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Review: Benzinger GAP 1

What is a watch to you? Something that tells the time? A luxurious piece of jewellery? Perhaps a window back to a world when hand-crafted mechanisms ruled? This is the Benzinger GAP 1, and it’s a different type of watchmaking to what we’re used to today. It’s classical, it’s traditional—and despite looking like it costs a King’s ransom, it’s actually cheaper than you might think. Let’s explore the history and tradition of making watches through the lens of the Benzinger GAP 1.


Today, skeletonization—the art of removing all but the most structural material to reveal the inner workings of a watch—is considered something of an extravagance, an overtly indulgent way to decorate a watch—and that’s because it is. The history of clockmaking sits in tandem with the lives of the wealthy elite and the houses of royalty, with the luxury of owning a compact, portable version of the mechanism that typically sat in the tower of the local church a hugely desirable indulgence. Think of it like a wealthy homeowner today boasting a home cinema complete with a twenty-foot projector screen. Where most would source their time from the shared, public clock, the wealthiest had the privilege of keeping it at home.

But as clockmaking became more prevalent, competition to make the most impressive clocks grew fiercer. It wasn’t just about the clock, or even its complexity, but how it was decorated. Clockmakers would gilt their clocks, cover them in sculptural affectations, adorn them with fine paintings and even jewels. But watchmaker to King Louis XV Andre-Charles Caron had a better idea: cut open the clock and reveal the hidden genius within.

His work was a cultural phenomenon, revolutionising clocks from mere canvases for the work of others to showpieces themselves. And his legacy didn’t stop there. His apprentice, Jean Antoine Lepine, inventor of the Lepine system of movement making that allowed for thinner construction and formed the basis of standardised movement architecture today, eventually became a master and had an apprentice of his own: one Abraham-Louis Breguet. Breguet skeletonised many of his own watches, utilising the skills passed through generations from the technique’s inventor.

And that technique has evolved very little from then to today with the Benzinger GAP 1. Most modern watchmakers employ CNC machining to skeletonise their works, however Jochen Benzinger reveals the interior of his watches entirely by hand. Like Caron, like Breguet, Benzinger uses hand saws to cut the unwanted sections from the movement, using both his artistic judgement and watchmaking nous to determine what will go and what will stay.

The big difference here is found in the interior angles, where one edge meets another. CNC machining can only do so much, with the cylindrical cutting bit leaving a tell-tale radius at the intersection. By cutting with a saw, Bensinzger is able to join the two edges with an immediate transition, a corner rather than a curve. This allows the geometric patterns you see here to become possible, two sequences of radiating circles overlapping each other like ripples in a lake.

Engine turning

Another traditional craft famously associated with Breguet is engine turning, the process of applying repeated geometric patterns, often in radiating circles. Although the practice had existed for many centuries before, with some accounts even tracing it back to the ancient Greeks, it had never previously been used on a watch. Breguet saw the technique being used to apply decoration to wooden furniture in London, and it inspired him to try it on his watches.

A rose engine is the machine required to apply this finish, what is essentially a metal spirograph that cuts with a blade instead of a drawing with a pen. Many different templates can be created to form patterns that are both linear or circular, regular or irregular, circumferential or radial—and many more besides. The rose engine machines were cranked by hand, with the blade pressure also judged by hand, to follow a large-scale template that was geared down to the size of the dial. The result is an incredibly crisp, incredibly precise finish.

Today, many dial manufacturers use stamping or CNC to replicate a finish approaching engine turning—or guilloche as it’s also known—but they fall short of the ultimate resolution of the original. Breguet’s inspiration came to him in his quest to simplify the baroque hands often seen on pocket watches of the time, large ornate things used for definition against their flat, mostly enamel backgrounds.

With guilloche, Breguet was able to provide more definition and contrast against the hands, defining each section of his watches with different engine turned patterns to make them easier to read. This meant he was able to simplify the hands considerably, adopting a design that is believed to have been initially created by his master, Lepine, and used again here by Benzinger.

You’ll see two guilloche patterns on the dial of the GAP 1, a diamond-like pattern for the main dial and a wave pattern for the sub-dials, giving a visual differentiation between the two. The movement also features heavier use of the wave pattern across many of its layers. It’s not a technique taught by many of the watchmaking schools anymore, and there are no more machines being made, so the skill is only surviving by both the knowledge and machinery being passed by their custodians from generation to generation.

Benzinger GAP 1

These two almost forgotten techniques make up the foundation of what the GAP 1 stands for. What GAP 1 literally stands for, however, is German Austrian Partnership, because this is the first Benzinger to feature a unique movement, developed by the Austrian watchmaker Habring. Habring not only produce their own watches, but assist other independent watchmakers with their projects too, such as the Kudokes in Dresden.

This hand-wound movement replaces the larger ETA 6498—whose origins are found in pocket watches—with a smaller diameter mechanism, allowing the GAP 1’s steel case to shrink to 39mm over Benzinger’s typical size of 42mm, with a thickness of just 11.5mm. This new movement was developed to allow the addition of a second sub-dial alongside the small seconds, a date display with a quickset pusher at three o’clock. The crown moves to two o’clock to allow the symmetry of the two sub-dials, which are both surrounded, alongside the central, offset dial, with brushed rings. The dial itself is sterling silver.

There are different colour combinations available, with this one featuring a selection of heat-blued elements front and back. With forty-eight hours of power reserve plus a 28,800 vph beat and a KIF shock absorber, the watch, despite looking incredibly ornate and delicate, is designed to be worn.

But who would want to wear such an incredibly valuable and priceless piece of hand-crafted art? Surely its cost would be prohibitive not just in ownership, but in usability too? That’s where things take a turn for the unexpected, because despite employing the same hand techniques as the great masters like Abraham-Louis Breguet, the Benzinger GAP 1 costs just over £10,000. That sits comfortably in the ballpark of many mass-produced, simple watches, but with the addition of a level of craftsmanship and ability that numbers just a handful of people in the world.

The audience for this watch will never be big. It heralds a bygone era of extravagance that’s not just decades old, but centuries. For someone to whom watchmaking is not just about telling the time, or simply the purchase of luxury jewellery, but instead a time machine back to the days of the greatest watchmakers to have ever lived, there isn’t a better way to achieve that for less than with the Benzinger GAP 1.