The word “Ireland” might rouse images of verdant land, creamy dark Guinness, fortunate shamrocks, and mischievous leprechauns, yet few are probably going to associate the country with fine watchmaking.
Even when Irish watchmakers John and Stephen McGonigle launched their own brand McGonigle Watches back in 2006, it was (and still is) based in Switzerland where the brothers trained and honed their abilities chipping away at complications for lofty Swiss brands.
I initially met brothers John and Stephen at Baselworld 2006, and at the day’s end recommended to John that we grab a brew (or two) and I talk with him for an article in iW magazine . He came across as fairly relaxed during the day, yet as I started the meeting he appear to become increasingly anxious and focused. I asked him in the event that anything was off-base and he answered that it was only that it was his first time being met by a real journalist. I laughed and answered that that was my first time being called a real journalist.
McGonigle Watches developed effectively, especially after the launch of the Tuscar in 2010, which featured the brothers’ first in-house movement. However, with Stephen living in Switzerland and John in Ireland the coordinations of cooperating (even pre-COVID-19) drove the brothers to amicably part. In 2020 John launched his own brand Oileán (articulated il-awn), which is Gaelic for “island.”
While perhaps better known for making contemporary watches, John is outstanding amongst other watch restorers I know and his hand finishing is top notch. So for Oileán he concluded that he would make watches that enabled the movements to take focus stage.
Oileán H-B1: movement
John McGonigle’s first watch is the Oileán H-B1 , a triple-calendar segment wheel chronograph fueled by a highly adjusted new-old stock Valjoux 88 movement.
“Modified” doesn’t do equity to what McGonigle has done to this legendary chronograph movement, though. He has superlatively polished all components to lessen erosion, thinned the springs so they operate all the more smoothly and effectively, straight grained the flat steel, and angled and reflect polished all screw heads.
McGonicle also replaced many of the original copper-beryllium and brass components with steel parts, both to maximize the existence of the movement and to enable a much higher degree of hand finishing. And if that wasn’t enough, McGonigle also a few extensions with those of his own design.
While the transparent, slightly smoked sapphire crystal dial offers tantalizing perspectives to the top of the movement, the view through the display back is essentially breathtaking.
Oileán H-B1: dial and indications
Not shockingly for a triple calendar chronograph, there is a ton going on dial side of the H-B1. The time is displayed by central hours and minutes via skeletonized hands with cool blue Super-LumiNova-filled arrow tips. Small seconds are in a subdial at 9 o’clock.
The triple calendar capacities incorporate the day at 11 o’clock and the month at 1 o’clock, while the date is displayed by a central arrow-tipped, heat-blued hand around the periphery of the dial. There’s also a moon phase indicator (because why not?) within the chronograph’s 12-hour totalizer at 6 o’clock.
The chronograph features a 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock, 12-hour counter at 6 o’clock (with “Ireland” at the base), and an elegantly thin, central, blued elapsed second hand with iridescent tip toward one side and an arrowhead counterweight at the other.
Clients have the choices of either white or black for the afternoon and month circles as well as having the main plate and extensions either rhodium-or gold-plated.
Oileán H-B1: case
The case, a truly wearable 40 mm in diameter, is in lightweight Grade 5 titanium. However, the triple calendar module knocks up the thickness to a chunky 14.2 mm. This is anything but a prudent under-the-sleeve dress watch – indeed, not except if you have large cuffs.
The highly polished titanium chronograph pushers are on either side of the crown featuring an engraved Oileán harp logo (the harp being one of Ireland’s national hallmarks). On the other side of the case band are two flush corrector pushers for the calendar indications.
McGonigle’s aim was to highlight the movement with the best traditional watchmaking techniques and hand finishing. He has accomplished that brilliantly as virtually all of the sensationally finished movement is available to see either through the sapphire crystal dial or display back. While not a restricted version, he is restricting creation to only eight pieces a year, and of course already has a backlog of orders.
The Oileán H-B1 is a watch for movement nerds (like me) and while at €23,500 (before taxes) it certainly isn’t cheap, it’s the best value-for-cash, perfectly hand-finished, complicated watch I’ve ever seen.
For more information, please visit www.oilean.watch .
Quick Facts Oileán H-B1
Case: 40 x 14.2 mm, Grade 5 titanium with display back, water resistance 30 m
Dial: transparent smoked sapphire crystal
Movement: hand-wound adjusted Valjoux 88 with triple calendar, 3 Hz/21,600 vph recurrence, power save 40 hours
Capacities: hours, minutes, small seconds; date, day, month, moon phase; chronograph
Strap: leather with titanium pin clasp
Limitation: 8 pieces each year
Cost: €23,500 (barring taxes)
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