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The great British automotive genius Colin Chapman was known most widely for founding Lotus in 1952. Of course, simply founding a car company wouldn’t make someone famous, it came down to what he did with that company: he revolutionized the sport of racing.
Aside from popularizing the mid-engine layout for IndyCar and developing the first monocoque Formula One chassis, Lotus also pioneered wings and ground effects for aerodynamics and invented active suspension.
Underlying this success was Chapman’s core design and engineering principles, which he eloquently summarized when he said, “Simplify, then add lightness.”
At first it sounds like he misspoke; surely you can’t add lightness. But Chapman meant it, and it made all the difference. In racing, it is well understood that keeping the car as basic as possible reduces failures from multiple vulnerable points in complicated systems. It’s a variation of the old engineering adage, “Keep it simple, stupid” (KISS).
Once simplicity is achieved, you want to make the car as light as possible without sacrificing function (i.e., adding lightness). Think of it this way: you aren’t focused on getting rid of waste but rather on seeking ways to build in stronger components with less material. If successful, the car will be faster at every nearly point on a racetrack: faster acceleration, faster braking, faster up hills, and faster coming out of corners.
Another Chapman quote offers an expanded and more specific elaboration, “Adding power makes you faster on the straights; subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere.”
These principles led to Lotus becoming a dominant competitor and cutting-edge pioneer in motorsport, leaving a legacy of excellence and engineering minimalism that inspires many today.
I’m unsure if this inspiration directly affected watchmaking maverick Romain Gauthier when he originally designed the Insight Micro-Rotor, but when I saw the new Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette, the phrase simplify, then add lightness was the first thing that came to my mind. It is a perfect example of the concept, especially combined with the new materials, summing up what seems to be a core guiding principle behind this incredible watch.
Romain Gauthier Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette
The new Squelette is the latest Insight Micro-Rotor, the first automatic watch from Romain Gauthier, and it features a clean, minimalist movement in regular Gauthier style with open architecture.
The time-only Micro-Rotor already seemed like it was built around the concept of simplify, then add lightness as it was pared back to the essentials while still maintaining the Gauthier flair.
The Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette doubles down on the concept and continues to add even more lightness everywhere it can. Now the open architecture has been skeletonized and the inner workings laid bare.
Still in place are the overlapping dials featuring hours and minutes at 12 o’clock with a small seconds subdial extending downward. The balance and balance bridge fill out the bottom of the dial; the micro-rotor is still located at 9 o’clock; and the keyless works are at what would normally be 2 o’clock, in line with the crown.
But where it’s the same, it’s just as different now that as much material as possible has been removed, creating very minimal, aesthetic skeletonizing on every plate and bridge.
The small dials are still whole, but that is about it. Most of the mechanics are now visible (much more than previously), and the movement gives off a definite reductionist aesthetic. The only thing that might have been considered skeletonized before were most of the going train wheels and one plate that had a cutout exposing the keyless works.
The openworked wheels have been a staple of Romain Gauthier watches from the beginning — so much so that the website uses the design as it’s loading icon for images — so this could be considered negligible.
The reduction in material through skeletonizing isn’t the end of the story, though. On every previous model from Romain Gauthier, the movements have been constructed of largely brass plates, a traditional material due to its strength, ease of use, and ability to easily polish.
There have been some outliers such as Logical One featuring a titanium bridge for the constant force mechanism, but usually it’s all brass. Well, on the Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette the entire movement is made of titanium, adding an incredible amount of lightness.
Lighter and much more difficult
By not only removing material but switching to a much harder yet less dense material, Romain Gauthier triples down on adding lightness and makes the total movement weight a rather svelte 15.95 grams.
But lightness does not come cheap or easy. It may be simple compared to something like the caliber in the Logical One, but the difficulty of fabrication and finishing makes up for it in spades. Machining titanium is much more difficult to begin with; finishing it adds a whole new layer of complexity.
Since titanium is physically harder it resists abrasion; therefore it resists polishing. What would have taken a day to polish before now could take two. Even worse, Romain Gauthier’s aesthetic is known for sharp internal corners on all the anglage, something some watchmakers avoid for the simple fact it is so much harder to shape and polish consistently without throwing off the proportions.
The Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette movement now features an incredible 156 internal angles on all the bridges and plates.
One hundred and fifty-six internal angles!
I’ve seen watchmakers tout half a dozen internal angles to demonstrate their skill in hand finishing; 156 is downright mad. That is why the finishing on this movement takes up to 250 hours just for the anglage and 350 hours in total for all graining, polishing, hand-frosting, and snailing.
If you are keeping track, that’s more than 61 straight days of finishing for one single movement. Lightness ain’t easy, it seems.
Yet I’d say it is totally worth it, especially when you view the final watch. Romain Gauthier has always been a leader in exemplary finishing, and with the Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette it’s on full display.
I’d be remiss not to mention, however, that the Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette is a limited edition (not surprising) and, what’s more, only available as either a special order from the manufacture or retail partners, with one version a Manufacture-Only edition.
The “Special Order” versions are housed in a 39.5 mm case made in either precious metals (gold or platinum) or grade 5 titanium.
Carbonium, if you make the trip
As a special-order watch, you can determine which alloy you want for the case, the finishing of the case and movement, plus the materials for the hands, dials, strap, and associated colors. It’s possible to order the movement with matte-finished bevels if one wants to save the team from polishing all those internal angles, though they are all still shaped by hand regardless.
Romain Gauthier has developed two iterations for the initial presentation, one in 18-karat red gold and one in 950 platinum with variations on dials, hands, and other details.
But the most important version is the Manufacture-Only model made with the rather rare Carbonium case with Carbonium dials, taking the Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette the final step on its journey to “add lightness.”
With the unique forged Carbonium, Gauthier quadruples down on adding lightness by ditching very heavy and dense precious metals for a material three times as rigid as titanium with half the weight. Combined with the titanium movement, the total cased-up watch only weighs 31.31 grams, which is such a light watch considering its size.
In case you haven’t heard of Carbonium (it was first seen in a couple of Ulysse Nardin pieces in 2019), it is a unique forged carbon material made from industrial offcuts (scrap material) from aerospace manufacturing.
Its mechanical properties are similar to other forged carbon varieties, but the use of “upcycled” materials reduces the environmental impact of the material production by up to 50 percent, saving 13 kg of CO2 emissions for every kilogram of material produced. Also, due to its unique construction method, it has a different look than the typical forged carbons, something Romain Gauthier takes advantage of.
Working with the manufacturer, Lavoisier Composites of France, the pair used 50 mm long fiber segments to help maximize moldability and aesthetics while seeking optimal mechanical properties. That long strand length makes the difference in comparison to most forged carbon – which comprises short, chopped strands – resulting in a pattern that undulates more from the continuous strand folding back on itself.
If combined with other metallic fillers, an additional feature can be molded into the blocks before they are machined into the finished cases.
Size of the Micro-Rotor Insight Squelette
Back to the topic of size, the regular Insight Micro-Rotor and metal Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette is 12.9 mm thick – not a thin watch by any margin. But at 39.5 mm in diameter, it still fits within the normal range for classic watch size.
But the Carbonium is a bit different due to machining requirements of the material properties. To achieve proper machined dimensions and adjusting for an increased possibility of cracking the composite, the Carbonium cases are 42 millimeters, adding just under three millimeters to the diameter, though retaining the 12.9 mm thickness.
Not a big jump, but it’s even more impressive when you consider one other fact: the case does not have an inner metal sleeve to house the movement. This means that it is not supported by any internal structure, a method commonly found in other forged carbon cases.
That does introduce a new consideration: the often non-solid carbon isn’t waterproof so it needed to be reinforced in a different way. A multi-step waterproofing process is required for the machined cases, which required additional resin to be injected into any remaining pores in the material (micro-sized pores), sealing the inside of the case to fully protect the movement.
That small change allows the Carbonium case to be much smaller in size than a comparable case from another company, even further increasing its lightness. It also is just one more bit of evidence that Romain Gauthier seems to truly be channeling Lotus founder Colin Chapman in a search for a lighter and therefore more capable machine.
But even if you aren’t seeking an ultra-light piece of haute horlogerie, the incredible amount of work that goes into the movement and the awesomely avant-garde style of the Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette should be more than enough for many to go gaga over the watch.
It’s also another example of how Romain Gauthier can take his aesthetic and apply it to something new and not drop the ball once. Some brands struggle to use a “set” aesthetic for a new piece, often forgetting that the style is a bit more intimately tied to the first iteration than they might like to think.
Gauthier shows that his aesthetic works well in different formats and can convey a similar feeling even when it is meant to go in a different direction. The aesthetic, just like Romain Gauthier himself, is extremely versatile. And that bodes well for the future!
Alright, it’s light enough, so it should be no problem to break it down!
- Wowza Factor * 9.15 Forged carbon still has some wow factor, but the skeletonized caliber with all those internal angles is what really sells it!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 88.46354» 867.5309m/s2 Hey, Insight, I got your number: I need to make you mine!
- M.G.R. * 62.5 This is one very solid movement but added on for good measure is some of the best finishing in the industry!
- Added-Functionitis * N/A Pretty typically you can skip the Gotta-HAVE-That cream even though this watch could make your knees weak and give you butterflies in your stomach!
- Ouch Outline * 10.8 Papercut between your toes! Sometimes you are just too lazy to bend over and pick on that piece of paper you just dropped, so you try to grab it with your toes. And sometimes, the paper slips just right and you slice open a tiny bit of the skin between your toes. Sometimes you wish you hadn’t done that, but still other times you agree you’d do it again if it meant getting an awesome watch on your wrist.
- Mermaid Moment * Look at all those angles! With 156 sharp internal polished angles it doesn’t take long before you’ve set a date and booked the DJ!
- Awesome Total * 829.5 First take the diameter of the precious metal cases (39.5) and multiply by the diameter of the Carbonium case (42), then divide by the number of different sizes for the cases (2) for an unsurprisingly awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.romaingauthier.com/heritage/insight-micro-rotor.
Quick Facts Romain Gauthier Insight Micro-Rotor Squelette
Case: 39.5 x 12.9 mm, 18-karat red gold, 950 platinum, or Carbonium (42 mm)
Movement: automatic Insight Micro Rotor caliber with micro rotor, 28,800 vph / 4 Hz frequency, 80-hour power reserve; highest level of haute horlogerie finishing
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds
Limitation: on demand, limited to manufacturing capacity
Price: CHF 108,000 (gold) / CHF 148,000 (platinum) / CHF 155,000 (Carbonium)