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May 1, 2013

Swiss Ingenuity

By Chris Boyle

By Elizabeth Doerr

half time462For the ultra-rare and extremely unusual, look no further than these two creative independent watchmakers based in Switzerland.

Ludovic Ballouard Half Time

Ludovic Ballouard is anything but a household name, yet this 42-year-old watchmaker, originally from France, gave up his day job as one of the leading watchmakers in François-Paul Journe’s atelier—Ballouard was devoted to the assembly and regulation of F.P. Journe’s extraordinary Sonnerie Souveraine, a repeater almost without equal—four years ago to strike out on his own.

And this he did in 2009, as the world’s economic crisis was taking a foothold. But the moment had come for him: he felt compelled to conceive and develop his own ideas, so he took the often arduous route of the independent watchmaker. 

His first watch, daringly different, debuted in 2009 and was aptly christened upside down. It created quite a stir with numerals literally positioned upside down on the dial—except for the one displaying the current hour. the idea came to him during this critical financial period, as numbers didn’t seem to make any sense.

The Breton’s second timepiece, Half Time, operates on a similar concept: all the numerals on the dial are cut in half (and thus rendered illegible), but for the one showing the current hour. The illusion remains complete as the numerals—in contrast to those of the Upside Down—appear to be on the same plane as the rest of the dial, and thus seemingly immobile.

In reality, upon closer inspection, the numerals are painted across two black disks, which rotate when the retrograde minute hand has reached the numeral 60 and makes its lightning-quick leap back to the beginning. One disk rotates forward and the other backward: the two puzzle halves fit together at the 12 o’clock position and provide one solid, full roman numeral depicting the current hour.

Housed in a 41mm case of platinum or 18K red gold, the playful half time was conceived and designed completely by Ballouard, who seems to double as a magician. (For production, Ballouard has one other watchmaker assisting him.) The unconventional, gold-plated, manually wound brass movement with a 36-hour power reserve is complex and simple at
the same time, displaying its magic message with great finesse.  

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The inventive watchmaker enamored of model airplanes, who moved to Geneva in 1998 to work with Franck Muller, makes no more than 50 watches a year in his workshop just outside Geneva. Half Time retails for $85,000.

Masaki Saito


Romain Gauthier Logical One

Romain Gauthier, born and bred in Le Sentier in Switzerland’s Vallée de Joux, which is now also home to his workshop, is actually a trained engineer. After designing and operating machinery for five years, he gave in to his passion for clean horological aesthetics upon completing his MBa in 2002. His final thesis to complete these studies was in actuality the business plan for montres romain Gauthier.

roman462“I knew that a good movement was the basis of everything I planned to build, so i started with that,” he says in retrospect—and used his own movement in the two watches he has thus far released: Prestige HM in 2007 and Prestige HMS in 2010. 

This year, 38-year-old Gauthier introduced his third timepiece and second movement: Logical One. The name of this timepiece reflects the thought process leading him to its creation.

“Coming from an engineering background, it appeared strange to have a high-precision machine forced to run at varying power levels,” he explains of the standard mechanical movement’s mainspring. “So I started with the premise that it would be better to have constant energy.” Logical, isn’t it?

To achieve this, Gauthier decided to use a chain-and-fusee-style constant force system, which compensates for the diminishing torque (and thus energy) of the mainspring as it runs down. This is in actuality an antique technology from the first pocket watches dating to the 15th century. 

Naturally, his very modern chain and fusee are quite different to the cone-shaped pulleys and simple cords of the originals, and even the modern chain-and-fusee systems that have come out over the past 15 years from the likes of A. Lange & Söhne, Breguet and DeWitt.

Gauthier’s includes patent-pending chain links made from synthetic ruby; an ergonomic push-button winding system, which transmits energy in a more logical manner than a winding crown; and a mainspring barrel with synthetic sapphire inserts, in addition to a whole world of minute, commonsensical improvements.

The manually wound movement boasting 60 hours of power reserve is not all pure engineering: the romanticism of finely finished and aesthetically designed components was in no way forgotten. This all-important step can only be achieved by hand: to date there is no machine capable of beveling to such perfection. But I suppose if anyone would invent such a gadget, it would be Gauthier.

Only 15 pieces of logical one, housed in a 43mm 18K red gold (about $158,696) or platinum case (about $176,925), will be available in 2013. 

Romain Gauthier


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