Set among verdant gardens amidst the Geneva countryside, the manor house that is now Antoine Preziuso’s workshop shows nothing of its two centuries of existence. The stone is still beautiful, the architecture majestic. Spirit-level straight hedges, manicured lawns, an inspiring view of the Jura, a beautiful blue swimming pool… the surroundings are elegant; irrefutably classic. And yet beneath this chic yet conventional exterior, behind the walls of the admirably restored stables, originality and creative independence are de rigueur. A free agent who is more accustomed to marching to his own drum than staying in line, even if this means taking a more convoluted road, Antoine Preziuso is a maverick of time.
To believe in dreams
Son of a watchmaker, destined to create marvels (Preziuso means “precious” in Italian), Antoine came into the world in 1957, in Geneva. “As a kid, I loved playing with dad’s supply of watch hands,” he smiles. “Mum was forever getting them stuck in her feet and I’d get a good telling-off!” Showing no respect for the maternal appendages, Antoine became more engrossed in his horological playthings, messing around with movements and, without even realising, laying the foundations for a passion that would take him quite naturally to the Geneva Watchmaking School in 1974. Four years later he graduated top of his class, newly qualified in an industry plunged into crisis.
“No-one knew what the future held,” he recalls, “but I knew for sure I didn’t want to spend my career replacing batteries. I had dreams.” He decided instead to take a trip… back in time, and opened a restoration workshop in Geneva. Weekends were often spent with Franck Muller – the two are old pals -, browsing flea markets for horological treasures they could transform. “That’s how my very first watches came into being. The first time I put my name to a perpetual calendar minute repeater, in 1991, I used a movement no-one else wanted, rummaged from a watch fair.” Thus Antoine Preziuso embarked on an epic journey, sure of his destination and not once tempted to turn back.
In praise of freedom
His watches speak for themselves. Some are monumental, many are extravagant, few are round; one-offs, bespoke or very limited runs, Antoine Preziuso doesn’t think in terms of collections. Each of his creations has in common that they enclose refined mechanics in a nurtured design. From the very first to the astonishing Tourbillon des Tourbillons, presented in 2015, one need look no further than their maker’s extraordinary inventiveness to find their common denominator. By the 1990s, Breguet, Harry Winston and de Grisogono were among those calling on his talent. Antoine Preziuso can turn his hand to anything, but the tourbillon is where he excels. The first piece in his milestone The Art of Tourbillon series in 2002, the Tourbillon Meteor Gibeon in 2003, the T21 in 2004, the 3Volution Tritourbillon Résonance 3 in 2005, the B-Side Tourbillon with its reversible case in 2007… the list of Antoine Preziuso’s tourbillons is like an endless summer’s day. He develops this theme, almost to the point of obsession, in every form, right up to the most accomplished and probably one of the most complex examples to date: the Tourbillon des Tourbillons whose three tourbillons resonate in perfect synchronisation on a rotating carriage.
Getting to grips with the considerable technical challenges of this watch, in particular the creation of a central planetary triple-differential gear, took ten years. Antoine started the job. Florian, his son, finished it. “We couldn’t come up with what we needed to connect the regulating systems and have the watch function chronometrically,” Antoine explains. “After a difficult period, May and I took a year out in Australia when Florian called to tell us he’d found the solution. I was amazed. We were on the first plane back to Geneva!” Not long after, in 2015, the Tourbillon des Tourbillons claimed the Innovation Prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, in addition to the Public Prize: a distinction that set the seal on this father-son collaboration.
A family affair
Antoine Preziuso has never relinquished his independence, which doesn’t necessarily mean he works alone. He is a family man, the head of the Preziuso clan. May, his wife, is never far away. Daughter Laura designs mechanical jewellery incorporating watch mechanisms. As for Florian, he works alongside Antoine on developing movements and designing cases. From the production unit in Vernier, where Antoine Preziuso makes between 60 and 80 watches a year, the young Preziuso is also building up a second specialisation as a consultant to other brands, from the conception stage to assembly. An activity Antoine Preziuso observes from a distance with a father’s benevolent eye. Seated on the first floor of his workshop, between trips to Japan where he has celebrity status, he prefers to gaze at the stars, savour these moments of solitude, dream and “do what makes him happy”. Right now he is working with Florian on a lady’s watch inspired by lunar revolutions. “As you can imagine, the girls in the family have plenty to say!” the two men declare in unison. From different corners of the workshop, Clan Preziuso speaks as one. They haven’t said their last word.