The word “Ireland” might inspire images of verdant land, creamy dark Guinness, lucky shamrocks, and mischievous leprechauns, but few are likely 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 skills working on complications for prestigious Swiss brands.
I first met brothers John and Stephen at Baselworld 2006, and at the end of the day suggested to John that we grab a beer (or two) and I interview him for an article in iW magazine. He came across as fairly relaxed during the day, but as I started the interview he seem to grow increasingly nervous and stressed. I asked him if anything was wrong and he replied that it was just that it was his first time being interviewed by a real journalist. I laughed and replied that that was my first time being called a real journalist.
McGonigle Watches grew successfully, 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 logistics of working together (even pre-COVID-19) led the brothers to amicably split. In 2020 John launched his own brand Oileán (pronounced il-awn), which is Gaelic for “island.”
While perhaps better known for making contemporary watches, John is one of the best watch restorers I know and his hand finishing is second to none. So for Oileán he decided that he would make watches that enabled the movements to take center stage.
Oileán H-B1: movement
John McGonigle’s first watch is the Oileán H-B1, a triple-calendar column wheel chronograph powered by a highly modified new-old stock Valjoux 88 movement.
“Modified” doesn’t do justice to what McGonigle has done to this legendary chronograph movement, though. He has superlatively polished all components to reduce friction, thinned the springs so that they operate more smoothly and efficiently, straight grained the flat steel, and beveled and mirror-polished all screw heads.
McGonicle also replaced many of the original copper-beryllium and brass components with steel parts, both to maximize the life of the movement and to enable a much higher level of hand finishing. And if that wasn’t enough, McGonigle also replaced a couple of bridges with those of his own design.
While the transparent, slightly smoked sapphire crystal dial offers tantalizing views to the top of the movement, the view through the display back is simply breathtaking.
Oileán H-B1: dial and indications
Not surprisingly for a triple calendar chronograph, there is a lot 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 functions include 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 bottom), and an elegantly slim, central, blued elapsed second hand with luminous tip at one end and an arrowhead counterweight at the other.
Clients have the options of either white or black for the day and month disks as well as having the main plate and bridges either rhodium- or gold-plated.
Oileán H-B1: case
The case, a very wearable 40 mm in diameter, is in lightweight Grade 5 titanium. But the triple calendar module does bump up the thickness to a chunky 14.2 mm. This isn’t a discreet under-the-cuff dress watch – well, not unless you have big 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 superbly as virtually all of the sensationally finished movement is open to view either through the sapphire crystal dial or display back. While not a limited edition, he is limiting production to just eight pieces a year, and not surprisingly already has a backlog of orders.
The Oileán H-B1 is a watch for movement geeks (like me) and while at €23,500 (before taxes) it certainly isn’t cheap, it’s the best value-for-money, exquisitely 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 modified Valjoux 88 with triple calendar, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, power reserve 40 hours
Functions: hours, minutes, small seconds; date, day, month, moon phase; chronograph
Strap: leather with titanium pin buckle
Limitation: 8 pieces per year
Price: €23,500 (excluding taxes)
* This article was first published on February 26, 2021 at John McGonigle Oileán H-B1 Triple Calendar Chronograph: I Don’t Know Of A More Beautiful Complicated Movement Available For The Money.