Luch Mindaugas Review: Ceci N’est Pas une Montre

by Dave Laichtman 0

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3.5

The Luch Mindaugas represents that class of watches which has as their purpose not telling the time, but communicating an idea. Though the mechanics are spare are best, the eloquence of visual motif more than compensates.

Our Rating:

Luch Mindaugas Review: Ceci N’est Pas une Montre

Watches are not made for telling time. Not in this century. Nor in much of the last. The ability to accurately measure time’s passage long eluded humanity. From the simplicity of a sundial or hourglass to the audacious complexities of the Antikythera Mechanism or a wadokei, calculating temporality with consistent accuracy was the quest of millennia. Once accurate and portable devices were created, they remained the province of elite science and well-funded exploration: chronometers cohabited velvet-lined cases with theodolite and sextant, no man before the mast owned such a precious instrument.

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With the 17th century advent of the hairspring however, democratization of timepieces was inevitable. Thus, just as the anatomic perfection of High Renaissance did subversively transmogrify into the Marfan Syndrome distension of of Mannerism’s dissonance, so too have watches and clocks dispensed with the purpose of jejune time telling. This attitude begat the conscious excess of Henry Graves’ Supercomplication with its 24 functions, as well as the petulant Dadaism of Romaine Jerome’s Day & Night Tourbillon that is fashioned from reclaimed materials salvaged from the wreck of the Titanic but does not show the time.

One such dissipation is the repurposing of ostensible wrist watches into emblems of sociopolitical movements that happen to possess an ancillary time keeping mechanism. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was a sea change for a vast swath of humanity; the significance of such an occurrence is commemorated by artifacts such as the “Mindaugas” watch manufactured by the Belarusian firm Luch under the brand name Polis.

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The dial of this watch features an enameled tronie of Lithuania’s only king, the eponymous King Mindaugas. The nation’s only ruler to hold the title of “King”, Mindaugas ruled and conquered during the High Middle Ages, bringing Lithuania and the Baltic region to European prominence. His pseudo-myhtic efforts halted the onslaught of Tartar Khanates from the east and Teutonic orders from the West, garnering him an apotheotic standing in the pantheon of national heroes.

During the Soviet era, much indigenous culture of the satellite states was effaced. Homogenization was demanded, nationalism was punishable by deportation into Siberian exile, traditional dress, language, and art had to be hidden beneath a veneer of collaboration. Ancient heroes of independent nationhood were likewise suppressed. But as the Iron Curtain began to show signs of impermanence, so too did the Soviet satellite states begin to reassert their independent identities. In 1989, residents of the Baltic nations formed a two million person human chain termed the Baltic Way in an effort to evidence regional solidarity against Kremlin rule. It is in this atmosphere that the Mindaugas watch found a ready constituency.

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The watch dial is numbered merely twelve through four, and that in a difficult-to-read gothic script. No minute indices, day or date function, or complication of any kind further occupy the dial, leaving the battle-ready suzerain room to wield his arming sword and rondache unencumbered. Pointed, narrow ellipsoids serve as hands so that a wearer might formulate hypotheses regarding the time should they possess such a perverse inclination. The wholly fictional “Polis” brand’s insignia appears just west of the gothic three, giving plausible deniability to the identifiably non-Lithuanian provenance of Luch products. The figure’s rich crimson mantle, the crown-like golden lamellar helm, and the impenetrable overlapped plates of the vambraces, couter, and rerebraces communicate to the cognoscenti that the image depicts a potentate supreme, one who, both due the dates of rule hovering before the figure’s gaze and the particular physiognomy, can be none other than King Mindaugas. This is identified with more clarity, if less artistry, by a gaily furling gonfalon that reads “MINDAUGAS LIETUVOS KARALIUS” (King Mindaugas of Lithuania). Thus depicted, the nation’s most recognizable hero rampant and armed, named not in Russian, the USSR’s lingua franca, but Lithuanian, sends a none-to-subtle message.

The image itself is keenly wrought. Details as fine as the glint of the shield boss, individual strands of beard hair, even the King’s pupils are carefully defined. The colors remain bold with sharply defined edges even several decades after manufacture. A crisply-enameled background of white sets the figure off to to striking effect. With little in the way of adjunct watch functionality to distract, Minaugas’ hoary visage dominates the watch.

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The remainder of the watch descends to barest functionality. The movement is quartz: the charging, winding, and adjusting that attends haute horolgy would be a distraction to the King’s portrait and the message it conveys so effectively. So too are the crown, case, and case back formed of base metal, unmarked save for an inscrutable serial number stamped upon the lattermost. The domed plastic crystal serves the purpose of keeping the dial free from obstruction or debris, nothing more. Not even a strap is included in this watch’s unassuming pasteboard box.

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This watch is little concerned with telling the time. Nor is it meant to be a bold fashion statement, a wonder of durability, a prize of great worth, or a powerhouse of utility. Rather it has more in common with a campaign button. Instead of liking Ike, this watch was borne for purposes political. Just as Ali wore Kente cloth not to delight in the colorful patterns but to express his revolutionary attitudes, so too did any lietuviai who chose to sport such a watch communicate a complex worldview with an image. Reading the time of day on this watch is inexact at best, but in the penultimate days of the Cold War, it eloquently conveyed that it was time for national independence.

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