The Swiss watch planet in movement – Part 14

January 2011


“Twenty-five people, it’s a nice number, isn’t it?” asks Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, sitting in his new ateliers, which resemble a very beautiful and very large ultra-contemporary residence, constructed in keeping with strict environmental criteria. This means zero carbon emissions thanks to a combination of natural cooling, without air-conditioning, geothermal heating, and solar panels. This energy autonomy corresponds well to the idea of independence and self-sufficiency that Jean-Marc Wiederrecht has always cherished above all. His totally independent and self-financed structure allows him to be “solid, supple, open, flexible” and to work closely with his team of three constructors, nine bench watchmakers, five administrative employees, and five managers of supplies and quality. “I am good like this and I don’t want to get any larger,” he concludes.
The security of this total independence has a price: it involves having “a multiplication of products and clients,” he explains. Indeed, Agenhor disposes of a considerable list of clients for a relatively modest enterprise. There are a dozen or so large clients who are “serious and committed for the long term,” of which five or six make up 70 per cent of the company’s turnover. Among the ones that we can mention are Harry Winston, Van Cleef & Arpels, Chaumet, De Witt, Peter Speake-Marin, MB&F, and Arnold & Sons. The complete list is much longer and includes a number of real heavyweights in the haute horlogerie sector.

The Swiss watch planet in movement – Part 14 Jean-Marc Wiederrecht

Beyond the retrograde
Independent since 1978, Jean-Marc Wiederrecht constructed his image notably beginning in 1988 when, along with Roger Dubuis (the man and not the brand, which did not yet exist), he developed the first module of a bi-retrograde perpetual calendar for Harry Winston. This world’s first was rapidly followed by a flurry of inventions such as the Double GMT, the Tri-Retrograde, a Time Equation, and Universal Time, which made his reputation as the ‘King of the Retrograde’.
The mechanical talents of Jean-Marc Wiederrecht went way beyond the retrograde with an entirely other kind of invention in 2002, which allowed him to ‘liberate’ his watchmaking by facilitating the work: a patent for specially split toothed gears realized with Mimotec. By introducing a form of elasticity in the gearing, avoiding all blockage or tightening of the teeth against each other, and allowing continuous contact of the gears between each other, Wiederrecht opened new opportunities for the mechanical expression of his dreams.

Mechanical poems
Since Jean-Marc Wiederrecht is a watchmaker-poet in the best sense of the term, he wanted to create dreams with his gears, gearing and cams. For this reason, he particularly likes feminine timepieces. He likes to work with them because they “tell stories”, he says with a smile. The most striking example of his proclivity for ladies’ watches is the work he does with Van Cleef & Arpels. The brand turned to Agenhor to create its small mechanical works of poetic art—the Quantième de Saisons, the Fairy, the Midnight in Paris, and the Pont des Amoureux. “Starting with the drawings, the stories, and making the dreams come true in beautiful watches” are evidently what motivates Wiederrecht the most.
One example of a real watchmaking challenge is exemplified by the two lovers who join each other every hour on the bridge in the Pont des Amoureux, but this posed a mechanical problem. At the moment of their separation (their ‘retrogradation’), it was very difficult to exactly synchronize their double movement that is driven by two hands that did not turn at the same minute. It was necessary, therefore, to invent a small hook, new to watchmaking, to lock the two figures together, arm in arm, until it was time for them to leave each other exactly at the same time.
Clearly, it is all Wiederrecht, all Agenhor in this tiniest yet crucial detail, which is purely poetic because, if the two lovers separated one before the other, the story told by this watch would have been quite different. It would have been a stormy separation rather than a lover’s ballad.

The Swiss watch planet in movement – Part 14 PONT DES AMOUREUX by Van Cleef & Arpels

Only exclusivities
Agenhor makes only exclusivities, specifically destined to a precise watch and the story that it wants to tell. Another example demonstrates this very well—the Opus 9 that Agenhor realized in conjunction with the designer Eric Giroud for Harry Winston, and that won the Design category at the 2009 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie in Geneva. Working with Giroud, Wiederrecht developed an original and delicate way of indicating the time thanks to two mobile diamond chains. It was a perfectly suitable way of telling time, in both the literal and figurative senses, since the Harry Winston brand has always been associated with diamonds.
On average, Agenhor presents three new movements per year. The rhythm will not increase because, as Jean-Marc Wiederrecht says, “We do not introduce a movement or a mechanism until it is totally reliable, totally developed. This is even more important today than before, during the preceding crazy period. Today, the client rightly demands quality. Everything must be quality, the exterior as well as the interior. The same applies to finishing.”
From this point of view, Agenhor brings to its finishing, quite often invisible, a rare poetic refinement. Examples are the cams hidden inside the movement of the Pont des Amoureux, which are engraved with the silhouettes of the two figures. This decorative poetry also has a practical side: the parts of each watch are immediately identifiable, thus facilitating the work of the watchmakers.

The Swiss watch planet in movement – Part 14 DANDY ARTY by Chaumet, OPUS 9 by Harry Winston, TRUE NORTH by Arnold & Son

No prototypes
Unlike other ‘master mechanics’, Agenhor does not possess a lot of equipment. Everything is made outside, by a network of longstanding and loyal sub-contractors who have been carefully selected for the particular task. The main reason is that, for Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, “all validations must be made on perfect pieces”. Therefore, he does not pass by the traditional step of the prototype but makes the pieces directly in series based on the plans. When it is assembled and the movement functions, then it immediately passes to its production in series. “Sometimes,” he admits, “it is necessary to redo one or two components, but everything else is ready, waiting to be assembled.” Obviousy, Jean-Marc Wiederrecht is as practical and efficient as he is poetic. A winning equation.

Source: Europa Star December - January 2011 Magazine Issue