he beautiful village house dates from 1853. It hold a spacious watchmaker’s workshop of rare beauty. A genuine picture postcard, right down to the cows grazing peacefully at the forest’s edge. We are in Le Solliat, in the Joux Valley, two hundred metres from Philippe Dufour’s workshop and a short distance, as the crow flies, from the great Jaeger-LeCoultre.
Next to David Candaux at the workbench is his father, himself the son of a watchmaker. Watchmaking does not get more traditional than that. Yet David Candaux intends to carve out his own path.
Do these roots get in his way? No, just the opposite, they give him wings. Firmly grounded in the fertile watchmaking soil of this valley of horological complications, David dreams of carving out his own path. In other words, he wants his brand to blend in naturally with the landscape and let his voice be heard. But things are not as simple as that.
A methodically built career path
In 2017, David Candaux was admitted to the AHCI with his first watch, the Half-Hunter, after a solid and brilliant career thus far. Having grown up in the region, in 1994 he started at the Joux Valley Technical School while completing an apprenticeship with the valley’s grand old manufacture, Jaeger-LeCoultre, which at the time had a workforce of 268.
The Reverso Tourbillon was the first timepiece to spark his imagination. He told himself that his first watch would be a tourbillon. He would not leave Jaeger-LeCoultre until 17 years later, in 2011, by which time it had a workforce of 1,300. At Jaeger, he rose up through the ranks, a witness to the “hallucinating dynamic” that seized the brand during those years of mad growth.
The young man was ambitious and built his career step by step, methodically. For 13 years, while working during the day, he took evening classes to become a complete watchmaker. Then he did one training course after another: watch design, restoration, general mechanical engineering, a Master’s degree in industrial systems, right through to an MBA, obtained after three years of evening classes. By 2011, Jaeger-LeCoultre had grown so big it had become a “bureaucracy”. He felt ready to spread his wings.
“Are you happy?”
For a while he worked with Jean-Marc Wiederrecht and helped develop the animated watch Poetic Wish by Van Cleef & Arpels. Then he set up as an independent watchmaker to do subcon- tracting, joined by three friends. Together, they worked on a whole series of creations including the HM6 for MB&F, designs for Bovet, then Badollet, Rebellion with designer Eric Giroud, and the FB1 by Ferdinand Berthoud with designer Guy Bove.
But one day, in the village’s sole street, he bumped into his neighbour Philippe Dufour, who put this simple question to him: “Are you happy?”
This question from the man with the pipe left him speechless. But it got him thinking. In 2016, David Candaux wrapped up (albeit with difficulty) his subcontracting business, and determined to go it alone, or almost, with his own watch, his own brand.
He released his first watch, the Half-Hunter, the fruit of long reflection, in 2017. Which is how, the same year, he came to join the AHCI. The positioning of his tourbillon watch was tricky: its elongated shape gave it an unusual aesthetic, placing it in the higher price range. But his brand and name were young, virtually unknown, and to top it off, some people were out to throw banana skins in his path. Because “the cake had stopped growing and competition was now fierce”.
- The Half-Hunter watch, first creation of David Candaux
All his business plans turned out to be “off the mark”. He had invested heavily, he had travel expenses to pay for, exhibitions with zero sales; he needed to make his name known. The margins demanded were voracious and for the 14 watches he managed to sell over four years – still a remarkable achievement – he was left with only CHF 140,000 for himself.
“Launching a brand has got tough. Though I work virtually alone, I’m necessarily compared with recognised, established brands. It’s tough, because customers are adopting a wait-and-see approach. There’s the brand’s youth, its price, its unusual look... If you look closely, the explosion of prices for independents at auctions only actually concerns the ‘old’ independents. You just have to give it time.”
Have these trials and tribulations left him older and wiser? Whatever the case, David Candaux remains undeterred and does seem to be “giving it time” in the serenity of his workshop. His father, conscientiously finishing a component, comes to ask his opinion while David opens his notebooks, shows us his notes, unrolls his plans and points out the movements in the final phase of completion. One new timepiece is maturing, ready to be released. “A Covid watch”, he says with a smile. Genesis, born of the lockdown.
- The brand-new DC7 Genesis in titanium and the beautiful, sober architecture of its movement.
A watch with hours, central minutes and a tourbillon at 12 o’clock, inclined at 30°. With its blue, very legible dial and a somewhat sporty look, it is more streamlined and elegant than the Half-Hunter. Graphically, it plays the simple card of perfect vertical symmetry combined with horizontal asymmetry “like Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. A basic rule of aesthetics that I also use in the movement architecture.” Made entirely in titanium, Genesis is beautifully finished, with matte graining and flat Côtes de Solliat striping, which is extremely difficult to execute in titanium.
This modern and attractive timepiece, which is set to transform the perception of David Candaux watches, is mounted on a rubber strap with an entirely handmade Velcro fastening that developed into a nightmare. “This strap was a real mistake, I spent a fortune on it. At the end of the day I’m very pleased with it, but nobody really realises all the work that went into it. There’s R&D, development, prototyping, production... As if we were a big company.”
- DC7 Genesis Piece Unique by David Candaux and artist Saturno for the 2021 edition of the charity auction Only Watch
In his own fashion, David Candaux reveals the difficulties that can face master watchmakers determined to keep their independence. While the path of independence holds key lessons worth meditating upon for the watchmaking sector as a whole, it is no bed of roses. Just like freedom.