The universe of Jérôme de Witt
His life revolves around his three passions: music, mathematics and mechanics. Count de Witt – founder of the eponymous watch brand – shares his passions and thoughts on watchmaking.
Mathematics, music and mechanics. Just like the three main qualities that characterize the aesthetics of his watch cases, Jérôme de Witt’s three passions are the pillars that support the particular approach of an atypical creator. He is indeed a legitimate descendant of Napoleon. These three fields are interconnected in the sense that they all ultimately consist of groups of either numerals or notes; of alignments of values, which vary their position according to whether the numerals or symbols are inside a line or a circle or outside them. Add here, divide there, subtract or multiply to obtain a result. In the end it is all about the numerous interesting calculations that rigorously lean towards the logic of what is “beautiful”, but does “beautiful” even exist? Is it an objective value that everyone can agree on, regardless of their background?
Even if he does not flaunt his ascendance, he does assume it. Indeed, he comes from a lineage that has marked the History of France and Europe.
He knows where he hails from, and is very much aware of what his title means in terms of responsibilities. “Back then, an emperor defended the image of his country through beauty, which was the synonym of power”, he states. The image someone projected was indeed very relevant when it came to making an imprint on the collective conscious. Indeed, the most beautiful works and most astonishing paintings were reserved for the powerful.
If someone has known of the existence of a legacy since birth, it seems only natural that they’d want to perpetuate it. “I like beauty, it is my education. Most of the objects I have inherited come from the past and I am lucky to count amongst them some items that are classified as exclusively beautiful”.It is a sort of universal value luxury would like to get inspired by and refer to since it would allow it to rely on illustrious excellence, know-how and accuracy of execution. “We lost a great deal of the past’s luxury, the modern world is slowly erasing traditional culture… However, we have to fight to preserve this knowledge so that it can be transmitted to future generations”.
To do better at all costs
The same goes for watchmaking, except here there is also an annoying dichotomy. On the one hand, we do all we can to preserve a self-defined craft because it is what has always been done and it has, after all, bore its fruits. On the other hand, we cherish the idea of always going further.
Jérôme de Witt also refers to the standardization of creation software. These programs are present almost everywhere in the sector and that could very well lead to an imminent and almost general lack of creativity: “We all work with the same data and the same safety functions”, he ventured. How is it possible to cause an upheaval when all watchmaking creatives use the same tools? According to de Witt there is only one answer: the development office in the center of his Manufacture in Meyrin, which is a gravitation center for both Swiss and international creative elites.
This department that does not hesitate to confront its members with experts trained elsewhere, so that their talent does not go to waste and their ideas can be countered. “It is thanks to this challenge, to this competition with others that our talents can evolve” he explained. At this, he gave the example of the Tourbillon complication whereby it had been revealed that the quest for constant strength instead of chronometric performance was more important. Do we have the right to tolerate a difference of energy in the functioning of the watch only for the sake of perfect precision?
When he was eight years old and living on an agricultural estate, young Jérôme liked to observe and ask questions. It was when he heard something different in a steam engine that he realized some technical progress had been made. By installing two huge balances instead of one, the machine had become quieter. They established a more equal distribution of the required forces and made them less prone to noise and to the forced stop, which often meant that something was broken. The ears distinguish and the eyes see, verify and understand.
Nowadays, he still adopts this kind of approach, which inspires him to the point that he often applies for a watch patent. He did not become a watchmaker to break free from the micromechanical parameters expert fingers often have to face. Yet, his “out of the box” vision often allows him to indulge in an expected incursion into a chronometric science that – when open to discussion – enriches itself with new visions and high-quality ideas. Take the unique WX-1 for example. It is a sort of mini-machine that has been transformed into a folding watch. More than a “talking piece”, this perfectly precise horological instrument is the ideal illustration of Jérôme de Witt’s aptitude to transgress codes and barriers.
He is furthermore a big fan of mechanics and also often of great mechanics. The long corridor that leads to the workshops and floors of the manufacture after the reception area is replete with secular machines. They have all been taken good care of and still work perfectly well.
They welcome the visitor or the supplier to Meyrin and are also the museum-like expression of a collector who became an inventor and designer. For those who are honored with an invitation to his home, Jérôme de Witt reserves a space filled with inherited and recently acquired objects. This space includes historical and cultural reliefs and help in understanding his universe. It also allows us to understand the continuous curiosity of an independent and successful watchmaker who is at peace with his past and completely open to any technological advance. Besides, his timepieces are a testimony to this. They are as reassuring and present as imperial columns and are as innovating as gadgets made for esthetes who seek ingenuity.