During numerous meetings organized at the Ferney-Voltaire castle or elsewhere, some watch lovers, collectors and journalists have been able to discover more than a watch, a concept.
At a time when everybody reformats their lines by producing very moderate 40mm, with opaline dials for the Chinese market, the Manufacture Royale stands out with codes belonging to a superlative independent watchmaking, worthy of euphoric years we thought were gone by.
A puzzling product when one hasn’t held it in one’s own hands, with its baroque, radical or even Steampunk aesthetics, the Opera arrives in a context of economic trouble and crisis of meaning. Unfortunately, it has been judged by skimpy standards.
Charly Grosbety, a sculptor, jeweler, biker, is in the manner of some Loiseau, Wiederetch or some Prescher, one of the behind the scene enchanters who have been bewitching watchlovers for decades.
A character out of the norms, who takes after Captain Haddock rather than after Professor Calculus, a mountain man who had stopped working for the watch industry, before Arnaud Faivre went and got him for a final job. In fact, it is a masterstroke whose ramifications remain to be counted.
If Charly Grosbety is the artist, Arnaud Faivre is the designer for Manufacture Royale. Seldom known from the public, he is the CEO of «Tec Ebauches», a young company, a watchmaking Startup minus IT plus CNC.
In a few short years, «Tec Ebauches» imposed itself as one of the chief providers of ébauches in French-speaking Switzerland, in terms of quality as well as quantity.
These «know how» and «knowhow to finish» exist at all levels in the Manufacture Royale project. The hand finishing from «Tec Ebauches», usually devolved to the most prestigious names in the Helvetic watchmaking, brings an incredible boost in quality to the products of Manufacture Royale.
If the concept is offbeat regarding the style of its creators, it is also out of place thanks to a surprising and refreshing storytelling.
Instead of raising an obscure manufactory from the Jura, wrecked decades ago during the quartz storm, Arnaud Faivre chose to draw his inspiration from Voltaire’s journey.
The leading philosopher of the «Enlightenment», spearhead of the European intellectual modernism, Voltaire the liberal, the libertarian and the libertine. The spirit who originated the modern vision of freedom of expression, essential for the democratic debate and progress in all domains.
Because Voltaire was not only a courtier and a philosopher, but also a businessman, whose enormous income enabled him to address the problems stemming from the acidity of his writings.
A this period, watchmaking was already a profitable trade… After having successively fallen out of favor from several kings, pursued by packs of courtiers, intellectually conflicted with Rousseau(after our post-modern standards, Rousseau would be from the left wing, whereas Voltaire would be from the right), the writer finds refuge in Geneva in 1755.
Approaching his sixties, Voltaire is regarded as dead (60 years old, a venerable age by the standards of this period); He’s nonetheless animated by a second wind, and settles near the border of the independent city of Geneva, in the French no man’s land of Gex country, at Ferney, which will eventually become Ferney-Voltaire.
After drying out marshlands, killing mosquitoes, multiplying the population by a factor 20, creating a mini-courtship and consecrating his abode as one of the most upper-crust places in Europe, Voltaire creates flourishing industries, silk stockings and watchmaking, under the name of «Manufacture Royale».
I went to Vallorbe, headquarters of the Manufacture Royale, to discover the «Androgyne», the watch that succeeds the «Opera».
NB: the pictured watch is a prototype, the final version will feature slightly shorter lugs, a more finely worked rehaut, and will be finalized: no micro specks of dust anymore, metal of the case in a different color, etc.
If the Opera was an excessive and conceptual watch , the « Androgyne » is a timepiece of reason.
The Opera ambitioned to be the loudest «wristwatch minute repeater» in the world.
To achieve this result, heavy modifications have been made on a caliber from «La Fabrique du Temps».
More particularly, an unfurling sound box has been added to increase the volume.
Obviously, a relatively bulky caliber associated with an unfurling box produced an iconoclast 50mm watch.
The «Androgyne » keeps the design of the Opera in a more standard dimension (43mm) and smoothed aesthetics.
The classic Tourbillon set at 21600v/h is still on board, but out with the minute repetition and the playful unfolding case, replaced by a case with an almost classic architecture.
The «Androgyne », with its more reasonable design, is intended for female and male customers indifferently, which Voltaire, great seducer, wouldn’t have disavowed!
Especially when one knows that he personally produced several women watches… Thus, with this piece we stay with the codes of MR from the Voltarian period.
To compare, the Opera at my wrist:
More reasonable, but not too much, we are far from a watch intended for emerging markets.
Although it is more sober than that of the Opera, the design of the «Androgyne » is far from stale, the «Baroquo-Steampunk» look is still present and the dial loses in complexity what it gains in fluidity and volumes.
Several design tips were made to lighten the dial, giving it its own dynamism, especially with near-symmetric Tourbillon and barrel framework bridges (60 hours of power reserve), as well as with layered bridges.
Strong contrasts between material and finishings (enhanced by the central sanding) further reinforce the sharp aesthetic choices.
The bridges as well as the hands (like those of the Opera) are chiseled in a broadsword shape.
It is of course reminiscent of a sword and shield, a wink from the Manufacture Royale to its nobility of the sword.
Nobility of the sword whose mythological pinnacle are the Arthurian legends…
There is still a tremendous amount to say about this piece, its design, its complications, its storytelling and most of all, about its price!
It will be available starting at 39.000 CHF excl.tax in the stainless steel version and 69.000 CHF excl.tax in the gold version.
To be compared with the entry level of the Helvetic tourbillons: the Master Tourbillon Jeager leCoultre and the Zenith El Primero Tourbillon are available for about 40.000 CHF excl.tax in stainless steel versions, and yet are far more classic pieces …
In terms of execution and look, the «Androgyne » is a product comparable to a «Corum Tbridge Tourbillon » , priced at 55k (in titanium), an already competitive price for such an odd product.
A really fair-play tag , a discovery price.
Manufacture Royale reasserts its will to durably establish itself on the watchmaking market.
MR benefits not only from a structure and an a range of know-hows almost unequaled, even by large manufacturers, but also benefits from a strong and original concept, with many ongoing projects.
MR is able to carry concepts like the « Androgyne », a watch that confirms the soundness of the project.