Owner and Watchmaker
Harry Winston’s Opus 4, the Jean Dunand Tourbillon Orbital and countless other innovations are credited to renowned Swiss watchmaker Christophe Claret. A completely vertically-integrated manufacture who is behind some of the country’s best in haute horlogerie, Claret celebrates his second decade in the industry by finally putting his name on the dial. Recently Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief, Douglas Gollan, ventured to Le Locle and spent a morning with Claret in his hilltop headquarters, where the past and the future of watchmaking are closely tied together.
ET: After 20 years, why are you now using your name as a brand?
Christophe Claret: That is specifically why. We want to celebrate our two decades of doing things that are very special with a very special watch—the DualTow limited edition watch.
ET: Tell us about your headquarters here in Le Locle?
Christophe Claret: Soleil d’Or is a historic home built by the illustrious watchmaker Urban Jürgensen for his granddaughter. His bold ideas are platforms for watchmaking, and the refined environment has an air of patience and subtlety, which are both core to watchmaking. I then designed and built an elegant steel and glass gallery on the old terrace and connected it to our modern building. To me it is a symbol of how we link the past to the present.
ET: It seems you are trying to combine modern technology into watch design?
Christophe Claret: Yes. We are using very, very sophisticated computers for the design. In fact the software programs we are using are the same that movie studios use. It enables us to take the design of watches to a level that just would not have been possible before, but we still use the imagination and skill of the human being to create an innovation.
ET: What is your philosophy behind making so many investments in new and expensive technology?
Christophe Claret: As an example, for about two years we have used a super fast camera that cost 120,000 CHF [$110,875], but it enables the watchmaker to see the watch operating in intervals of two-tenths of a second or a little bit less. We are one of only two or three companies in Switzerland that has an Ultrasonic Linear machine, which costs over one million Swiss francs [$924,000]. By using nano-technology we can be super precise and set new standards for accuracy and quality, especially for the FlashCut Laser machine. Most importantly, this investment enables us to do pieces that nobody else can do, and that is my goal.
ET: It seems you are putting a high emphasis on the environment too?
Christophe Claret: Yes indeed. First of all, we have invested considerable sums [$647,000] in order to equip ourselves with an environmentally-friendly system for cooling both the air and the machinery. What’s more, we recover the heat produced by the compressed air equipment, thereby making a 30% energy saving on heating in winter. We have also installed a system for treating waste water slurries, particularly due to electroplating and copper polishing microchips. Once the water is treated, it is clean to the point of being fit to drink. It also goes beyond that—I give a very high priority to the environment for my employees. In the places where there is machinery that is loud we have put in noise absorbers that reduce the noise by at least 50 percent. I want my employees to be in a clean, tidy and environmentally-friendly place so they are happy and satisfied.
ET: Would you ever do a single watch on commission for an individual?
Christophe Claret: I can’t see how. We have to spend millions on the development, fine-tuning and production of each new innovation, so the only way to usually recoup the investment and make a profit is to make 50 or 60 watches, so I don’t think it would make economic sense.
ET: There are over 100 watch brands featuring tourbillons. Do you ever get annoyed that so many companies are offering what had at one time been a very exclusive complication?
Christophe Claret: Not really. It is like car engines. There are all types. Some are beautiful and/or of good quality, while others are bad. It’s not what I think about. All our tourbillons have added value, something extra.
ET: Do you have any family involved in the business?
Christophe Claret: No, I’m the sole shareholder. My son is studying micro-biotic research in Boston, so I do not think he is ever going to join us. On the other hand my daughter is only nine months old, so I will have to wait awhile to see what happens with her.
ET: If you hadn’t become a watchmaker, what would you have done?
Christophe Claret: An architect restoring historic castles. I am particularly partial to 16th-century architecture, and we have a castle in France that on the weekends I spend my time restoring. In fact, it is where my wife and I were married, and she would like to use part of it to host weddings when we are done.