- 50m water resistance
- Caliber RSV-Bi120 : manufacture bi-retrograde chronograph movement, automatic mechanical winding and column wheel (LJP-LC01 base)
- Year of release – 2022
- Price upon release – $5750
When Gimmicks Totally Work
I think it’s fair to say that any watch which replicates another instrument is a kind of gimmick. Dashboard watches come immediately to mind, as do more specific gauges like altimeters and speedometers, and even digital recreations of vintage video game consoles, and so on. Rarely do I find these gimmicks interesting or original, but the Reservoir Sonomaster Chronograph is an exception to my general disregard for such timepieces.
I was a recording engineer and producer for a couple decades, and I grew up surrounded by the glorious analog hi-fi equipment of the 1970s. Among all of that wonderful gear, there was one gauge which always fascinated me and everyone around me: the VU meter. I even know super geeky recording engineers (plural!) with VU-meter tattoos. One of my favorite records since I was thirteen has been the Velvet Undergound’s VU (note the initials), which simply sported a black cover with a single VU meter on it. If anything speaks to the fuzzy warm tones of the analog era it is The Velvet Underground’s murky mush of guitar fuzz.
But in the 21st century, the VU meter speaks nostalgia fluently, and more than a few phone apps recreate these meters to give us that warm nostalgic vibe. Meanwhile, companies like MacIntosh have used the VU meter as an emblematic branding symbol that emotes a sense of old-school quality that could only have existed in the pre-digital era. Which brings us full circle to the entire reason most of us are interested in mechanical wrist watches in the first place.
All of this to say that the gimmick of the Sonomaster dial with its recreation of a stereo pair of vintage VU meters hit me in the heart and won me over from the get go. Its symbolism is not only perfectly fine on its own, but its circular self-reference to the analog era from which the technology of this watch (or any mechanical wrist watch, really) derives goes beyond mere cleverness or even irony toward something that feels—for lack of a better word—authentic to me.
The Quality Had To Be There
To deploy the VU meter as a symbol of analog excellence, the execution of the watch and all its components had to be commensurate with the quality of the analog gear which once sported those meters. This isn’t to say there weren’t crappy analog audio components with VU meters (there were plenty), but we don’t think about the crap when we nostalgically recall the analog era; indeed, we think of the great pieces of analog gear which defined the hi-fi era: MacIntosh, Marantz, Pioneer, Scott, RCA, and so on with the 40-lb receivers that made recorded music a sensual pleasure-dome rendered in stereo. I could go on about studio gear, but most readers wouldn’t know what the hell I was talking about. Suffice it to say I owned and used a lot of vintage analog studio gear with VU meters.
I don’t know why so many VU meters used manilla-folder yellow as the background, but Reservoir nailed this color perfectly on the chronograph registers which on the Sonomaster recreate the stereo VU meters. Reservoir also nailed the text printing, the font, the scale, the meter markings, the slight use of red. My only complaint is that the red should be where the meter is maxed out, but here the red is at the bottom of the meter scale. I’d have reversed that for greater authenticity, but I am likely one of almost no others who would notice, let alone care, about that detail.
The rest of the dial is a joy to experience with a loupe magnifier. It’s an incredibly clean execution of the applied numerals, the vertically brushed hands, engraved concentric subdials, and so on. This is immaculate Swiss watchmaking, and I have zero complaints about the dial.
The crown perfectly emulates the dials from some old stereo from the 1970s, and even has a line marking where the volume or tone setting would be, were this actually a volume or tone dial. This sub-gimmick is perfectly in line with the dial, and because it’s subtle (compared to, say, a tire-tread rubber insert on the crown), it works. Reservoir’s designers sure nailed the look of that dial. Maybe some knurling would help grip, but aesthetics has won this particular battle between form and function.
The case is excellent. The soft brushing reminds me of the brushed aluminum faceplates of vintage analog hi-fi gear, and the edges are Rolex-sharp. For a 42mm watch, it wears quite nicely, not too big at all for me, and I usually top out around 40mm. The Sonomaster seems to wear more like a chunky 40mm watch.
Mechanically Sophisticated & Unique
The movement is built on the La Joux-Perret LC01 base movement, which is a column wheel chronograph with a vertical clutch mechanism. Most people prefer this type of chronograph, and they are certainly more difficult and expensive to produce (learn more about that in our podcast on the topic). Dubbed the Caliber RSV-Bi120, this movement can be considered a “manufacture” movement due to the high level of customization. The bi-retrograde functions are the most fascinating aspect of the customization, and these jumping “meters” for the run in seconds and date were what allowed Reservoir to recreate the VU needle effect.
It’s fascinating to watch the running seconds on the retrograde jumping 30-second VU-meter subdial on the left hand side. It moves much faster than a 60-second hand would, and this adds an energy to the dial that I find almost exhilarating (to the extent, anyways, that a watch hand can inspire exhilaration). The jumping behavior is exceptionally crisp, and I’ve looked closely for slop there and found none, which speaks to the internal breaking mechanism, the delicate weighting of that stubby hand, and so on. It snaps like a great mechanical chrono should, and that’s just the running seconds.
The chronograph functions are splayed across the standard positions for a vertical display: chrono seconds on the central seconds hand with tachymeter scale on the outer bezel, a 30-minute totalizer at 12-o’clock, and 12-hour totalizer at 6-o’clock.
The right hand VU-meter is a retrograde pointer date, and while it fulfills its role of looking like a VU meter, it’s pretty impossible to read the date easily unless it lands on one of the indicated dates; in between those clear markings, I find it a bit tricky to get a clear reading. This is a trade off where the gimmick supersedes functionality, but I’m not sure I’d have it any other way, because this is a watch one turns to for nostalgic feelings of vintage hi-fi, not the date. Again, aesthetics wins over function.
Around back we can clearly see the blued steel column wheel, which is what you want to see when you’ve got a clear caseback window. Few column wheels are as visible as on the Reservoir Sonomaster, and it’s good horological fun to hold the watch backwards and actuate, stop and reset the chronograph. I’m able to make out how it works with my naked eye, and my naked eye isn’t all that sharp. It’s even more fun with a loupe, of course, to watch the actuator levers jump in and out of the column wheel’s slots.
The feel of the stop-start function is perfect column-wheel stuff, though the reset button is a little stiff. I imagine this would loosen up with time, as this example I have is brand new, and it’s not uncommon for the reset button to require a little stiffer push on column wheel chronographs; I’ve handled brand new Omegas with similar action.
Finishing across the movement is lovely, clean, and, importantly, the brushing on the rotor and plates is deep and commensurate with the brushing found on the applied numerals and hands on the other side. In this way, the watch feels “of a piece,” as the saying goes. Perlage adorns the inner bridges, and I don’t hesitate to say that this movement allows me to more easily swallow the price of this watch.
It’s worth noting that La Joux-Perret is a rather storied watch manufacturer in Switzerland. Now owned by Japan’s Citizen group, its recent clients suggest a different pedigree than its group owner might suggest: Franck Muller, Girard-Perregaux, Sinn, Maurice Lacroix, FP Journe, Eberhard, and the Richemont brands. LJP sits, more or less, at a kind of middle-ground between standard work-horse movement making and highly customized horology, and I think the price of the Reservoir Sonomaster Chronograph reflects that positioning.
I realize I am of a certain ilk of audio aficionados who “get” this watch on many levels, from the technical details to the nostalgia and so on. I imagine that’s who this watch is for, but I think the watch can generate warm fuzzy nostalgic feelings in anyone who resonates with the aesthetics of vintage hi-fi gear. More and more in the 21st-century, that vibe is deeply appealing, however ersatz it may be on a smartphone or a newly created mechanical watch.
But we’re after authentic feelings, not always authentic audio gear, which, if I’m honest, is a pain in the ass to maintain and not always as great sounding as we’d like to think. In this way, the Reservoir Sonomaster Chronograph fulfills a unique role within the world of mechanical watches in that it has the power to enchant us the way an old stereo on a mid-century bookshelf does, with its VU meters glowing manilla-yellow next to the book about Herman Miller furniture—and let’s be honest: we leave those stereos there even when they’re not working, because of what they make us feel. With AI about to take over humanity, I’ll happily fall under the spell of the Reservoir Sonomaster Chronograph. Why not?