Laurent Ferrier : The Most Elegant Timepieces in the World ?

Laurent Ferrier : The Most Elegant Timepieces in the World ?


Since the inception of Parisian Gentleman in January, 2009 (we will celebrate our 10th anniversary in a few months), I've been asked not only by readers, but also by horology companies, why I never created a section on PG dedicated to luxury timepieces? I confess the thought of this proposition often journeyed within my (complicated) mind, yet I held to my resistance based on the belief that the two worlds of exceptional timepiece-collectors and exceptional bespoke-clothing addicts resided in two different and disconnected hemispheres. Let me explain.

Before I discovered that the territory of elegant timepieces indeed may be somehow untapped (from a sartorial point of view), and before I could see the convergence of high horology know-how with stylistic expression and elegance, I had been blindsided for several reasons.

The first reason is that the two communities---the men's style cognoscenti and the timepieces aficionados, surprisingly, did not appear to overlap. The explanation for this unexpected fact seemed basic: the pendulum of motivation by men in love with one or the other, swung at an opposing 180 degree angle.

A gentleman wearing a bespoke suit made by Cifonelli or Gaetano Aloisio does not intend to wear his suit to show others his status in society, even if he spent $7000+ for his ensemble with no "shouting" logo, no "prestigious" monogram, and no "obvious" label inside the jacket (other than a label which is hidden, on purpose). Not one exterior sign allows a profane eye to have the slightest idea that he's looking at a unique masterpiece requiring up to 70 hours of handiwork, three or four fittings, and an astonishing amount of artisanal know-how, innate talent, and tedious workmanship.

I can perfectly recall the exact moment I wore the first bespoke suit of my life in the street. It was in 2007 in Paris when I took delivery of my first Cifonelli marvel. Bespoke tailoring is a highly intimate and intense personal sensation but has very little immediate impact on how people who surround you, look at you (unlike when you drive a Ferrari or a Bentley). Of course you feel, deep inside your body, heart and soul, extremely elegant and almost invincible, but other than an occasional whisper behind your back because people can sense an elegance-factor, or are surprised to see a man wearing a well-cut suit in the middle of the flock of tourists in cargo shorts and flip-flaps, nobody seems to be impressed or enamored by the suit you are wearing...Why ?

The answer is likely because you deliberately chose NOT to display anything. The center of the image created remains yourself--not your suit. Understand that I'm not implying that every bespoke amateur is a role model of humility and discretion, far from it, in reality. But I do believe that these men chose to work on their personal elegance and silhouette more than to work on exhibiting their status or wealth...

On the contrary, a man who is wearing a timepiece of high horology does have a tendency to show it, if not display it. At this moment, the centre of the image is no more the man, but the timepiece itself. And herein lies the biggest difference between the two approaches, or lifestyles of the horologist lover versus the bespoke suit lover.

Of course the real lovers, collectors and purists of exceptional timepieces may object with the counterpoint that, much like in bespoke tailoring, no one in the street will be able to imagine the incredible amount of know-how, hundreds of hours of surgical work and astounding skills contained in the precise piece of art which they wear on their wrist. Such an argument would be on point.

Nevertheless, I have witnessed many a man wearing a timepiece featuring a high complication on his dial, who has a clear tendency, whether conscious or unconscious, to show it to the people around him, especially when it is a mesmerizing artifact like a tourbillon or a moon phase. I perfectly understand the pleasure and pride to wear such a precious and rare artisanal object on the wrist, but we can admit that the intention behind the gesture remains different than that of donning bespoke tailoring--which shows no indication of a certain status and does not aim to display superiority.

The second reason why exceptional timepieces are rarely featured in these columns is that, at PG, we want to master the subjects we write on; and, to become a connoisseur in the world of high level timepieces, it would require a lot of time itself, of research, of reading and of experience before being able to tout any level of knowledge and original thoughts on the subject.

Thus, writing quality content on timepieces, according to our level of exigence, seemed impossible because I quickly understood it would take years to play in the same league as other great writers and connoisseurs in the field. Can you imagine a true connoisseur of high end timepieces challenging me, a bespoke specialist, to a duel ? I would hit him hard with my Milanese buttonholes and my Neapolitan "Spalla Camicia" shoulders and he would kill me, agonizing on the floor, with his perpetual calendar and minute repeaters !

The third reason, and more personal, is that until now, the watches I found the most elegant--seen from my sartorially inclined man's point of view, were most of the time the most simple and, thus, the least complicated (in the full meaning of the word). And even if I have sung, here and there, the aesthetic praises of a Parmigiani Fleurier Tonda, of a "simple" stainless steel Villeret by Blancpain or of a few lovely models by Lange & Söhne, yet, I frankly did not have much to say on the subject, which is highly unusual for an author like me who is not short on words.

Then, one day, I had the luck to meet Vanessa Monestel, the CEO of Laurent Ferrier Genève during a lunch in the breathtaking ambiance of the "Train Bleu" restaurant in Paris (located inside the Gare de Lyon Railway Station).

And since this blessed day I had the great privilege to frequently wear on my wrist the more-than-exclusive Galet Classic Tourbillon Double Spiral by Laurent Ferrier (especially for the book signing sessions of my "Italian Gentleman"). Thus, I humbly feel ready to write at least a few words on this marvelous piece of independent craftsmanship and on the great artisan who created it. I may not interest the hardcore collector who already knows everything about this exceptional timepiece, but I can't resist the envy to share my fascination for this product of human genius.

(Click on all the images below to enlarge them).

I'm still not confident that I comprehend the rarity and the preciousness of a Double Spiral Tourbillon, neither do I know for certain if I grasp all the out-of-this-world subtleties featured in this breathtaking beauty. For this, I strongly suggest you read one of the numerous extensive reviews of the Galet Classic found online like the one written by David Brendan for the blog "A Blog To Watch" in which, this young and talented author (and timepiece specialist) declares :

"The Laurent Ferrier Galet Classic Tourbillon Double Spiral is, in its own right, an “ultimate watch” – not “the ultimate” per se, because calling it that would be highly irresponsible of us and disrespectful to all the other amazing timepieces out there. Political correctness aside, the Galet (or, in English, “pebble”) is so good, it is like someone took all that is great about classical watchmaking, put all that into a giant blender, placed whatever came out in a bottle, set it on the highest shelf in the best wine cellar, and distilled the resulting essence into just one watch. Yes."

What I really understood, is that the Laurent Ferrier atelier is remarkable not only for its completely independent approach to the horology art but also for the stunning talent and traditionally engrained old-school savant know-how of its eponymous founder.

Maison Laurent Ferrier is remarkable and one of a the few of its kind in the world. It's indeed the only atelier I know of (similar to real bespoke tailoring), which represents an anomaly in the contemporary luxury world where "showing off" reigns supreme, whether it be with a car, a yacht or a timepiece...

This particular timepiece and the atelier who creates it are at the forefront of the paradoxical and hypermodern "movement" (if I may say) of the "non ostentatious ultra-luxury" world : a maxim that may sound like an oxymoron if you've visited Dubai, Hong Kong or Moscow during the last decade...

Think for a few seconds (!) : this marvel of human genius and ancestral know-how contains a movement unique on the planet (the Double Spiral Tourbillon) which is mesmerizing to behold. Yet, this summit of traditional horology is not, on purpose, displayed on the dial of the watch but hidden on the back side of the Galet Classic.

Please take a look at this video to ponder and understand:

Laurent Ferrier is thus a master of a rare form of craftsmanship: the art of ultimate understatement or, to say it differently, of the art of showing less to say more. This is why I believe Ferrier is so close to the spirit of the world of bespoke tailoring and shoemaking.

Eureka !

The idea, the intention, the gesture, the conscience are the same: the object projects an astonishing elegance and artisanal purity but does not holler its price tag and does not shout anything about haughty status. It is an old money viewpoint which cannot be explained to those who do not have the capacity to understand. The Galet Classic (like a bespoke jacket in Cashmere or an overcoat in Vicuna) goes as far as to hide into its guts the very heart of its exclusivity.

It is an object that needs to be explained: when Vanessa Monestel (the head of Laurent Ferrier) described what I was holding in my hands, and later wore on my wrist, she took great care to only use profane words to make sure I would comprehend, even roughly, the incredible know-how hidden within this superb timepiece. As she was doing so, I could see myself transmitting the complex world of bespoke tailoring to a sartorial newcomer and explaining to him why a bespoke suit is unique and why some gentlemen are ready to spend so much on a "simple suit" which, at a first glance, may not be understood by others.The main difference being that a high level timepiece retains (or often gains) value over the years, while a suit does not have the same privilege.

Thus, a Galet Classic Tourbillon Double Spiral by Laurent Ferrier can be likened to a bespoke suit by Cifonelli or Aloisio. It's not for everybody, and not only in terms of the size of your wallet or the color of your credit card. If all the men with the means to access bespoke tailoring would do so (instead of wasting money on tacky monograms or industrial crap with high street labels), the world would be more elegant. If all the men with the means to have their shoes crafted by a master such as Stephane Jimenez in Bordeaux would do it (instead of buying industrial Blake sold at the price of gold by so-called "famous brands"), then these invaluable artisans would be able to train more apprentices and protect and perpetuate the precious gestures of their craft.

Finally, if all the men who could afford exceptional timepieces would chose the discretion and the transcendental beauty of a Laurent Ferrier, instead of exhibiting their oversized billionaire's tourbillons and diamonds, I'm not far from thinking that the time would slow down, because they would reserve a moment to really absorb and respect the rare artifact they are wearing, instead of wondering if the fellows and ladies within viewing-range noticed the shiny and tricked-out piece wrapped around their wrist.

As French philosopher Gilles Lipovetsky explains so well, and as a bespoke suit by Cifonelli or a timepiece by Laurent Ferrier illustrate, we have entered, more recently, a new age of luxury: the age of hypermodernity.

What matters now is not only to challenge others about status or wealth (even if this practice still holds true in some parts of the world), but to please oneself. Distinction has become a personal feature, not a social one--which is not about showing off, but rather about enjoying oneself in private and public, with goods that are loved for the power of imagination they bring. This ‘hypermodernity’ is at the heart of the work of artisans like Laurent Ferrier who have accomplished the feat of balancing the two-sided need for modernity and eternity.

When one buys a luxury item such as a Laurent Ferrier timepiece, one is fighting against the decay of "things" and against the lack of substance of life. One buys and loves this kind of timepieces for the weight of tradition, memory and eternity which it carries. In our disposable society, such incredible objects can make you feel the depth of time and of being, and brings an element of timelessness which denies mortality. Paradoxically, there is something spiritual at the heart of such materialistic passion.

French poet Charles Baudelaire writes " By 'modernity' I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal and the immutable".

Laurent Ferrier, an honest, humble and gifted tradition bound artisan who has spent more than three decades at Patek Philippe before founding his own atelier, understands Baudelaire very well when he states that his only ambition is that one day, perhaps in 200 years, an horology expert would open one of his timepieces and declare : "this is work that has been done the right way".

Ferrier is a great artisan and his timepieces are labors of love.Let's support with all our hearts and with all our passion this small independent watchmaking company, because we believe it shares the core of the aesthetic, artisanal and moral ideals and values of our community.

Hats off Monsieur Ferrier.

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