2012, a mysterious battle of a mystery watch

28 December 2022
2012, a mysterious battle of a mystery watch

This is a story of the world’s first centerpiece “mystery” tourbillon and why this idea didn’t work out.

The principle of creating “mystery” watch, invented by the French magician and watchmaker Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, has been known since the XIX century. Until recently, it’s only implementation was a transparent dial with one or two time-indicating hands. This was used in various forms. Initially, by the inventor himself and his immediate followers as stationary clocks, but by the late XIX century as pocket watches, and since 1980s as wristwatches.

Picture Robert-Houdin Triple Mystery Clock

The development of the idea of a “mystery” watch with additional complications, also based on the “mystery” movement, took more than a century and a half. The first to develop them were Swiss engineers Willy Cleusix, Norbert Perucchi and René Quinting, the latter’s name becoming the name of the brand manufacturing “mystery” watches.

Picture Quinting Tech 5 watch

All Quinting watches are quartz, including the “mystery” chronograph, the brand’s first model, introduced in 1999. This does simplify the design and production of “mystery” watches. At the very least, there is no need to reserve space for the barrel drum.

Picture Quinting Mysterious Chronograph

The world had to wait ten more years for the appearance of the first mechanical watch with “mystery” time indication and “mystery” complications. This contribution to the watchmaking art was made by the independent watchmaker Konstantin Chaykin. In his “Mystery 1000 Jewels” model, created in 2008, “mystery” time indication (in 24-hour format) was complemented by a transparent “mystery” planisphere with a stellar map of the sky above St. Petersburg and a calendar.

Picture Mystery 1000 Jewels watch by Konstantin Chaykin

Later Konstantin Chaykin focused on expanding the classic “mystery” watch range. The model was initially called Mystery, but the name changed in late 2012, since that time Chaykin’s “mystery” watches are called Levitas. The first major presentation of the renamed and heavily modified model took place during an exhibition in Basel on April 25 to May 2, 2013.

Picture The Levitas 44 watch by Konstantin Chaykin

Konstantin Chaykin decided to supplement the launch of the new Levitas models with a significantly more complex flagship model the Levitas Tourbillon. The creation of basic models for both men and women required him to mostly handle organizational matters and improve the serial production. The streamlined production of the new mystery watch series has been launched. These watches were produced not only under the Konstantin Chaykin brand, but also as a part of a collaboration project with NIKA jewellery brand. NIKA requested the development of the “mystery” movement for the ladies’ and men’s watches empowered with a quartz drive.

Picture Mistery watch collection by Nika

Chaykin was more interested in other matters. Konstantin always enjoyed and still enjoys inventing new watches, not re-doing his older pieces. So in 2012, in preparation for the upcoming Basel exhibition, he eagerly took on the challenged of creating a “mystery” tourbillon.

Picture The Levitas Tourbillon watch by Konstantin Chaykin

Once the design process was complete and it was time to start production on the new model, he learned that a big brand is preparing a similar watch. Konstantin Chaykin remembers: In December 2012 several publications appeared around Cartier making a “mystery” tourbillon, to be introduced at SIHH in Geneve. By this point I was well into designing the Levitas Tourbillon. I was hoping to have it by the Basel exhibition, to show it off, a second complicated piece to accompany the Cinema watch. But after learning about Cartier’s premier, I decided to abandon the project to avoid spending all the work-time of the manufacture for a few months only to reveal a second similar model right after Cartier. Picture Rotonde de Cartier Mysterious Double Tourbillon

The project was shut down, and the Levitas Tourbillon design remained unrealized. Now, ten years later, the story can be analyzed dispassionately. “Mystery” tourbillon already existed back then. Five years earlier, in 2007, Breguet released the Tourbillon Messidor Ref. 5335 model with a “mystery”-based tourbillon set up on the turning sapphire disc through which the tourbillon was geared. Hour and minute hands were installed on a non-“mystery” dial.

Picture Breguet Tourbillon Messidor

The Rotonde de Cartier Double Mystery Tourbillon watch, indeed introduced by Cartier in 2013, were based on the same principle, with ordinary hands and a “mystery” tourbillon. But, unlike theTourbillon Messidor, the Rotonde de Cartier Double Mystery Tourbillon the tourbillon itself was unusual, featuring double spin with a minute-long spin cycle around the radial axis and a five-minute orbital spin cycle.

Picture Movement of Rotonde de Cartier Mysterious Double Tourbillon

Konstantin Chaykin’s idea was different. He developed an unprecedented “mystery” tourbillon with the minute and hour hands coaxially installed on the same transparent dial.

Picture Movement of the Levitas Tourbillon watch by Konstantin Chaykin

Later, in 2016 Cartier introduced the Rotonde de Cartier Astromysterieux, another “mystery” watch designed by Carole Forestier, the technical director of the brand’s complex mechanics division. Funnily enough, the Astromysterieux is a “mystery”-based alternative to Ulysse Nardin’s Freak, which Forestier herself contributed to in the late 1990s, at the early stage in her career. In both the Astromysterieux and the Freak the movement turns in time with the minute hand, so, if this design can be called a tourbillon, it’s a very slow tourbillon (which does not diminish the overall excellent model in any way).

Picture The Rotonde de Cartier Astromystérieux

Coming back to the unrealized Levitas Tourbillon project, it’s worth noting that it still seems a timely innovation. There are still no analogues on the marker. And besides, the idea of a centerpiece “mystery” tourbillon is too beautiful to abandon it completely.

Konstantin Chaykin himself believes the matter is far from settled: “I can get it together and produce this watch at any moment. Most of the work is already done. The 3D model for the prototype is ready, the experience of making “mystery” watches is there. It’s ready for production at any moment. The only issue is finding an opening in the manufacture’s busy schedule given the long list of projects already planned”.

Picture The Levitas Art 40 watch by Konstantin Chaykin

PS Interestingly enough, Konstantin Chaykin achieved a certain record. He assembled one of his Mystery watches while climbing on top of the Belukha (4,506m), the highest mountain in Siberia.