INTERVIEW: Christian Ferrier and Robert Bailey, Laurent Ferrier
Christian Ferrier, Head of Product, and Robert Bailey, Head of Sales at Laurent Ferrier, talk about the brand's plans for Southeast and East Asia, the SHH Limited Edition and designing simple watches.
If you’ve ever had the opportunity to examine Laurent Ferrier’s movements up close, here’s a tip: take a deep breath and calm yourself down first. Then pick up a loupe and study it slowly. You’ll start to notice the minute details that are present in each of their timepieces, from the micro-rotor of its natural escapement movement, which is shaped to follow the wave motif on the rotor, to the long rachet on the manual-winding models that clicks away as you wind it up.
That is part of the beauty that’s deeply embedded in each of its watches, according to Christian Ferrier, the Head of Product at Laurent Ferrier and son of the eponymous founder. In Singapore to launch the recently released Grand Sport Tourbillon Golden Brown, as well as a limited-edition model specially crafted for Sincere Haute Horlogerie (SHH), Christian Ferrier and Robert Bailey, the brand’s Head of Sales, chatted with us about why collectors are obsessing about simple three-hand models, perfecting the natural escapement, and how its dials can take months to perfect.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. I was watching your recent lecture on the natural escapement with the Horological Society of New York, and you spoke about having to manage its limits when developing it. What are some of these limits?
Christian Ferrier: The main limitation is power. The natural escapement was designed to use less power than the Swiss lever escapement. Our very first idea f was to combine the natural escapement with a micro-rotor, which is less efficient than a full rotor. My father has this philosophy that when you have a watch, you want to be able to put it aside for a weekend, and when you’re going back to work, you can just slip it on and not worry about winding it or resetting the time. That meant we needed a minimum power reserve of 72 hours.
It was Michel Navas who suggested we try a natural escapement. We realised its potential with accuracy and wearability. We started by working on the reliability of the calibre, especially on the automatic winding because it was not possible for us to use ball bearings with the micro-rotor. At the time, ball bearings had not developed to what we needed for performance, and the production cost was too high for our volume. We had to find a way to ensure [that the] winding efficiency met our needs, and that took a lot of research and time to work on the components around the micro-rotor and its gearing.
In the last 10 years since you’ve developed your natural escapement, have there been further improvements in your design?
CF: Yes, but that’s less about the construction and engineering, and more about the methods and processes involved in assembly, etc. With each calibre, there’s an evolution in how we improve processes for efficiency. And the result is easy to understand. When we first started making the natural escapement, we could produce 40 a year. Today, we do over 150 a year. It’s not because we have new watchmakers around. We’re just more efficient today. When we first started, we took more time because, for most watchmakers, this is a new movement construction, so if there was a problem with the performance of the watch, we had to take more time to understand the issues.
What are some of the things you had to innovate with the natural escapement?
CF: To extend the power reserve of the movement, we have to keep the escapement light. This minimises the inertia in the escapement, and there’s the added benefit of shock improvement with a light escapement. That’s why we use silicon. But one weak point of the natural escapement is that it does not self-start easily. You need more power to restart it. We can’t add functions such as a stop seconds because the escapement would not resume oscillating right away. But this is a small disadvantage.
Let’s talk about the special edition you created for SHH.
Robert Bailey: This is the second limited edition of the year. The first was a Classic Origin model that we launched a few weeks ago. This limited edition was one in which we collaborated with Sincere Fine Watches, with a vintage green dial that has an Art Deco-inspired twist. And for the Square collection, this is the first time we have these Breguet numerals on the quarters. It’s also the first time we’re using titanium for the Square case. We wanted to create something special for our partner, something unique and distinct from our standard repertoire. And our watches are really designed for daily wear, which makes titanium ideal since it’s a durable metal. Titanium doesn’t scratch, it’s hard, and it’s relevant to that philosophy of a daily watch.
CF: A lot of people like titanium, not only for its lightweight qualities but also the grade of the colour. Plus, it’s rarely used by us. We had it in the Origin but never in the Square collection.
The dial is inspired, to be honest. It reminds me of your Only Watch 2021 piece.
CF: We have two dial suppliers that we work with, and one of them is local to our manufacture and makes unique dials with us. Because of their proximity, we can really have in-depth exchanges with them on the dials, and my father really takes pleasure in this process, to discuss ideas, do trials, experiment. We can create digital examples, but the actual dials are never precisely the same as what’s on the screen. It’s also not just the dial on its own. You need to have all the dial components and case as well to really see how the entire watch comes together visually. We can have a dialogue and request modifications and changes with our suppliers close by. With this dial, we used the same base as the second generation of the Micro-rotor models with the slate grey and ice blue dials but with new Breguet numeral indexes.
There’s been a trend of collectors seeking out simple displays, and the industry has responded very positively to this. What is the attraction of a simple watch for collectors today?
CF: I personally love manual-winding mechanical watches because of the long blade rachets that click away as you wind the watch. It becomes a ritual to start the day with, winding the watch before you start the day proper. That’s why we spent a lot of work on the design of our crowns. Our very first watch was a tourbillon, which was expensive, and we wanted to create something more accessible for everyone, so our first development was with the annual calendar. But my father and I, we love the idea and design of such a simple watch. In fact, the design of the three-hand Origin model was drawn very early on. I drew it as an idea, but we didn’t start the project until 2017. But the first drawing I made was in 2012, and if you look at that drawing, the main structure and architecture of the watch were already there. And there were small details to refine, and we took time to do it until we were satisfied with it.
RB: It’s about simplicity, and this is the overall design philosophy of Laurent Ferrier, of Christian and his father. The clean, uncluttered dials that collectors love today make perfect sense for two- or three-hand models. In fact, when our team discusses GMT models or annual calendars or other complications, the question is, how can we fit everything on our dials and retain our style?
What are your plans for growing your presence in Asia?
RB: As SHH is expanding its presence across Southeast and East Asia, we’re naturally looking at how we can grow with them. Today, Laurent Ferrier produces around 450 watches a year, and our distribution is evenly spread across the continental US, continental Europe and Asia. Although, to be very honest, if we base it on demand, Asia would be closer to 50% of our business. We don’t want to scale up our production too much further at this point. We’ve already gone from 300 to 450 in a very short time; that’s a 50% increase in production. There’s a lot of attention today on independent brands, which wasn’t present even just five years ago. There are many reasons for this evolution, and I think that interest among collectors won’t suddenly change. We’re talking about locations like Thailand, Macau, and Malaysia with SHH, but our biggest challenge is internally, we need to ensure that we have available products for our customers, old and new, as we expand our presence in the region.
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