Ad alert Monday, September 24th 2012
Franco Cologni, a foremost figure in the Richemont Group, Eric Coudray, inventor of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gyrotourbillon, and Francesco Garufo, historian in watchmaking, were awarded the Prix Gaïa in the Entrepreneurship, Craftsmanship and Research categories. The ceremony toasted another fine vintage.
Francesco Garufo, History-Research prize, Eric Coudray Craftsmanship-Creation prize, and Franco Cologni, Entrepreneurship prize © MIH
The simple ceremony belies the immensity of the talent it rewards; or so it seemed at the presentation of the 18th Prix Gaïa, which acknowledge outstanding achievements in academic research, horological creation, and spirit of enterprise. As is customary, a close acquaintance of each of the winners in the three categories delivered a laudatio at the ceremony which was held at the Musée International d'Horlogerie in La Chaux-de-Fonds, on September 20th.
History and technique
The prize for History-Research went to Francesco Garufo, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Neuchâtel, for his research into the social and economic history of foreign workers in the watch sector. "Francesco is a true academic," declared Laurent Tissot, professor at the Institute of History and supervisor of the winner's thesis. "He has demonstrated that beyond its commercial, technical and industrial aspects, watchmaking is about men and women from Switzerland and elsewhere."
Described as a "man of passion and character", Eric Coudray stepped up to collect his prize in the Craftsmanship-Creation category. Mr Coudray has referred to himself as a man buzzing with ideas, and his creations certainly confirm this. He is behind Jaeger-LeCoultre's Reverso Minute Repeater, Atmos Regulator, Atmos Mystérieuse and, the ultimate in complications, the famous Gyrotourbillon which also incorporates a perpetual calendar and running equation. It went on to claim second prize at the Concours International de Chronométrie international timing trials. Since 2008, Eric Coudray has been with Cabestan whose latest Trapezium is described as a "lesson in geometry", not to mention the mechanism.
The five "secrets" of Franco Cologni
The laudatio for Franco Cologni, winner of the prize for Entrepreneurship, was delivered by Carlo Lamprecht, former Geneva State Councillor and President of the Foundation Council of the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève. "Success is about talent, time and effort, all three of which apply marvellously to Franco Cologni, a man for whom "impossible" is not a word, and whose imagination thrives on the boldest ideas. Known for his curiosity, perspicacity and plain speaking, which sometimes borders on aggressiveness, he can take a project and see exactly where it needs rethinking. This prize comes in recognition of a major figure in international watch culture." Carlo Lamprecht continued with references to three adventures he and Franco Cologni had shared: the creation of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, now a foremost event for the profession, the launch of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, considered "an essential highlighting of the history and culture" of an activity destined for posterity; and the unforgettable Watches and Wonders exhibition in Beijing, inside the Forbidden City no less, even before the profession trained its sights on the Chinese market.
Naturally, Franco Cologni riposted. "For an atypical entrepreneur such as myself, I have always found confrontation has its saving graces, as it tends to result in a meeting of minds. Hence the importance of dialogue." He concluded by sharing his five "secrets": respect for a job done well and with passion; the importance of people, irrespective of financial diktats; the need to help young people and at the same time respect the older generation; the importance of culture as a vision of the world built on ethics and truth; and a striving for creativity. "An entrepreneur has to dialogue and battle things out, but at the end of the day, his role is to decide. This is how we keep the world moving forward." Fine watchmaking can but acknowledge its debt... ■