View all articles

Review: Armin Strom Gravity Equal Force

There’s an expression that’s pretty much universal in this world: bang for your buck. You don’t have to be familiar with the colloquial terms for either efficiency or the American dollar to understand the principle of getting more for less. Today we have the Armin Strom Gravity Equal Force with us, and let me tell you—per American dollar, it is extremely efficient.

It’s very likely you haven’t heard the name Armin Strom before, and if you have, you perhaps don’t know the weight it carries. This isn’t one of those situations where the heritage of a centuries-old watchmaker has been borrowed to fast-track credibility—Armin Strom, the man, the watchmaker, is very much of this era of watchmaking. He found in himself a particular passion in skeletonisation, and he was good at it, too. Excellent, in fact. Some might say the best. His work was much admired by brands like Omega, who commissioned limited pieces from him, and he even earned a Guinness World Record for creating the smallest hand-skeletonised watch.

But in recent times, the popularity of his work has dwindled. The impressive skills he wrought with his hands were no longer in demand. All, however, was not lost. In 1984, when Strom first set his name to the dial of a watch, there were two local boys who took an interest in his work: Serge Michel and Claude Greisler. As men, Michel and Greisler have since established themselves in business and watchmaking respectively, and so they returned to Strom’s studio to help him find a voice in the present day.

The Armin Strom Gravity Equal Force is that voice. Developed and manufactured at the company’s own facilities, it combines modern watchmaking principles with Strom’s passion for skeletonisation. Whilst the delicate, ornate patterns may be gone, the Gravity Equal Force still very much offers its innards up for show, and that’s where the foundations of this marriage between old and new really make their mark.

Mechanically, however, it seems the Gravity Equal Force is a pretty standard watch. It’s an automatic, the calibre ASB19 driven by a micro rotor which is pretty neatly tucked up at about five past twelve, runs for 72 hours and tells the time. All very ordinary so far, until I tell you that the mainspring works back to front. Like pocket watches of old, the barrel itself turns to wind, and the arbour, the central column, drives the watch, the inverse of what’s typical today. This was done in the past to contain mainspring breakages and not have them destroy the rest of the movement—but that’s not the case here.

As you may have guessed by the name, the Gravity Equal Force is a little bit special, and the unusual mainspring barrel operation is a clue. A watch’s mainspring is a rather clumsy thing, offering a boat load of power right at the very beginning and very little at all somewhere towards the end, both of which cause havoc with accuracy. What you want is the sweet spot in the middle, and that’s what the Gravity Equal Force is all about.

Inside the mainspring barrel is a very traditional stop-work mechanism, which was typically used in hand wound pocket watches to prevent being overwound, but here in the Gravity Equal Force it does the opposite, stopping the mainspring from unwinding too far. Instead of letting the watch run on the dregs of power where the accuracy is poor, the stop-work locks the barrel and keeps it from dipping into that lower portion. It’s the first time an automatic watch has been fitted with this system, so it also incorporates a clutch so the micro rotor can’t overwind it. This execution—rather neatly—even doubles as a power reserve indicator too.

So, the Armin Strom Gravity Equal Force is technically proficient, but does that make it worth the £16,000 ticket? It seems like a stretch to call a time-only watch good value at such a price, even if it does demonstrate a historically inspired technical proficiency like the stop-work mechanism. Well, in the partnership between Strom, Michel and Greisler, it’s Master Watchmaker Claude Griesler’s contribution to Armin Strom’s legacy that we’ve seen so far. When Strom retired in 2011, it was Claude to whom he passed the mantle for the future of the brand’s watchmaking.

But what about the other side of Armin Strom’s pedigree, the visual impact? Skeletonisation, after all, is pure showmanship, a demonstration of skill and artistry in equal measure first used to reveal the wonder of the mechanics hidden beneath. This is where Michel comes in. With Strom, he established a blend of classic and contemporary that has brought the brand from strength to strength given its incredibly short tenure.

This will give you an example of Michel’s mindset: when he was invited to join the brand in 2006, during the recession, I might add, he didn’t see that as a problem—more an opportunity. You would think only a fool would establish a facility to design and build a movement from the ground up during such a financially unstable time, but Michel took the chance to procure the equipment needed to do so at a very favourable price. Before the trio knew it, they had a workshop, a very small one, crammed to the gills with all the apparatus to be independent.

But the tools do not make the artist. Infinite creative possibility can be as much a burden as it is a blessing, and for Armin Strom, the challenge was still to come. And so, since 2006, the company has focussed on creating not just a technical personality, the adaptation of traditional watchmaking into a contemporary platform, but a visual one that pays homage to the work of Strom himself.

What you see here in the Gravity Equal Force is that visual identity. Perhaps you’ll see hints of the Breguet Souscription style, both in the cocks supporting the mainspring and micro rotor, as well as the eccentric dial, nods to a master of his time. That’s the classic side. For the contemporary we’ve got crisp lines, orderly arrangement, perhaps even a little hat-tip to a modern master of watchmaking, Greubel Forsey, in the text seen through the case back.

It can be so easy to make a muddle of things establishing a brand personality as a watchmaker, especially a young one, and in many ways the Gravity Equal Force’s positioning as Armin Strom’s entry level piece has actually helped to simplify that task for the better. At 41mm in diameter and 12.6mm thick, it wears very well, looks distinctly Armin Strom without being overly fussy and demonstrates the ethos of the brand without needing to surround it in neon lights. Even the brand’s trademark “tag” at six o’clock on the case has been minimised because it just doesn’t need to be relied upon to identify the maker.

So at £16,000 in stainless steel, there’s a lot of boxes ticked that would ordinarily command a much higher price: the legacy of a famous watchmaker, in-house creation, traditional watchmaking influence, mechanical distinction, good looks—subjective of course—and a price half of what you’d expect to pay for an equivalent modern-day Breguet. Bang for the buck? I think so.

In an industry that seems to cater ever more to the ultra-wealthy VIP, it is incredibly promising to see young, independent brands cater to a more accessible portion of the market. Okay, so £16,000 certainly isn’t pocket change by a long shot, but for those who’ve got that to spend who felt sure they were limited to the more straightforward choices of the mainstream, it’s a chance to get a real experience with true independent high horology that would otherwise be the realm of the millionaire elite. The Armin Strom Gravity Equal Force isn’t just another watch from another manufacturer—it’s a flash of hope for the future of watchmaking.