It’s a big week for Alain Silberstein. Just yesterday, we brought you news of the designer’s latest collaboration with Louis Erard, a diptych of whimsical watches in a lightweight titanium case that nod to what you might call the core Silberstein aesthetic of brightly colored geometric shapes where you’d expect to see more traditional handsets. Today, the new Silberstein related release is on the other side of the affordability spectrum, and is decidedly not what we would typically expect from the watch designer. It’s also the first watch to be released from Grail Watch, a new venture from Revolution founder Wei Koh. Did we mention it’s a collaboration with Ressence? There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s get into it.
First up, let’s tackle Grail Watch. Wei Koh is no stranger to limited edition, collaborative watches (he’s launched several with both Revolution and The Rake), but it appears that this new entity will be singularly focused on creating ambitious, creative collaborations between independent watchmakers and designers, including those in the micro-brand space. Grail Watch joins other ventures like Collective and CronotempVs that have carved out their own niche in the limited edition and collaborative watch arena, and it will be interesting to see how Grail Watch differentiates itself as new watches come to fruition over time. Koh himself provides a level of showmanship and enthusiasm for these types of small batch watches that will likely be a key feature of the presentation going forward, and is certainly not something that any other producer can readily duplicate.
Grail Watch’s first release (known as “Grail Watch 1”) is the Ressence x Alain Silberstein “Carpe Diem” seen here. Using the Ressence Type 1 as a starting point, Silberstein created a design inspired by a favorite painting, Vanitas Still Life with a Tulip, Skull and Hour-Glass by Philippe de Champaigne. The painting depicts a skull, tulip, and hour-glass on a table, and is a great example of a “memento mori,” a reminder of the inevitability of death.
It’s a little surprising, when you really think about it, that the use of memento mori isn’t more prominent in watch design. Recognizing the inevitability of death is clearly wrapped up in our ideas of time, so a watch seems like a natural canvas to explore this concept. Memento mori is a deep rabbit hole if you choose to go digging in it, and almost every culture and world religion has some version of it, but the most recognizable is likely the image of a skull, as seen in de Champaigne’s painting (and the paintings of many other artists) and the Carpe Diem’s dial.
While on the surface this isn’t the cheeriest of subjects, the concept of the memento mori is often embraced joyfully, and that’s reflected in the name of this watch (“seize the day”). The design is simple, and forgoes Silberstein’s usual use of geometric shapes in bright primary colors. From the painting, he’s borrowed the skull for the running seconds hand, and the tulip is the hour indicator. The yellow triangle indicates the day of the week, and the large blue triangle points to the minutes on the dial’s perimeter.
If you’re not familiar with the Ressence time telling system, be sure to check out our previous coverage for more detail on how their ROCS module works. In short, Ressence uses a module of their own design that’s paired to a heavily modified ETA base caliber to move circular discs around the dial to tell the time (seeing the dial in motion helps – scroll down for the interactive time simulator). It’s an ingenious bit of engineering, and once you get used to the display, it’s a remarkably intuitive way to read the time.
The Ressence x Alain Silberstein “Carpe Diem” is limited to 36 pieces, and priced at CHF 22,500. More information can be found at Grail Watch.