Haute Time had the pleasure of talking with Guy Bove, Creative Director of La Chronométrie Ferdinand Berthoud. He gave us an insight into how it is to bring an old brand back to life, and how the design came together, which was awarded with the “Aiguille d’Or” at the 2016 Grand Prix D’Horlogerie De Geneve.
MG (Martin Green): Ferdinand Berthoud comes with a lot of history, yet at the same time it is a clean canvas as they never made a wrist watch. How did you approach this unique situation?
GB (Guy Bove):My approach was not to create what is typically considered a wristwatch, but an artefact that is to be worn on the wrist. In order to leave aside influences from today’s wristwatches, I went back to the ideas contained in his marine chronometers, namely a watertight central cylinder cradled by a containing object. In his case, it was a wooden gimbal box in order to keep the clock perfectly horizontal, the only position that the timepieces were adjusted to. In our case today, where the timepiece is accurate in all tested positions, the exterior octagonal container attaches the central cylinder to the wrist. For the hour and minute hands for instance, I was heavily inspired by the arrow shape and the counterweights he used on those of several of his timepieces even though if I didn’t explain how, you might not sense a direct connection. One of my criteria was to make sure not to re-use designs that were in many cases common to his contemporaries, so while every feature of the design can be linked in one way or another to Ferdinand Berthoud’s timepieces, everything except for the second hand has been designed from scratch.
MG: What was your departing point for the design/which mission where you given?
GB: The mission was initially to come up with ideas for what a Ferdinand Berthoud timepiece might look like today if we were to resurrect the brand. To do that I studied the way his marine chronometers were assembled, how the movements were constructed and by far the most importantly, how much emphasis (or how little) he gave to decorative elements versus the elements necessary for accuracy and function.
MG: The previous work of Ferdinand Berthoud was an obvious source of inspiration. From what other sources did you get your inspiration for the design?
GB: My main thought was to try to recapture the feel of a piece made by an scientist-craftsman working in his own atelier, with a flair for technical elegance and using simple tools. Although the result is fairly complicated, each individual component is mechanically quite simple. And I wanted the timepiece to reflect the idea of a somewhat technical (after all, we are talking about clocks designed to resistant constant pounding by the ocean and the attack of the elements – saltwater, humidity, temperature swings) yet elegant and wearable artefact which would stand out from other timepieces made so long after their namesake has passed. Finally, the idea of light was very important to the design. You can see this in several areas – the large opening and tourbillon carriage which lets in lots of light into the movement, the four portholes in the sides and the opening in the dial which do the same, and more discretely, the microblasted transparent seconds ring around the dial which (up close for those over forty) produces a very cool play of light between the numerals and the white backing. After all, he lived in the “siècle des lumières” – the age of Enlightenment!
MG: The movement of the watch is very unique, and obviously you want to highlight this in the design of the watch, yet at the same time the movement doesn’t dominate the design of the watch. How did you balance the two?
GB: Just as in Ferdinand Berthoud’s timepieces, the movement is protected by an obvious outer shell – in his case a wooden container, in our case a metal one. The outer case in both examples does not reflect what is inside. However, his chronometers sometimes had portholes to verify the functioning of the mechanism inside, as does ours (each one highlights a movement function and its wonderful finishing), and one can sometimes see in his dials an opening or two which shows the inner workings. Ours shows the permanent and fascinating interplay between the tourbillon and the seconds, via two exceedingly simple and elegant wheels designed after his own. At the rear we designed symmetrical bridges which leave the tourbillon and suspended fusée and barrel apparent, highlighting the amazing volume of our movement and the idea of power and technical prowess given off by the suspended and very visible “motor”. In short, everywhere you look you will see something of the movement, in focus without being obtrusive.
MG: The case of both versions is made of a very traditional material: 18K gold, yet you decided to combine this with more high-tech materials such as titanium and ceramic: what made you do this?
GB: One of the intriguing things behind our colour schemes is that the white gold watch, which might typically be the sportier of the two, is rendered elegant and sober by the low contrast between the white gold, titanium inserts and grey dial. For me, that in a nutshell is what the brand is about – very readable, simple yet different in almost every respect. The rose gold watch, conversely to traditional cues, is to me the sportier of the two due to the use of super-hard (visually and materially) black ceramic in contrast to the typically classical and warm gold. The dial also shows much more contrast between the white sub-dial and the clean black dial base. The idea behind these two material associations was to somewhat define a perimeter for the future of our designs – with identical design details we can go from extremely classical through elegantly discrete to absolutely modern without losing the characteristic feel of a Ferdinand Berthoud. The case is a very flexible base for the future.
MG: Designing a watch is one thing, but then it also has to be made: which aspect of the design was the most difficult to actually make?
GB: So far, everything! Despite the apparent simplicity of each component, every single part is difficult to make to the standards we have adopted for the brand. Movement components, dial, hands, case… I have a lot of respect to all of our artisans who managed to make it work!
MG: One of the most prominent features of the Ferdinand Berthoud is the shape of the case. How did you come to this case shape?
GB: Quite simply, the idea of a cylindrical container for the movement held in a square wooden box served as the inspiration. In a tiny nod to function, I replaced two corners at 12 and 6 o’clock with attachments to fit it onto the wrist. Also, in order to make the timepiece fit visually and physically to the wrist, I cut off the corners at 3 and 9 o’clock (the wooden box imagery is twisted in our case by 45°). Each side of the watch can be seen as something that could easily be sanded or milled to shape in a straight line, then the sides are intersected at each corner with a plane for the left and right sides, and with the strap insert at 12 and 6 o’clock. This is in continuation of the idea that all the components could be hand-made in the craftsman’s atelier.
MG: On what design aspect of the watch are you most proud, and why?
GB: Personally, I love the interplay between the in-your-face, blunt strength of the case from 3 or 9 o’clock contrasted with the stylish and almost soft elegance when seen from a three-quarter angle at 10:30 or 4:30, combined with the technical elegance of the portholes and dial. But more importantly, I love seeing the pictures of our watch juxtaposed with either our own pieces of his work or his technical drawings, when I feel that the watch fits right in with what he was doing 200 years ago, yet it feels just like a timepiece of today.
MG: The FB 1 is the first watch of the brand. Which design elements will be carried over to following watches, and become hence typical for Ferdinand Berthoud?
GB: Most of them, however each watch will have its own personality while remaining at first glance a Ferdinand Berthoud.