Inside & Out Review: Corum Golden Bridge Rectangle

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How I got this watch: I got in contact with the Corum representatives in the United States and asked if I could review a watch. I was given a selection of 8 watches and I chose the Golden Bridge Rectangle (Because of course I did!). I wore the watch for two weeks. This is not a paid review

A cool wind blew across the San Francisco bay on January 5th, 1933, with two groups of engineers, riveters and laborers amassing on either side of the Golden Gate Strait. The 1.7 mile stretch of ocean had separated the two sides of the Bay Area since time immemorial, and now the population of the bustling metropolis of San Francisco wanted easier passage to the mountains of Marin County in the North. Chief engineer Joseph B. Strauss, architect Irving F. Morrow and hundreds of unnamed workers set to work on that cold January day and managed to build the unbuildable in only 4 years. The immense technical challenge of the Golden Gate Bridge was matched only by the perilous economic situation that swept across the United States during the 1930s.

A photo of the Golden Gate Straight during the early construction of the bridge. Photo courtesy of goldengate75.org.

You may be wondering why I'm talking about the Golden Gate Bridge, as after all this is Timepiece Chronicle and not Suspension Bridge Weekly. Its because the Corum Golden Bridge Rectangle that I wore for two weeks is not only inspired by the famous bridge, but both designs share many similarities: They both are beautiful works of art and engineering that no-one thought possible, and both were designed at the most unlikely of times.

Vincent Calabrese designed and built the Golden Bridge in 1977

The Jaeger-LeCoultre Caliber 101. Photo courtest of timetransformed.com

Born in Naples, Italy in 1944, Vincent was adept at watchmaking by an early age; at 14 he was repairing watches on the street and at 17, he left Italy for Switzerland in search of a career in watchmaking ( and also to avoid the compulsory military service). After becoming a certified watchmaker, Vincent began working in a famous watch boutique in Crans-Montana (Switzerland, not USA) where he learned an awful truth about the watch buying public. He realized that most people bought watches only for their appearance, with little concern paid to the movement inside. A client brought a Breguet minute repeater that had been crushed by a car in for repair and he insisted that the case be refurbished but the movement left unrepaired. Years later, Calabrese recalled the man's reasoning for leaving his watch broken and how it inspired him to create a new kind of watch, "No one sees the movement anyway, so here is no need for repair. His words stung my ears and it led me to produce a timepiece where the movement, and not the case or design is the star".

For inspiration, Vincent looked at the classic 'baguette' movements made by Jaeger-LeCoultre in the 1920s and 1930s, specifically the Calibers 101 and 210. 'Baguette' movements are often categorized as elongated rectangular movements, the length of which is at least three times as greater as the breadth'. The Caliber 101 in particular was a watchmaking achievement and its development was made possible by the Duoplan movement, the famed square movement made by Jaeger-LeCoultre. Introduced in 1929, the Caliber 101 was used for ladies watches as the small size (14 x 4.8 x 3.4mm) and weight (1 gram) made it a versatile movement that could be fit in a variety of designs. The production of the Caliber 101 was so time-consuming and precise that only 50 could be made in a year.

Vincent completed the first prototype of what would be the Corum Golden Bridge in 1977 and it only had 45 parts. The only thing that matched the technical challenge of designing a single crown linear movement was its aesthetic beauty. By mounting the movement onto a support mounted to the case at 12 and 6 o'clock, Vincent had been able to bridge a gap no-one had thought possible.  Looking at the patent diagrams for the Golden Gate Bridge and the Corum Golden Bridge,the similarity is remarkable (Even if one is a few inches long and the other is several thousand feet) as they both emphasis straight lines that mislead you into thinking their design and construction was easy. The Golden Gate Bridge took 4 years to build and whilst it looks like a normal (if very large) bridge, the process of building the foundations in the freezing current of the Pacific was a task never before accomplished.

 
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In a 2016 interview, Vincent said that "My idea was to explore where others had never been. Meaning not to make a skeleton watch, thus removing from a standard movement the inessential, but to build a movement taking the space of the inessential". That distinction between a skeleton watch and the Golden Bridge is important, as I believe that the Golden Bridge has all the strengths of a skeleton watch without any of the weaknesses. For all their technical daring and complexity, I find skeleton watches very difficult to read as the visibility of the movement is more important than the legibility of the dial. Yet by narrowing the movement down to the thinnest possible sliver of horology, the Golden Bridge succeeds in allowing a beautiful see-through movement without comprising the legibility of the watch.

Vincent entered his watch, then called the Horlogerie Spatiale or Spatial watch, into the Geneva International Inventors Show where it won a gold medal and through a mutual acquaintance, Vincent was introduced to the founder of Corum, Rene Bannwart. Rene promptly fell in love with the design and asked Vincent to make it for them. Corum was 25 years old at the time but the brand was known for bold, modern designs like the iconic Coin watch. Yet to ask for a haute horology piece that emphasized mechanical watchmaking to be built at midst of the Quartz Crisis was a bold move. Rolex, Omega and a collection of brands had already developed a prototype quartz movement, and it was clear that drastic steps needed to be taken in order to survive.

 
 

Yet in 1980, amidst dozens of watch brands falling to the wayside, Corum released Golden Bridge. Despite the risky decision to release a mechanical watch in the age of quartz, the watch was incredibly popular amongst collectors and mechanical watch enthusiasts. Dino Modolo, a young designer working at Corum at the time said that he was so in love with the design that if he could have afforded it, he would have bought one (despite the lack of water resistance and known technical problems). Little did Dino know that 36 years later he would be in charge of re-designing the Golden Bridge collection. Dino's inspiration for the new style of Golden Bridge would be the cables and support beams of the Golden Gate Bridge and not only would Dino add a sense of structure to the Golden Bridge, he would also change the shape. The Golden Bridge Circle came out in 2016 and the Rectangle came out earlier this year in 2017.

I'll be perfectly honest and saw that my jaw dropped when I unwrapped the Golden Bridge from its protective packaging.

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The lack of a traditional dial on the original Golden Bridge meant that the first few designs lacked a certain impact on the wrist. The crystal exhibited the movement beautifully but there was a lack of surrounding structure and foundation that left the movement floating in a void. The addition of the stylized, art-deco supports to the rectangular case is a fantastic change, as they function as exquisite pieces of art and as hour markers with each being a stylized Roman numeral. These miniature beams come more apparent when looked at from the side and behind as they are three dimensional structures, rather than a flat sliver of gold. Maybe I'm just a bit slow, but it did take me longer than I'd like to admit to realize that the beams were stylized Roman numerals and once I did, I couldn't believe at how seamlessly the inspirational elements have been used in the design.

More often than not in watches, elements taken from other designs or art can be rather on the nose (I'm looking at your LP record dials Raymond Weil!) but not here, or at least not to my unperceptive eyes. Along the center portion of these beams are several silver rivets that act both as reminders of the Golden Gate bridge motif and as hour markers. Do these rivets suddenly turn the Golden Bridge into a high legibility pilot's watch? Of course not, but even these token additions so add some functionality to this piece of art.

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I realize that if I'm talking about the beauty of the watch, then I'm burying the lead by not talking about the stunning linear movement. Quite frankly, the Caliber C0113 is one of the most stunning horological arrangements I've ever seen in the metal. It lacks the complexity of a skeleton or the shrouded mystique of a regular movement covered by large bridges, but its openness and straightforwardness is refreshing. Vincent Calabrese said of his original design that 'the case shouldn't represent the coffin for the movement' and he succeeded in bringing the movement of the Golden Bridge to life as seeing the balance wheel oscillate freely, or seeing the gear train whir and click into place as you wind is entirely different when seeing it on the Golden Bridge as opposed to any other watch. The finishing on the titular bridge is a mixture of vertical brushes with elevated rose gold patterns that highlight the jewels and screws.

Something I like as well is that the Corum name is almost disguised into the decorative, scroll like finishing. Corum have experimented with etching their name on the sapphire crystal of watches like the Corum coin watch, as this allows the design to take precedence over the name, and they could have done that here. But by keeping the name of the brand strictly on the linear movement, it allows the wearer and those gazing upon the watch to focus on the craftsmanship and design, rather than the brand who made it. For a watch as extravagant and luxurious as the Golden Bridge its surprisingly humble.

 
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If there were to be one critique of the Golden Bridge aesthetic, its that you're not able to show off the movement when flipping the watch over, as everything is visible on top! Yes, this is a critique in the same vein as "My view of the French Riviera flies by so quickly now that I drive a Ferrari", but its still worth noting. Infact, other than the hands and the slight difference in design of finishing, the bottom of the Golden Bridge is nearly identical to the top. There only difference is that the required hallmark for 18kt gold is visible as are the screws holding the gear train to the bridge itself. I would also say that the steel gear train at 6 o'clock does stand out when compared to the gold case and bridge. It's hardly the end of the world, but I would imagine that it would be less noticeable in a white metal watch.

The strap is a supple, chocolate colored alligator strap fitted to a folding deployant buckle made of 18kt gold. The visible part of the buckle is a circle with the Corum logo ( a key) in the middle. When I reviewed the Frederique Constant Perpetual Calendar, I said that the finishing of their logo (also within a circle on the deployant buckle) was not precise enough to warrant it being used in such an open space. Unsurprising, the Corum does have the level of finishing with each curve and edge of the key being distinct and detailed but actually threading the strap through the buckle was a bit tricky. Also, the holes on the strap are quite large and the pin part of the buckle sat quite loosely in them. I'm sure the strap is secure, but I'd rather not have minor heart palpitations every time I put on a watch over a hard floor.

You may have noticed that I haven't talked about price yet so here's the rub, the Corum Golden Bridge Rectangle is $36,000.

Quite frankly, that's such a vast amount of money that I find it hard to fathom quite how anyone can have that amount of spare change laying about, let alone to spend it on a watch. I've spoken before about watches being a 'value proposition' and a watch that comes to mind is the Frederique Constant Perpetual Calendar, which until the Corum was the most expensive watch I've had on the site. $8000 is still more money than I can afford on a watch but I felt far more comfortable then in discussing its status as a 'value prop' than I do here. Perhaps I'm a man of small imagination but I lack the ability to put myself into the mindset of someone looking to spend a $36,000 watch. 

Yet despite my inability to role-play as a millionaire, I still was able to enjoy every bit of the Corum Golden Bridge Rectangle during my time with it. It's a wondrous timepiece that is just as beautiful as it is technically astounding, and it manages to accomplish every thing Vincent Calabrese set out to do 37 years ago. 

For more information on the Corum Golden Bridge Rectangle, visit corum.ch