Steven Phillips - Watchmaker/Inventor
Known as much for its creativity as its exclusivity, the A.H.C.I., Academy of Independent Horological Creators (Academie Horlogere des Createurs Independents), is a loose group of horological artisans with a penchant for innovative and unusual, and in most cases handmade, unique creations. The A.H.C.I. was brought to life in 1985 by Vincent Calabrese and Svend Andersen, an Italian and a Dane both creating their time in
Geneva. Their goal was and is to maintain the tradition of handcrafting timepieces alongside the manufacture of industrial large series. This is a tradition well worth cultivating, especially when it calls forth the amount of creativity and innovative masterpieces that it has in the past nineteen years.
The current grouping totals twenty-eight, including members and candidates from ten different nations. The group is open to anyone who can fulfill the criteria of being able to make a technical horological construction and being able to execute it in most excellent quality.
A candidate must participate in three exhibitions within four years to become a full-fledged member. Steven Phillips, a naturalized American citizen, is the first North American to be accepted into this elite group.
Born Istvan Fulop Hanzely in 1939 in a part of Hungary that now belongs to Slovakia, Phillips learned watchmaking in his family's business, one that looks back on a long European tradition as it dates to the 1640s, during the reign of Hungary's King Ferdinand III. In 1846 the business was moved to the capital city of Budapest. Phillips worked for the family for many years, then trained in Austria and France. Hungary's anti-communist revolution of 1956 led Phillips to emigrate to the United States as a refugee at the tender age of seventeen. With generous aid from second- and third-generation Hungarian sponsors, he learned the language, changed his name for easier pronunciation by his fellow citizens, and began to live his life in the New World. In 1962 he married and moved to the outskirts of New York, wanting to be close to a big city but not in it. Not entirely giving up on everything he had known in Europe, he opened a watch and clock repair business called Ye Olde Clock Shoppe in Guilford, Connecticut In 1964.
Most A.H.C.I. members make their own small series of wristwatches alongside the contract work that they take in to finance their creativity, and Steven Phillips is no exception. Although many other members and candidates rely on their roles as behind-the-scenes players for larger, more reputable brands, Steven Phillip's contract work has always been in the form of restoring existing vintage masterpieces, both large and small. The restoration to bring him national recognition was the 1974 commission for the New Haven, Connecticut city halls clock as part of that community's bicentennial celebration. Celebrity attendees at the July 4, 1976 celebration included Queen Elizabeth" in the company of Connecticut's governor. In addition, Phillips has repaired and restored historically
The Black Hole is Phillips'S latest addition to the Guardian III series. It features a movement modified by fifteen additional parts to accommodate the three-dimensional moon phase display (left side of the movement).
important timepieces by masters of days gone by such as Breguet, Graham, Dent, Frodsham, Leroy, and Mudge.
Today his entire American family is also involved, starting a Westem branch of the old family business. He has sent every family member to watchmaking school including his wife, three daughters, and his sons-in-law. His wife and
one of his daughters are now full-fledged watchmakers, tirelessly working alongside him on both the daily repair work and the innovative series that Phillips has created in the last decade. In the 1990s it became apparent to Phillips and the rest of the world that the renaissance of mechanical watches was here to stay, and in 1992 he began experimenting with the manufacture of his own watches. This is not watch manufacture in the usual sense, where parts are ordered in from many different supply companies and then assembled by a specialist. This is actually one single man who developed his own movement by making all of the parts himself except for the escapement, which he buys and refines. "In Switzerland it is much easier to outsource, but where are you going to do that here?" he comments. He makes the entire case, only purchasing the crystal and leather strap from outside suppliers; he even casts the buckle. In an age when division of labor has become the norm, it is like a breath of fresh air to encounter this almost unfathomable amount of handcrafting. His watches, including the small series that he produces, are all made to order. The movement to surface was christened the BP2000 in honor of his company, the Budapest Watch Company, and was first introduced in the Guardian I series of fifty pieces in the year
2000. The watch's unique look was created by skeletonizing the plate and bridges to form "webs." The movement not only looks unique, it also features some unique technical developments such as the simplified bi-directional winding system and a dual shock protection system not to be found anywhere else. In addition to the usual Incabloc shock protection on the balance wheel, the movement is also protected by an ingenious device worked into the four screws and o-rings holding the movement in place. This was Phillips'S largest series to date at fifty pieces, and something he says he will never repeat. Although the series was sold out within just two years, he comments "I
swear on a stack of Bibles that I will never do that again. The repetition of it just about killed me!"
All of Phillips's later creations have been based on this movement with variations that have made sense for the watch. The Guardian II features The Enamel Series from $24,900 and The Diamond Series from $31,900. The monocoque cases of these series were no longer crafted in titanium, but in 18-karat yellow gold and feature enamel fired three times for an even
The Guardian I, outfitted with a titanium case, was created for the millennium in a limited edition of fifty pieces done entirely by hand. Phillips has no plans for such large editions in the future.
luster on the skeletonized webs and bezel. Another technical development is manifested in the refined lug system that he calls the quad system, displaying lugs that are far more flexible than normal ones and provide great wearing comfort. This is the first watch ever to have an enameled movement, and he even does the enameling himself. The different Guardian II series are being produced in a limited quantity of five each.
Next in the series was the Guardian III, christened the Black Hole by Phillips. This model features the same displays of hours, minutes, and sweep seconds as its predecessors, but sports the added feature of an innovative three dimensional moon phase display represented by a gold ball, half of which is enameled - a tricky process in itself. This complication has added fifteen more parts to the movement. The price for this masterpiece, which can be outfitted with custom metal or gemstone hour markers, begins at $65,000. The first one to be created was immediately snapped up by a female patron of the arts in Texas. As one watch takes two to four months to complete, it is not hard to imagine that production is extremely limited:
Only five pieces will ultimately see the light of day, but rest assured that Mr. Phillips is making each piece of the watch with his own hands. The year 2003 represented a highlight in Phillips's burgeoning career, his technical creativity obviously experiencing no bounds. To make a long story short, in the third year of the new millennium Phillips introduced a project that he had been researching for a number of years: his Eternal Winding System. Much like Jaeger-LeCoultre's groundbreaking clock Atmos, the EWS, as it is known, receives its power from changes in temperature. In a nutshell, we are talking about a bimetallic coil that can react to temperature changes in the air that Phillips has integrated into the movement. He developed a system to capture the energy created by the expanding and contracting of the coil, which is then passed on to the mainspring by either a set of elegant planetary gears or a more robust, direct system. Phillips's EWS system could also be termed a newfangled type of remontoir, which is a rare system that stores power for the mainspring, not allowing it to receive it all at once, so that its torque remains constant, thus stabilizing the rate. The EWS has a similar effect on the mainspring, making sure that it is continually held in the same position. Thus, the escapement always works with the same amount of torque and the rate always remains stable.
Even more remarkable than the constantly stable rate is the fact that this watch never needs to be wound! By comparison, just walking in and out of a room is enough to power the Atmos for several days, as the absence or presence of body heat is more than enough to compress or decompress the Atmos's tricky system. If tests on the new EWS continue to be as positive as they have been, this slight change in temperature may also be enough for the EWS as well.
Using his own BP2000 caliber as the base movement for his experiments, Phillips was surprised to see that the movement, which had previously shown an eight-second daily deviation, was now running much more accurately after he had added the EWS to it. So, practically as a side effect, the fact that the mainspring is now always kept at the same point in its tension, has killed two birds with one stone. Not only does it never need to be wound, it is now also much more accurate.
Phillips was awarded with U.S. patent number 6457856 for his invention. Presently he is searching for the right corporation to license it for mass markets. But as George Daniels and his co-axial escapement before him experienced, this is a long and tricky road. Negotiations can last many years, and preparation for serial production can last many more. Omega had to work out many kinks, even recalling the first series of movements outfitted with the serially produced co-axial escapement, before the Omega de Ville could be offered to the watch buying public in a version that Daniels may have envisioned. In the meantime, Phillips, as befits his nature, has created three different watches outfitted with his EWS, which he will hand-make on request. Like John Harwood in 1924, Phillips has not outfitted his timepieces with a winding crown - there is no need. According to Phillips, the watch can be left out for days, weeks, months, even years and will continue to display the same true rate. All without manual winding, but with at least one quarter of a degree Fahrenheit variation.
With so much current national attention, Phillips feels that he has "a big backpack to wear." This man does what he does because he genuinely loves it - the only way to invent things that will change the course of history. He has many new projects in the pipeline, including a perpetual calendar (patent pending) that will need no corrections for 99,999 years: An indescribable horological feat, and the only reason it will need correction after 100,000 years is because the watch does not have a six-digit display! In light of all the attention he has recently received, many offers for collaboration have come in from larger companies, but Phillips prefers to remain true to his family business. "It's in my blood," he says.