The proverb that best reflects Antoine Preziuso’s current state of mind is perhaps “every cloud has a silver lining,” as the slowdown that has spread across the markets has given the master-watchmaker some welcome thinking time. “The situation is all the more worrying as it came out of the blue, just when everything was going so well,” he explains. “Accounts are down, recent investments in production have had to be completely revised, banks aren’t playing fair by cutting back lines of credit, and many watchmakers are on the verge of collapse. Now is the time to step back and think how best we can weather this storm. These were the thoughts going through my mind when I imagined Urban Square.”
Restoration as a possible lifeline
For this, his latest creation, Antoine Preziuso – to whom we owe an exceptional resonance Tri-Tourbillon – has looked to minimalism, an art movement that appeared in the United States in the 1960s and which reduces a work to its most essential elements. This approach is evident in Urban Square, a titanium watch whose structured design is expressed in clean, understated, contemporary lines. The hour and minute hands are inspired by skyscrapers, and are careful not to obstruct the large date window at 12 o’clock of the AP 158 additional module. Says Antoine Preziuso, “This watch was created last December, during a difficult period. Given the context, I decided not to work with outside suppliers, for example by incorporating the dial into the mechanism and machining the hands myself. All the work was done here in my studio, hence the “Fabrication Genevoise” or “Made in Geneva” label. In times like this, necessity is the mother of invention.”
Antoine Preziuso knows what he’s talking about. When he graduated from the École d’Horlogerie de Genève in 1978, the sector was taking a pummelling from the electronic watches arriving en masse from Asia. “People weren’t interested in mechanical watches any more,” he recalls. “Manufacturers were getting rid of their machines. But I dug in my heels, even when my watchmaker friends were changing careers. After two years with Patek Philippe, I decided to go it alone and spent the next fifteen years as a restorer of vintage timepieces for antique dealers, collectors and a number of leading names such as Cartier and Vacheron Constantin. Towards the late 1980s, the market was showing signs of a return to mechanical watches, particularly repeaters. Christophe Claret and I developed one such watch, a sign the storm had passed. Restoration could be the direction to take now. Given the quantity of watches currently on the markets, inevitably thousands will find their way back to the workbench.”
A Haute Couture approach
Antoine Preziuso has found another way of standing out from the crowd, expressing his art in a field where most manufacturers are afraid to venture: one-off, custom-made watches with grandes and/or petites complications. “This is one of the reasons our Ukrainian partners came knocking on our door, almost two years ago, to open a proprietary boutique in Kiev. And history is repeating itself with Rumania, where I’ll shortly be going. Customers in “New Europe,” as I like to call this region, are great fans of our watches. Our strength is to be there with original creations and personalised watches, even at entry level. These customers are drawn to exclusivity in watchmaking. It’s our role to respond with special creations, in particular using tourbillon movements and cases crafted from meteorites, a specific attribute of my brand.”
In Geneva, where the boutique will celebrate its fifth anniversary in autumn, Antoine Preziuso can also count on the loyalty of local customers who appreciate the value of an individual timepiece by such a creative force. These customers have become aficionados of the brand to the point of sharing not just the pleasure of wearing one of the master-watchmaker’s creations but a true meeting of minds. As watchmaking licks its wounds, for independent creators such as Antoine Preziuso, this is perhaps the most soothing balm.