Happy hour

The Paris brand chang­ing the face of watch de­sign

Wallpaper - - March - pho­tog­ra­phy: osma harvi­lahti writer: marta represa

Noth­ing about An­tonin Mercier, the founder of horo­log­i­cal la­bel Laps, is con­ven­tional. Start­ing with his pocket-sized ate­lier, a re­vamped garage just a stone’s throw from the Musée d’or­say. ‘This is my show­room, and where I assem­ble most of my watches,’ he says. The space is a hodge­podge of un­ex­pected el­e­ments: chunks of wood, crocodile skins, Cuban cigar leaves, a poster from a 1970s Thai mon­ster movie.

And then there are the watches: all the same size and shape – vin­tage-in­spired and dis­creetly small – and their Ja­panese-made di­als filled with tex­tured ma­te­ri­als or minia­ture pic­tures. ‘Here is Jac­ques Chirac jump­ing the bar­rier at the Metro,’ says Mercier of one watch face. ‘This is Nakano Takeko, a fe­male samu­rai from the Edo pe­riod. Clyde Bar­row at 15. And an S&M pic­ture from the Paris-based Biederer broth­ers.’ The col­lec­tion al­most feels like a cabinet of cu­riosi­ties, some­thing he takes pride in: ‘I’m in­spired by any­one who dares to be dif­fer­ent.’

His back­ground in art his­tory shows through: the son of an auc­tion­eer, Mercier worked for five years in the con­tem­po­rary art mar­ket be­fore de­cid­ing to take his ca­reer in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. ‘I used to hunt for rare watches on ebay that I took to ar­ti­sans to re­pair,’ he says, show­ing a piece from his per­sonal col­lec­tion, from the 1968 Nixon cam­paign, with a pic­ture of the pres­i­den­tial cou­ple in­side the dial. As he learned more about watch­mak­ing, he sum­moned the courage to start his brand. ‘It’s been an ex­er­cise in trial and er­ror, es­pe­cially since I work with ma­te­ri­als that are not sup­posed to be put in­side a watch. Laps is pretty much a re­search lab.’ One that pro­duces won­der­fully sur­pris­ing lim­ited edi­tions and one-off pieces, such as a watch with a dial made out of char­coal res­cued from the Ti­tanic wreck­age, or the model with a 1970s paint­ing of two cos­mo­naut chi­huahuas.

Mercier clearly has a soft spot for all things kitsch, and a sense of hu­mour. ‘What I en­joy most is sub­vert­ing the rules of tra­di­tional watch­mak­ing. The day a Chi­nese lady stopped by to take off her €300,000 Van Cleef & Ar­pels to wear the €120 cos­mo­naut chi­huahua watch with a bub­blegum-pink ny­lon and per­lon strap, I knew I had made it.’

For Mercier, it’s not about the price, but about craft­ing some­thing brand new, ‘an ac­ces­sory that is uni­sex, that can be hid­den or shown, and passed from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion’. He works with an as­sis­tant, and a free­lance col­lab­o­ra­tor who helps assem­ble each piece. ‘Some mod­els, con­sid­er­ing the time they take, are se­ri­ously un­prof­itable,’ he tells me while show­ing how he presses cigar leaves to re­duce their thick­ness to a min­i­mum so they will fit in the di­als. The process is sim­i­lar with python and crocodile skins, and wood.

‘I use African sapele wood, which re­flects the light al­most like silk, and an oak that is 2,600 years old.’ Ma­te­ri­als that seem even more com­pli­cated to source than the rare pho­tographs, but to­tally worth­while. ‘I get a kick out of think­ing about what hap­pened around that oak tree be­fore it was felled. Maybe there were druids hang­ing out un­der it?’ With Mercier, the word ‘time­piece’ takes on a whole new mean­ing. ‘It’s about be­ing trans­ported in time, space and within your own imag­i­na­tion ev­ery time you gaze at your watch.’∂

Lim­ited-edi­tion watches, from €120, by Laps, laps.fr

Clock­wise from top left, an­tonin mercier, laps founder; a be­spoke watch be­ing as­sem­bled es­pe­cially for wall­pa­per*, fea­tur­ing pho­tographs by brigitte nie­der­mair from our septem­ber 2014 issue (w*186); laps’ en­tire Col­lec­tion is on dis­play in the paris ate­lier, shar­ing shelf space with a sur­re­al­ist pho­to­graph and some of mercier’s flea-mar­ket finds, such as an em­pire state build­ing ther­mome­ter and an indian ganesh sculp­ture

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