It all began with a business angel and some venture capital. Now, five years after a rather chaotic debut at Baselworld 2003, De Witt has followed a course that has taken it directly into the highly coveted world of Fine Watches. And with good reason: at De Witt, quality is all. What’s more, the company is chaired by a man, that self-same business angel Jérôme de Witt, whose love of watches infuses everything he undertakes, and which has led him to acquire, among other pieces, part of the exceptional collection once owned by Jérôme Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon I and one of his direct ancestors.
All things mechanical
“First things first,” begins Jérôme de Witt. “I adore mechanics but that doesn’t make me a watchmaker. I first became interested in watches in my role as a private investor, as I always seek out the person and the qualities behind the industrial idea.” Which is how Jérôme de Witt met Cédric Johner. A financial plan was drafted, and the two men founded a company and set about making watches. Alas, they didn’t share the same vision and, after several capital increases, the partnership came to an inevitable end. Jérôme de Witt took over the company himself and started investigating ways to get the business going again. “The company employed three people at that time, and everyone kept telling me I should launch a brand under my own name and design watches myself. Now I may be interested in mechanics, and I can look at a movement, or a car engine, and analyse how it works, but becoming a designer is something else altogether.”
Not one to be discouraged, Jérôme de Witt took the plunge. He delved into his notions of car engines to imagine a case along the same lines as the axle gears on a Citroën 2CV. But with Baselworld 2003 just around the corner, the brand was still in the starting-blocks. Once again, Jérôme de Witt refused to admit defeat and went ahead, presenting the brand’s first and very much virtual models. This first public appearance brought the first positive feedback. Production began after the Fair. By the following year De Witt was ready to meet its customers, who were won over by the instantly identifiable style and flawless quality of the brand’s watches. “The products’ unmistakable hallmark design and the desire to bring added value to each of our mechanical movements are without doubt two of the brand’s strengths,” explains the company’s communication director, Pascal Brandt. “Not that De Witt has any intention of multiplying complications without reason. The brand looks to the essence of mechanical movements to propose something new. Our two tourbillons are the proof. The first is a constant force tourbillon and the second is a differential tourbillon. Both are patented.”
An ambitious vision
This second appearance at Baselworld marked a turning-point for De Witt, setting it on a growth trajectory which has continued ever since and spurring the brand to launch projects in quick succession. The company began by working on its two tourbillons, hired staff by the dozen, moved twice, and started work on its own self-winding base movement. “We had quite an ambitious idea for our tourbillons, which was to manufacture the entire regulating organ, balance spring included, ourselves,” Jérôme de Witt continues. “We put a great deal of thought into the perfect curve for our balance spring, which we in fact patented, before going on to develop the actual cage. We now want to achieve the same degree of independence for our base movement, which is why we are taking on the resources, in terms of both staff and machines, to achieve this. This is all part of our ambition to never depend on outside suppliers, and also part of the respect we have for our customers. In a price range such as ours, there can be no question of delivering a watch six months late. Not to mention after-sales service. If a brand wishes to gain recognition, there has to be knowledge behind the name.”
De Witt, which in January moved its one hundred staff into the former GeneProt factory, does indeed cover the entire manufacturing spectrum, excluding exteriors. Annual production ranges from 1,500 to 2,000 units with a starting price of CHF 26,000. “After five years, the company is ideally structured,” comments Jérôme de Witt. “My role now is to keep watch over the creative side and the design of the movements so as to preserve the brand’s DNA. The teams have been trained and are operational. I am the defender of the faith whose task it is to keep them up there among the watchmaking elite. This is the only way to obtain exceptional products. Profitability must follow as a matter of course. This is what we call maturity.” A maturity that will express itself in this fifth anniversary year with five new watches, including the WX-1, a secret watch that took Baselworld by storm, although the veil has yet to be completely lifted on the products to come. Another way for De Witt to keep us in suspense.