Review: Arnold & Son DBG
There's a single question that has driven humanity's pursuit of science and technology for millennia: "What if?" It's a question that predominantly leads to injury, embarrassment and internet fame, but every now and then the right person asks it at the right time, and something special is created. In the case of the Arnold & Son DBG, someone asked, "What if a GMT function used a completely separate movement?"
Watch our video review of the Arnold & Son DBG 1DGAP.W01A.C120P
It's important, first, to clear up something about Arnold & Son: this brand is not connected to the famed English watchmaker John Arnold by anything other than name. Arnold & Son is owned by Citizen, the same company that owns Graham—which itself has no connection to the British watchmaker George Graham by anything other than name. This all sounds rather off-putting, but don't worry: Citizen has given Arnold & Son the creative freedom—and budget—to do pretty much whatever it likes.
John Arnold, born in 1736, was an innovator, a perfectionist and a master of his craft, building watches for royalty that had never before been seen. He held the patents for the detent escapement, bimetallic balance and helical balance spring. His chronometers were used by Captain Cook on his south sea voyages. He was a clever man.
The Arnold & Son DBG lets the user adjust two time zones completely independently
So, think of the Arnold & Son of today as the spiritual successor to John Arnold rather than any kind of direct lineage. It's a company that honours that original essence of innovation by pushing watchmaking to its limits, driven by that question, "What if?" And in case you still need some convincing, some examples of questions already answered by Arnold & Son include, "What if we combined a central dead beat second hand with a smooth central chronograph second hand?" and, "What if we shrank a tourbillon movement to a thickness less than 3mm?" and a personal favourite, "What if we used a second mainspring to torque-fill the first to provide constant force?"
All this has come from nothing since 2012, and that's lightning fast by Swiss watchmaking standards. How has this been achieved? It seems impossible. Well, it just so happens that Citizen also owns a high-end Swiss movement manufacturer called La Joux Perret, which gives the designers at Arnold & Son carte blanche to pursue whatever zany ideas they can think of. Usually, brands have to outsource high-end movements to third parties like Renaud et Papi or Agenhor—you'd be surprised how many do—and that takes time and money, but Arnold & Son has that capability right at its fingertips, ready to answer whatever "What if?" question comes next.
Two movements running side by side power the home and local dials on the DBG
So here we are, answering the question, "What if a GMT function used a completely separate movement?". It's a pretty simple idea really, and overcomes the age-old problem of only being able to adjust GMT mechanisms in hour intervals. With more than 10 time zones that run at 30- or 45-minute offsets—and a whole bunch of territories as well—having the ability to independently set the hours and minutes on a twin time zone watch has real, practical applications.
We've seen something similar in the Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre Unique Travel Time before, but in that case both time zones share a single balance, which adds its own set of complications. Arnold & Son's solution is as complex as linking the two mainsprings on the winding side—and that's it. The downside is this swells case size to 44mm—2mm more than the Jaeger-LeCoultre—but it's pretty thin at around 8mm, so it hides its size well.
Turn the watch over and you can follow the power from both sources, down though the gear train, to the escape wheels—flip the watch over—and into the balances. It's all very symmetrical and pleasing to look at, capped with a dual twenty-four–hour display while a shared second hand sweeps from the centre.
A dual twenty-four hour dial indicates day and night for the two time zones
The simplicity of the concept is mirrored by the simplicity of the operation, with the right-hand crown winding both mainsprings and each crown setting the time left and right independently. No weird rituals to remember, no complicated setting procedures—it all works exactly like you'd expect.
A well-balanced design is inevitable with a watch like this, however Arnold & Son has taken extra steps to provide balance in the third dimension as well, setting the twin balances down a layer and raising the time displays up. There's lots of texture and depth and contrast, making the clean design feel more interesting without cluttering it. The design language is similar to other Arnold & Son watches, which gives the brand a signature look without resorting to unnecessary flamboyance—impressive for a company that's been in operation for such a short time.
Two balances provide regulation for each side of the dial, each powered by its own mainspring
Look a little closer, however, and the quality of the finish, whilst good, doesn’t stand up to the likes of bigger brands like A. Lange & Söhne or Patek Philippe—but, at this price point, that's to be expected. With the development of a simple, time-only movement registering somewhere around the £1 million mark, for Arnold & Son to make the DBG and sell it in the miniscule numbers it does whilst still maintaining a profit means that something just has to give—and that's the final level of finishing perfection. Look at it this way—if you bought a watch made at one of those third-party high-end facilities like Renaud et Papi or Agenhor, complete with world-class finishing, you'd be paying ten times the price.
That doesn't mean the build quality of the DBG is down, though, not at all; you can expect a watch that comes under the Citizen umbrella to be sturdy and reliable for a long, long time. Having the might of a Japanese giant behind a Swiss boutique novelty brand is a pleasant reassurance, and is reflected in the solid construction of the DBG.
It's hard not to like the DBG, it really is. It's kind of a silly watch, and it'll never sell in place of a more mainstream brand, but for those lucky few who've done all that, worn those t-shirts, it offers a pleasing change of pace and a bit of fun. Regardless of heritage and brand names, Arnold & Son has rejuvenated an industry that has perhaps stagnated a little of late, and carries with it with a resolve usually found in far more mature brands—all because Citizen, a Japanese manufacturer of cheap, reliable quartz watches, one day wondered to itself, "What if?"
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