A Moment in Time: Junghans Max Bill Chronoscope
How I got this watch: I asked one of the US distributors for Junghans, Junghans Watches USA, to spend some time with one of the Meister Driver pieces. I was sent this watch and the Meister Driver Handaufzug for two weeks. This is not a paid review
The Junghans Max Bill Chronoscope is a timeless classic of Bauhaus design
Junghans know exactly what they're doing when it comes to making watches. Nomos is the current German Liebling of the watch industry, but Junghans continue to produce quality watches in the same way that they've done since 1871. Their watches have more design variety than Nomos but all Junghans watches still speak the same language: quality production, clean designs and great value for money. The Max Bill Chronoscope (I'll be getting to the chronoscope bit just down below) isn't the latest model, but it's timeless in a way that only a Bauhaus watch can be.
Let's talk about the name. Max Bill Chronoscope. In true Bauhaus fashion, it says everything we need to know about this watch in as few elements as possible.
A Swiss born architect, artist and one of the most influential designers of the 20th Century. He studied under the German Bauhaus design school though his work was never limited to one style. Bill designed kitchen stools, buildings, typewriters and in 1956, Junghans approached him to design a wall clock. Bill would design two clocks for Junghans, one for the living area and the other as a timer for the kitchen. These clock were such a success that in 1962 he designed several watches for the German brand as well. These Max Bill watches are some of the most desirable vintage Junghans, along with the military watches used by the German Air Force. His simple and elegant watches take the Bauhaus school of thought to its purest elements.
Bauhaus was a reaction to the extravagant embellishments of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. These styles glorified the superfluous additions to everyday objects; vines carved into door handles or floral motifs on street signs. The Bauhaus School was the opposite and believed that art should be a harmony of form and function, with neither dominating the other.
Technically the correct term for what we know today as a chronograph. A chronograph used to be a device that recorded time by drawing a line across a sheet of paper. A chronoscope was a device that displayed time visually. As language evolved over the years, the term chronograph became more popular and chronoscope fell from favor. The word chronoscope is only ever seen on either vintage watches or on modern watches that aim to evoke a vintage feel.
So these three words, Max Bill Chronoscope, tell us everything about what the watch sets out to achieve, a vintage inspired watch with minimalist design.
The Junghans Max Bill Chronoscope achieves all those goals
Max Bill never designed a chronograph for Junghans so the chronoscope is a wishful horological what if more than a re-edition. The type used in the original designs is relegated to the Junghans name and the numbers in the date wheel, whilst all markers are thin sticks. It's a clean design, some might go as far to say clinical, that expresses the ideals behind Bill's designs; purity of function and form.
The limited use of type is understandable as it frees the dial from visual clutter and allows free use of clean lines. Bill's original designs used a mixture of his original type and these lines so their inclusion here is legitimate. The white dialed chronograph does make use of the classic Bill type. That watch, and the reference Nr. 027/4601.00, seen here are available at Junghanswatchesusa.net who provided me with the watch for the purposes of this article.
The watch isn't perfectly symmetrical, although the 'Junghans Chronoscope' and date window balance each other nicely at 3 and 9. A true Max Bill might not have included the date window but on a modern watch it's a sacrifice that is often made.
Another sacrifice made is the case back. Instead of a purely functional solid back, there is a engraving which reads 'Design by Max Bill'. Whilst not 100% accurate, it's a personal touch on a watch that is all about being strictly business. Someone who appreciates good design and acknowledging the work of the designer will like this; someone who only wants a cool watch might be left wondering "Who is this Max Bill fella and why is he on my watch?!"
Something that feels genuine is the use of domed plexi-crystal. This is a same crystal that was used on the Junghans Meister Calendar I spent time with earlier in the year and it looks just as good here. (It does mean that taking a photograph of the watch under studio lights is a bloody nightmare). The crystal is coated with Sicralan, a special coating only seen on Junghans watch crystals and automotive glass. Junghans claims that the coating increases UV resistance (for keeping that dial fresh over years) and is more scratch resistant.
I've seen the watch described as sporty and I'd have to disagree, especially when the watch is fitted on a black leather strap. In my mind, this is a watch meant to be paired with a black slim fit Hugo Boss suit, not a FC Bayern Munich shirt.
That being said, the design of the pushers is reminiscent of classic timing chronographs. Inside the watch is the Junghans Caliber J880.2 which has a 48 hour power reserve if the chronograph isn't used. The J880.2 is a modified Valjoux 7750 which we've seen in countless watches including the Christopher Ward C60 Trident, the Tudor Fastrider Chronograph and the Breitling Navitimer World. It's not the most glamorous movement but it's reliable and will be able to get serviced by any watchmaker around the world.
One minor complaint I had with the Chronoscope was that the thickness does detract from the minimalist aesthetic. The domed crystal combined with the thick Valjoux 7750 means that the watch has a larger vertical wrist presence than you might expect. It will comfortably fit under a shirt cuff but for a Bauhaus style watch, its height was unexpected.
It's hard to date the Max Bill Chronoscope because of the timeless design. It doesn't look modern yet it doesn't look 'vintage' compared to the Meister Driver or the Meister Pilot. It is what it is, a watch designed in the Bauhaus style. If you like the Bauhaus style then you'll love this watch, if you don't like it, then you won't. It's as simple as that.
Even if it's limited to more formal occasions, I happen to love the Chronoscope. It's simple, timeless and great value for money.