A Brief History Of Corum's Golden BridgeWritten by Aaron De Silva
From corn flakes to Velcro, some of the modern world’s most fascinating inventions are the results of happy accidents. And so it is, too, with Corum’s famous Golden Bridge.
The movement was conceived – literally by accident – in the 1970s when Vincent Calabrese (below), then a young, self-taught watchmaker and restorer, was presented a Breguet minute repeater that was badly damaged from being run over by a car.
In those days, it would have cost between CHF 800 and 1,000 to repair the movement, while the case cost CHF 2,000. “Upon quoting him the restoration fees, he decided only on repairing the case,” remembers Calabrese, who was then working in the ski town of Crans-Montana up in the Swiss Alps.
“The customer told me, ‘No one sees the movement anyway, so there is no need for any repair’!” says the 70-year-old. “His words stung my ears and it led me to produce a timepiece where the movement, and not the case or design that is the star. Like what we say these days, it is the ‘inner beauty’ that counts!”
After that encounter, the Italian-born maverick devoted the next few years of his life to creating a movement that would challenge all preconceived notions of how mechanical movements could be designed and engineered. His idea was to strip the mechanism its barest essentials, a baguette movement with linear gear trains, mounted within a transparent exterior and isolated in space without any visible connection. It was to be showcased as a work of mechanical art.
But there were technical challenges. “The first challenge was to avoid the need to have two crowns: one to wind the watch and the other to set the time. Until then, nobody had found a way to cross the barrel axis with the crown spin in a linear baguette movement,” he explains. “Then the specificity of the movement is that it is a baguette in-line movement. This means that every component is lined up in the same row. This is a watchmaking challenge as all ‘forces’ and power will be ‘exchanged’ on a sole point, always the same on all components and all those points on the same line.”
And then there’s the problem of design. “If you put all the pieces in a row, you would have too long a movement which wouldn’t be wearable on the wrist, so I had to find a way to miniaturise the components,” he adds.
Calabrese’s efforts were anachronistic, to say the least. But he persevered and eventually presented his patented, 45-component creation at the 1977 edition of the Geneva International Inventors’ Show. René Bannwart, founder of Corum and himself a creative talent, saw the potential of the baguette movement and immediately acquired the patent. Bannwart then collaborated with Calabrese to develop the movement further and after three years, it was unveiled as the Golden Bridge at the 1980 Basel fair and proved to a runaway success. Pictured below is a version of the watch from the 1980s.
After more than 30 years and several incarnations – there’s been a titanium version, Ti-Bridge, a tourbillon edition and an automatic model – the Golden Bridge remains a Corum icon and an archetype of modern horology. Little wonder, then, that when Calabrese was recently offered the chance to collaborate with Corum once again, he jumped at the chance. “This reunion means a lot to me. I may have achieved many things in my careers, but it was Corum and the Golden Bridge that is one of my biggest achievements. When (ex-Corum CEO) Mr. Antonio Calce proposed the reunion, I immediately said ‘Yes’!”
Aaron De Silva is a Singapore-based luxury lifestyle journalist with a penchant for shiny objects – mechanical watches being one of them. When not ogling horological masterpieces or interviewing the industry’s most influential individuals, this former editor of a men’s fashion magazine can be found pounding the pavements of Paris, Copenhagen, Berlin, Hong Kong, Bali or Melbourne. Blessed with an insatiable curiosity and wanderlust, he is constantly in search of epic epicurean adventures, obscure fashion and interior objects or emerging visual artists – all in the hope of discovering the next big thing and sharing these discoveries with his readers.