Watch maker Ludovic Ballouard presents his first self-branded timepiece, the "Upside Down Watch." A finely made high-end watch, the piece incorporates Ballouard's experience accumulated from working at brands such as Franck Muller and the very well-respected F.P. Journe. You can see elements of his time at F.P. Journe in his own watch, whose movement thematically resembles the work coming out of that atelier. Ludovic is an open fan of F.P. Journe, highly admiring the brand's work (not just because he spend a good amount of years there), and still often wears a F.P. Journe watch today.
The development of the Upside Down Watch started a few years ago, and I wanted to wait until actual images of the watch were released before writing about it. I enjoyed the concept from the start. It is not overly complex, but it is satisfying, and technically complicated. There is a friendly richness to the design and complication that shows Ballouard is not only willing to have fun, also that he is not one to take himself way to seriously. The execution of the Upside Down Watch is something that I have a feeling more conservative watch makers would shrug off. So what exactly does it do?
It all focuses on the hour indicators. Each is placed on a small disc that is capable of rotating. By default, each of the hours is placed in an upside down position. However, the "active" hour, which corresponds to the right time, is flipped around to be right side up. Plus, a small dot on the disc that is normally hidden under the bezel is displayed to help the eye see the time properly. The discs turn instantaneously, and very quickly when it is their "turn." There is a single blued steel hand on the main dial for the minutes, as well as a small subsidiary seconds dial. See how simple but satisfying that is?
At F.P. Journe Ballouard worked on the Sonnerie Souveraine (which I discussed here). It is an enormously complicated watch that Ballouard was a key part of making. Costing $650,000 - the F.P. Journe Sonnerie Souverain is probably the most expensive steel watch in the world. This is really a serious type of watch to have been working on - and in and of itself seems to provide a lot of credibility to Ludovic Ballouard brand (and man).
Ludovic is a bit of a rogue in the high-end watch world. Which is a good thing as far as I am concerned. Aside from seeming more down-to-earth than many in the watch industry might seem, he is willing to openly share his own ideas on the industry -which is likely one of the reasons he enjoys being independent. During an interview with Timezone.com, he is quoted as saying:
"I feel embarrassed for the industry today in general, I find it very unjust that certain (brands/people) have sold watches 10 times more expensive than what they are really worth. It will take me about a week to make each one of my watches, so how is it possible for certain brands to make over 10,000 pieces a year with only 20 or so watchmakers in their workshops? If we do the math, that means an average of 10 watches a week per watchmaker, without considering vacations! It's becoming more urgent to sell watches for their real worth, like everything in life. I expect a beneficial effect from the current economic crisis, in the sense that going forward the collector will be more discerning about their new watch purchases."
This statement is true, and shows that Ballouard isn't in the game to create a wall of smoke and mirror around what he does. Many watch makers (metaphorically) provide an illusion that they enter a cave of watch making with nothing but tools and lubrication grease to sustain themselves for a month, only to come out with a perfectly formed new timepiece formed with help from grace.
As such, the Upside Down Watch will have a price that is quite reasonable for what you are getting. The first watches are part of a limited edition set of just 12 pieces. Ballouard will make more watches after this set (that has already been sold). The next watches will likely have a few little chances, but more or less be the same watch (the limited edition holders need something special as being "early adopters" of the Ludovic Ballouard brand). Each watch will be in solid platinum (that includes the strap buckle and crown) in a 41mm wide case. Price for them will be around 40,000 Swiss Francs - which is more or less the same in US dollars.
Ballouard calls the movement inside the Upside Down Watch the Calibre B01 (which might confuse people with the Breitling watch of the same name). It is manually wound, patented, and has a little quirk in that it can only be adjusted in one direction (due to the complication). The movement has 228 pieces, beats at 21,600 bph, and has a power reserve of about 40 hours.
One interesting thing I learned about Ludovic Ballouard is that one of his hobbies is making and flying model airplanes. He is in a club in Geneva for model airplanes that is said to be made up mostly of watch makers. Apparently his favorite model planes are those with built in camera so that he can see (presumably in real time) what the plane sees from an aerial perspective. I recall waiting for such a thing to come about when I was a kid and into model planes.
The honest and direct nature of Mr. Ballouard is refreshing, and I appreciate not only the lighthearted nature of the Upside Down Watch, but the philosophy of the brand. Complications such as tourbillon seem to bore Ballouard, so expect some interesting things to come from the brand in the future.