Back in 2011, Maxime Rius would have preferred Asia as a destination. But as he says himself, life sometimes dictates otherwise. Given the chance to combine his passion for watchmaking with a love of travel, he didn’t hesitate to up sticks and move to Moscow. “I had nothing to lose,” he remembers, breaking into a smile. “I was 27, single, so I went for it and have never looked back.” Granted, Parmigiani Fleurier did make him an offer he couldn’t refuse: to go from a position as a watchmaker in After Sales Service to ASS senior complications watchmaker in three years, and live abroad into the bargain. A promotion which, as Rius is quick to point out, could never have happened so quickly in Europe.
Not that it was all plain sailing for this Frenchman, now aged 30, since the day fifteen years earlier when he was “blown away” at the sight of a watchmaking workshop. “I was with my parents,” he recalls with a chuckle. “I told them there and then that was what I wanted to do!” At the time, mum and dad didn’t take him too seriously.
Maxime, however, had made up his mind and, captivated by the intricacies of mechanics, was prepared to make whatever sacrifices were necessary. First he had to leave his native Normandy for the east of France and Morteau, the centre of France’s watchmaking industry, where he was given a place at the local technical college. This first stage in what would be a long journey taught him what he didn’t want… beginning with, surprisingly, a job in Switzerland. “There are enough students leaving school with Switzerland in their sights. They don’t need me as well,” he declared, unfazed. More than anything, he wanted to share his passion, his knowledge and, in doing so, continue to progress. “I don’t want to feel penned in somewhere. You have to love the place you live. Back then, I was already dreaming of somewhere further afield.”
When the chance arose to leave Morteau and take up a volunteer position training watchmakers in Lebanon, he didn’t think twice, dropping his final-year studies in métiers d’art and moving to Beirut. The experience, however, was cut short following the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, six months after his arrival. For his own safety, he was advised to leave the country.
In the space of a week, Lebanon’s warm exuberance gave way to the calm and quiet of his parents’ home in Normandy. The excitement and energy he had poured into his work were pulled from under him, leaving a gaping hole. Maxime Rius remembers “drifting” through the next three months until he finally found the means to bounce back. He spent a little over two years with a large watch repair firm in Orléans, a chance to acquire solid experience in what he describes as “something and everything”. Next he was given approval to service Rolex watches, which took him to a new job in Le Havre. Rius recalls how “nerves got the better of me on the day of the test and I messed up, but I was so motivated they still passed me.” When the jeweller’s he worked at in Le Havre lost its accreditation, Rolex offered him a job in Paris, working for the Rolex concession at the Galeries Lafayette department store.
This new position put the young watchmaker in almost direct contact with an essentially international clientele, prompting him to look seriously into finding a job outside France. With a little nudge from fate, his destiny was to take a completely new turn: an acquaintance mentioned that Parmigiani Fleurier was looking for a watchmaker to be based in Moscow. Russia hadn’t been top of his list of destinations, but he decided to try his luck. The position had been vacant for the past two years and, needless to say, over in Val-de-Travers his application was given careful consideration.
In at the deep end
Both parties soon reached an agreement. After three months’ training in Switzerland, equipping him to work unassisted on the Manufacture’s base movements, it was time to go. Maxime Rius landed in Moscow one April day in 2011. The language, the sheer size of the city, the expressionless faces of the people in the streets, nothing had prepared him for this. “Cyrillic script was a nightmare at first, but I was able to settle in quickly thanks to the welcome and support I was given by the Parmigiani team in Moscow. Once you’re in the swim, you soon get the hang of things. Don’t be fooled by the cold faces either. The people here like to have a good time.” The other side of the coin being the intense pace of life in Moscow. “Customers want everything, on the spot, and negotiate prices. The advantage is that you know where you stand. It’s either yes or no.”
Having sole responsibility for repairs, Maxime has to stay on his toes and find the solution to whatever is ailing the watches that find their way to his workbench, whereas in Switzerland, responsibilities are clearly defined. He admits to sometimes missing having colleagues around. “When I worked at Galeries Lafayette, the proximity with other brands made me feel I was part of one big family, where there was always someone I could share ideas with. I do miss that a little here in Moscow, given the size of the city and the distance between the different watch brands’ stores.” Not that Maxime Rius has any regrets. Recently married and a father-to-be, he just joined a Russian heavy metal group as its new drummer.