Cut and thrust: lively cross-talk with Angelus

Cut and Thrust

So what we have is a well-known but defunct maison; one watch unveiled at Basel, but no hint of any future collections; a very limited edition; and no history with the team in place. Doesn’t all that make having Angelus at Chronopassion rather a huge gamble? 

Laurent Picciotto: Yes; but the reason can be summed up in just two words: Tourbillon Lumière. 

As reasons go, isn’t that a bit flimsy? 

Laurent Picciotto: Not once you’ve got the watch in front of you. Like many other people, I’d spotted it before Baselworld, but I couldn’t manage to schedule a slot to go and see it and chat with the team. And then I received a sign, as it were: I got an e-mail from them on the very day I arrived, while I was still on the train. 

It must have been quite a convincing e-mail…

Fabien Dutriaux, Angelus VP of sales: Yes, it would appear so! Just a brief invitation to meet up, nothing more. I knew the Tourbillon Lumière had what it takes to be up Laurent’s street: a highly original, disruptive watch, featuring plenty of attention to detail, produced in a limited edition by a hallowed firm, and backed by a group and an industrial facility (Ed: La Joux-Perret) that’s already proved its mettle. At the very least, we fulfilled the basic criteria… 

Laurent Picciotto: All good as far as it goes, yes – but I always pay close attention, in equal measure, to two other things: the present – what this sort of young, independent firm has to offer – and the roadmap. Because for Angelus, as for the others, this is only the start: there’s a whole brand to be built, starting from scratch. There’s infinitely more work ahead of them than behind. You have to move mountains simply to get noticed – and they have – but there are many more to be shifted before you’ve really convinced anyone. 

The sheer size of the task is intimidating enough, isn’t it? 

Sébastien Chaulmontet, Developments Manager: those are hard words, but we know only too well that you’re right. Before the Tourbillon Lumière ever existed came five years of developments, countless prototypes, successes, failures, much soul-searching – and direct implications for scores of employees. Truth be told, we didn’t even know whether the watch would still be fashionable by the time it was ready!

Laurent Picciotto: It is – precisely because it’s not a slave to fashion. As Gérald Genta used to say sometimes, it’s a conversation piece. 

What did he mean by that? 

Laurent Picciotto: Look at the offset tourbillon: it’s the only thing that protrudes from your sleeve – just. For many watches, once you’ve seen the tourbillon, you’ve seen it all; it’s the central feature. Not so with Angelus. You may have spotted the tourbillon, but you’ve scarcely glimpsed half the watch, if that. Tourbillon Lumière naturally exudes plenty of emotion, and that gets conversation going.

So why get the conversation going with Chronopassion? 

Sébastien Chaulmontet: Firstly, because it’s somewhere I feel close to personally. Back in my student days, I’d come and do window-shopping here. 

Laurent Picciotto: Really? I don’t remember that!

Sébastien Chaulmontet: I remember you though! There’s a spirit here – enthusiasm when it comes to offering fine watchmaking, and defending its cause. Having the Tourbillon Lumière at Chronopassion is clearly right – a passionate watch sold by passionate people. 

So who’ll be buying it? 

Laurent Picciotto: Collectors; and so, by definition, people who already have everything. They don’t come here asking: “What’s new?”, but with a single, pressing demand: “Amaze me”. Angelus is one way of doing just that. Even though the brand has an undeniable historical aura, its resurrection is not simply about exploiting the past or cheap re-releases. It’s an incisive new development – and a fabulously reinvented story. 

Sébastien Chaulmontet: Our future collections will be along similar lines. The idea is to pick up the history of Angelus where it left off. 

Laurent Picciotto: Collections will establish whether the plan is the right one. To build a brand, you need technical ability, PR, resources – and determination. The aims are always the same: getting people on board, and staking out a permanent place in the watchmaking landscape. At the end of the day, above a certain price customers are looking for a climate of trust – and something they can believe in. 

Sébastien Chaulmontet: We here at Angelus agree – but achieving that might take a while. 

Laurent Picciotto: Not necessarily. We’ve been working with a number of brands from their earliest days. Some go back less than twenty years, some others less than ten: MB&F, Urwerk, Richard Mille, and HYT, to name but a few. They’ve all succeeded in making their mark in a relatively short space of time – and done so with very different identities. Angelus clearly has the potential to do the same. 

That said, Angelus’ first life came to a rather abrupt end – despite its huge capacity for innovation. 

Sébastien Chaulmontet: Angelus had to die so that it could be reborn, differently. That said, we still have a lot in common with the original brand: a designer, manufacturer, and pioneer, capable of offering completely new horological concepts, such as the first calendar chronographs – which have now become a standard. There are plenty more Angelus inventions where those came from, but I can’t say any more about that right now: we’re going to be using them to write the second chapter of our contemporary history, due out in 2016!

Can we expect further releases of the same calibre as the Tourbillon Lumière? 

Fabien Dutriaux, Angelus VP of sales: Let’s just say that this watch sets the tone: we won’t go back to doing vintage, cut-priced re-issues – but we won’t confine ourselves to limited editions for collectors, either. There’ll be more accessible collections, in the right price range. Today you can’t simply offer anything at any price. Behind Angelus, there’s a whole manufacture, with a headcount of 200 and a 15-person-strong design department. We know the value of all that, and we’re keeping a close eye on our costs. 

Laurent Picciotto: That’s the strength of enduring niche brands: striking the right balance between wildly unreasonable products and sensible business thinking. That’s the way to achieve equilibrium between commercial value and perceived value. 

Sébastien Chaulmontet: I couldn’t agree more. The artistic aspect of our creations is no reason to sell them at ridiculous prices. In broader terms, we intend to make conceptual fine watchmaking affordable to a wider clientele.

Interview by Olivier Müller