Monday, December 19, 2016

Laurent Ferrier: A Force of Nature

Galet Classic Square

By Jonathan Bues

Inspired by vintage automobiles and the relentless power of nature, Laurent Ferrier watches are some of Geneva’s best designed, inside and out.

The tourbillon features a double-hairspring design.

If you ask the tastemakers who select, critique and sell the best new timepieces about what’s new and exciting in the world of watches, you can count on one name coming up over and over again. Laurent Ferrier, a genial Swiss gentleman with a resume that reads like the blueprint for being a renaissance man, has mastered the art of conservative refinement that marks the best timepieces made in the Geneva tradition.

By now, Ferrier’s story is legendary among the watch-collecting cognoscenti: His long and distinguished career was spent rising through the ranks to become the head of creation development at Patek Philippe. In between developing the most collectible and complicated models for that august marque, Ferrier found thrills and success behind the wheel of a racecar. The pinnacle of this automotive avocation came when he and his team placed near the top of the field at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. To this day, the lush contours of mid-twentieth-century Porsches inform Ferrier’s watch-design aesthetic.

Squaring the Circle
Finally, wanting to start his own family business and create watches bearing the Ferrier name, he launched an eponymous company. 

Galet Square

For the first watches, Ferrier found inspiration in nature. The Galet name, so often associated with Laurent Ferrier, means “pebble” in French. He chose pebble because, in designing the case, he hoped to mimic the smooth, natural, and rounded sides of a stone eroded by water and time. Inside his first watch was a tourbillon with two inversed balance springs as refined as any crafted in all of Switzerland.

In the years since that first Galet premiered, Laurent Ferrier has remained busy developing new models based on the pebble concept, most recently a cushion shaped interpretation called the Galet Square. The most complicated of these is the new Galet Classic Square. Ferrier’s choice of a white gold case and white enamel dial typify the discretion and conservatism espoused by the master watchmaker. Ferrier even hides the fact that this masterpiece is a tourbillon from all but the wearer, who must flip the watch over and view it through its sapphire caseback in order to see the escapement. The only dial-side hint that this watch is a tourbillon comes from a faint, transfer-printed line of gray text — so faint, in fact, that it almost blends into the enamel.

Galet Traveller

The cushion-shaped Galet Square also comes in a somewhat less complicated, time-only version, though even this timepiece comes equipped with an escapement worthy of mention. Not only is this in-house automatic caliber outfitted with a pawl-fitted micro-rotor, its silicon escapement — dubbed the Laurent Ferrier Natural Escapement — features a double direct impulse on the balance, following a design first outlined by A.L. Breguet. The effect of the double direct impulse is not just accuracy, but also efficiency. On a single wind, this watch runs for more than 70 hours.

Make Your Move
One of the most compelling complications for modern watch collectors is the dual-time zone. Ferrier expresses this category in the Galet Traveller series, seen here with a three-dimensional “globe” dial in deep-night blue. 

Traveller Boréal

The watch functions via pushers on the case side that advance the travel time (indicated via the hour and minute hands emanating from the central axis). The top pusher advances the hour hand in one-hour increments and the bottom pusher moves it backward. The home time of the wearer displays in a 24-hour format at the 9 o’clock position, thereby ensuring the wearer can read whether it’s day or night at home. When advancing the local time past midnight, the date window naturally reacts appropriately. But what’s most impressive about this watch may just be its three-dimensional enamel dial, the depth of which captivates the wearer while effortlessly communicating the utility of its functions.

Another recent version of the Traveller presented in Geneva earlier this year is the Traveller Boréal, a timepiece that introduces a sporty and useful application of Super-LumiNova for the first time in the company’s history. The Traveller Boréal is careful to conceal its potential for greenish glow behind a tan sector ring matching its vintage-inspired tan strap. If there was ever a Laurent Ferrier weekend watch, this is probably the one.

Galet Secret

Little Secrets
Laurent Ferrier also has a playful side well known to collectors. The watchmaker may produce some of the most classically designed wristwatches available today, but within one model, there is a trick beneath the dial. With the Galet Secret, Laurent Ferrier has created a multi-part dial that reveals a beautiful, handmade piece of art with the push of a button integrated into the crown. Additionally, the watchmaker can also set the watch so the artwork is revealed at a pre-determined time chosen by the owner. This beautiful rendering of a night sky, its clouds illuminated by a full moon, is indeed a secret revealed at the watch owner’s discretion. Only then could anyone guess what lies beneath the beautiful sunray dial.

And yet, an even bigger secret is revealed when the wearer turns the Galet Secret over. Inside is an in-house tourbillon movement. In fact, it is the first of its kind, outfitted with double balance springs, which further enhance and refine the very raison d’etre of the tourbillon, to compensate for the effects of gravity on the watch’s rate.

Galet Micro-Rotor

And finally, there is the Galet Micro Rotor, the flagship within Ferrier’s range. This time-only wristwatch, presented here in rich rose gold, is a kind of platonic ideal — or at least Laurent Ferrier’s ideal — of the wristwatch. Everything from its hour markers and hands to its rounded crown and 39mm case has been designed and executed with a rare degree of care. Upon first wearing this timepiece, one senses an immediate timeless quality, a modern classic with the enduring longevity of excellent design.

With design inspiration coming from enduring places like nature and classic cars, and movements produced to a level unsurpassed by any brand, Laurent Ferrier watches have a lasting quality that remains uncommon even among high-end timepiece designs. It’s clear that these are the kind of rare wristwatches that, once acquired, collectors will never consider selling.

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