Amid initial whispers, it made a first timid appearance in a corner of Baselworld, before the news began to spread: a newcomer to the world of Haute Horlogerie was offering impeccably finished watches, including a classically and meticulously crafted tourbillon. Except that Mr Ferrier was in fact no newcomer. Having formerly worked for Patek Philippe, he represented the third generation of watchmaker in his family, sported a venerable white beard and displayed a sure hand concomitant with longstanding experience. Mr Ferrier launched his own brand with the aim of doing what a number of professionals with a passion or watchmaking merely dream of: making watches exactly the way he thinks they should be developed, assembled and decorated.
These timepieces are a blend of classic and contemporary watchmaking: classic in terms of workmanship, and contemporary as regards the technical approach. The first keynote model introduced was a tourbillon, for why not start with a bang? Calibre LF619.01 was first and foremost equipped with a tourbillon escapement, as its name implies, but also with a double balance-spring. Each of these two regulating springs works in the opposite direction to its counterpart, thereby mutually balancing out their inevitable respective flaws in precision. The neo-classical construction featured an asymmetrical and openworked tourbillon bridge, along with other finely cut bridges showing no signs of stark functionality. The inspiration behind this piece stemmed from 19th century pocket chronometers that can be seen as embodying a golden age of horology.
Then came a model that was distinctly simpler… or at least apparently so. In actual fact, the Galet Micro-Rotor is not just about its winding system. Behind its 18-carat gold guilloché micro-rotor lies a so-called ‘natural’ escapement: an 18th century watchmaking dream operating with two escape-wheels, silicon components and no lubrication whatsoever. It uses less energy and is more precise than the lever escapement. A development of this stature is normally the exclusive preserve of the larger watch firms, but Laurent Ferrier created it and now fits in extremely limited numbers of watches. He personally conceives his movements that are each entirely assembled and adjusted by the same watchmaker from start to finish. Rationalising production is not the objective, whereas promoting individual responsibility of each watchmaking artisan definitely is.
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Laurent Ferrier’s production volumes are what the French like to call “confidential”, a luxury-industry term for exclusive, limited numbers. There is a good reason behind this, in that this consciously executed form of watchmaking is performed in a small, over-stretched workshop and simply cannot grow fast. The time devoted to this work is of the essence, as is immediately apparent to a shrewd observer. The movement components are hand-finished according to extremely high standards of aesthetic quality. The Côtes de Genève stripes are clean-cut yet not over emphatic. The circular graining is densely patterned and perfectly regular. The mirror polishing lives up to its name, while the chamfers on the bridges shine just as brightly by dint of polishing. On an even more subtle level, this concern for finishing encompasses the actual construction of the movements themselves, since the bridges feature deliberately curved and initially jagged shapes so as to ideally lend themselves to hand bevelling.
This extreme attention to detail also inspired the design of the Laurent Ferrier case, aptly dubbed “Galet”, the French word for a pebble. Its curves are soft and smooth on either side. The proportions are cleverly balanced and it is available in modest 40 and 41 mm sizes. The dials are extremely pure and uncluttered. On the Galet Micro-Rotor models, lacquers with deep shimmering effects flirt with black, cream or a pleasing shade of petroleum blue. Meanwhile, the Galet Tourbillon opts for hand-guilloché surfaces, or else black or ivory-toned Grand Feu enamel. There are no exuberant markings and the name “Laurent Ferrier” appears in an extremely slim and discreet stick-type font, while it takes a very close and careful look to distinguish the “Tourbillon Double Spiral” inscription. These exceptional dials focus firmly on materials, subtly accentuated by hand-painted hour-markers.
But Laurent Ferrier did not stop there. The third watch to enrich its range is named Galet Traveller and added a dual-time display to the Micro-Rotor line. Contrary to almost all GMT watches, this one is not built by adding a complication model: instead, the function is integrated within the original movement. It is adjusted by pushers recessed into the case middle: one to move the hour disc forward, and the other to move it backward.
2014 saw the appearance of a line specifically intended for women. Lady F features sculpted mother-of-pearl dials and a 39 mm case that is gem-set on the caseband alone, thereby maintaining a certain aura of discretion. This ladies’ watch joins some of the Galet Secret versions, since right from the start Laurent Ferrier offered a rare type of model: the so-called ‘secret’ watch, mainly intended for women due to its history and operating principle, while not exclusively confined to a feminine clientele. An animated uppermost dial conceals and occasionally reveals a second dial executed according to the client’s personal wishes. This ‘revelation’ occurs either on demand, or automatically for one hour a day. These one-of-kind creations are adorned with enamelled miniature paintings, baguette gem-setting or other forms of artistic craftsmanship. Laurent Ferrier has in particular established a partnership with the German firm Meissen, renowned for the finesse of its work on porcelain.
The concern for details may be expressed on apparently simple watches. As is often the case, appearances may be deceptive. Behind the elegant cases and understated dials lies a wealth of horological and aesthetic details that have earned Laurent Ferrier its rightful place as a discreet watchmaker that has become a must-know brand for connoisseurs.