The UK, France, and Switzerland stands as the Big Three, the most important nations of the watchmaking world. It comes from the golden age of haute horlogerie, a time when watchmakers were born in Switzerland, openend their manufacture in France, sold their watches in London and in Versailles. There were no boundaries but a constant ‘coopetition’ between extremely talented watchmakers, no matter they where coming from Paris, London or La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Of course, each of these countries made its own way. Switzerland embraced the destiny that we all know in the construction / manufacturing field. France and Versailles became the places where the amazing Geneva’s creation had their whole deserved glory, while London opened the doors of international trade, with point of sales in the whole world thanks to the superiority of its Royal Navy across the seven seas.
Nowadays, these three nations have followed their own path, but the case of France is particularly interesting in 2013. The region across Swiss borders, in the French Jura, is called Franche-Comté. Its main city is Besançon. And in Besançon, we witness a true and expected rebirth of French watchmaking. Want some examples ? In less than one year, major luxury and watchmaking brands settled down there. They’re named Cartier. Hermès. Breitling. Leroy. And many more.
French Watches – Lessons of history
French learnt – the hard way – they could no compete with Switzerland. People tried and failed, it was in 1973 and called LIP, a great local watch company that was closed with a huge impact on local population, and on mindsets. However, people kept in memory that, no matter what Swiss says, a watchmaking industry stands before all upon solid industrial capacities. With this in mind, local entrepreneurs kept on creating not watch brands, but local companies, which kept alive an economic frame and network, along with skills and ‘métiers d’art’ that went through decades.
Today, some brands capitalize upon these assets to relaunch a watch production. It’s the case of Dodane 1857. The family-owned brand produces 700 units of Type 21 and Type 23 military watches, some of the finest ones.
It’s also the case of Pequignet. After a vain decade, the manufacture is now property of a skilled business man called Laurent Katz, who decided to get the most of this unknown treasure, Pequignet, created 40 years ago. The house already owns its own caliber, the Calibre Royal. Pequignet offers 100% in-house watch with a revolutionary caliber at around 8’000 euros.
Last but not least, Ateliers L. Leroy. Leroy is one of the most famous watchmaker of Marine Chronometers of all times. He was also the creator of the Leroy 01, which stood for decades as the most complicated watch of the world. Today, L. Leroy is alive again, property of the Festina Group. It’s still based in France, near Besançon. And guess what : last week, L. Leroy won the International Contest of Chronometry, which happens every two years. It was in the ‘Tourbillons’ category. And Leroy won as the most precise watch. Again 15 others, including one German and…14 Swiss. Enough said ?