My career path: the perpetual quest for excellence

Chance and Destiny

Although I am considered the pinnacle of mechanical watchmaking, which I am very honored to be, I never chose to be a watchmaker. Indeed, when I was a child, I was not really interested in school and studies, and I had real difficulties with mathematics. This closed many doors for me to decide a profession. I loved to tinker with my old Triumph motorcycle, and I thought that mechanics could be a solution for my future.

Coming from a modest family and living in the Vallée de Joux, a very remote region of the Swiss Jura, career choices were limited. As I was not suited to the lumberjack's trade, my parents introduced me to the technical school in the valley.

After a series of tests, the teachers came to this conclusion: "Even though his head and hands work well, he is just good enough to become a watchmaker, because he is too weak in mathematics for another path". My fate was sealed.

I loved this school, from the first months you learn to make your own tools, some of which I still have today; creating with your hands was a real revelation for me. I finished my four years of training as a watchmaker with distinction.

My Beginnings in the Professional Life

Even though I was not particularly gifted in mathematics, I really liked languages. I really wanted to get out of my valley and travel to discover the world. I then looked for a job that would offer me this possibility and that's how I joined Jaeger-LeCoultre in Le Sentier, the work abroad being specified in my contract.

I then started to work for a year in Germany in the after-sales department. I then spent two years in England with Favre-Leuba, which had just been acquired by Jaeger-LeCoultre. At that time, I oversaw reorganizing the after-sales service and training watchmakers. It was a great experience even if I was confronted with customers who were unhappy with the reliability of their watches, and it opened my mind to what a well-designed watch should be.

Back in Switzerland, I was appointed manager of the after-sales service of the first quartz watches. But the call from abroad being stronger, I started looking for a job, and came across an ad in the local newspaper that a company was looking for a watchmaker to take over the movement workshop in the Virgin Islands. I found myself in charge of 50 people with most women. In the workshop, there was an incredible amount of noise due to the incessant chatter of everyone, which was a striking contrast to the almost monastic silence of the Swiss workshops. I asked for silence to reign in this workshop, and a woman kindly told me that if the lips don't work here, then the hands don't work either. I discovered another way of working and I accepted it. I became aware that watchmaking was not limited to the Vallée de Joux and was not only Swiss but universal.

Return to Switzerland

After all these beautiful experiences and discoveries, it was time for me to return to my beloved valley in Switzerland. I worked for a year at Gérald Genta and was confronted with traditional craftsmanship, then I left for Audemars-Piguet as a flat movement adjuster.

I then participated in the opening of a workshop for the Comor Watch brand, the aim being to improve the decoration of minute repeater type movements, again the adventure lasted only one year, differences with the owner were the cause.

The Great Turn to Independence

Following the setbacks of the Comor Watch brand, I bought the workshop and became independent in less than a day. I started prospecting for clients and this was done with a famous watch auction house in Geneva at the "Galerie d'Horlogerie Ancienne" which became "Antiquorum". I restored pocket watches with complications. During all these restorations which lasted more than five years, I noticed that whatever the style of the movement (Swiss, German or English), 7 times out of 10, complications originating from the Vallée de Joux were hidden under the dial.

After working on these marvels of the past, I felt the need to make a pocket watch with complications. I took up this challenge and decided to devote all my free time, vacations and days off, to developing the queen of complications, the "Grande Sonnerie". Not having the financial means to offer my movement a case worthy of it, I put it in a brass box and went prospecting to have the means to develop my pocket watch. I got only negative answers and was advised to turn to a big watch manufacturer who would find an interest in it.

Interested, the brand Audemars-Piguet ordered 5 pieces. This required a colossal amount of time and effort, knowing that it takes more than 2000 hours of work per pocket watch, one year per piece. Once this work was done, I was called one day by the brand because there were problems with two of my creations. When I arrived on site, I found my two watches in a deplorable state, half broken for one and almost destroyed for the second; it was a real shock for me: I was deeply disappointed and in an indescribable anger. How can someone have such a total lack of respect for my work and treat my watches in such a way!

This time it's over, I will never work for anyone again, I swear it to myself.

Jumping into the Void

I decided to strike back and hit hard: in the greatest secrecy, I shall develop a Grande Sonnerie timepiece to be worn on the wrist. No one before me, no major manufacturer, had embarked on this incredible adventure. I, a small independent watchmaker, took up the challenge of doing something that had never been done before in the field of grand complication.

I found financial support in Italy, no one being a prophet in his own country, which allowed me to have the necessary time to realize this challenge. After two and a half years of hard work, I presented my creation at BaselWorld 1992 in complete anonymity; what a paradox for a world premiere! I was astonished to discover the rotten world of watch marketing, I refused proposals that were dishonest, to say the least, and decided not to give in to the sirens' songs, even though at that time I was really underwater.

To make matters worse, great tensions arose with my Italian partner. These will lead to a battle of lawyers to finally find an arrangement to continue the adventure.


It takes an extraordinary strength of character to find the courage to carry on; I owe it to my origins and the education I received when I was young. Don't sell yourself, don't give up.

The recognition of my work, my know-how and my involvement will come from a part of the world which, I didn't know yet, is going to count a lot for me, Asia. As I used to say: "no one is a prophet in his own country", and I could extend it to Western countries. I was lucky enough to be able to present two of my Grande Sonnerie creations in Singapore, one in a pocket watch version, number 1, and one in a timepiece version, also number 1. After ten days of intense negotiations, the two pieces were sold and three timepieces were ordered with a simple handshake, the given word still has value in Asia.

Nothing is richer than the human contact around the creation, doing everything by yourself including the sale is the most rewarding; independence at all levels has almost become a motto for me. In Asian countries such as China and Japan in particular, people are very sensitive to craftsmanship, to "handmade", to excellence. The values of authenticity, honesty and tenacity that guide my work every day are in line with their own values.

Inspiration from my Peers

It was in 1996 that I said to myself that the time had come to find an epigone, an original successor to my first timepiece. I didn't want to create yet another tourbillon and fall into the fashion effect, and a tourbillon is not really useful for a wristwatch!

I started looking for a new project by searching through old Rockford Time Museum catalogs from the 1930s about the watchmakers of "La Vallée" to find inspiration.

It was a wonderful time, the true golden age of watchmaking when people still knew how to transmit this art. The watchmakers who taught in those days were truly passionate and they worked in real watchmaking schools, transmitting their passion and know-how through school watches of incredible craftsmanship and diversity, each student creating his own original piece. It is indeed in this context that I saw school watches with two balance wheels, and I immediately knew that I had found my source of inspiration.

This technique being very difficult to understand by theory alone, I made a prototype with a new differential to understand how it works. It was really the only solution if I wanted to discover all the subtleties and the complexity of such a mechanism.

Months of testing and experimentation allowed me to finally master this very specific technique of the functioning of two balance wheels connected to each other by a differential, in order to obtain the running average, which considerably improves the chronometric performance.

This allowed me to start the definitive construction of this timepiece with such a particular architecture and complication, and nine Duality were born.

The Complexity of Simplicity

The "Simplicity" was born from a request from Japan and more precisely from a "Philippe Dufour" fan club in Tokyo.

I must admit that this idea was already in my head: to create a beautiful three-hand timepiece with a timeless and pure design and a movement that will go through the centuries without problems.

For the movement I was inspired by models from the 50s and 60s that I had the chance to restore at one time and that I liked very much. The size of the movement had to be 30 mm and 12 lines. These proportions were ideal for the Simplicity because it was the right alchemy to make this mechanism absolutely indestructible.

So much so that the parts I had in the shop for maintenance, once reassembled, worked almost better than the new ones.

When I introduced it in 2000, I immediately sensed a great deal of interest from Japanese customers.

I decided to work directly with the retailer Shellman Watch & Jewelry in Tokyo, which led me to make several trips to Japan and to be present in the store in direct contact with the customers. I found really extraordinary customers with whom I have since maintained a really privileged relationship.

It is a real pleasure to make timepieces for people who know the value of things and of work well done and who have a great respect for "white hair".

What surprised me the most was their attachment; I would even say the symbiosis that they have with their timepieces. "They live their watches", they have completely understood my approach to watchmaking through "an authentic and uncompromising approach from A to Z".

I was lucky enough to meet one of my clients who was a doctor. In his office, photos of all my watches were displayed. Moreover, he did not hesitate to lend his Simplicity to his patients so that they can really understand and enter the world of fine watchmaking, of which I have become a fervent advocate. It was on this occasion that I was asked to autograph photos for his patients wearing the watch that this doctor had lent them. It was a great moment of emotion for me, and I will remember it all my life.

Japan has become my reference market, 120 of the 200 Simplicity watches have found buyers in the land of the rising sun; it is also a real springboard for all the Asian countries.

I went several times to the Hiko Mizuno watchmaking school in Tokyo to give decoration classes; the welcome I received from the teachers and students was truly amazing: these were unforgettable moments of sharing. So, the circle was closed.

Time aeon Foundation

The Time aeon story began in 2003 with the meeting with Martial Fragnière and his sidekick in my workshop. They had been sent by the tourist office who had told them to "go and see over there I think he makes watches". That's how those I had initially taken for second-hand dealers arrived at my place.

Martial Fragnière, who is not a watchmaker, became passionate about fine watchmaking and decided to work towards safeguarding, perpetuating and transmitting the excellence of watchmaking know-how for future generations.

The art of watchmaking is being lost, it is practically no longer taught; computers and industrial machines will never replace or equal the work done with micro-burners, bows and all the different tools inherited from another century. The intelligence of the hand is the only guarantee of watchmaking excellence.

As our meetings progressed, a real friendship developed between the two of us and one thing leading to another, we created a concept to act concretely to safeguard the "handmade". Vianney Halter will join us first, followed by Robert Greubel, Stephen Forsey and Kari Voutilainen. It is after many years of reflection and work that the Time Æon Foundation will finally be born.

Birth of a Watch

The adventure started in 2009 under the aegis of the Time Æon Foundation. It was time for us to transmit our know-how through a unique, concrete and ambitious project. The basic idea was to choose an experienced watchmaker and to help him realize a watch entirely made by hand, "from the sketch to the timepiece".

Being among those who possess this ancestral knowledge, Robert Greubel, Stephen Forsey and myself will be the masters and "transmitters". Our choice fell on Michel Boulanger, a watchmaking teacher at the Lycée technique Diderot in Paris. He will be the main actor of this horological odyssey.

Everything will be public and documented through a website, the presence in exhibitions such as the SIHH and through the press.

The excellent dynamics of this project gave rise to infinitely creative debates and provoked a very constructive exchange of ideas to revalorize this unique watchmaking culture. It clearly demonstrated that this way of doing things is totally in line with the 21st century and that making a timepiece entirely by hand is not "doing things the old-fashioned way", but on the contrary a completely contemporary approach.

Michel was up to this incredible challenge: he was very receptive, perfectly disciplined and very humble. These values are essential for me to achieve a true level of excellence. We could not have chosen a better candidate than Michel Boulanger for this adventure.

Our presence at the SIHH generated a tremendous response from visitors and the press. The richness of this project and the workshops that we have set up to demonstrate our know-how and our desire to transmit it have convinced the majority of the authenticity of our approach.

It is not enough to say that we have the know-how, we must prove it.

The adventure continues...

The Consecration

I had the privilege of obtaining the two most prestigious prizes in watchmaking, the Gaïa Prize and the Special Jury Prize of the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève 2013. However, the real consecration came in the evening of my career with the results of the auctions of some of my timepieces.

Grande Sonnerie pocket watch 2'329'000 CHF

Grande Sonnerie bracelet watch at 4'749'000 CHF and 7'600'000 CHF

A Simplicity sold for 662'000 CHF and another for 756'000 CHF

A Simplicity 20th anniversary at 1'360'000 CHF

A Duality at 3'660'00 CHF

These staggering figures speak for themselves.

I have never given in to the siren songs of investors and other vultures who have constantly hovered around me throughout my career. I have always remained faithful to my line of conduct against all odds, despite the taunts and mockery of marketing "specialists" and so-called watchmaking experts, to name but a few.

I am a watchmaker and I have remained one.

Mécanisme minute

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On sait depuis longtemps que travailler avec du texte lisible et contenant du sens est source de distractions, et empêche de se concentrer sur la mise en page elle-même. L’avantage du Lorem Ipsum sur un texte générique comme ‘Du texte. Du texte. Du texte.’ est qu’il possède une distribution de lettres plus ou moins normale, et en tout cas comparable avec celle du français standard. De nombreuses suites logicielles de mise en page ou éditeurs de sites Web ont fait du Lorem Ipsum leur faux texte par défaut, et une recherche pour ‘Lorem Ipsum’ vous conduira vers de nombreux sites qui n’en sont encore qu’à leur phase de construction. Plusieurs versions sont apparues avec le temps, parfois par accident, souvent intentionnellement (histoire d’y rajouter de petits clins d’oeil, voire des phrases embarassantes).