L’Épée 1839, a cut above

Even in a time of sluggish growth for the industry, one or two gems prove irresistible, such as the Two Hands double tourbillon and Starfleet Machine. An interview with Arnaud Nicolas, Chief Executive of L’Épée 1839, part of Swiza Group.

L’Épée 1839 is celebrating its 175th anniversary after narrowly avoiding bankruptcy in 2009. What’s the recipe for success?

Arnaud Nicolas*: When we took over Swiza S.A., the group already had its three flagship brands, Swiza 1904, Matthew Norman and L’Épée 1839, which together accounted for 7% of revenue. The remainder came from manufacturing for third parties and virtually all business came from quartz table clocks. We discontinued a lot of lines and repositioned the brands so there was no longer any cannibalisation. We also launched a strategy to move upscale, with L’Épée 1839 at the pinnacle. We now generate 60% of revenue with our own brands, and 60% of production is mechanical.

What is the new philosophy at L’Épée 1839?

We define our clocks as mechanical artworks that tell the time. They are animated toys for the child in us. We incorporate the brand’s history, literally, into each product through evocative details such as the crossing swords on the Duel double retrograde Clock, or the swords that indicate power reserve, pointing upwards to show they are ready to fight and pointing down when the movement needs winding.

For the brand’s 175th anniversary, you worked with Vincent Calabrese on the Two Hands double tourbillon and with MB&F on Starfleet Machine. What prompted you to choose them as partners?

It all fell into place quite naturally for the Two Hands clock. I told Vincent Calabrese, whom I consider to be the greatest tourbillon specialist there is, that I was looking for an original idea to mark the brand’s 175th anniversary. He suggested Two Hands, with a tourbillon mounted on the minute hand that makes one rotation an hour, and a tourbillon escapement that completes its rotation in 60 seconds. It took us two years to bring the project to fruition. Only two have been made: one in titanium and one in gilded brass. The exterior, in collaboration with Cheap  Replica Watches Sale designer Christian Chabloz, is as extraordinary as the mechanism. The sphere encompasses 379 pockets of enamel, the biggest being two thousand times larger than the smallest. As you can imagine, it’s extremely complex to make.

And Starfleet Machine?

I was introduced to Max Büsser by a mutual friend. I also mentioned to him that I wanted to mark the brand’s anniversary with a product that went against the grain. Obviously he liked the idea! He and his team adapted the Duel movement, introduced at Basel in 2010, and transformed it into the Starfleet Machine. I immediately liked what I saw. We then worked further on the design and engineering to produce the myriad details that make this clock special: the hours and minutes dome, the revolving radar dish that indicates power reserve, the two cannons around the escapement, etc. The whole thing took two years of research and development.

What response have you had from customers?

Excellent. Two Hands was unveiled at Basel in March this year, for CHF 500,000. Our Japanese distributor bought the titanium model even before the  Offical Replica Cartier Watches  fair opened. The second version will very probably find a home in the Middle East. As for Starfleet Machine, at CHF 28,000, all 175 pieces have been pre-sold. I must admit I was surprised by the speed of success. Just to give you an idea: one day last August, I was spending time with my family in Saint-Moritz and thought I would go and say hi to our retailer there, before he opened up. As I drove past, I spotted the Starfleet Machine in the window. By the time I’d found a parking spot and walked back to the store, it had been sold. It took the customer less time to make up his mind than it took the sales assistant to draw up the bill!