It’s hard to last long in the watch industry without hearing this one: “the movement is so beautiful, I wish I could wear the watch backwards so I can stare at the craftsmanship all day!” This has become a bit of a cliche within the industry, but there’s some merit to wanting to gaze hypnotically (not creepily) upon the movement of a piece. Moritz Grossmann has provided an innovative solution for these collectors. Reorienting the movement componentry so as to reposition the primary elements on the dial side and cutting the dial itself to a fraction of its normal size, the brand has allowed many of the most aesthetically pleasing aspects of the movement to remain visible even when the watch is worn dial-side up. Now you don’t have to complain about wanting to flip your watch over— the best parts of the movement are already on the front!
Moritz Grossmann began making watches in Glashütte, a small town in the Ore Mountains of Germany in the mid 1800s. Glashütte was, and still is, home to a rich community of watchmakers, including A. Lange & Söhne, the most prominent German manufacturer in modern times. Carl Moritz Grossmann, the founder of Moritz Grossmann, was born in the 1820s. After completing watchmaking studies in Dresden, Grossmann established the brand in 1854 with a few small production models. After rising in prominence within the region and establishing his name as an authority within the industry, Carl helped establish the German Watchmaking School in Glashütte, aimed at educating the next generation of watchmakers in Germany. After his unexpected death in 1885, Carl Moritz Grossmann’s brand went into hibernation until the early 2000’s when the brand was reincorporated. Since then, Moritz Grossmann has produced a number of models, from the Benu to the Atum, each with classic styling reminiscent of the watchmaking of the 1800s. In 2018, Moritz Grossmann introduced the Backpage, the model we are discussing today. Since the brand’s reemergence in the 2000s, the Grossmann has gained significant respect for its pieces, positioned as a lesser known small production independent producing beautifully finished watches with several key design attributes.
The design of this piece truly revolves around its movement, but externally, the Backpage features a Calatrava style case with sculpted lugs and curved case sides. The entirety of the platinum case has received a polished finish, with a minimalist bezel visually bifurcating the case flanks. Much like many independents (and Lange), the caseback is affixed using individual screws rather than a threaded caseback. A minimalist minutes chapter ring and peripheral hours ring frame the visible movement, which has been carved to showcase the best portions of the movement. This piece features a very unique pusher at roughly four o’clock made to address a common issue that arises when setting a watch. Normally when a watch is set, the crown is pulled out and turned till the hands present the correct time. Then, the crown is pushed back in to its resting position. The issue is that sometimes when the crown is pressed back into the case side, the hands move a little bit, losing the correct time display. Recognizing this issue, Moritz Grossmann developed a pusher that can instead be pressed once the time has been set to the desired position. This locks the hands so that when the crown is returned to its nested position the time is not altered. It’s a brilliant and practical advancement that beautifully exemplifies the Moritz Grossmann philosophy for watchmaking, one that prioritizes utility in complications. Many of the brand’s innovations are aimed at directly addressing a common gripe or frustration.
The blued-steel annealed stiletto shaped hands almost disappear from the dial, only visible when sought out. What remains of a dial is set with white gold applied hour markers that are baton-shaped with an Arabic numeral at 12. The piece isn’t particularly thin at 11.5mm, but feels properly balanced to suit the 41mm case diameter. Oftentimes brands make the mistake of producing a case too large for its thickness, a combination that causes the watch to present like a dish on the wrist. The proportionality here is just right. It’s svelte enough to look refined but hasn’t pushed the limits to the point of awkward presentation.
Even the tang buckle is well engineered, with a vaulted bridge portion designed to allow the strap to sit inside the buckle rather than under it (the same refinement can be found on Lange and Journe buckles, it’s a very nice detail). This prevents the strap from wearing out prematurely and from gauging when removed.
Moritz Grossmann is so confident in its finish quality and precision of machining that the watch comes with a magnifying glass as an open invitation to scrutinize the piece up close.
The centerpiece of this watch, the caliber 107.0, has been restructured to place the most aesthetic portions of the movement, those that are typically reserved for the caseback, at the focal point of the dial. A massive balance cock is hand engraved and visible on the left side of the dial. Each watch has received a slightly different engraving pattern (once again, much like the practice of fellow German manufacturer A. Lange & Söhne), effectively making each piece technically unique from the next. The ratchet wheel is finished in three solar gradients and affixed with black polished screws. The rest of the keyless winding works has been fully black polished with hand finished teeth refined to a pristine shine.
There are certain movement components that are very often not made in house by most brands. The balance is one such component. Moritz Grossmann, however, has chosen to make even the balance in house, in an effort to control the manufacturing of most minuscule and fragile components of the timepiece’s construction. Additionally, Moritz Grossmann has developed its own hacking balance system to halt the balance when the crown is pulled out of its nested position. From the caseback, the arm that controls this hacking mechanism is visible, pristinely black polished (by hand of course).
For some of the more external and immediately noticeable attributes of Moritz Grossmann movement design, gaze upon the ultra wide striping on the movements, golden chatons, and clear synthetic sapphire rubies rather than the traditional red ones found on most watches. Nothing about this watch is ordinary. Any place that Moritz Grossmann could enhance aesthetics, performance, or perception, it has.
Versus the Competition
There are several pieces that would make for great alternatives to the Backpage. Firstly, Parmigiani, a lesser known Swiss independent, has made the Tonda Hemispheres GMT. Similar to the Backpage, this piece features a very open dial aesthetic with visible componentry and Côtes de Genève on the dial side of the piece. It certainly hasn’t gone as far as Moritz Grossmann to reorient the movement to place the balance and other notable elements directly at the front of the piece, but it nonetheless gives a peek into the watchmaking that powers the timepiece.
Offering a bit more of a direct comparison, the Breguet La Tradition 7027 was originally designed to pay homage to the souscription pocket watches of Breguet, made in the 1700s. Just like the Backpage, this piece (and the broader Tradition collection), has a visible balance and bridges, exposing the heart of the watch through a unique movement orientation.
Probably the closest independent competitor with a semi-open dial providing a look into the movement would be the F.P. Journe Chronometre Bleu Byblos. The blue dial has been carved away at the center (just like the Backpage), and the top of the baseplate and the keyless winding works are therefore exposed. The Byblos was limited to only 99 examples worldwide and fashioned from tantalum. Both pieces are made by premier independent brands and feature startlingly similar designs, albeit with each clearly distinguishable as having been made by its respective maker.
Finally, AP’s Royal Oak Double Balance showcases a skeleton dial with two separate balance assemblies placed one on top of the other and displayed at 8 o’clock. If you look closely through the skeleton dial to the back side of the watch, you can make out the yellow gold rotor that affords automatic winding to the piece. It’s a funky watch, and one that many are unaware of.
The collector that seeks out a Moritz Grossmann is not purchasing their first watch. Independents of this level of obscurity are really only recognized by those that have developed their collections and tastes after exploring other brands. This watch is undoubtedly a connoisseur’s choice, one that has provided mechanical innovations to address common issues. The collector that buys this piece will understand the advantage of this mechanical solution, and comprehend the challenge involved in developing such a complication.
The Moritz Grossmann Backpage is limited to only 18 pieces in platinum. For such a limited piece from a brand of Moritz Grossmann’s stature, it is difficult to find a watch with so much value. The total annual production of the Glashütte manufacturer is roughly 200 watches per year. Considering that many brands conduct limited editions of a single model in greater numbers than this brand’s total output, one can understand just how rare a commodity a piece like the Backpage is.