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Jean Dunand cultivates watchmaking as an art

Jean Dunand cultivates watchmaking as an art

Monday, 23 February 2009
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

“The desire to learn is the key to understanding.”

“Thirty years in journalism are a powerful stimulant for curiosity”.

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4 min read

In 2009, two years after its debut presentation, Pièces Uniques Jean Dunand is launching the Shabaka, which incorporates a minute-repeater with cathedral chimes, an instantaneous perpetual calendar, moon phases and a power reserve. Another world-first, signed Christophe Claret and Thierry Oulevay.

“What interests us? Anything different, exceptional, unpredictable, innovative, original. Hence the positioning of a brand that allows us to work without limits. At Jean Dunand, cost is necessarily a secondary consideration. However, such a philosophy also implies patience and humility, for ourselves and for our partners, both upstream and downstream, with whom we wish to share our passion. This is an essential factor when selling watches. Jean Dunand is the ultimate niche brand.” Thierry Oulevay, who in 2003 joined Christophe Claret to undertake this new watchmaking adventure, is clearly a man of convictions.

We are the only brand in the world to produce nothing but one-off pieces; exceptional watches for exceptional people.
Thierry Oulevay
Two models and two world-firsts

Neither of these two personalities needs any introduction, such has been their influence on the watchmaking landscape these past years. Thierry Oulevay, a specialist in watch design, formerly with Piaget, engineered the spectacular revival of Bovet. Christophe Claret is an inspired watchmaker and the man behind the most stunning movements of recent times, including the Opus IV and a Tourbillon Glissière for Harry Winston, and the Occhio Ripetizione Minuti for de Grisogono. The two have now united as Jean Dunand, named after the Swiss artist and one of the foremost exponents of the Art Deco movement, and of course could set their sights nowhere but the Elysian Fields of contemporary watchmaking: an alliance of exceptional movements with an aesthetic inherited from the 1930s, executed in unique and personalised creations.

“We are the only brand in the world to produce nothing but one-off pieces; exceptional watches for exceptional people,” Thierry Oulevay continues. Indeed, every model, at a rate of one every two years, must be a world-first for its technical characteristics. Its exterior, first and foremost the dial, is then personalised to suit the wishes of customers with a fine appreciation of the decorative arts. The first pièce unique, unveiled in 2005, set the tone: the Tourbillon Orbital features a one-minute flying tourbillon which circles the dial once every hour. The power-reserve indicator is set into the case band, and the moon phases are displayed on the back of the case. One year later, and Jean Dunand presented the Shabaka, now revealed in the flesh. This minute-repeater with cathedral chimes incorporates an instantaneous perpetual calendar with cylinder display, a leap-year indicator, moon phases and a power-reserve indicator on the case back. A virtuoso achievement.

Pride of place to the decorative arts

And yet Jean Dunand would not be Jean Dunand were it not to offer an exterior on a par with the “engine” inside. Take the example of the Tourbillon Orbital. If the dial, sculpted from 18k gold and set with patterns of fine stones including black opal, jasper, lapis-lazuli, jade, marble and astromatelite, is not perfectly balanced on its 35mm diameter and 0.78mm height, this masterpiece is sent straight back to the workshop. The dial of the Tourbillon Orbital Confucius was executed by the miniaturist painter André Martinez. He worked on an onyx background to reproduce the renowned philosopher’s features with astounding finesse. Miniature painting, Chinese lacquerwork, stone-setting, grand feu enamel… each of the decorative arts contributes to making a Jean Dunand watch a truly exceptional creation.

Tourbillon Orbital Confucius © Jean Dunand
Tourbillon Orbital Confucius © Jean Dunand

“An approach such as ours implies the very opposite of a short-term, mercantile vision of the profession,” Thierry Oulevay observes. “We are currently producing between 30 and 40 watches a year on a Tourbillon Orbital or Shabaka base, with waiting times of approximately nine months. But as is so often said, small is beautiful. Business is thriving and we are aiming for measured growth. Slowly but surely, the pyramid is being built.” Between Art Deco and watchmaking perfection, Jean Dunand has found its way.

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