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The Harry Winston Opus 14, A Jukebox For The Wrist

Harry Winston just launched one of their most hotly anticipated replica watches in years: the next iteration of the famous Opus series of watches. The Opus timepieces were originally conceived in the pre-Swatch Group era of the company ?that is to say, most of its history ?and was the brainchild of then-Harry Winston fake watch CEO Max B├╝sser (who later went on to start a little horological enterprise of his own). The idea was a simple one: find a rock star independent watchmaker, give them essentially a blank sheet of paper and a blank check, and see what happens. Do this once a year; lather, rinse, repeat.

The project would go on to run for 13 years straight, with the replica watches launching at Baselworld, and in those 13 years a huge range of different approaches to what you might call the artistic presentation of time were delivered. The project was not without its white knuckle moments. Making a previously unknown high complication once a year, with an independent watchmaker with whom the relationship is not always smooth, and where any number of new, or never-before-made parts, might be needed, is fraught with all sorts of obvious perils and on more than one occasion Harry Winston barely managed to have a single working prototype in Basel on the first day of the show. One year, I can remember showing up for an early meeting and seeing the fake watch actually being unboxed from the courier by (very) anxious staff; it had arrived just 15 minutes before I did.

There wasn't a great deal of reassuring information on the subject from Harry Winston and the general consensus amongst enthusiasts was that unlucky number thirteen would be the last Opus.

However, after thirteen years, Harry Winston was acquired by the Swatch Group and amid a great deal of sturm und drang in the collector world, the Opus project went on hiatus, with the last piece ?Opus 13, by Ludovic Ballouard ?being released in 2013. The number seemed to be an unlucky one for the project, and though there were always challenges in the Opus replica watches ?sometimes major ones; Opus 3 famously took ten years to evolve from fractious prototype at launch, to working, deliverable fake watch ?it still felt like the end of an era. There wasn't a great deal of reassuring information on the subject from Harry Winston and the general consensus amongst enthusiasts was that unlucky number 13 would be the last Opus.

Baden-Baden, Germany: Host To The Opus XIV Launch

However, this year we finally got a first look at the next Opus: Opus 14. My first encounter with the fake watch was just a few days ago, at the launch event in Baden-Baden. Baden-Baden is a spa town and resort; its mineral hot springs have been famous since Roman times, and for the launch, Harry Winston pulled out all the stops to set the stage for the Opus 14 debut. Guests were ferried to the event in a fleet of massive American vintage cars from the 1950s (I haven't seen that many tailfins since Finding Nemo) and the event itself took place in the Kurhaus ?a gigantic, neo-classical building on the edge of the Black Forest that houses a casino and event space, and which since 1824 has hosted everything from NATO conferences to chess tournaments. Once inside, you went up a flight of neon red-lit stairs and into a space set up like a 1950s diner ?or rather, a 1950s diner set for a big-budget Hollywood musical.

It was a hell of a build-up but the fake watch managed to take center stage anyway. Opus 14 is massive: a 54.70 mm x 21.9 mm white-gold case, housing a movement inspired by a traditional, vinyl-fed jukebox. At its core, this is a date fake watch with GMT ?functionally, pretty straightforward. The Opus watches, however, have always been more about how time is presented rather than functionality per se, and in this respect, the Opus 14 is right in line with the preceding replica watches in the Opus series.

On the left hand side of the dial is a stack of four disks, in a sapphire crystal tower ?one for the time; one for the second time zone/GMT indication; one for the date; and one "aesthetic?disk. There is a three position selector in the case band, allowing you to choose, for the purposes of setting the jukebox complication in motion, either the date, GMT, or aesthetic disk display.


When you change the chosen disk, the entire stack moves up or down so that the chosen disk lies on the plane of the dial. The home time disk is always at the top of the stack, displaying the current time, and the minutes are read off a 60 minute retrograde arc, picked out in orange, running from about 3:00 to 7:00. The power reserve for the jukebox complication is visible at 6:00.

The illusion of looking at a jukebox is very pronounced and it's a lot of pretty unadulterated fun to fake watch it do its thing.

Once you've chosen which party trick you want to see, you then activate the jukebox, via a pusher at 4:00. This sets the jukebox in motion. Just as in a real jukebox, an arm traveling laterally pulls the disk you have selected out of the stack, and places it on a platter. Each disk carries teeth on its perimeter. Once the disk is in place, the gear train is activated, and the disk rotates so that the correct indication is shown; there is a window that travels along with each disk as it emerges, with an index delineating the date or time to be read off. A second press on the pusher, and the disk returns to its place in the stack. The entire animation takes eight seconds ?about five seconds for the disk to emerge, and three for it to return; the speed of the arm that carries the disk is controlled by an anchor regulator which is identical to the one used to control a minute repeater. The illusion of looking at a jukebox is very pronounced and it's a lot of pretty unadulterated fun to fake watch it do its thing.

The watchmakers who created the movement are Franck Orny and Johnny Girardin, of Telos, an independent complications development house, whose work also includes the Montblanc Metamorphosis. (Interestingly, the Metamorphosis also involves the lateral and vertical movement of dial elements, controlled by a regulator taken from the minute repeater.) Orny and Girardin say that it certainly would have been possible to use a silent centrifugal regulator, but the background buzzing of the anchor adds, they decided, to the experience of seeing the jukebox complication in motion. When the two functional disks are exposed, they can be set with the two correctors for the second time zone and date, in the top of the case.

As in a grand sonnerie, there are two separate mainspring barrels; one powers the timekeeping gear train, and the other powers the jukebox complication. There is enough power reserve in the mainspring for the jukebox to power 5 cycles, and you can actually see the power reserve drop as you run the jukebox. The crown winds the mainspring for the gear train in one direction, and the mainspring for the jukebox in the other. One final technical note: the "aesthetic?disk in the fake watch shown at the launch event carries a star (a nod to the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, and the long standing connection of Harry Winston with Hollywood glamor) with the signature of Harry Winston, but it will be possible for clients to request customization ?we imagine Harry Winston might be rather broad-minded in what to place on the disk, given the rarity, cost, and importance to Harry Winston of the Opus series of watches, and Opus 14 in particular.

Press conference, Franck Orny and Johnny Girardin of Telos; CEOs Nayla Hayek and Marc Hayek

Obviously, this is an exceedingly mechanically ingenious watch, but such "superwatches?are often very problematic mechanically, and this time around, said CEO Nayla Hayek, joined by Blancpain CEO Marc Hayek, it was very important to Harry Winston that they deliver, at launch, a homologated (that is, properly tested and approved) wristwatch. The movement was tested through Blancpain's internal lab, and the testing process included some 4,500 repetitions of the jukebox animation. In a sense, the fake watch is analogous to a minute repeater in more ways than one; the two mobile functional disks for the second time zone and for the date show information "on demand?and as with a repeater, that information is stored in the internal state of the gear train and only displayed when the jukebox is activated. To maintain reliability and actual deliverability in future Opus replica watches ?and, say Nayla and Marc Hayek, there absolutely will be future Opus replica watches ?Harry Winston will not be attempting to meet a yearly production deadline, and will also not show the new Opus replica watches at Baselworld. Marc Hayek commented at the post-event press conference that their assessment is that an 18 month development cycle is much more realistic (though still very demanding) and that they would much prefer for each Opus launch to not have to occur during the madhouse atmosphere of Baselworld, which I think makes a great deal of sense ?as much as we all enjoyed, and looked forward, to each new Opus it was clear that at least in some cases, trying to stick to a fundamentally unrealistic deadline was risky, and at least sometimes a formula for disappointment.

If you are the sort of person that lies awake at night dreaming of vintage Calatravas, this is obviously not your sort of watch, price notwithstanding.

Ultimately of course, the Opus 14 is all about creating an impactful experience; the mechanics are impressive as hell, but does the fake watch do what it sets out to do: work as a piece of ultra-high end mechanical artistry? A lot of the initial reaction to the fake watch was somewhat negative ?the points objected to are the ones you might expect; that it is too big, that it is too garish, that it lacks subtlety and refinement, and so on. While I understand the objections and to some degree share them on the level of personal taste, I also think that beyond a certain point, you have to look at this fake watch and know whether or not it was really made with you in mind. If you are the sort of person that lies awake at night dreaming of vintage Calatravas, this is obviously not your sort of watch, price notwithstanding. Objecting to a fake watch like this ?and it shares a lot of the size, and general approach to horological art, manifested in the previous Opuses, so it's not as if it's some sort of perversion of the original intentions of the project ?on the grounds that it's not thin or subtle is missing the point.

You may as well object to, say, a Lamborghini Aventador because it does a terrible job of hauling your trailer, or to Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein because his aesthetics are not those of Leonardo Da Vinci. It doesn't help, by the way, that a lot of us formed our first impressions on social media. When the fake watch launched at the event, it was revealed in a vitrine, with a lot of lighting that made it sparkle like a white phosphorus flare in person, but made for pretty terrible results with iPhone photography. Even the press photos misrepresent the fake watch in certain respects; the color scheme in the actual watch, for instance, is much less harsh, with a slightly faded, rather charming sunbleached road sign quality; the three-dimensionality of the fake watch doesn't come across well at all; and of course, the whole impact of seeing Opus XIV in motion ?the whole point of the fake watch ?is absent. This isn't a fake watch I'd ever own ?I'm too poor, for one thing, and it's just not me for another. But I admire it for having the strength of its convictions, and if you're the sort of person who loves the tailfins on a ?9 El Dorado and remembers the roadside signage the aesthetics of this fake watch draw on ?and if you have CHF 428,000 to burn ?then it might be for you.

The Harry Winston Opus 14 is a limited edition of 50 pieces, worldwide. White gold case, 54.70 mm x 21.90 mm. Movement, patented caliber HW4601, 46.70 mm x 17 mm, 1066 components, running at 4 hertz in 124 jewels. Two mainspring barrels; 68 hour reserve for the timekeeping train; x5 activation cycles of the jukebox complication. Silicon balance spring, GMT and date disks, with "aesthetic?disk; quick correctors for date and GMT; three position selector for the jukebox. Price, CHF 428,000. Refresh your memory of past travails and triumphs in the Opus series, and check out Harry Winston's own presentation of Opus XIV, right here.