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“Twenty years ago, I met Louis Moinet”
Culture

“Twenty years ago, I met Louis Moinet”

Wednesday, 21 October 2020
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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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5 min read

In 2001 Jean-Marie Schaller encountered the genius of an eighteenth-century watchmaker who would become the focus of all his energy. Twenty years on, Louis Moinet is very much one of the small group of independent brands that are shaping watchmaking’s “new wave”.

“Two spaceships battle it out beneath a sapphire crystal dome, facing off eighteen times an hour: the upper spacecraft completes a clockwise rotation every five minutes, whilst the lower vessel turns in the opposite direction, completing a counter-clockwise revolution every ten minutes. Meanwhile, two constantly revolving space stations stage a powerful defence against the effects of gravity.” No, this isn’t a hidden feature in the latest Star Wars video game. If you want to witness this scene, you’ll need to enter a different galaxy; that of Louis Moinet and its very first “space object”. And what an object it is, considering it took a full three years and the perseverance of Robert the Bruce’s spider to complete this Space Revolution; a world-first mechanism that at one point seemed impossible to achieve.

Space Revolution © Louis Moinet
Space Revolution © Louis Moinet

Each of the two spaceships, in titanium, weighs 0.5 grams and is hand-finished with hybrid ceramic. Both are coupled to satellite flying tourbillons that make one rotation per minute and are connected by a differential mechanism. The spacecraft rotate in opposite directions and at different speeds around the dial of a watch assembled from 470 components in all. Every one of the eight pieces in this limited edition is rendered unique by the fragment of meteorite inlaid in the centre, under the hands; a detail that carries significance at Louis Moinet whose intergalactic voyage doesn’t end there. The recently released Ad Astra introduces another spaceship, this time in purple titanium and symbolised by an impressively large tourbillon that gravitates opposite a blue planet, represented by a sapphire. Both float above an opaque black titanium dial as they journey “towards the stars”.

Jean-Marie Schaller, founder of Les Ateliers Louis Moinet
Jean-Marie Schaller, founder of Les Ateliers Louis Moinet

Space Revolution and Ad Astra belong to the aptly named Cosmic Art collection which, together with the Mechanical Wonders collection, define the creative universe of Louis Moinet. As for movements, the brand works hand-in-hand with Concepto and with Eric Coudray at TEC Ebauches. “My aim is to create a neo-classical style underpinned by innovative technology and bold designs while preserving the exclusive nature of Louis Moinet, which makes around 500 watches a year, including one-of-a-kind bespoke pieces,” says Jean-Marie Schaller, who founded Les Ateliers Louis Moinet in Saint-Blaise, near Neuchâtel, in 2004. The brand, which employs a small team of around a dozen staff, has stayed focused throughout this less than auspicious year, when keeping going has often been a hard-fought battle, not least with suppliers.

Mars © Louis Moinet
Mars © Louis Moinet

“There were times early in the year, when the pandemic hit business hard, that I was breaking out in a cold sweat. Of course, I knew we couldn’t sit back and do nothing, so our digital projects became top priority. We finalised the new website which includes a virtual tour of the brand’s museum. We also finished our Black Book which tells the story of Louis Moinet in digital format. At the same time we produced three shorts presenting the new watches we unveiled at Geneva Watch Days, in a film studio decor. Ultimately, we’ll get through 2020 with sales pretty much on a par with last year.” The brand certainly has huge unexplored potential. It’s already well established in Russian-speaking regions as well as the Middle East – Schaller likes to quip that Louis Moinet has customers from Moscow to Muscat – and has strong perspectives on certain Asian markets in particular.

Rue Louis Moinet in Bourges, France
Rue Louis Moinet in Bourges, France

Schaller keeps his feet on the ground, nonetheless. “My first encounter with Louis Moinet happened twenty years ago and it’s become my entire life. I believe there is an artistic side to watchmaking and the brand has let me develop this. At the same time, as someone who was born in the countryside I have the farmer’s mentality that at the end of each month, you need to have found buyers for whatever it is you produce. This explains why we choose to keep annual production at a comfortable 500 pieces. It also explains why we can count on excellent cashflow and solid revenue. Put simply, Louis Moinet needn’t fear for its existence in these extremely agitated times. The more digital devices we have in our lives, the more we’ll seek the reassurance of objects such as a mechanical watch.”

"Compteur de Tierces" © Louis Moinet

It doesn’t hurt that the brand is named after Louis Moinet: the inventor in 1816 of the chronograph or, as he called it, the Compteur de Tierces whose mechanism beats at an astounding 216,000 vibrations per hour or 30Hz. Friend and secretary of Abraham-Louis Breguet, and the author of a “practical and theoretical treatise on watchmaking for civilian and astronomical uses”, Louis Moinet’s customers included some of the most eminent figures of his day, from two Presidents of the United States, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, to several crowned heads of Europe. Today’s Louis Moinet brand picks up the thread of this prestigious past through innovative mechanisms, many of which contain fragments of the stars whose observation prompted Louis Moinet watchmaker to invent his Compteur de Tierces.

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