A SUC­CESS­FUL VI­SION­ARY

Christophe Claret worked in the back­ground for more than 30 years, spe­cial­iz­ing in grand com­pli­ca­tions. But his own brand is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly im­por­tant. Po­etry, his­tory, au­to­mo­biles and even magic in­spire him to in­vent new watches.

WatchTime - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By Ka­trin Niko­laus

| Christophe Claret worked in the back­ground for more than 30 years, spe­cial­iz­ing in grand com­pli­ca­tions. But his own brand is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly im­por­tant. Po­etry, his­tory, au­to­mo­biles and even magic in­spire him to in­vent new watches.

Many own­ers of watches with grand com­pli­ca­tions un­know­ingly wear Christophe Claret’s hand­i­work on their wrists. Be­fore found­ing his own brand at age 54, Claret spent 30 years de­vel­op­ing move­ments with ex­cep­tional com­pli­ca­tions on be­half of renowned com­pa­nies such as Ulysse Nardin and Harry Win­ston. “I’ve al­ready worked for 65 dif­fer­ent watch brands,” Claret re­called in his con­ver­sa­tion with Watchtime.

Af­ter work­ing so long in the back­ground, Claret fi­nally stepped into the well-earned lime­light in 2010, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of col­leagues like Roger Dubuis and Richard Mille, who had sim­i­larly ven­tured onto cen­ter stage years be­fore. Claret, how­ever, chose to de­lay his en­trance un­til af­ter the fi­nan­cial cri­sis, which strongly shook the watch in­dus­try in 2009. His rea­sons were twofold. First, en­tre­pre­neur­ial strat­egy: “I wanted my brand to cre­ate a sec­ond pil­lar so I would be bet­ter pre­pared to cope with mar­ket fluc­tu­a­tions.” His sec­ond rea­son: He wanted to make even fewer com­pro­mises in the re­al­iza­tion of his ideas than he had been obliged to make for his pre­vi­ous clients.

Nu­mer­ous tal­ented watch­mak­ers have ven­tured down this path in the past, but it has led most of them into fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties. Claret is cer­tain that this fate won’t be­fall him. He sees him­self as the rare com­bi­na­tion of an en­tre­pre­neur with savvy busi­ness sense and a vi­sion­ary de­signer.

His suc­cess has proven him right. He and his team of 75 have worked to­gether for sev­eral decades in Manoir du Soleil d’or, a 19th-cen­tury villa near the Swiss watch­mak­ing mecca of Le Lo­cle. e old house charm­ingly re­flects its owner’s at­ti­tudes. e style of the 19th cen­tury dom­i­nates the ground floor, where the walls are cov­ered with ta­pes­tries and pol­ished wood pan­el­ing. Mod­ern ma­chines fab­ri­cate com­po­nents for Claret’s watches in the cel­lar. e sec­ond and third floors pro­vide the space for mod­ern, brightly lit

ate­liers, where watch­mak­ers sit at their work­ta­bles, pa­tiently as­sem­bling highly com­plex time­pieces. Forty per­cent of pro­duc­tion is presently ded­i­cated to watches and move­ments for Claret’s own la­bel – a me­te­oric as­cent for a new brand. Claret works cease­lessly to en­sure that this up­ward tra­jec­tory con­tin­ues. He spent most of last year trav­el­ing and pre­sent­ing his watches around the globe.

But this scion of an up­per class fam­ily from Lyon was pre­des­tined for an en­tirely dif­fer­ent ca­reer. “My par­ents wanted me to choose a clas­si­cal French pro­fes­sion be­fit­ting our fam­ily’s so­cial sta­tus.” e French aris­toc­racy pre­fer to re­main among them­selves, so his par­ents ex­pected him to at­tend a top-rank­ing prep school and after­ward en­roll in one of the so-called “Gran­des Écoles,” which are the tra­di­tional breed­ing grounds for France’s fu­ture busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives, in­dus­tri­al­ists and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers. But af­ter 12-year-old Christophe Claret’s first visit to a watch re­storer in his home city of Lyon, the boy knew ex­actly what he wanted to do when he grew up: to de­sign and make watches. Claret ex­plains his early ca­reer choice: “I was never a child who was in­ter­ested in soc­cer or other child­ish pur­suits.”

One of the rooms in his par­ents’ spa­cious palace housed a large work­shop, and this was where young Christophe could usu­ally be found. He would take apart and re­assem­ble ev­ery time­piece he could get his hands on. He also re­paired mo­tor­cy­cles, a side­line which, he says, “sup­ple­mented my al­lowance.” Mo­tocross was very pop­u­lar with boys in their teens and tweens in France in the 1970s and ’80s, and Christophe was no ex­cep­tion. He drove noth­ing but a mo­tor­cy­cle and didn’t even own a car un­til he turned 28. “I would love to ride a mo­tor­cy­cle again to­day, but I haven’t got the time. And it’s too dan­ger­ous any­way: Af­ter all, I have three lit­tle chil­dren and an adult son,” Claret says.

But let’s re­turn to watches. When Claret turned 16, he left high school and went to Switzer­land on his own, where

he en­rolled at the fa­mous École d’hor­logerie (School of Watch­mak­ing) in Geneva. Claret, who was al­ready a very in­de­pen­dent young man, en­joyed spend­ing his leisure time with his fel­low class­mates, most of whom were also not na­tives of Geneva. “Nev­er­the­less, I was at home with my fam­ily fairly of­ten be­cause Geneva isn’t very far from Lyon,” Claret re­calls.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from watch­mak­ing school, Claret re­turned to Lyon, where he re­stored an­tique clocks and watches. In 1987, he vis­ited the Basel watch fair and met Rolf Sch­ny­der, a Swiss busi­ness­man who had re­cently re­vived the old Ulysse Nardin watch brand. Sch­ny­der gave Claret his first big com­mis­sion: an or­der for 20 minute-re­peater watches that would later be­come well known un­der the name “San Marco.” Sch­ny­der’s or­der marked the be­gin­ning of a decades-long col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Christophe Claret and the Ulysse Nardin brand. is li­ai­son still con­tin­ues to­day, although Ulysse Nardin has been part of the Ker­ing lux­ury group since 2014. To­gether with the de­sign­ers Do­minique Re­naud and Gi­ulio Papi, Christophe Claret co-founded the RPC Com­pany in 1987, which spe­cial­ized in de­sign­ing and fabri­cat­ing com­pli­ca­tions for ma­jor watch man­u­fac­tur­ers. When Claret be­came sole owner of RPC in 1992, he re­named it “Christophe Claret SA.” Known to be a worka­holic, Claret also owns the Jean Dunand watch com­pany.

rough­out his long ca­reer, Claret never once har­bored any doubts about his suc­cess. “If I had im­mi­grated to the United States and built a com­pany there, I would have been a bil­lion­aire long ago,” he says. His as­ser­tion sounds like a sim­ple state­ment of fact and not at all like a boast. But money doesn’t in­ter­est him any­way. “My in­spi­ra­tions don’t come from watch­mak­ing at all, but from po­etry, his­tory, au­to­mo­biles, aero­space – and even from magic.” When Claret has an idea for a new watch, he ac­cepts all as­so­ci­ated risks be­cause what he has in mind is al­ways a to­tally new com­pli­ca­tion that has never be­fore ex­isted in this form.

If the un­prece­dented de­vice ac­tu­ally works, im­i­ta­tors are sure to fol­low – as Claret has learned from ex­pe­ri­ence. An at­ten­tive ob­server, he trav­els ex­ten­sively to dis­cover in­ter­est­ing things and to con­tin­u­ally broaden and deepen his ex­per­tise in art, me­chan­ics and a di­verse ar­ray of other fields. He cul­ti­vates an aris­to­cratic life­style by tra­di­tion, so to speak, re­sid­ing with his fam­ily in a palace in France.

The watches that bear his name are tick­ing tes­ti­mony to their cre­ator’s in­ven­tive­ness. For ex­am­ple, Claret has de­signed and built sev­eral of the world’s most beau­ti­ful watches for ladies. “In the past, I fre­quently of­fered my clients the op­por­tu­nity to or­der com­pli­ca­tions cre­ated ex­pressly for ladies’ watches, but they al­ways de­clined be­cause they felt that the mar­ket wasn’t big enough.” As has of­ten been the case, Claret proved ex­actly the op­po­site. e Mar­guerite, for ex­am­ple, is one of the world’s most com­pli­cated watches: It com­bines 730 com­po­nents and, at the push of a but­ton, it re­veals a se­cret mes­sage of love. Its wearer can then press the but­ton again to con­ceal the amorous mis­sive. And the watch’s case­back in­vites its wearer to play a me­chan­i­cal vari­a­tion of the fa­mil­iar game, “He loves me, he loves me not.” Play­ful­ness also dis­tin­guishes the men’s watches in Claret’s Gam­ing line: eir wear­ers can play black­jack, poker or bac­carat on the di­als. Claret is also fa­mous for au­di­ble com­pli­ca­tions, which have been a trade­mark of his right from the start.

To be able to fur­ther ex­pand his busi­ness, Christophe Claret plans to pur­chase 25 per­cent of the shares in his com­pany later this year. is ex­panded own­er­ship will as­sure that he’ll also be able to con­tinue trans­form­ing his ideas into new com­pli­ca­tions in the fu­ture. With good rea­son, his motto is: “Ev­ery­thing in watch­mak­ing has al­ready been in­vented, and ev­ery­thing in watch­mak­ing still re­mains to be in­vented.”

Christophe Claret’s watches are born in Manoir du Soleil d’or, a villa near Le Lo­cle.

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