How does your collaboration with big brands like Hermes, Van Cleef & Arpels or Faberge usually start? When it comes to creating a new movement do you offer ideas to the brands and they choose, or do they come with the main idea and you offer an implementation?
Agenhor is known in the watch industry for its ability to create, invent, and find original solutions to express time differently. Most of the brands we work with came to us with specific needs for technical solutions for their new products. Our job is to propose something as close and as simple as possible to the will of the brand, that can go through all the homologation processes. There are times though, when we come with an idea that we later discuss, transform and adapt to the brand’s image.
Why don’t you produce your own line of watches?
Many times we had the temptation to create our own brand, but in fact producing movements and running you own brand are two completely different professions! To produce a new mechanism or a complete movement is really very expensive in terms of time as well as investment in order to make the prototypes and later to acquire the definitive parts. The only way to make such investments profitable is to sell enough pieces. Selling enough pieces is not possible without huge investments in the sales processes. Another point is that if we start to produce for ourselves the brands we are working with wouldn’t probably accept it easily and it’s a big risk they would stop their collaboration with us.
So recent announcement of Carpe Diem piece unique isn’t a sign for a big change?
I can certify you that it’s the first complete watch produced under our name and our intention is absolutely not to start a new sales business under the name of Agenhor! I always had a deep admiration for what Luc Pettavino had achieved with his Only Watch charity auction concept. 2017 is already an important milestone for Agenhor – the birth year of our revolutionary new AgenGraphe chronograph!
What part of a watch mechanism or finishing technique you are currently most obsessed with?
I am more interested in technics and mechanics. It is important to create new useful and playful functions able to be good supports for telling stories together with the best artists. This is what occupies me a lot. However the greatest obsession has been to improve the chronograph functions. Since I was at school I thought that chronograph weren’t legible and accurate enough with their tiny counters, 30 or 45 minutes counters, dragging hour’s hand, counter minute hand that needs 1 to 2 seconds to jump! It took me eight years of hard work with my best constructors and watchmakers to develop our revolutionary AgenGraphe a chronograph that solves all above mentioned design faults. Looks like now I a new obsession!
Tell us the story behind Singer Track 1 project.
Once upon a time, I had the chance to cross the road of two wonderful guys, a great watch designer Marco Borraccino and a creative car rebuilder Rob Dickenson. In addition to their rebuilt mythic Porsches, they wished a wrist chronograph easy to read when racing. Believe it or not, it was as if they knew what I was upon to achieve after so many years of development!
Looks like you are one of the few watchmakers daring to experiment on something so fundamental like the chronograph dial. Why do you think the industry acts so conservative?
Like you, I see the very conservative approach of the watch industry in general and lament this fact, but can’t give you an answer. Maybe it’s better to ask some big brand managers!?
How many personnel do you have?
25 people are working directly for Agenhor and, as we don’t produce our parts in-house, probably at least another 25 people are working with different contractors to produce the parts we order them.
Agenhor is a family company, right? Is it harder or easier to settle any disagreements if you work with your family and why?
It’s not easy to make a comparison because I worked all my life as an independent, first and still with my wife and later with two our sons. As surprising as it may seem up to now, we never had serious misunderstanding. One of the main reason is probably that we have very different interests and abilities. My wife has the knowledges and is in charge of all the tasks related to the business like correspondence, commercial, judicial, accounts. I am the watchmaker, the technician, my task is to imagine and realize objects starting from ideas to the finished products. Our two sons are exactly as we are with my wife! Nicolas is very good in business and works with my wife, while Laurent has amazing abilities in doing things like me! Working all together is a pure pleasure and we serenely think our sons will be able to challenge the future perfectly well!
What timepieces do you consider the landmarks of your career and why?
I had the chance to create and produce very important pieces like Le Pont des Amoureux for Van Cleef & Arpels, Le Temps Suspendu for Hermès, HM2 and HM3 for MB&F, Lady Compliquée Peacock for Fabergé and many others, but for sure the most important one is the AgenGraphe launched this year during Baselworld by Fabergé and in June by Singer.
You’ve played a significant part it the recent rise of ladies’ complicated watches. Why do you think the industry believed that women don’t care for hi-end mechanics?
Is there a place for a future growth? During all my professional life I heard that apart from diamonds and design, women weren’t really interested in mechanical watches! After having had the chance to work with brands like Van Cleef & Arpels, Hermès and now Fabergé I can tell you that women really like mechanical watches, but probably not for the same reasons as men. When men are interested in technique, performances, mechanical and astronomical functions, women like the beauty, the poetry of a nice mechanism made especially for them. It is likely that mechanical watches made specifically for women, not only smaller men’s watches, will show strong growth in the near future.
Can you name the wildest watch design or technology you were totally mesmerized by in recent years?
Although we never saw as many new interesting developments as today, it’s the technological progress that impresses me the most. The incredible increase and user friendly design assistance by computers, machines producing parts that wouldn’t have been possible to imagine and realize not long ago. And the new materials have completely changed the way of thinking and realizing new watches.
How far classical watchmaking can evolve still keeping the tradition alive?
What is the future of the different categories of watches? What awaits a client when buying an expensive watch? In my opinion it’s a great chance for creative watchmakers to live today with the help of such technical marvels. It gives us the opportunity to create like never, but we have to be very careful on how we use them. More than ever we need serious roots. And last but not least a real good watch has to be assembled and regulated by a watchmaker, not by robots. It has to be serviceable for decades meaning it must be possible to find or make parts to ensure a real patrimony value.
What do you consider the greatest horological achievements of the last 20 years?
The Vacheron Constantin ref. 57260, created at the occasion of brand’s 260th anniversary pushed the boundaries of high watchmaking at an incredible level, in total respect of Geneva Seal quality requirements, and with an outstanding mastery.
What professional and personal achievements are you most proud of so far?
When I started my watchmaker’s career I was convinced that everything had already been invented in my field of interest. When looking backwards after nearly forty years of activity I have to admit a little pride of all what I could achieve professionally with Agenhor. I’m particularly proud of our family, the way we work together and the fact that Agenhor is now able to continue under the direction of our sons.
What are your thoughts on a Swiss Made trademark?
I think we wasted much too much time and energy to make very tiny changes to the Swiss Made label. Increasing the value of the parts produced in Switzerland from 50% to 60% is a move in the good direction, but it’s never enough to justify such a big noise. The Swiss Made label might help to commercialize ‘affordable’ watches, but creates a big confusion for the true high end pieces. More and more serious watch brands avoid to use this label since generally 100% of the parts are produced in Switzerland and they need to have a different way to communicate their highest level of quality.
What are your main passions besides watches?
The life and nature in general. Observations of all kind from the landscape to the smallest elements, living or not. I also enjoy hiking, skiing, and diving in good conditions. Since I am old enough to retire, I will have more time to travel and fulfill my unquenchable thirst of discovering others countries and people all around the world.