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The Value Proposition The Habring² Doppel-Felix Split-Seconds Chronograph

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The split-seconds, or rattrapante chronograph, was traditionally considered one of the most challenging complications to create, thanks not only to its complexity, but also to the degree of skill necessary to assemble and adjust the classic split-seconds mechanism. The term "grand complication" traditionally referred to a watch than combined the rattrapante with two other extremely challenging complications: the perpetual calendar and the minute repeater. In 1993,  however, IWC presented its Doppelchronograph, with a modern version of the split-seconds complication, designed by Richard Habring, which replaced the delicate, traditional column-wheel-controlled mechanism with a far more robust cam-controlled mechanism, built into the  Valjoux/ETA 7750. It was a runaway success for IWC, and when the patent expired in 2012, Habring was able to introduce his own, updated version of his complication: the Habring² Doppel 2.0. The latest Habring² version of this cam-operated split-seconds complication was introduced earlier this year: the Habring² Doppel-Felix.

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The Doppel Felix uses the caliber A11R, which is a rattrapante version of the caliber A11 that Habring² introduced in 2014. While the A11R shares some of the architecture of the Valjoux 7750 (as the A11 did some of the 7760) there many significant differences between the Habring² A11R and the 7750; most components are manufactured at Habring² and those which are not, are sourced from German suppliers. Balance springs, for example, are made by Carl Haas GMBH, which is headquartered in southern German, in Schramberg.

The Habrings (Habring² is operated jointly by husband-and-wife duo Richard and Maria Habring) explain the evolution of the A11 caliber:

"A11 is the short form for 'Austria 2011'. (It was) the first watch movement developed in Austria, starting in 2011, right after we received a letter from ETA that we’re out ... it took us three years to develop the A11, till we launched it in our Felix in 2014. The A11 is not really a copy of the base calibre of the 7760 since there are some modifications necessary for our small series production/assembly compared with the industrialized 7750.  We do not get any supply of ETA anymore, since 2017, not even spares for the movements they sold us in the past (before 2011). (This is) one major reason why the A11 had to be pretty similar to the formerly used components of the 7750: To be able to repair our own watches without ETA."

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"In the following years after 2014 we modified all our existing functional modules ... to allow the A11 to slip underneath, instead of the non-available ETA components. The chronograph movements (about 20% of our production in the past years) have been the last, starting with Doppel-Felix late 2017 and currently the Chronograph COS. The A11 base as used in Doppel-Felix is 100% in-house (produced with the help of a number of small family owned companies) though it still shares the design principles with Edmond Capt’s 7750/7760. "

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Diagram of the A11, showing the compatibility of the train layout with Habring²modules.

The next evolution of the Doppelchronograph at Habring² was the monopusher Doppel 3. "The monopusher design happened in 2013 kind of accidentally after we intended to produce 20 of the Doppel 2.0 in 2012, after the IWC patent expired. When the watch won our first GPHG ... it was already sold out, so we had to think about a successor. This was the start for Doppel 3 with monopusher chrono, instead of the 79230-like configuration with three pushers. About the split-second cam design, we intended to use exactly the first version ... while IWC still uses a modified later version which is easier to assemble in an industrial environment."

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Right out of the box, the first impression one has of the Habring² Doppel-Felix is of strong, clear design, and high quality execution; a movement can be the greatest thing since the Breguet Marie Antoinette, but the dial and hands are what you're going to be looking at all day, and in those departments the Doppel-Felix really over-delivers. There are two variations available – with a date complication, which is very well integrated into the overall design; or with a tachymeter scale. The date display is beautifully handled, with the frame for the date a nicely Germanic contrast to the customary crescent often found in Swiss watchmaking. The quality of the markers and hands is excellent; everything's extremely cleanly executed and while I've found some of Habring²'s designs a bit sparse, both versions of the Doppel-Felix strike a great balance between clarity and engaging visual detail.

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With this degree of care taken with the cosmetics, you'd expect a similar degree of fastidiousness in the movement, and you'd be right.

The Habring² Caliber A11R
The caliber A11R follows the same basic principles as Habring's original design for IWC. For a refresher, check out our story the IWC caliber 79230, which details both the functioning of the split-seconds module, as well as how the base Valjoux 7750 caliber was modified to accept it. To briefly recap, a split-seconds chronograph has the chronograph seconds hand, and the split hand, mounted on the same axis. With the chronograph running, the two hands advance together but when the split button is pressed, a pair of pincers grab the split hand wheel, freezing it in place, while the chronograph seconds hand continues to advance. Press the split button again, and the split hand wheel is freed; a heart-cam mechanism realigns the split hand with the seconds hand, and the two continue to run together until the chronograph is stopped.

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The Habring² caliber A11R.

As with the dial side, the first impression is one of extremely high quality, and very meticulous attention to detail. The movement is extremely handsome, and radiates a sense of logic in design and mechanical integrity. The two cam systems are blued steel, with the ruby pins on the split-seconds hand contrasting beautifully with the steelwork and perlage finished bridges. The steelwork is especially impressive – brushed and polished, with functional surfaces like the beak of the split-seconds lever mirror polished.

Structurally, the major differences between the A11R and the 79260 calibers are twofold: the former is hand-wound, and a monopusher chronograph design, while the latter is automatic and uses two pushers for start, stop, and reset, with a separate split seconds pusher. The A11R introduces a number of other changes as well. Say the Habrings, "The Doppel-Felix now brought everything together: The inhouse A11, the monopusher cam of Doppel 3, the split-second cam system of Doppel 2.0/3; the new inhouse date module. While the common ETA-chrono-components are usually just polished, we wanted to express that those our components are newly produced, so we decided to put the finishing on a new level, like IWC had it in the past on the absolute top models: Grand Complication (1990) and Il Destriero (1993)."  

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The split-seconds cam and actuating lever.

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The chronograph cam and actuating lever for start, stop, and reset; right, the split-seconds wheel.

You'll notice that the split-seconds cam has two circular cutouts with screws inside – those allow adjustment of the banking of the split-seconds arms (that is, how closely they fall on the split-seconds wheel) and are one of the refinements Richard Habring's made to his original design. In operation the mechanism is straightforward.

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The chronograph, before starting.

Before the chronograph is started, the pincers for the split-seconds mechanism are held free of contact with the split-seconds wheel (center) by the ruby pins on the split-seconds cam, at 3:00. Just below the chronograph cam, at 11:00, you can see the self-centering return to zero hammer, which is sitting on the heart-pieces of the chronograph center seconds hand, and the minute recorder, preventing them from moving.

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The chronograph running, with the split hand and center seconds hand running together.

When you start the chronograph, the chronograph gear train engages with the main going train (via a tilting pinion system, as in the 7750). As you can see, the split-seconds wheel is now turning (as is the chronograph seconds wheel, which is below it) and the reset hammer has been lifted off the heart pieces of the chronograph seconds hand and minute recorder, allowing them to turn.

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The chronograph with the hands split.

Finally, pressing the split-seconds button changes the position of the split-seconds cam. The pincers fall onto the split seconds wheel, holding it in position, while the chronograph seconds hand continues to run. The whole mechanism is constructed in an extremely straightforward fashion; by a watchmaker, for watchmakers, you might say, and it shows every sign of having been optimized for longevity and reliability. It's one of those movements where one almost feels one can follow the designer's train of thought – everything is laid out with great clarity and between the intelligence of the design and the quality of the execution, there appears to be nothing to go wrong.

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The Habrings told us, "The basic mission of Habring² is to provide reliable daily companions for reasonable money. It’s not (the) highest watchmaking art but a lot of handwork involved, much more classical horological art than the industry offers. This handwork is basically the reason why we are able to compete with the big names as we’re saving the bucks by not spending them in industrialization/automatization. So for example, the operating levers for chrono/split are manually assembled too after they get finished by hand."

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The Habring² Doppel-Felix comes in the two dial color variations shown, and each color can be had with either the date complication, or the tachymeter scale; the stainless steel case is 42mm in diameter, and water resistant to 5 bar/50 meters. The no date version is €7,750 (approximately $9,150) and the date version is €8,250 (approximately $9,740).

I felt both exhilarated and a little depressed after spending time with these watches – the former, because I find it incredible that such high quality in every respect (and I do mean every respect, including dial furniture, casework, and movement construction and design) is available at this price; and the latter because Habring² has been around for a while, they have a strong following, and I feel like I'm shamefully late to the party. That such phenomenal work can be had, in this day and age, for considerably less than $10,000 seems impossible and yet there they are. It takes a certain kind of stubbornness to do watchmaking of this quality for this price, but as long as Habring² is happy to do it, we ought to be happy that they're there – a most astonishing and welcome Value Proposition.

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