1750, today… At that time, watches were created and built for the long term, to last, with the best materials, to stand the test of time. As these objects were destined to accompany several generations, particular care was taken to ensure their longevity and, of course, that they remained a pleasure to admire.
When my dad was still alive, he commissioned me to make him a pocket watch, as his granddad always wore one. His request was simple: “I’d like to wear a pocket watch too, and since you make beautiful pieces for others, I’d be delighted if you made one for me”.
I couldn’t honor his request in time, as he left us before I could even sketch a single line for his watch; too busy and occupied was I, at the time, in my role as a director of watchmaking for a major brand.
I was still mourning my father’s passing when I decided to fulfill my dream of independence, and finally started work on his pocket watch. This was the initial impetus for the “Tree of Life” project – and for the first watch, “L’Essentiel” (‘that which is Essential’). Having become a father myself, just two months after mine died, I became inhabited by a deep desire to materialize a philosophy of life.
As I started conceiving my father’s pocket watch, I almost immediately imagined that it would carry a philosophical message within… What if my great-grandfather’s pocket watch also harbored a message for me – and for my children in the future…?
I was thus going to materialize several watches, mirroring the states of mind that evolve in our lives ever since the human condition began.
- Childhood – its carefreeness, its magical ability to just be, in the here and now, to live from day to day. It’s a state we strive for throughout our lives.
- Parents – their/our broader vision,
- And finally, Grandparents – their wisdom about the passage of time.
I knew I wasn’t beginning to work on a watch. I was setting out on a bigger journey.
When it came to the technical approach, the specifications quickly became very clear. The basic postulate was to draw inspiration from the movements of iconic pocket watches, from their majesty and generousness of form. And since I’d chosen to make the components myself, using traditional methods would ensure the creation naturally remained as pure as its intent.
Cutting through to the Essential
The name for the watch came naturally – the word kept coming up
in every philosophical, technical and design consideration.
Inspiration for the purity of the design came from leafing through a work by Antide Janvier and coming across a magnificent regulator dating from 1800. I was going to create a regulator. A philosophical one. In a 39mm case.
I always begin with designing the dial, then I create the movement that corresponds to the watch face I’ve drawn.
The 24-hour disc would thus be the philosophical disc. It would carry the owner’s message, addressed to them and to generations to come.
Drawing up the movement’s specifications
I decided to build my caliber on several foundational watchmaking specialties. I wanted my own balance wheel, with proportions identical to those of pocket watches, a Swiss anchor escapement with a ‘moustache’ lever, wolf’s teeth on the ratchet, large and fine and elegant wheels, a spine of mirror-polished steel components, ébauches in silvered maillechort for the same natural feel as the marvelous pocket watches from the golden age of watchmaking, and of course absolute comfort and purity.
After completing initial calculations and choosing an agreeable frequency of 18,000 vibrations per hour, I turned to the desired thickness for a 39mm watch. 8mm, excluding the crystal, I felt would achieve perfect diameter/thickness proportionality. So began the 3D modelling phase, and the hours spent starting over and over again to ultimately capture this ever-elusive harmony, from the buckle to the crown, and from the crown to the balance wheel.
Finalizing the technical file together marks the transition between virtual 3D modelling and real materials. Once the countless specific fittings have been carried out, the actual work can finally begin. When you’re creating your own caliber, the extent of all that has to be done upstream before you can even get started is staggering – and it is nowhere to be seen in the final product! At this stage, it takes an unstoppable passion for and an unshakable faith in horology to keep pushing on.
For months, nothing happens; the movement is lifeless, not even the slightest oscillation. Make. Test. Modify. Repeat. And repeat until perfect. As my master Philippe Dufour taught me, there’s no time limit for doing things right. There’s no room for approximation in this horological quest within the traditional art of watchmaking. Every morning, the material challenges you anew to ‘Excellence’ – and you know you must step up. This speaks to the humility that characterizes the craftspeople who are truly – and daily – immersed in the materials of their art.
The “L’Essentiel” watch is born
It may sound strange, but when I must explain the purpose of my work in three words, “philosophical mechanical instrument” always rings true and in tune with my original intention. A living mechanism that keeps track of one’s life (lives), transmitting and safeguarding a philosophical message.
I would have loved to have been handed down a mechanical instrument by my forebears, something that messages me and guides my steps throughout my existence. To inscribe fundamentals onto a mechanism as one chisels truths into marble. It is a feeling that gives me great comfort and joy because infusing my creations with these words gives me the chance to keep the light shining on life values: Today, Now, Love & Gratitude.
On the watch, I chose Latin as a witness to the past: Hodie (today) and Nunc (now) appear in the sun. Simple, everyday words, but they perfectly express the feeling of childhood. The absolute present, not tomorrow, not 2 hours from now, just now. As for the choice of ‘midnight words’: Amor & Gratia. Love & Gratitude – words that are obvious to me, and very powerful ones that can end a day in a wondrous manner.