“Groups are interested in small suppliers because watchmaking is first and foremost about skills. Investing huge sums in factories and machines doesn’t give access to the exceptional expertise that only people can provide.” François-Paul Journe, the man who 12 years ago set up Cadraniers de Genève, is a firm believer in the craftsmen and expertise now brought together at the recently opened production site in Meyrin.
This same search for expertise led him to work for 25 years with a renowned French case manufacturer, a supplier to the most highly reputed names, to the point of becoming its main client. F.-P. Journe went on to acquire the firm, based in Clamart, near Paris. However, the distance between the French capital and Geneva complicated dealings with the firm. A chance to relocate both dialmaker and casemaker to a single site in Meyrin accelerated the decision to transfer the Paris firm, which now trades as Boîtiers de Genève SA. Five of the ten employees left Paris to join François-Paul Journe in Geneva.
Two essential professions
“Whether we’re talking about Cadraniers de Genève or Boîtiers de Genève, I would never have embarked on such an adventure without the staff who work there today,” he declares. The long-term objective is to go on spotlighting human expertise, steadily grow, and produce the ‘crème de la crème’ of dials and cases. “These are both essential professions. The dial is the face of the watch and its soul. If you don’t own your dial, you don’t own your soul. The same is true of the case, the frame around the painting. If either is missing, then you are lacking essential expertise.”
After last year acquiring a 50% stake in Cadraniers de Genève, taking over from Harry Winston, Vacheron Constantin also welcomes this joint enterprise. Its share in the company means Cadraniers de Genève can keep production flowing, in particular by doubling-up each workstation in an activity that involves no fewer than 12 metiers.
Cadraniers de Genève employs 22 staff. Alongside F.-P. Journe and Vacheron Constantin, its clients include Audemars Piguet and several smaller brands. It produces in the range of 11,000 dials a year, a majority of which are for Vacheron Constantin. Production should grow by around 30% in the near future with the objective to double within five years. The new facilities in Meyrin certainly allow room to expand, but neither of the two shareholders is showing undue haste. “A company which has the backing of two serious brands is in a comfortable position,” says François-Paul Journe. “We can develop in our own time, and Vacheron Constantin is the ideal partner for this.”
"Together, we can go a long way"
“It’s the craftsmen and staff, along with François-Paul Journe, who are driving this venture,” Juan-Carlos Torres, Chief Executive of Vacheron Constantin, acknowledges. “That’s where the competencies lie. Together, we can go a long way.” He went on to emphasise the similar mindset of the brands and their teams. “We have the same expectations and the same demands as F.-P. Journe with respect to products and quality.”
For Vacheron Constantin, this stake in Cadraniers de Genève is more than just a meeting of minds. It is strategic too. Even though the Meyrin site can only cover around 30% of Vacheron Constantin’s needs, it absorbs the increased production required to satisfy very high demand for the brand’s watches.
François-Paul Journe sees longer-term opportunities for Boîtiers de Genève to produce for other brands, beginning with Vacheron Constantin. In the meantime, he prefers to consolidate and stabilise production at the new site, and catch up the backlog of production for F.-P. Journe watches that has accumulated since the move. Juan-Carlos Torres concurs: “As with a watch movement, first the gears must meet before meshing and moving together. We’re in no hurry, but the opportunity definitely exists.”
Article published in BIPH