Compared to other older manufacturers, ten years is nothing. The clichéd quote from Corneille, “for souls nobly born, valour awaits not the passing of years”, would be all too easy. Nonetheless, ten years for a 100% independent young company that has managed to make a name for itself is a milestone that deserves to be marked. Les Ateliers Louis Moinet recently celebrated this anniversary with characteristic discretion and modesty.
"I am a native child of these mountains. I have that type of character and cultivate that kind of independence. So yes, I have always wanted to approach watchmaking in my own way". Jean-Marie Schaller, who has been guiding the Ateliers since they were created, was destined to carve out his own watchmaking path.
From there to stating that he chose Louis Moinet as a self-evident creative field of expression is but a small step… which he does not take. “It was Daniel Roth who initially discussed it with me. He was working on the renaissance of the Breguet brand nearly 30 years ago. While investigating the company archives, he noticed that the name Louis Moinet and his decisive influence on the work of Breguet kept coming up. He suggested that I take over the brand because it seemed to be something that suited me well.”
"The Louis Moinet nugget was worth its weight"
Contrary to all opinions, Jean-Marie Schaller did not jump at the opportunity. He was leading a busy life with plenty of other things going on; and in any case, he has the mind-set of a man who does not rush into things. His decision thus needed to be thoroughly matured, a process that continued until some years later, when a friend suggested the same thing to him. This time, especially upon finding out that a third party was also interested, the Jura native quickly caught on to the fact that the Louis Moinet nugget was effectively worth its weight in gold and he should go for it. In April 2004, just ten years ago, he founded the Ateliers Louis Moinet.
A chronographic watershed
Since then, the path forged by the brand seems fairly clear-cut. A small company, a big name, an entirely original astronomy-themed approach – and then came the incredible discovery of the first chronograph in history, dated 1816. The piece turned everything upside down and required an urgent review of watchmaking manuals, as well as presenting the brands who claimed to be pioneers of chronometry with the historical facts. From one day to the next, they found themselves relegated to second place, or even to being mere extras on this particular stage.
“It was this chronograph that really put us on the map,” sums up Jean-Marie Schaller. In a way, it was Year II for the brand, although Year I of the Ateliers Louis Moinet should in no way be forgotten. “A period of little steps,” remembers the CEO. “We brought out one innovation a year, waited for the market feedback and prepared the following one. We quite literally could not afford to miss the target, since we did not have the financial means to cope with any misfires.”
Does this mean that the determined CEO ever thought about giving up during certain tough times? “Once I did. In the very beginning, we identified a design problem with a movement from one of the suppliers with whom we worked at the time. As a result, I found myself with reliability problems that took time to resolve. That’s a hard knock when you’re starting up. When I realised the problem, I took it really hard for 24 hours. Not only because of the economic impact of the poor workmanship but also because I felt betrayed by people who had supported me from the start.”
"Creativity remains the cornerstone of the brand."
Louis Moinet nurtures its customary confidence through preserving complete independence. This ensures its creative freedom, based on complete respect for the legacy of Mr Louis Moinet himself. Creativity clearly remains the cornerstone of the brand.
Its universe is precisely that: the Universe with its planets and its comets.
“This idea came to us while we were designing our Grande Complication, the Magistralis. We wanted to create a different kind of moon-phase display. It was at that point that we decided to make one from genuine moon rock,” says Jean-Marie Schaller.
Without realising it, this move opened up a vast field of exploration with which the brand would become enduringly associated. “As we made various models, we extended this approach to include a number of old rocks estimated to be several hundred million years old. It was unusual, poetic and a way of enabling people to carry a fragment of eternity on their wrist.”
On this geological scale, from the vantage point of their tenth anniversary, the Ateliers Louis Moinet may be seen as a spark – the kind that is capable of lighting a big fire. The brand managed to get through the 2007-2008 crisis in which a great many were snuffed out. It has attracted the attention of experienced collectors, including a number of crowned heads who are not averse to displaying their support of this young independent brand publicly – a rare phenomenon in these discreet royal circles.
"To offer new emotions"
Jean-Marie Schaller was expecting the final question: “Where will Louis Moinet be in ten years’ time?” With all the natural reserve for which this man is known, he adroitly sidestepped it, although he undoubtedly has some ideas on this topic. All we know is that the brand will continue on the trajectory that it set for itself ten years ago and from which it has never deviated: “limited-edition mechanical art”. All in pursuit of a single objective – “to offer new emotions” – says the CEO with a smile. We will not find out at this stage what is on his mind, but while his smile gives away nothing regarding the next ten years, we nonetheless note that two years from now, in 2016, the invention of the chronograph by Louis Moinet will be exactly two hundred years old.