A “gifted artist”, an “eminent scholar” and “a specialist in transcendent horology”, said Louis Moinet’s peers. This inventor of the chronograph and genius watchmaker spent long periods in Switzerland, from the Jura mountains to the Joux valley and met many famous watchmakers there, including Jacques-Frédéric Houriet, and acquired his horological tools and instruments. He also cultivated ties with his fellow members including Abraham-Louis Breguet, Louis Berthoud, Antide Janvier, Louis-Frédéric Perrelet, Joseph Winnerl, as well as Vulliamy, who served as the King’s Watchmaker in London.
Revived again in the year 2000 by Jean-Marie Schaller, CEO and Creative Director, Louis Moinet, today is an independent watch brand located in Saint-Blaise, Switzerland, specialising in the creation of high-end timepieces, often featuring exotic materials and innovative technology, underpinned by the philosophy of limited edition mechanical art. We recently caught up with the ever-so-humble yet dynamic Jean-Marie Schaller to understand the philosophy of Louis Moinet and how he balances it with the demands of today.
THM: Challenges of independent watchmaking
JMS: When we started Louis Moinet it was a call of destiny. It was like a little voice in my head telling me to start this brand and so in 2000 I decided to resurrect the brand. And I did it with my wife Mikella from our home without any expectation, other than being an artist with the desire to create the best watches within our financial resources for a select bunch of people. That was the goal. Year after year we realised that the heritage of Louis Moinet was larger than what we thought – infact one of the most important ones in the history of watches.
This gave us a sense of responsibility towards this name to keep it at its highest level. You know when we create something I always wonder, “Would Mr. Moinet approve?” and then I ask myself, “Would Mr. Ferrari do it?”. Because they both had greater levels of expectations. And this for me is the biggest challenge today in independent watchmaking – to maintain that standard with the right timing because unfortunately some supply chains have been broken. When you think of Metier d’art some of your co-workers have just disappeared due to lack of work. With Metier d’art it is very strange. One year they have no work whatsoever whereas the next year there is too much to manage. It’s like waves. A watch is an objet d’art, you cannot simply stamp a swiss-made watch and become an objet d’art. It is an amalgamation of the values created by these people, a lot of them being ladies.
Today, I believe we cannot tell our customers to wait for years to get our watches. Some of our fellow independent watchmakers have been stating that but for me it is not the right approach. For me we have to overstock and that comes at a price. We have invested in different components and established fantastic relationships with very good suppliers over the last 15 years. So during COVID we did not need the pieces but we still gave them work to keep them afloat which has been largely appreciated by them, further strengthening our relationship which also results in us getting our watches on time. The challenge is to make enough qualitative watches!
THM: With the GPHG 2022 awards right around the corner, how important is it for you to win this accolade?
Jean Marie Schaller: It is always important to participate in these contests as a brand to go one step further. Honestly every time I participate at GPHG our watches have been nominated, it is now the 11th time without winning, and we often wonder why? What can we do to make it better and it has always given us a trampoline to jump on and go further and to make better watches. Now in the past 10 years Louis Moinet watches have been awarded by more than 50 awards in the world, including two world records from guinness. So in general I am very happy for the recognition of the quality, innovation and design of our watches that have been globally acclaimed.
THM: Louis Moinet Collaborations
JMS: It’s like two cultures mixing and here is a beautiful baby! For us we haven’t done any given that our history is quite recent. We resurrected the Louis Moinet name in 2000, in 2012 we found out that he was the inventor of the chronograph and high frequency and in the past 10 years we have defined the chronograph as an anchor for our watches. I would consider a collaboration with a like minded brand in this watchmaking world.
Louis Moinet worked closely with the great Abraham-Louis Breguet, over a period of many years, acting in the capacity of close friend, confidant and intimate advisor. The two men shared the same passion for the art of horology. So a collaboration with Breguet could be interesting!
THM: Women in the watch world
JMS: Let me start by saying, we cannot neglect 50% of the world. As a matter of fact in our case we have been trying to make something for the ladies for the last ten years but failed year after year. Louis Moinet is known for its large chronograph watches which made us think – What can we do for the ladies, who may have different needs from a watch? We have invested a lot of finances in different projects including making watches incorporating jewellery keeping the Louis Moinet DNA in mind. Again, we failed miserably!
It’s not simply about making a nice mother-of-pearl dial with a little butterfly. That’s not how I would want to do it. So the solution came to me by chance – we decided to put a monster chronograph inside a 40mm case. This mechanism generally comes in a 46mm case. Two years ago we started a study wherein I insisted on encapsulating this mechanism in a 40mm case and finally we managed it in a 40.7mm case. To achieve this we had to think outside the box. The traditional way to build a case is to build the body of the case and then to finish it with the crystal. Whereas here we started with the crystal, that is nearly 30% of the total surface. By doing that we had many advantages. The movement is lifted, extremely close to the crystal so you can visually admire all the mechanical elements. The different angles exude different emotions, almost like diving into a mechanical world. We also use titanium so it is as light as 18gms. This for me is the answer. It’s not a watch for her or me. It’s a watch for US. This also helped us explore the Asian market. I’ve noticed this with even other markets. People are becoming more and more classical in their tastes with the size of the case – 40mm has become a global standard.
THM: An artist vs a business
JMS: I’m a mix! I’m not a businessman, I’m a farmer. I create watches because I need to but to satiate my passion and my art. I’m never out there looking for new markets to sell my watches. I try to focus on doing what is right for Louis Moinet by reaching out and speaking to the right people. I am obviously involved in various business meetings and you cannot always be nice and say yes. For instance when talk about delivering watches to a new market, if the partner in that market demands 100 pieces, I encourage them to start with 20. It’s real business and not about throwing numbers to get the brand or please me. Eventually if you don’t sell the watches they will end up in the grey market and then we will have a real problem. We also don’t believe in credit notes. Hence I’m a farmer. I need to protect my production!