Out of all of the watch designers who have ever put pen to paper, we perhaps owe the most to one man: Albert Piguet.
As one can deduce from his surname, Albert Gustave Piguet had horology in the blood. He was a distant cousin of Edward-Auguste Piguet (founder of Audemars-Piguet), and his father, Henri Auguste, served as Director of Zenith. Born in 1915, he attended watchmaking school in Le Sentier in the Vallée du Joux.
Upon finishing school, he found himself at Lemania at one of the most pivotal points in horological history.
In the early 1930s, the Swiss watch industry was in a state of turmoil. Faced with complete collapse after the Great Depression, brands that had once been rivals—Omega and Tissot—banded together in 1930 to form Société Suisse pour l’Industrie Horlogère or SSIH. Two years later, Lemania would join.
When Piguet came to Lemania as chair of its technical division, the manufacture was in a unique position. Thanks to an influx of capital from Omega, Lemania was allowed to infuse its R&D department with much-needed funds. Without financial constraint, Piguet was allowed to prove his worth.
And prove his worth he did.
In 1941 Piguet received a commission from Omega for a new chronograph. Rather than assign the project to one of the designers in his stable, Piguet—a talented movement designer in his own right—took on the project himself. He gave the movement the designation Calibre 27CHRO C12—27 for the diameter, 27mm, CHRO for chronograph, and 12 for a 12 hour totalizer.
At the time, the 27 CHRO was the smallest chronograph movement made. Coupled with a column wheel and a power reserve of 46 hours, this was no mean feat. Although Lemania would introduce the movement the following year, Piguet continued to refine it. Over the next three years he added Incabloc shock protection and an antimagnetic balance spring. Finally, in 1946, he presented it to Omega, who bestowed upon it a new designation: Calibre .321.
Two decades later, it would be these two additions that would enable the Calibre .321—housed inside a watch made by Omega—to pass stringent tests by NASA.
The watch that the Calibre .321 powered was, of course, the Omega Speedmaster.
After being approved by NASA for use in all manned space missions, Omega granted the Speedmaster the designation of “Professional.”
And in October 1968, a few months before Piguet’s creation would be carried to the Moon on the wrist of Buzz Aldrin, Piguet brought out a successor to the Calibre .321.
With a higher beat rate, the Calibre .861 was more accurate than its predecessor. Furthermore, for the .861 Piguet switched to a cam-operated chronograph rather than the column wheel of the .321. While this change made the movement less pleasing to the eye, in terms of sheer utility it made the movement more reliable and easier to service.
Omega would go on to use the Calibre .861 until the 1990s. In 1980, Piguet would retire, leaving behind him a lasting legacy of some of the most beautiful chronograph movements. Even after his death in 2000 at the age of 85, his work lives on: his creations would form the basis of movements used by Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, and Breguet, who now own Lemania.
This Calibre. 861-powered watch is an Omega Speedmaster Professional Reference 145.022-69ST. The 41mm twisted lug case, made by Huguenin Fréres, shows signs of a life well-spent. Sometime in its history, it was sent to Omega for service, and was equipped with a SuperLuminova service dial and handset.
But the Calibre .861 ticks away sedately, just as efficiently as Piguet designed.
For the collector who has an appreciation for history and wants to score a fine and wearable Speedy, this is the perfect choice.