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Watchmaking pioneer Dominique Renaud is back (I)
History & Masterpieces

Watchmaking pioneer Dominique Renaud is back (I)

Tuesday, 30 January 2018
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Timm Delfs
Freelance journalist

“Unlike a watch, a sundial never stops.”

A freelance journalist working from Basel, Timm Delfs is also the owner of Zeitzentrale, where he sells all sorts of timekeeping instruments including his particular favourites: sundials.

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3 min read

After several years away, Dominique Renaud, co-founder of Renaud & Papi, has returned to Switzerland with an exciting mechanical movement in his luggage. But who exactly is Dominique Renaud?

He is one of the most versatile and gifted watchmakers in the world. After spending far too long away from the business, living the life of a bed-and-breakfast host in the south of France, he finally returns with an astonishing new horological invention.

Renaud & Papi's first project was a minute-repeater module for the legendary IWC Grande Complication.

In 1986, together with Giulio Papi, his friend and colleague at Audemars Piguet, 27-year-old Dominique Renaud founded Renaud & Papi in Le Locle. This was a time when watch enthusiasts were rediscovering the charm of a mechanical movement, and were hungry for complications that had hitherto only been produced in pocket watches. The new company served a gap in the market, developing complications in the form of modules and integrated movements for brands that wanted to offer their clients something special. Their first mentor and client was Günter Blümlein, then at the head of IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre. Their first joint project was to develop a minute-repeater module for the legendary IWC Grande Complication that was introduced to the market in 1990. As well as Kurt Klaus, who had developed the perpetual calendar for the IWC Da Vinci that also featured in the Grande Complication, the illustrious team included another young watchmaker by the name of Robert Greubel.

DR01 Oscillator with bladed knife and escapement © Timm Delfs
DR01 Oscillator with bladed knife and escapement © Timm Delfs

With the Grande Complication done and dusted, Günter Blümlein wasn’t finished with the two young men and asked them to design a tourbillon movement driven by a fusée-and-chain system, similar to the ones used in old chronometers to maintain a constant force on the escapement (the finished movement would make its debut in the A. Lange & Söhne “Tourbillon pour le Mérite” in 1996). In 1992 Renaud & Papi sold their former employer, Audemars Piguet, a complete minute-repeater movement which, at 10 lignes, was the smallest ever built. Audemars Piguet started to invest in what had become its main supplier of complicated movements, in particular minute repeaters and tourbillons, taking a majority stake in the capital that same year.

Then in 2000 Dominique Renaud sold his share of the business to Audemars Piguet and took off to the south of France. He built a house for himself and his family, and a smaller property which he rented to tourists. Still, he didn’t give up watchmaking entirely, transforming one room into his personal “laboratory” where he worked on his own projects and occasionally took on jobs from firms he had stayed in contact with.

Luiggino Torrigiani, an engineer, immediately fell in love with the horological ideas Dominique Renaud showed him over dinner.
Back in Switzerland

In 2013, through a mutual friend, he met Luiggino Torrigiani, a very active business angel who regularly spent time close by. Torrigiani had become something of a household name through his involvement in Solar Impulse SA alongside Bertrand Piccard, a project that was sponsored by Nicolas G. Hayek (Omega). As an engineer constantly on the lookout for promising, out-of-the-box projects, Torrigiani immediately fell in love with the horological ideas that Dominique Renaud showed him over dinner. His enthusiasm was sufficient reason for Dominique to return to Switzerland. The newly-established company Dominique Renaud SA eventually found its home in a place not usually associated with traditional horology, in Renens near Lausanne, inside a former printing works that now houses promising start-ups and research institutes of well-known Swiss universities. In addition to its two founders, Dominique Renaud SA employs engineer Frédéric Magnard and designer Andrea Furlan.

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