In the world of classical, independent, and fine watchmaking, few brands or watchmakers cast a longer shadow than Laurent Ferrier. So, I was thrilled when Stephen Silver Fine Jewelry invited me to come again to their wonderful store in Menlo Park, CA, to meet the man, the legend, and get a chance to interview him in person.
As an admirer of classical timepieces from marquee brands like Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, and A. Lange & Söhne, I am on the constant lookout for up-and-coming brands that have a shot to dethrone, or more likely create timepieces with similar lasting design and history as these legendary brands. Well, if you are like me, then look no further than Laurent Ferrier. The man behind this eponymous brand is an ex-employee of Patek Philippe. How did he end up creating his own brand? What drove him?
After getting a complete first-hand account from Mr. Ferrier himself, showing me each of his timepieces, I spent some time chatting with him in our native French. We discussed the tech industry in Silicon Valley, his thoughts on smartwatches, and how he created his brand. The translated short transcript below is lightly edited for flow.
Maximilien: What does the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area, represent to you as a watchmaker?
Laurent Ferrier: Well, San Francisco is a legendary city with a unique architecture, and Silicon Valley is the modern center of current technology. We need current technology to dream of more artistic technology. Horology has not evolved much in the past 100 years. Whether it’s a tourbillon or double or triple tourbillon, not much has changed in watchmaking, unlike aviation, for example. I believe the people who are deep into modern technology can indeed find something more tangible and artistic in horology.
Maximilien: You are here to present your collection, do you believe that people here will appreciate a Laurent Ferrier classical timepiece? What is their reaction?
Laurent Ferrier: I believe people quickly realize that the USA is not really a country of cowboys, but rather one where folks appreciate refined, discreet, and classical things. Things that are not necessarily designed to be shown off, but rather to keep and to appreciate for yourself. We met collectors here wearing a tourbillon with a pair of jeans, and they fully understood and appreciated the movement inside it.
Maximilien: Since you are here in Silicon Valley, with Apple less than about 30 minutes from where we are seated, I also have to ask about your thoughts on smartwatches?
Laurent Ferrier: For me, technologically, a simple portable phone is already a fabulous thing. My dad was a watchmaker, I am a watchmaker, and if we could have them alive today, his generation would be able to repair one of my timepieces. If, on the other hand, they repaired a ham radio, they would not be able to repair any of the modern phones. Those devices have evolved.
From a tech point of view, I am in awe of what these smart devices can do. However, in 30 years, will any of these devices increase in value? Will they be rare like a fine timepiece? I believe, with the smart devices, they will be displaced quickly and become unusable. We will need to keep changing these devices.
Maximilien: It’s like these devices live in the present, but your watches, on the other hand, live forever.
Laurent Ferrier: Yes, precisely. If we kept a timepiece in a box, in 100 years, you could wind it and it would still work. But it won’t be like that for smartwatches. It’s also like cars, a Ferrari of the past was made by hand and mechanical, and today, it’s worth a lot and is completely serviceable. Today’s Ferrari cars are loaded with digital technology and, without the right firmware, cannot be serviced.
Maximilien: And to finish, I am sure that our readers at aBlogtoWatch.com would love to know what Laurent Ferrier does outside of watchmaking? What are your hobbies, if any?
Laurent Ferrier: For a while, my hobby was car racing.
Maximilien: Really? What types of cars?
Laurent Ferrier: Well, I have done the 24 hours of Le Mans seven times as a driver. I won it once, too… After watchmaking school, I worked at Patek Philippe for a while. But my hobby was car racing. I was able to do the 24 hours of Le Mans a few times. And in 1979, we finished 3rd with a Porsche which was on the Le Mans podium. My co-driver was a French industrialist who was also the sponsor, and to thank him when we won, I offered him a Patek Philippe Nautilus. And when I met him after, in subsequent years, he would tell me how many compliments he got on his Nautilus, and he also knew it was rare and hard to find. So we decided we would one day do our own watches. But this talk was always while on vacation at the beach and nothing came of it…
But after 37 years at Patek Philippe, he came to see me and asked me if we will build this watch. He gave me carte blanche. He said, do it, and we’ll figure out the rest after. So we created the first piece and went to New York and to meet with some collectors. One of them asked us if we were part of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève for that year. We were not, since it was plain and not complicated. And like that, he insisted. He nominated us, and we won the Grand Prize over Vacheron and F.P. Journe. And that’s the story of a hobby that turned into a business.
Once again, a thanks to Laurent Ferrier for taking the time for this interview. laurentferrier.ch