orn in the Swiss Jura and a former student of the watchmaking school in Porrentruy, Hervé Schlüchter spent much of his career with independent brand Bovet, joining in 2000 and leaving in 2016, having worked his way up to the position of director of Dimier. But independence beckoned and in 2017 he set up his own creative laboratory - Hyade-s - specialising in “unique and out of the ordinary horological objects”. Projects included experimental label Alchemists.
The decisive encounter would be with Philippe Dufour. The master watchmaker accepted to take Hervé Schlüchter under his wing and share some of the secrets behind the mechanical art that has made him one of the most venerated figures in watchmaking today. Meeting Mr Dufour also confirmed his wish to work independently rather than for others. At the age of 44, Hervé Schlüchter opened his Ateliers in Biel/Bienne, in a magnificent villa that is also one of the city’s oldest. An idyllic setting. He installed his workbenches along with rose engines bought from master guillocheur Georges Brodbeck, recruited two watchmakers and, in spring 2022, invited the press to the official creation of Ateliers Hervé Schlüchter. Specifically on the day of the spring equinox; a date that wasn’t chosen by chance…
The Tree of Life concept
His major project is the creation of a series of timepieces which he has christened Tree of Life. They are, as he explained when we visited the workshop, “not so much watches as mechanical and philosophical instruments.” The premise is to create a succession of models that will express different generations’ relationship with time, and which are connected one to the other through the passage of time and through the continuity of generations.
The first piece is L’Essentiel, a 39mm diameter with a 24-hour disk. It is designed for the lowest branches of the family tree; for the children who are starting out on life’s journey. “At that age, all you think about is today. The sun rises and the sun sets. Mechanically, we wanted to represent a full day. It’s the promise of dawn, from the title of one of my favourite books by Romain Gary.” The family bond is subtly evoked, for example in the possibility to inscribe a motto on the back of the 24-hour disk, or choose a particular colour scheme.
The first piece is L’Essentiel, a 39mm diameter with a 24-hour disk. It is designed for the lowest branches of the family tree; for the children who are starting out on life’s journey.
Collectors rather than investors
“I don’t think of myself as a brand per se,” insists Hervé Schlüchter. “More like an Italian trattoria with eight tables and a menu that changes depending on the day’s mood. I don’t work within the confines of collections, either.”
Hervé Schlüchter will make 25 L’Essentiel watches in steel, priced at CHF 78,000. The first ones will be delivered by the end of the year. “It all happened fast. Philippe Dufour talked about my idea to a collector who immediately placed an order. He then told a friend and word-of-mouth did the rest. I could have taken dozens of orders but Philippe advised me to accept ten to begin with, so I could work without being under pressure.”
A version in gold will follow, also a series of 25 pieces. The vast majority of the components are manufactured and finished at the Ateliers.
“It all happened fast. Philippe Dufour talked about my idea to a collector who immediately placed an order.”
- A villa in Renfer-Park, Biel/Bienne, is home to Ateliers Hervé Schlüchter
The model is equipped with the HS-01 movement whose references to classical watchmaking include a moustache escapement of the type found in pocket watches, here adapted to a wristwatch, and a homage to the Guillaume balance.
There are no investors in the brand – or rather “collectors are my investors” says Schlüchter, referring to the fact that some customers have encouraged him in his endeavour by paying the full price of their watch up front. The workshop will follow the rhythm of the seasons and the stars: hence the choice of the spring equinox for its official creation. “Astronomy is the mother of horology. It also situates us in the great human adventure,” observes Schlüchter whose inspirations include the clocks of Antide Janvier.
All that is to last is slow to grow
The watchmaker likes to tell his young son that the dinosaurs looked at the same moon as us, and that we are simply visitors to Earth. The workshop’s motto - creare durare - means “create to last”. As he showed us round the workshop, Hervé Schlüchter revealed some of the other influences that have shaped his thinking, such as a Bristlecone pine in California nicknamed Methuselah for its great age: 4,800 years old. All that is to last is slow to grow.
Schlüchter intends his project to capture the essence of our existence through the message the owner will have engraved on the timepiece they will pass on to their children. “It is this immersion in the depths of time, of life, that draws collectors to our creations. We help connect the branches of the family tree.” The Tree of Life…
While the movement that beats inside the watch is of classical conception, Schlüchter – a fan of the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio – is no less an innovator, proposing new types of display. His dials take shape in a well-thumbed sketchbook. First the intention, the message, the philosophy, then the display and last of all the mechanism, “the George Daniels way” (the British horologist is another of his references). Function follows form.
His ambition is to follow in the grand tradition of watchmakers who master every one of the requisite techniques; a million miles from the compartmentalised methods of today. “You only need look at an old montre école [the complete watch a student made to demonstrate their ability] to understood just how skilled they were. Striking mechanisms, double regulators, they built everything by hand. It’s what being a watchmaker meant.” Schlüchter is convinced the industry has everything to gain from reinstating this broad range of skills - something schools appear to be taking onboard. The branch itself is increasingly focused on traditional mechanical watches while collectors value the work of independent artisans. For Hervé Schlüchter, watchmaking is a “traditional art that allows the artist to express themselves and have the pleasure of working with something material.”
His ambition is to follow in the grand tradition of watchmakers who master every one of the requisite techniques; a million miles from the compartmentalised methods of today.
- Hervé Schlüchter under the watchful eye of Philippe Dufour
Like watchmakers past, Hervé Schlüchter has learned from a master, perhaps the master: Philippe Dufour. ”Watching him work is like seeing a surgeon operate. His precision is extraordinary. There is no room for approximation. It’s like playing tennis with Federer. He makes it look so easy....”. He still sends his sketches to Dufour, whose humility he shares.
The orders collectors place can just as easily be for themselves as for a child or a parent. “We want generations to come together with their watch at the centre.” Hervé Schlüchter leaves us with two of his favourite quotations. One, by Georges Clemenceau, encourages him in his pursuit of independence: “A life is a work of art”. The other, equally existential, is by Albert Einstein: “If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal. Not to people or things”.