First Hands-On With Label Noir’s Polarizing Rolex Milgauss Tourbillon
Rolex and the Tourbillon, two myths for a metamorphosis. Prior to delivery, Watchonista goes hands-on with the first Rolex tourbillon in history.
By launching in Geneva, the "first Rolex tourbillon in watchmaking history", Label Noir and its CEO Emmanuel Curti have raised the art of ultra-personalization to the status of a brand.
A buyer who wants to remain anonymous, an unpredictable personalization. This customer must be rather cool and enjoy the buzz he is responsible for. Despite his wish for anonymity, he must be proud of his order and proud to be the first to own a Rolex with both the complication of a tourbillon with official Rolex papers.
Two Rolex Milgauss in a watch box
This private client authorized Label Noir, to whom he had entrusted the realization of his fantasy, not only to present the piece during a press breakfast (an event initially organized to celebrate the company's arrival in the TwentyFirst Luxury Group), but he also allowed this piece to be photographed. Thus, before this model was delivered to its owner and perhaps disappeared from the watchmaking news, Watchonista sent its photographer/reporter Pierre Vogel for a historic shooting.
The day before, I had this watch in my hands. My first question concerned its box. Because it was in a lavish, totally neutral wooden box, not extravagant, with a space for two watches. So, naturally, I wanted to know what was the second watch going to be? "Another Rolex Milgauss as a series production, without any other modifications" said Emmanuel Curti, CEO of Label Noir and above all a pure Geneva watchmaker. That is to say a watchmaker who graduated from the Geneva School of Watchmaking and is a member of the SSC, the "Swiss Chronometry Society".
A watchmaker who has cumulated experience in after-sales service, notably within Les Gardiens du Temps, his own watch co-contracting company. This is how he was confronted for the first time with the world of ultra-personalization, which in other sectors is called customization or tuning. In other words, to respond with a technical solution to the wishes of end customers whose desire is to leave a footprint of themselves in a product. In short, a relationship to the possession of a good that requires the intimacy and ego, in any case, the aspiration to be different.
Brands dedicated to personalization
CEO of TwentyFirst Luxury Group Emmanuel Collomb was also in attendance on Tuesday 18 September 2018 at the Swiss Made Restaurant. It was in this Geneva watchmaking hub, that the ebullient retailer of the Maison de l'Horlogerie decided, in the presence of a few journalist friends, to celebrate the arrival of Label Noir in his group, which oversees in particular the expansion of "Nous" boutiques. He has historically welcomed the presence of investors who are particularly sensitive to this niche of the most sophisticated personalization. First with the Hadoro brand, which has two Manufactures in Besançon and Russia devoted to identical operations on non-watchmaking objects. Then, more recently, with the acquisition of Label Noir, a company based on the incredible network of Swiss watch co-contracting, a pool of companies that extends from Geneva to the ends of the Jura region.
Suddenly, spotting an entirely customized BMW motorcycle parked at the entrance allowed me to realize the unsuspected magnitude of this phenomenon. CEO and journalists let loose for a moment, almost forgetting the presence of guests and hosts: passionate words, immediate familiarization, the feeling of belonging to the same level of understanding...
Rolex and Tourbillon, two myths for a metamorphosis
At first glance, the Milgauss, entirely modified to be able to accommodate a tourbillon in its case, remains of an unsuspected sobriety. In this respect, unlike what some comment feeds peddle in specialized forums, it remains above all a Rolex. No exaggeration in the aperture that allows this mechanism to be viewed in flywheel mode, equipped with a tourbillon cage bearing the initials LN for Label Noir.
Its background is non-transparent, all its surfaces, including the links of the steel bracelet, have been covered with an ADLC treatment, which, by using gas and not the dispersion used by the PVD processes, provides additional strength to a shine that, between industrial grey and matte black, borders on ecstasy in this particular universe of customization enthusiasts. On the original dial structure, the crimped indexes were extracted and then replanted identically on the recreated hour circle. An aperture was made so that the characteristic kinetics of the tourbillon can be visually accessible.
Calibre modifications are rare in the world of customization. Because they require unusual skills and they can only be sourced from suppliers considered credible, ethical, and competent. Thus, Label Noir approached a movement-maker who was already at ease in the manufacture of tourbillons. From the outset, the aim was to preserve as many original components as possible of the legendary Rolex reference calibre. 3131. There was no question at any time of replacing this three-handed caliber with another tourbillon caliber in the same space.
The watchmakers love the challenge. While only 2 components of the original movement were modified, 53 were removed while less than a hundred linked to the tourbillon cage were added. To ensure that performance was not affected, the barrel spring has been changed and the number of vibrations per hour has been reduced from 28,000 to 21,600, or from 4 hertz to 3 hertz. The plate, one of the two components that had to be the subject of the most development, remains a Milgauss plate as attested by its intact serial number.
A little like the chassis number of a modified vehicle in the automotive world. It should be noted that if, at the request of a second customer, the Milgauss Tourbillon operation were to be renewed, a budget of approximately CHF 125,000.00 and a three-month waiting period would have to be considered.
For more than fifteen years, the message I have been sharing with the watchmaking co-contractors has been: " You don't always have the right to mention your customers, who are prestigious brands that are in the market for the spotlight. But nothing prevents you from talking about the beauty of your gestures, your materials and your entrepreneurial stories." So, the introduction of Label Noir makes me particularly happy.
The fact that a luxury brand signature can emerge from the network of watch co-contracting skills is a kind of culmination. Especially since ultra-personalization, when practiced ethically, requires these skills and respect for the fundamentals. Moreover, this mode of consuming, which involves the end customer's appropriation of a product, whatever its branding, is a return to the origins of watchmaking. The watchmakers of the past made their masterpieces on demand, rarely of their own free will. It was only later that they added their first and last names to the dials, followed by the place of their workshop's residence.