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Stars in their eyes at the Confrérie Horlogère
Point of View

Stars in their eyes at the Confrérie Horlogère

Friday, 30 January 2009
By Quentin Simonet
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Quentin Simonet

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6 min read

Mathias Buttet, CEO of BNB Concept, is giving his watchmakers the chance to create watches under their own name.

Too few companies shine the spotlight on their staff, so when one decides to make them the star of their very own show, we can but applaud. Movement manufacturer BNB Concept has done just that, by launching a sort of watchmaking Star Academy within the company. The firm’s 175 employees were invited to audition for a part in the Confrérie Horlogère. The seven lucky winners will go on to create a watch which will then be marketed under their very own name. Each watch will be equipped with a grande complication movement and benefit from a lifetime guarantee. Mathias Buttet explains how this “brotherhood of watchmakers” will work.

How did the idea for the Confrérie Horlogère come about?

All BNB’s staff work in what can only be described as unconventional conditions. Watchmakers and mechanical engineers alike perform their tasks from A to Z. This gives them a sense of total responsibility as well as a justified sense of pride when their finished movement is delivered. Flexitime leaves everyone free to adapt their schedule to suit themselves and their activities outside work, on condition they put in a certain number of hours per month. “Early birds” can be packing up and heading home by early afternoon. Others might opt for a different schedule. These specificities aside, for quite some time I’d been pondering what more I could do to give these young people a chance to excel in a field which, for many of them, is a passion more than simply a profession. The answer came to me in April 2008, at Baselworld. I wanted to give these young people the opportunity to create movements straight out of their own imagination. Movements that would be instilled with their personality and experiences, and which would carry their name. And if success is on the cards, the objective is that they develop their own brand.

Other than Franck Muller with Pierre Kunz, few watchmakers have taken this leap. How do you explain this reluctance?

Maybe times are changing? Our watchmakers tend to be fairly young. This is a sizeable asset, as youth is synonymous with enthusiasm, daring and new ideas. When you’re young, you have the world at your feet, you believe in your lucky star, you feel invincible and ready to sink your teeth into everything life has to offer! Until now, most firms didn’t entrust a young watchmaker with a complicated movement. These were usually the preserve of their experienced colleagues, who waited years for such a privilege. But by that time, some of the fire they need to realise their dreams may have died. At BNB, we continually train our new recruits so that they progress quickly in their chosen field. We currently have over 90 watchmakers who are capable of producing a tourbillon.

How did your customers respond to the news?

There was a mixed bag of reactions. Some expressed concern that BNB would give priority to the Confrérie Horlogère, and would no longer supply them with movements. Others were won over by the idea and immediately expressed the wish to be part of the adventure by inviting one of the “confrères” to give their interpretation, and name, to of one of their existing products. I calmed any understandable but unfounded worries by pointing out that the role of the Confrérie Horlogère would be to produce one-off models or very limited editions, and that it would have no detrimental effect whatsoever on our customers.

How many projects on average will there be each year?

I think we’ll present around twenty different projects a year.

Will there be new faces each time?

The aim isn’t to replace the “confrères” on an annual basis, but to select up to seven additional candidates each year. Obviously not every “confrère” will be able to stand the pressure and some will bow out along the way, but someone will be ready to fill the space.

How many of each model will be produced?

As I said earlier, the purpose of the Confrérie Horlogère is to produce one-off creations or limited editions of ten. And when I say “ten” that’s exactly what I mean, not ten in white gold, ten in steel, ten in yellow gold, ten in “confreridium,” etc.

Is this also a way for you to stem the brain drain?

I wouldn’t put it in quite so many words, but if the Confrérie Horlogère can be an additional motivation and give our watchmakers extra punch, then why not.

About BNB Concept

Just four years after its creation, BNB Concept employs 175 staff including almost 130 on its new site in Duillier, a small village just above Nyon (Vaud), and is set to break through the 200 mark. The company manufactures highly complicated movements for clients including Hublot, Concord, Romain Jérôme, Franc Vila, Bell & Ross, Gérald Charles, Jacob & Co and HD3, via Jorg Hysek. Recently, BNB Concept welcomed a new shareholder, when EPF Partners investment fund took a stake in its capital, which is still majority-owned by founder and chairman Mathias Buttet. The company’s motto is to “create products from A to Z and, for the brands that have given us their trust, to become a means of expressing the watchmaker’s art.”

Every stage in manufacturing the movements is carried out in-house. The company produces over a thousand complications a year, “the simplest of which is the tourbillon” as Mathias Buttet likes to point out. Among other complications, BNB Concept offers a minute-repeater with tourbillon, a column-wheel chrono with tourbillon, and a double axis tourbillon. Any mention of the words “economic crisis” to Mathias Buttet gets a heated response: “Crisis? What crisis? Not one of our projects has been frozen. On the contrary. Vertical integration is still the order of the day and we are busy setting up the structures that will preserve our complete independence. In fact we are busy preparing our workshops in Nyon to manufacture external parts at this very moment!”

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