Hubert Burda Media


The Antikythera mechanism, purported by some to be the work of Archimedes, was reincarnated by Hublot.

Robustly sized and cloaked in a black shield of micro-blasted titanium and rubber, Hublot’s Antikythera watch is a perfect addition to the rest of today’s futuristic watch designs. But a closer look at the complicated dial reveals sub-dials inscribed with ancient Greek letterings. While the watch may be outfitted in modern-day materials, it is a miniaturised replica of an archaic Greek artefact.
In 1901, a group of sponge divers off Point Glyphadia on the Greek island Antikythera came across a shipwreck from the second quarter of 100BC. The wreck produced numerous statues dating back to the 4th century BC, among which was an unassuming and corroded lump of bronze and wood that the explorers and scientists paid little attention to. Archaeologist Valerios Stais, who discovered a gear wheel embedded within this structure, speculated that it was an astronomical clock. His claims were dismissed because other scholars refused to believe that such sophisticated mechanisms existed at that time. The artefact was simply christened the Antikythera and investigations were dropped.
It took another 70 years before the scientific community realised that the Antikythera mechanism was the most valuable discovery of the entire loot. The device was designed to calculate astronomical positions and possibly used to predict lunar and solar eclipses based on Babylonian arithmetic-progression cycles. The inscriptions on the device also indicate that it was used to display planetary positions.
Archaeological evidence concluded that the Antikythera mechanism displayed 11 calendar features: Calendar of Panhellenic Games, Egyptian calendar, zodiac calendar, epagomenal days, lunar phase, position of the moon in the zodiac from the earth’s perspective, position of the sun in the zodiac from the earth’s perspective, callippic cycle, metonic cycle, exeligmos cycle and saros cycle. The Antikythera mechanism took its place in the books as the world’s oldest analogue computer with the oldest known complex gear mechanism. Another device showing that level of complexity would only reappear a millennium later.
The discovery of the Antikythera mechanism and its impact on modern science had a profound effect on the scientific community. Matthias Buttet, director of research, development and production at Hublot was one such enthralled member. While a few reproductions have been made in an attempt to understand the gearing system employed in the device, Buttet embarked on the impossible by working on a miniaturised copy of the Antikythera — one that would be small enough to be worn as a watch.
His project began in 2008 and it was only in 2012 that the Hublot Antikythera watch was revealed to the public. Even though the watch was based on an existing device, it took Buttet and his team three years to conceptualise the movement, and another year to actualise the product. What fuelled his commitment for four years was an emotional and existential connection with a mechanism of such historical value: “Watches and complications have to do with emotional attachment. The Antikythera watch is philosophical because it is based on an idea that existed more than 2,000 years ago and this fact remains even after we pass on,” shares Buttet.
Like the original mechanism, the watch displays 11 calendar functions, with seven on the dial side and four located on the movement side. To make this watch more functional, Buttet added three more components: Hour and minute hands to tell the time and a flying tourbillon that doubles as a seconds indicator.
“It was always about fusing the original with something modern,” says Buttet, who not only added to the complications, but also made radical changes to its exteriors. The original mechanism was believed to have been crafted from a bronze and tin alloy, and encased within a wooden structure. Since this was all guesswork, Buttet kept to faithfully producing the movement, but bestowed the watch with a modern cloak made of micro-blasted titanium, held by a rubber strap.
“You can say that this watch is a skeleton of the original. It was difficult trying to remain faithful and respect the original design with the scientific proof that was made available to us. This is completely opposite from what I do. I didn’t want to explore possibilities so I stuck with facts — I didn’t want the ghost of Archimedes to come back and haunt me!” says Buttet. Scientific speculation links the original device to Syracuse in Sicily, a prosperous Corinthian colony and the city of the mathematical genius.
According to Buttet, the easiest part of the challenge was miniaturising the device. The most difficult part? Understanding how the mechanism worked. “The ancient Greeks had a different method of doing things. One of the mechanics that was used in the past differently was the lunar phase that was based on an elliptical gearing that replicated the movement of the moon,” Buttet explains. Just as it had been done more than 2,100 years ago, Buttet, with the help of a team of scientists, recreated something watchmaking had not seen before: Circular gears with non-linear cycles.
Hublot’s Antikythera watch is water resistant to 30m and comes equipped with a power reserve of 120 hours. This is a stellar achievement for a watch that operates a tourbillon and multiple calendar readings, until one is reminded that some of the indications make complete cycles after 76 years, 19 years or 18 years. “The indications move very slowly so in astronomical sense, five days is really nothing.”