Muller has gone from strength to strength since debuting the Crazy Hours in 2003. It profoundly altered the landscape, particularly on how the time is read off the dial. The iconoclastic timepiece was a world’s first, a brazen attempt at rearranging the existing order and reimagining the jumping hour. From that extraordinary feat, it succeeded in creating one of the most emblematic timepieces.

Now, with the addition of the Vanguard Slim Skeleton, Franck Muller possesses another icon in the making. At the centre of the outstanding timepiece is a cutting-edge self-winding movement, unencumbered by dials and meticulously skeletonised to epitomise Franck Muller’s expertise in watchmaking. The movement is produced in-house and its components are polished by hand. Its daring design strikes a perfect balance between architectural and technical finesse – a testament to Franck Muller’s own tagline: Master of Complications. And perhaps the most impressive characteristic of the MVT FM 708-SQ movement is its versatility, enabling it to be fitted in both the 41mm models of the Vanguard Slim Skeleton and the 37mm variants exclusive to Asia Pacific.

H. Moser & Cie. Calibre HMC 808

H. Moser & Cie._Pioneer Perpetual Calendar_Cortina Watch

H. Moser & Cie. is among a select group of fully integrated watch manufacturers, where it also designs and produces its own movements.

There are perpetual calendars, and then, there is H. Moser & Cie.’s Pioneer Perpetual Calendar, which marks a complete departure from the traditional aesthetics of perpetual calendars. It is a timepiece that offers no yearly indication and an effortless setting of time, date, month and more, simply with an adjustment to the crown. All this wondrous feature is thanks to the ingenuity of the underlying movement, HMC 808. The uniqueness of the manual-winding movement extends beyond where the calendar mechanism forms an integral part of the movement rather than as a module, it affords the wearer the luxury of setting the date and month forwards or backwards, without risking damage to the movement.

Furthermore, it impresses with its longevity, boasting a double barrel that delivers 168 hours of power reserve. The movement is lavished with exceptional finishing such as polished bevels and signature double stripes. Beyond the visual spectacle, the movement is brought to life with the aid of numerous patented innovations, including the in-house Straumann hairspring and interchangeable Moser escapement.

OMEGA Calibre 321

Omega_Speedmaster_Cortina Watch

From the stunning architecture to the distinctive frequency of 2.5Hz, OMEGA’s calibre 321 is indeed a work of art

Universally beloved, the original calibre 321 was a historically significant movement that intertwined with some of mankind’s greatest achievements while captivating the minds of collectors with its poetic composition. Derived from an earlier movement, the 321 made its full debut in OMEGA’s first-ever Speedmaster introduced in 1957. Although successive Speedmaster iterations bore evolved designs, the column-wheel and horizontal clutch chronograph manual-winding movement survived as a testament to its sophisticated design. It powered the Speedmaster across all NASA’s manned space missions and, of course, Apollo 11’s unprecedented moon landing.

By 1968, the acclaimed 321 was phased out by OMEGA in favour of another movement and wouldn’t be resurrected till 2019, with the introduction of the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch 321 Platinum. For the rebirth, a dedicated workshop within its manufacturing facilities was entrusted with the re-creation of the movement. The legendary movement was reborn with exacting standards, faithfully retracing the qualities that the original held in such high esteem. The only notable difference is the use of an 18K Sedna gold PVD coated mainplate over the original’s copper. Since its revival, two more models bearing the famous 321 have since followed suit, including the Omega Speedmaster Caliber 321 “Ed White” in stainless steel.

Parmigiani Fleurier Calibre PF703

Parmigiani Fleurier_Tonda PF_Cortina Watch

Magnificently decorated and tastefully opulent, Parmigiani Fleurier’s calibre PF703 is a movement as much as a statement

At the heart of Parmigiani Fleurier’s iconic and sartorial Tonda PF collection is an exquisitely crafted movement that more than complements their svelteness and elegance. The PF703 is a movement thoughtfully conceived for a flawless delivery. Not only it measures an ultra-thin 3mm in height, it also possesses enough room to shelter a micro-rotor made of platinum. The latter is enriched with the manufacturer’s famous grain d’orge guilloché motif. By integrating the small but substantial oscillating weight into the movement, it enables significant reduction in thickness to the timepiece and raises the efficacy of its rotation to help replenish the power reserve of 48 hours.

Founder Michael Parmigiani was a watchmaker and restorer devoted to restoring antique timepieces, including monumental timepieces from the Patek Philippe Museum, prior to inaugurating his own Maison in 1996. The exceptional standards he preaches permeate all of their creations, as exemplified by the stunningly finished movement and all of its 160 components that make up its entirety.

Zenith Calibre El Primero 3600

Zenith_Chronomaster Sport_Cortina Watch

A rarity even among today’s chronographs, Zenith’s El Primero 3600 offers a true 1/10th-of-a-second indication

The story of El Primero is well documented and the importance in the development of integrated automatic chronograph movements can’t be understated. Initially unveiled in 1969, the pioneering movement was widely regarded as among the most accurate at the time. Operating at 36,000 vph, a frequency surpassing that of its contemporaries, the debuting watch was the first high-frequency automatic chronograph. Fast forward to today, not only has Zenith remained one of very few watch brands to persist with high-frequency chronographs, it has successfully produced movements with significantly higher frequencies.

Found within the cases of the Chronomaster range, the El Primero 3600 movement continues to honour the ground-breaking foundation laid by the original El Primero movement while benefiting from today’s cutting-edge technology. Surfaced in 2021 in regular production, the El Primero 3600 was conceived with fewer components while upping the ante with modern materials, contemporary processes and improved functionality. The improvement was realised through a series of redesigns upon the preceding El Primero 400 movement. It enabled a smoother operation and increased energy efficiency. The result was a remarkable high-frequency automatic chronograph movement that bears 60 hours of power reserve.

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