Woman of the hour

Cé­cile gue­nat channels Poké­mon and african art at richard mille

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Cé­cile Gue­nat’s eclec­ti­cally in­formed watches for Richard Mille

It’s taken a long time for the fine-watch in­dus­try to get to grips with what women want in a time­piece. There have been sporty, flow­ery, min­i­mal and jew­elled pieces to cater to a spec­trum of tastes. But aes­thet­ics tend to err on the clas­sic side.

Cé­cile Gue­nat, di­rec­tor of ladies’ col­lec­tions at Richard Mille, is out to change that. Her lat­est cre­ation – the ‘RM 71-01 Au­to­matic Tour­bil­lon Tal­is­man’ – is a su­per-tech­ni­cal, multi-tex­tured ob­ject that looks as if it sprang from a Ri­d­ley Scott sto­ry­board rather than the tiny Les Breuleux vil­lage in Switzer­land’s Franch­es­mon­tagnes re­gion. ‘When I started de­sign­ing this col­lec­tion, it was the sum­mer of Poké­mon Go. The “mor­ph­ing” that un­der­lies the crea­tures’ evo­lu­tion in the game in­formed parts of the col­lec­tion,’ she says.

Ar­chi­tec­ture is also a pow­er­ful in­flu­ence: ‘I re­ally like very clean spa­ces, but also the forms and vol­umes of art deco – I was think­ing of the lon­gi­tu­di­nal taut­ness of New York’s built en­vi­ron­ment in the geo­met­ric and or­ganic shapes of the col­lec­tion.’ An­cient African sculp­ture and masks, mean­while, are a ref­er­ence for the graphic dial de­signs. ‘The con­trasts and ge­om­e­try of these ob­jects fas­ci­nate me be­cause they pre­fig­ure el­e­ments of to­day’s de­sign in con­tent and form.’

Has be­ing a fe­male de­signer in­flu­enced her cre­ative out­put? ‘If you claim the sta­tus of de­signer, it doesn’t mat­ter if you are a man or a woman. But I think you have an obli­ga­tion to re­main at­ten­tive to pop­u­lar cul­ture. I like to know what’s go­ing on around me.’

Hav­ing grad­u­ated from HEAD, Geneva School of Art and De­sign, Gue­nat learnt on the job with a jew­eller in Lau­sanne. She worked in cre­ative teams for fash­ion and jew­ellery houses and, three years ago, was en­ticed back to the fam­ily busi­ness – watch­mak­ing – in the Swiss moun­tains. (Her fa­ther, Do­minique Gue­nat, is Richard Mille’s busi­ness part­ner).

‘We have dis­tilled dif­fer­ent cul­tures and codes into a har­mo­nious whole’

Since it launched in 2001, the Richard Mille brand has made its name pro­duc­ing su­per high-tech time­pieces in space-grade ma­te­ri­als. This year, it part­nered with North Thin Ply Tech­nol­ogy, the Uni­ver­sity of Manch­ester and Mclaren Ap­plied Tech­nolo­gies to de­velop a fab­ric-lay­er­ing process that in­cor­po­rates graphene and pro­duces ul­tra-light re­sults in car­bon and quartz de­signs. Such col­lab­o­ra­tions make sense, as Richard Mille watches are des­tined for wear in ex­treme sport­ing are­nas, such as For­mula 1 and in­ter­na­tional ten­nis. Rafael Nadal wears the ‘RM 027’, weigh­ing just 20g yet crafted to with­stand the ex­treme shocks of a ten­nis ace at play.

The Tal­is­man col­lec­tion is cre­ated with a sim­i­larly high-spec tech­ni­cal re­mit, in­clud­ing an in-house au­to­matic tour­bil­lon move­ment that weighs just 8g and is just 6.3mm tall. Watch en­gi­neer­ing at this level has to be su­per-fine to al­low for var­ied lay­ers of pre­cious ma­te­ri­als and the un­du­la­tions of dif­fer­ent fin­ish­ing tech­niques, such as sand­blast­ing and pol­ish­ing. It helps that engi­neers and de­sign­ers work in tan­dem at Richard Mille.

‘We have been able to dis­til dif­fer­ent cul­tures and codes won­der­fully, and my fine jew­ellery ex­per­tise has en­abled us to en­hance forms and com­bine ma­te­ri­als,’ Gue­nat ex­plains. You can see it in the dis­tinct chevron mo­tif that re­curs across the Tal­is­man di­als. ‘It was an ab­stract way of play­ing with mother of pearl.’ There’s also ten­sion be­tween the pol­ished gleam of gold and the bril­liance of di­a­monds, so that the com­plex and var­ied geo­met­ric lines cre­ate ‘a har­mo­nious whole’.

There are ten vari­a­tions of the Tal­is­man, though there was only meant to be one. ‘I re­alised that, as a woman, I like be­ing of­fered a choice,’ Gue­nat says. Each it­er­a­tion in­cludes di­a­monds of var­i­ous sizes, shim­mer­ing sliv­ers of mother of pearl, glossy onyx de­tail­ing and stealthy black sap­phires. The va­ri­ety of set­ting pat­terns ex­plain why Gue­nat’s of­fice walls are lined with the frames of choco­late-box in­te­ri­ors: ‘They in­spire the gem-set­ting paths,’ she ex­plains.

Gue­nat is a shy char­ac­ter. Yet her de­sign vi­sion is per­fectly at ease with the tough-tech brand’s avant­garde aes­thetic. ‘I was tremen­dously ex­cited to work with the speci­ficity of a watch case and the tech­ni­cal beauty within. If you think about it, the life­like qual­ity of a me­chan­i­cal ob­ject that beats out the rhythm of our daily lives is per­pet­u­ally stim­u­lat­ing.’

every richard Mille de­sign be­gins with Hand-drawn sketches. gue­nat’s (above left) were in­formed by Her love of sci-fi films, art deco ar­chi­tec­ture and an­cient folk art, dis­played on THE Mood­boards pinned To Her stu­dio walls (Top right). each of THE Ten Tal­is­man de­signs is in­di­vid­u­ally dec­o­rated in vari­a­tions of gold, di­a­monds, Mother of pearl, onyx and black sap­phires (above right)

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