Mysterious historical parallels: mistakes happen

Alexey Kutkovoy on the mistakes which sometimes (or rather, extremely rarely) happen in the design of timepiece dials, and also that these are rarely noticed. Not only that, but there are also collectors who are glad to own copies with such mistakes…

Of course, mistakes happen. Look at the Omega Seamaster, sold as Speedmaster, which was also a model on sale at the end of the 1990s (steel, white dial), in Russia too, also the bronze Tudor from Bucherer’s special series, with the second ‘i’ missing in the word ‘officially’… There have also been several problems with the 20-minute marker in particular, with examples of the Hamilton Khaki Pilot GMT noticed as having a ‘20’ instead of ‘25’ on the minute scale, and the TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 16 with a ‘20’ instead of ‘30’ in the lower part of the dial. The ‘luckiest’ with the ‘20’ were Longines, whose Heritage 1942 Chronographs, released for their 180-year anniversary in 2012, featured the 20-minute marker of the 30-minute chronograph counter printed twice – one where it should have been and the other in the 25-minute marker position. The company didn’t notice this error at the design stage, the entire series then successfully passed through numerous stages of quality control (and given the dials are produced by a supplier, they passed through quality control there too), and went into production with this error still in place. Indeed, with both the black- and white-dialled models. What is more, watches with the erroneous marker were included in catalogues and press releases… Of course, when the brand is contacted by a buyer to point out the mistake, the dial is changed due to the obvious defect, though I suppose many collectors would prefer to leave their erroneous Longines in their original state. Just the like the rare Omega Speedmasters of the 1960s, where the ‘200’ marker on the tachymeter scale, engraved on the bezel, was mistakenly replaced with ‘220’. 

Roman numerals also sometimes trick designers. At the end of the 1990s, some of Piaget’s altiplano models were very beautifully decorated with ‘flying’ Roman numerals on the dial. This beauty didn’t help, however, as on the dials of some copies there will forever remain two Roman numeral ‘9’ markers – one where they should be and the other in place of the ‘11’ hour marker. Issues with Roman numerals also befell the Lange brand. The dials of the flagship Lange 1 model are marked with applied Roman numerals in the positions of the ‘3’, ‘6’, ‘9’ and ‘12’ hour markers. Obviously, these markers are attached to the dial by hand. This requires incredibly meticulous work, and, it seems, during this process the craftspeople concentrated more on the perfect performance of this operation. Though it happened extremely rarely and just three copies were found with the wrong dial, the Roman ‘9’ was placed upside down, as ‘XI’ rather than ‘IX’. The watch passed all checks including quality control at the Quadrance et Habillage atelier (part of the Parmigiani Fleurier group of companies) – the same place where the dials for the Lange 1 were produced. The mistake was discovered by a buyer, and Lange went back over all the archive photographs (all Lange’s assembled watches must be photographed before being sent to retailers). They found three copies with the wrong dial. They contacted the buyers, but they reportedly flatly refused to send the watches back to have their dials replaced. As these are extremely rare, collectible pieces it is totally understandable.

Why am I writing about this? Because there are a few pieces made by Konstantin Chaykin with similar mistakes on the dial. However, only one piece was truly erroneous, as far as we know. Here, it is worth letting Konstantin tell the story: “If you look closely at the first tourbillon, you will see a small error that no one has ever noticed – instead of a Roman six, there is a Roman four on the dial. I noticed it when the clock was finished, and then I specifically repeated this error twice, because I really liked it: in the Carriage Tourbillon Clock and in the second computus clock.”

Yes, indeed, the incorrect Roman four, engraved in place of the six on the dial of the Foundation Tourbillon, which remained unnoticed by almost everyone, was later deliberately repeated by its creator in the Carriage Tourbillon Clock and the Resurrection Computus Clock. Watchmaking is a serious business, but watchmakers still sometimes find time to joke.

At some point, I thought this story was at an end. But I was wrong. Leafing through the December 2013 issue of Antiquarian Horology (Vol. 34, No. 4), I suddenly noticed a familiar picture: in the James Porrvis domestic clock, probably the earliest copy of an English-made personal clock and one which survives to this day (in fact, it was the subject of the article), the same four, ‘IV’, was found where, according to all rules of watchmaking, there should be a six, ‘VI’. There is an added piquancy given that the four o’clock marker, in accordance with tradition, was marked as ‘IIII’.

James Porrvis clock. Photo – Antiquarian Horology

Porrvis’ clock was made in 1567, that is 437 years before Chaykin’s Foundation Tourbillon, and no matter how hard I tried to find some other reasoning or examples of that period, I did not succeed. It was just a mistake, completely mysteriously repeated in Konstantin Chaykin’s clock four centuries later. Mistakes happen, and, furthermore, they are sometimes repeated.

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