A supplier of components to the watch world, the 12-year-old independent brand Romain Gauthier creates exceptional timepieces that are works of art and technology. Watch journalist Roberta Naas profiles the man behind the brand in this feature from WatchTime’s February 2018 issue.
Just a dozen years old, the eponymous Swiss independent watch brand, Romain Gauthier, handcrafts some of the most beautiful and technologically advanced watches on the market – in incredibly limited numbers. In fact, the brand builds just about 60 timepieces a year in its Vallée de Joux Le Sentier workshops. Led by the visionary and passionate Romain Gauthier, the exceptional watches that bear his name on the dial are a deft blend of haute horlogerie and intense technical innovation.
Trained and certified as a constructor of precision machinery, the now 42-year-old Gauthier initially did not intend to make a career in the watch world. Still, living in Switzerland, it is hard to bypass this craft. After spending six years studying mechanics and machinery on an engineering path, Gauthier’s first job was as a programmer/operator at one of the top watch movement manufactures in Switzerland, François Golay. It would change his life.
Gauthier says that being in the cradle of watchmaking and having experience making movement parts started him wondering about building a brand. “A watch is, after all, a small machine. And so I started to tinker with ideas and began creating some watch designs in my free time in early 1999. By the end of the year, my designs were becoming more and more serious,” says Gauthier.
Determined to have his own brand, he pursued an MBA at Lausanne Business School while also working, and created his company business plan as his Master’s thesis. He shared his dream with the owner of François Golay, who suggested Gauthier work nights and weekends using its machines to create his own watch components. For several years, Gauthier planned his first movement, developed the technical components and – when unable to find an existing hairspring for his work – he custom designed his own and had them made for him.
In 2005, Romain Gauthier founded his brand, and two years later unveiled the first watches, called Prestige HM. Today, the brand offers four in-house-made calibers: Prestige HM, Prestige HMS (launched in 2010), Logical One (unveiled in 2013 and winning the GPHG award that year for Best Men’s Complication), and the newly introduced Insight Micro-Rotor that made its debut at BaselWorld 2017.
Inside the Romain Gauthier Insight Micro-Rotor
Gauthier’s Insight Micro-Rotor watch was three years in the making and is an exceptional automatic watch that packs a double punch of elegance and superb efficiency. The three-handed time-only watch is powered by a new in-house-made caliber built entirely in Gauthier’s workshops. It was his goal to create a timepiece that enabled a visible view of the movement, its micro-rotor and its fine finishing. Hence the name “Insight.”
A perfectionist in all he creates, Gauthier wanted to build a wearable yet beautiful automatic watch. He says he was drawn to the efficiency and simplicity of a bidirectional micro-rotor that could wind the barrels quickly and silently and have enough power to last for days.
“Our collectors don’t expect us to make a minute repeater or perpetual calendar, for example, just for the sake of it – and we wouldn’t,” says Gauthier. “A new complication must make sense for me, personally. It has to be something around which I can express myself with my own watchmaking voice. Indeed, this is what our collectors have come to expect from us – making something that bears all the hallmarks of a Romain Gauthier creation in terms of engineering and finishing.”
While one might think that building an automatic movement is a fairly simple thing, for Romain Gauthier, a purist in watchmaking, it is anything but simple. The designing, modeling, prototyping, tweaking and other steps involved in bringing the movement to fruition took several years – and all of the steps were executed in house at the Romain Gauthier Manufacture, with approximately 20 artisans, technicians and watchmakers working on the project.
The focal point of the newest caliber is a 22-karat solid gold micro-rotor – visible on the dial side of the watch, as well as through the caseback. The beauty of the system is that the micro-rotor is bidirectional and so motion from the wearer’s wrist converts to energy for the mainspring no matter in which direction the micro-rotor turns.
In order to achieve the bidirectional turning of the micro-rotor, Gauthier had to develop a reversing gear whose center axis glides effortlessly from side to side. The reversing gear’s movement and rotation is further guided by a curved cut in two steel plates. When the micro-rotor changes direction, the teeth of the reverse gear also turn in the opposite direction. The design of the system positions the micro-rotor between two finely finished bridges above and below it that are each equipped with a ruby bearing to minimalize friction and wear and to offer superb stability. Additionally, by avoiding metal against metal, the rotation of the micro-rotor is also essentially inaudible.
The tirelessly swaying micro-rotor powers a double mainspring barrel. Those two barrels are built in series to offer consistent power to the regulator and endow the watch with 80 hours of power reserve. The regulator is equipped with Gauthier’s signature balance wheel with curved arms and calibrated weights. The new Insight Micro-Rotor caliber consists of 206 individually hand-finished and hand-assembled components, as well as 33 jewels, and beats at a frequency of 28,800 vibrations per hour.
The construction of every movement – from programming and machining of the parts to hand finishing and polishing – takes months of labor and detail. In fact, just the hand decoration of the bevels, countersinks, gears and parts with hand frosting, straight and circular graining and snailing takes a full two weeks per movement. It then takes the master watchmakers approximately three to four days to assemble and regulate each movement.
The Design of the Insight Micro-Rotor
With such a superb mechanism as the Insight Micro-Rotor, there must be an equally beautiful presentation. From an aesthetic point of view, the watch does not have a traditional full dial, but instead features an “open” dial concept – revealing the artistry that is the movement.
In a harmoniously balanced design, the watch features a small circular off-center hours and minutes dial at 12:00, with a smaller seconds indication in a round subdial just beneath the hour dial and overlapping somewhat, so that the seconds dial is nicely positioned in the center. At the 6 o’clock position, beneath the center seconds subdial, one can view the beating balance wheel in all its glory. Sitting at the 9 o’clock position is the micro-rotor. A small, engraved Romain Gauthier logo plaque is screwed into place at the 4 o’clock location.
The transparent sapphire caseback also reveals a closer look at the movement and its meticulous finishings, including Romain Gauthier’s signature screws with S-slot design. A bombé sapphire crystal that is higher in the middle of the 39-mm case offers a full view of the dial side.
The Insight Micro-Rotor is being created in 18-karat 5N rose gold and in 950 platinum. In each noble metal, there will be three 10-piece limited editions with different oven-fired enamel dial colors as options: white, black or blue. The 18-karat gold version retails for $75,000, while the platinum version sells for $88,000.
There are also two unique pieces, including an 18-karat rose-gold version with a mother-of-pearl dial and a case, bezel, lugs, buckle and micro-rotor entirely snow set with 849 diamonds totaling 4.78 carats. This unique piece retails for $185,000.
New Directions at Romain Gauthier
Recognizing the online pre-shopping and investigating done by today’s discerning customers, Romain Gauthier is also making some changes to its collections. In a soon-to-be-unveiled website redesign, the collections will be regrouped so that instead of focusing on watches by their in-house calibers (Insight Micro-Rotor, Logical One, Prestige HMS, Prestige HM), the collections will focus on style, and the different movements will fall into the appropriate lines.
The Heritage Collection will consist of watches wherein Romain Gauthier channels his love of traditional Swiss watchmaking prowess, with finely finished movements and cases made in gold and platinum.
The Freedom Collection consists of watches with a more daring vision of haute horlogerie. They encompass cutting-edge finishes and high-tech materials. Watches in this collection will be more casual in style, technical in nature and will sport titanium cases.
The third collection is the Exception collection, wherein art and culture are the focus. This series includes unique pieces that showcase craftsmanship and artistic talent, including gem-set cases, hand-painted micro-engraved dials, marquetry and more. It is within this collection, too, that collectors can commission unique pieces.
For more by Roberta Naas, check out her blog, A Timely Perspective.