Typically speaking, fine watch connoisseurs follow the same golden rule; if the seconds hand ticks, they’re not interested. That’s because the distinctive ticking motion is usually indicative of a cheap quartz movement at work, a strict no no for devotees of mechanical timepieces.
Ironically though the ticking seconds hand of a quartz movement is actually representative of its higher level of accuracy, as you can precisely count the seconds as they pass. The sweeping motion the seconds hand of a mechanical movement performs meanwhile is slightly more general in its indication, although far more elegant in tracing its trajectory (in my humble opinion, at least).
Luckily though for those who demand absolute precision from their mechanical watches there is a solution to this issue that was invented well before quartz watches were even conceived; Dead Beat seconds (also known as True Beat seconds, at least according to Arnold & Son anyway).
Essentially the role of this complication is to translate the aforementioned smooth sweep of a mechanical seconds hand into a quartz-like one-tick-per-second. Why is that useful you ask? Well, to be honest, in the modern age it is not really useful at all, hence the reason you don’t see this particular complication very often.
Go back several decades (even a century or so) however and it was a different story. Before the advent of quartz watches and other more technically advanced timing mechanisms, doctors in particular needed a way to accurately time pulse intervals on their wrist or pocket watches. Likewise situations sometimes called for chronometers and clocks to be able to provide to-the-second accuracy to ensure their users could achieve a specific purpose.
As modern technology progressed however the Dead Beat complication fell out of favour, especially in the wake of all those ticking quartz watches that were suddenly appearing everywhere. After all, who wants to buy an expensive watch that emulates the actions of a significantly cheaper alternative?
Still, there is something kind of cool about the Dead Beat complication. Sure, visually speaking it’s nowhere near as attractive to the eye as say a flying tourbillon (although many would argue it’s about as useful when it comes to improving accuracy) but from a technical perspective it’s actually rather impressive.
The only problem is that it usually hidden away in the back of the movement somewhere, which makes it hard to appreciate just exactly what is going on. Evidently the talented people over at Arnold & Son felt the same way, which is why they decided to put the Dead Beat – sorry, True Beat – mechanism on the dial side, hence the not overly imaginative name Dial Side True Beat.
It’s an interesting move to be sure and one that very much ties in with the brand’s focus on the more technical aspects of mechanical watchmaking, especially this year given that they are celebrating the 250th anniversary of their namesake John Arnold, himself an exceptionally accomplished watchmaker who specialised in highly accurate marine chronometers.
I should point out here though that this is not actually the first time Arnold & Son have presented a watch with a True Beat mechanism. That title actually belongs to the TB88, an earlier model from the brand that is still in production. It is however the first time they have incorporated the True Beat complication into an automatic movement (specifically developed for the DSTB) and it is certainly the first time they have showcased the mechanism entirely on the dial side.
Perhaps most surprisingly of all though (for me at least, anyway) it that it actually works quite well aesthetically. To be honest I did not expect to find the DSTB so visually appealing but when you actually hold it in your hands the ability to look at everything in detail is really quite fantastic. As you can see in the pictures the lever, the wheels and the three rose-gold treated true beat seconds bridges are all clearly visible, not to mention the seconds indicator itself of course.
It’s so unlike anything I’ve really come across before that it’s kind of hard to stop staring at it when it’s on my wrist. Presented in a 43.5mm Rose Gold case the DSTB is well-sized although I did notice the domed crystal required to accommodate the impressive architecture of the True Beat mechanism means it’s a little thicker than I’m used to, but not annoyingly so. Plus it’s totally worth it because it means you can look at the True Beat mechanism from the side and really appreciate its three-dimensional construction.
As you can see the true beat seconds are indicated via a large sapphire dial that occupies the top left portion of the dial at 11 o’clock, whilst a white lacquered domed subdial indicates the hours and the minutes via blued hands at the 4 o’clock position. Admittedly it’s not the most practical lay-out but the whole idea of this timepiece is to showcase the inherent complexity of the True Beat mechanism, and so in that regard I believe Arnold & Son have well and truly achieved their objective.
It’s not just the dial that’s visually and technically impressive though. Turn the watch over and you will find a beautifully decorated movement with hand-chamfered and satin-finished lever and bridges, polished edges and fine circular graining and Côtes de Genève rayonnantes, all visible through the sapphire case back.
For sure this is a timepiece created with mechanical watch aficionados in mind, which is why the 250th anniversary edition of the DSTB will be limited to just 50 timepieces, each retailing for CHF 44,928.