Three French Watchmakers Bringing Back ‘Made in France’
Here are three brands that claim their specificities and fiercely defend the renewed colors of French watchmaking savoir-faire.
French and Swiss watchmaking have been closely linked since their origins. Their ancestral know-how has often been shared on both sides of the Jura. With time, ‘Swiss Made’ has taken center stage in the world’s watchmaking industry. Still the ‘Made in France’ label persists. The passion shown by new French independent brands and the growing interest for transparency is giving French watchmaking a fresh impetus.
Depancel, crowdfunding and reasoned prices
It is not the first try for Clément Meynier, Depancel’s founder. In 2016, he launched Koppo, a brand of wooden quartz watches. Passionate about watches, this French entrepreneur wanted to create a new watch brand inspired from his other passion for old French cars from brands such as; Delage, Panhard, and Facel Vega. Hence the name, Depancel, an homage to these long-gone icons of the French automobile industry.
Meynier’s motivation runs deep as he asserts his will to promote local know-how in order to perpetuate the watchmaking traditions on his side of the Jura. An ambitious and commendable project combined with an approach marrying French aesthetics and elegance with the transparency required to boast the ‘Made in France’ label. In order to achieve reasonable prices, he has opted for crowdfunding (via Kickstarter) to create a faithful community to which he will sell directly, cutting short costly intermediaries.
As transparency dictates, Depancel reveals its suppliers openly:
- Hands: La Pratique, Morte
- Case: China
- Finishing, assembling and caliber tuning: NoVo Parts, Sancey
- Movement: Miyota, Japan
- Bracelet: Sibra, Besançon
- Packaging: Manufacture Jacquemin, Cramans
If all brands operated this way, we would be up for great surprises! But I digress.
All three models of this first collection are very well made. The designs are classic and elegant. The Auto 24H, powered by an automatic winding Miyota 9120, offers 3 original sub-counters: days at 9 o’clock, months at 3 and a 24 hours counter at 6 o’clock which can indicate a useful second time zone. A window between 4 and 5 o’clock completes this very balanced and legible dial. It comes in three versions of black, silver grey and black and panda in a 316L stainless steel case (black, grey or gold plated). The faceted indexes are rhodium plated and filled with Luminova, like the hands. The central dial is embossed as a reminder of old speedometers. It is very well executed, and the finishing is qualitative for this price range. The oscillating mass is engraved and painted in France, visible through the sapphire glass back, paying further homage to the signature grills of the jewels of the French automobile industry.
The Auto 3H looks similar with a sleeker style. Based on a Miyota 8215 calibre, it displays the date at three o’clock in a window, leaving space to admire the embossed dial which comes in the same possible declinations. Efficient and unbeatable at this price (€ 349.00).
The last model is the Quartz 3H. Which features obviously a quartz movement, the Miyota 415. There is an overall quality feeling on all three models and the perceived value is superior to their respective prices. These pieces come with a life-long guarantee, except for the sapphire glass, bracelet and quartz battery, showing it’s a true claim of the brand.
The ‘French touches’ are discreet but still provide a little ‘je-ne-sais-quoi’: a small blue, white, red topstitch at the base of the bracelet and the light marking with the same colors framing ‘quartz’, ‘automatic’ or inside the 24H sub-counter. Smart and subtle…like a Depancel.
After collecting close to €250.000 on Kickstarter, the campaign goes on with indiegogo.com, which enables anyone to still acquire these little French gems at a preferential price (from €199,00 to €499,00) for delivery in September 2018.
MW&Co: French conception, disruptive design and exclusive French touch
Romain Mussato, the founder of MW&Co, is a seasoned watchmaker passionate about all man-made mechanical constructions. Florian Cayrouse, is a genius designer who gives life to any crazy ideas his partners come up with. Alain Carrere is a globe-trotter who loves international cultures and knows the luxury codes. He takes care of the commercial development of the young brand, supported by Robert Henri Fourtalin for marketing. They have decided to create the watch they were dreaming of. A time-keeper embracing the fundamentals of what a true horological creation should be in their eyes: the perfect blend between technics and emotions. The Asset 2.1.
A unique timepiece, limited to just 20 pieces, it presents an exclusive world’s first: damper lugs with jacks which self-adjust to the wrist perfectly. A technical prowess requiring no less than 14 exclusive micro components, adjusted to the micron, developed for each lug. The Asset 2.1 also offers a unique case made of 77 micro components created especially for MW&Co. The brand sets itself directly in the world of scarcity and excellence. The idea is to propose an infinite array of personalization possibilities to its future clients. The honeycomb structure of the 46mm case in grade 5 titanium adds even more customization options. Totally innovative, highly technical, and in two words: well-thought! These exclusive lugs, named ‘Damper’, are inspired from MotoGP dampers.
MW&Co has successfully anchored its production locally by drawing into the high-tech know-hows of the French aeronautics industry; the only one able to develop the precision machining and molding such a high-end piece of watchmaking requires. Conception, manufacturing, finishing and assembling all of the sapphire elements, the bracelet, and all of the packaging is made in France. A fierce determination of the young team who wants to restore the prestige of French watchmaking.
What about the caliber, you could ask? Only a chronograph, technical and sporty, seemingly suitable for such an incredible case. They could have chosen the perennial Valjoux 7750, but they have opted for another mythical manufacture: Eterna. The latter provides the caliber 3916A as a base. An iconic flyback chronograph with two column wheels, as technical as it is beautiful. The Asset 2.1 asserts further its ultra-precise measurement instrument claim: another asset for the collectors it is aimed at.
The case’s sand-blasted finishings enhance the ‘racing’ vibe of the timepiece. Its open-worked aluminum dial with its indexes filled with SuperLuminova remind us of supercar grills and accentuate further the idea of using a tool made for competition runs. The two sub-counters dressed in vibrant green create the final emotion of driving a race car on your wrist. They have succeeded! They make us dream when we manipulate this drastically different timepiece, immediately recognizable, with its bold sporty personality mixing precision and technicality. The Made in France touch as a bonus. For €12,000 HT, the Asset 2.1 will surely please many collectors in search of differentiation.
Phenomen, design excellence, technicality and pleasure of the senses
Alexandre Meyer, founder of Phenomen, is a car designer. Since 2011, he has been cradled by innovation and technicality as the head of his own design studio. Passionate about watches, he was sketching for years and finally decided to materialize his dreams. Sylvain Nourisson is a watchmaker who started with Christophe Claret, then moved to La Joux-Perret where he developed many models for Arnold & Son and Angelus. He joined Phenomen in 2017 to boost the company’s projects. Axiom, the Besançon brand’s first creation, is born from this partnership. Honestly, it is a true gem. And I am usually very classical in my watchmaking tastes. This time, I was awestruck! What a stunner! The timepiece is extravagantly original but remains wearable thanks to its ‘tight’ dimensions of 47mm long, 42mm wide and 17.3mm high. It perfectly combines a very complex technicality and powerful emotions. You immediately feel like caressing, touching this surprising object. You want to feel the soft passing of the hours and the minutes who jump with the suppleness of a cat. But I have already said too much. Let’s go back to the watch.
Thanks to a network of local experts, Phenomen has managed to produce a large number of the 300 components coming into play in the Axiom. Nonetheless, the PH-010 movement empowering this beast is made in Switzerland by partners renowned for the excellence of their savoir-faire, like Atokalpa, Prototec and Mimetec. It delivers a commanding 100+ hours of power reserve. The result is a crystal-clear spectacle playing in an amphitheater.
The whole structure of the mechanism had to be rethought in order to achieve this distinctive disposition. You feel like you have the cockpit of a super-car on the wrist. Jumping hours and retrograde minutes sit at the front of the fuselage. They are set by two crowns located at 12 o’clock that look like furious exhaust pipes of a race car. There is a sensual softness in manipulating them. At the very top of the timepiece, you see a regulating organ (oscillating weight) enthroned. It seems to be completely disconnected from the rest of the watch. This sensation is accentuated by the open double axe-shaped balance wheel which beats at 4Hz. The upper position enables to admire at leisure the quality of the finishings, worthy of the best. We are undoubtedly in the haute horlogerie realm. But at the same time, we could be in presence of a highly precise marine instrument with its construction in different levels…or in the dream-car industry with its superlative car body.
Machined in France in 7 different parts, this titanium case is all pure lines and soft curves. The finishings are stellar. They are numerous and varied: micro-blasting, satin-brushed, mirror polished, round or salient angles. It is a symphony of excellence on surface work. The same mastery can be witnessed through the sapphire back on the movement where the snailing of the double barrel is stunning.
This timekeeper epitomizes what ‘Made in France’ independent haute horology can be: an original strong design, a complex staging of the time, top-of-the-line finishings. A true tour de force for a premiere that redefines French watchmaking luxury. A brand to follow closely. For € 58.000 (without taxes), the limited series of 60 pieces should find its public of high-rolling collectors.