Behind the scenes: ‘Inspired’ partnership puts industry on watch
By Elizabeth Paton
Under observation: well-known for its pioneering timepiece technology, the appointment of Dominique Loiseau has been a huge coup for Girard-Perregaux
There will be few outside the luxury watch industry who have ever heard his name. Yet to those in the know, Dominique Loiseau needs little introduction. Often referred to as “le dieu vivant de l’horlogerie” or the “the living god of watchmaking”, the 63-year old Frenchman has designed and produced some of the world’s most technically accomplished timepieces.
His latest masterpiece, the Loiseau 1f4, is described as the most complicated automatic wristwatch in the industry to date and was seven years in the making, with two dials, 32 functions and eight patents in its movement.
Until now, Mr Loiseau has tended to stay behind the scenes over the course of his 30-year career; either in his workshop by Lake Geneva, or teaching at the Museum of Watchmaking in nearby La Chaux-de-Fonds.
This may all be about to change following a surprise January announcement by Girard-Perregaux that Mr Loiseau has joined the company’s research and development team.
Well known for its long tradition in complicated movements and pioneering timepiece technology, the appointment is a huge coup for the Swiss brand.
“Mr Loiseau is undoubtedly one of the greatest watch inventors in history,” says Michele Sofisti, CEO. “His deep understanding and experience of the business as an artisan means he formulates unique, multifaceted projects that for us go far beyond the timepieces themselves. They build an exciting bridge between our heritage and the future.”
Mr Loiseau seems to share a common vision with his new employers, saying that his primary motivation for joining the company was the opportunity to work on a new vision for the industry: a core design mechanism that will form the basis of a whole range of pieces – all with the same DNA but in a variety of model and price points.
“Over the last 30 years, most brands have used the same prototype, to which they then add extra modules or mechanisms. It is time for a change. I want to create a powerful calibre with various complications from which we can then create versions, or ‘derivates’. To use the language of the car industry, we will reveal an initial V12 engine, but then also release a V8, V6 and V4 version. This way, someone who won’t ever be able to own the V12 engine can still somehow own a part of their dream.”
Mr Loiseau feels that the venture will revolutionise the way in which luxury watch customers are served; buyers will be able to tweak their purchases to bespoke specifications. “It’s the right answer for us as a forward-thinking brand. Girard-Perregaux will be completely engaging with its clients first hand and answering their bespoke wishes,” he says of the partly completed project, the first fruits of which should be unveiled at the beginning of 2013.
Mr Loiseau says the new movement will require the meticulous construction of a synchronisation never seen before between the mechanism and design of a watch.
He talks about the two being “in constant conversation” – how a process of osmosis must be in play to reinforce the expressions of the watch and provoke “emotions” within the internal movements.
Perhaps what makes Mr Loiseau so revered by both chronophiles and industry figures is his ability to see timepieces as both artistic and technical means of expression. He insists he will never be far away from his workshop.
“As a craftsman and watchmaker, working with my hands is my lifeblood, in the same way that a pianist must play every day to keep his virtuosity. It gives me so much satisfaction to sculpt materials and let my hands give life to my mind’s creations without constraint or limit. I barely ever have ideas when sitting in front of my computer. The watchmaker is like a sponge, absorbing all aesthetic and environmental influences and then transmitting them in a form of risky and complex alchemy.”
He also says he finds some of his greatest inspirations when employed in his second great passion after invention; restoration. It was the trade in which he began his career in the 1960s and he takes on several commissions each year.
This preoccupation with resuscitating history has, on occasion, resulted in some of watchmaker’s most significant personal achievements. “I think the piece that I am most proud of is the ‘Rose des Temps’, a table clock I built for Omega back in 1984,” he says.
“It caused a real uproar at the time as people had said that mechanical watchmaking had become a dead craft, a lost art. I’d like to think I somehow countered that.”
With 9,000 parts, 10,000 work hours, 32 functions and the most perfected system of asymmetrical mobile tourbillion in the world, the clock remains an internationally revered symbol of imagination, precision and miniaturisation 25 years later, a lasting testament to the Frenchman’s skills.
With his latest position taking him firmly into the limelight, what does Mr Loiseau think of the future of the 21st century watchmaker, now valuable as a marketing figure as well as a priceless technician in a luxury brand’s arsenal?
“I don’t mind having a more public profile,” he says after consideration. “However it is more about showing a deep respect from brands to their clientele – a transparency relating to all the toil that goes into sculpting their future works of art. They must know that both craftsman and company share the core values and passions that go into creating the timepieces.”
The eyes of the industry will be watching to see what emerges out of this latest inspired collaboration.