Independent watchmakers

Sylvain Pinaud: the origins of Origine

April 2023

Sylvain Pinaud: the origins of Origine

At the last ever Baselworld, in 2019, we had the good fortune to meet Sylvain Pinaud, who was showing his Chronographe Monopoussoir Artisanal – at that time a one-off, which had earned him the distinction of Meilleur Ouvrier de France. Writing about our encounter, we felt certain that “someone with this much energy, talent and enthusiasm will go far” – a prophecy that came true when Sylvain Pinaud took home the Revelation trophy at the 2022 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, for his unassumingly titled watch, Origine.


n the beginning, as is often the case, there was a little boy, born in 1978, who liked to hang out in his father’s workshop – that of a “village watchmaker” on the outskirts of Grenoble. Young Sylvain enjoyed tinkering with old alarm clocks, stripping down then reassembling their mechanisms, shrieking with joy as they came back to life with their familiar tick-tock. Regular school didn’t interest him, so at just fifteen he enrolled at the watchmaking college in Morteau. It was, in his words, “a revelation”. He realised that watchmaking wasn’t just about playing with wheels and gears: it was an art, a culture, a vast universe that gave him all the space he needed to express the creativity he possessed, and that he admired in independents such as Philippe Dufour and Vianney Halter.

Sylvain left school in Morteau when he was twenty and he spent the next two decades amassing experience in every aspect of his trade. He started with two years of “heavy industry”, as he calls it, reconditioning calibres with Gilbert Petit-Jean, a movement assembler.

Sylvain Pinaud (Photo: Guillaume Perret)
Sylvain Pinaud (Photo: Guillaume Perret)

After a year off, backpacking his way around the world, he joined Franck Muller. He would learn a lot over the next eleven years, working alongside experienced watchmakers (Ludovic Ballouard was one) and never missing a chance to try out every machine he could get his hands on.

The next step would seal his fate – in a good way. Sylvain Pinaud left Geneva for Sainte-Croix and a new position working with Dominique Mouret, a well-known clock restorer. “I was surrounded by the history and culture of clockmaking, and I soaked it up,” he says. “I was able to see, from the inside, how the great names before us worked, restoring pieces by Ferdinand Berthoud, Antide Janvier or Abraham-Louis Breguet. I was blown away by their sense of proportion, the beauty of their finishing, the delicacy and simplicity of their dials. There was nothing about their aesthetic or technical approach that isn’t relevant today.”

Next came the last stage in his learning curve. After five years in restoration he joined THA, the movement-maker spearheading the new school of mechanical watchmaking, founded by François-Paul Journe, Denis Flageollet and Vianney Halter, also in Sainte-Croix, and bought by Carl F. Bucherer. This was where he rounded out his training, working on prototypes (in particular an automatic calibre with a peripheral rotor) movement reliability and designing additional plates. When, at the end of 2016, the company moved to new premises, Sylvain decided to stay in Sainte-Croix, rented a small workshop for himself and opened for business as an independent watchmaker.

The first watch: a monopusher chrono

One of his friends, Luc Monnet, also a watchmaker (read on for his profile), told him about the Meilleur Ouvrier de France competition, an institution in France. “It was the perfect excuse to start designing and making my first watch.” The mechanical ingenuity of that watch – the Chronographe Monopoussoir Artisanal – together with its remarkable finishing (all the chronograph functions are black polished, something you rarely see) earned him the prestigious title of “best watchmaker-restorer”. Sylvain financed the entire endeavour himself by supplying mechanisms to third parties. The finished piece went on show at Baselworld in 2019, in the “Incubator” hall. He sold one.

Sylvain Pinaud presents his Chronographe Monopoussoir Artisanal in Europa Star, June 2019.
Sylvain Pinaud presents his Chronographe Monopoussoir Artisanal in Europa Star, June 2019.

Putting down roots

But Sylvain Pinaud isn’t the type to give up easily. Watchmaking runs through his veins. He was prepared to bide his time. Communicative, jovial, generous; these days he has an even bigger smile on his face. “I have to say 2022 was an amazing year. Look, I’ve moved into a bigger workshop, I’ve got a new watch, I won an award. It’s been crazy! Plus there are three of us now, two watchmakers and a finishing specialist. We’re even looking for a third watchmaker.”

Sylvain Pinaud’s new watch, Origine, immediately caught collectors’ eyes and piqued their curiosity , particularly after it won the Revelation award at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in 2022. Six months after the launch, the orders are rolling in. At a rate of a dozen watches a year, there’s a wait time of about two years. He takes it all in his stride, determined to stick to the path and the pace he’s set himself, “that of an artisan.”

A sense of proportion

Origine’s origins were aesthetic rather than mechanical. Sylvain Pinaud chose an asymmetrical dial layout that gives pride of place to the balance at 6 o’clock. He spent hours sketching the face of his watch, honing every last detail until he was satisfied he had achieved the most harmonious combination of forms, lines and subtle blends of colour that would give Origine its dynamic appearance.

One example, just one, of this attention to detail – and these subtleties run throughout – is the way the dots around the minute circle flow seamlessly into the small seconds.

Steel case, rose gold bridges and rose gold hands. CHF 68,000.
Steel case, rose gold bridges and rose gold hands. CHF 68,000.

This painstaking attention to harmony and proportion is mirrored by the quality of the finishes and the intelligence with which they are combined. The surfaces have a beautiful frosted finish with different grains, hand-executed on glass plates, highlightingt the gorgeous anglage and flawless black polishing on the bridges and wheels on the lower half of the dial. Small seconds overlap the concentric hours and minutes circles, swept over by elegant blued hands, made by Sylvain himself.

He and his two employees spend over 50% of their time on decoration. Origine was, in his own words, intended to be an “elegant and timeless” watch - hence the enormous importance he attaches to its design and crafting.

Mechanics governed by aesthetics

Only when he was entirely satisfied with the appearance of his watch did Sylvain Pinaud start work on the movement design in 3D, which would be determined by his chosen aesthetic. Components were selected individually to fit with the overall design.

With the exception of the jewels, the screws and the balance spring with a Phillips terminal curve (Straumann), every part of the movement is made in his workshop, including the Swiss lever escapement. The variable inertia balance measures 13 mm in diameter and beats at 21,600 vibrations/hour.

The beautifully constructed and finished back of the Origine.
The beautifully constructed and finished back of the Origine.

“It’s a happy medium that enables a 56-hour power reserve to be combined with a large inertia. It also contributes to robustness, which is another important point. In fact, it’s a movement that’s easily repaired and will still be easily repaired in 200 years’ time,” he concludes, beaming. As far as the rest of the watch is concerned, the dial is from Kari Voutilainen’s studio and the case is made in the Jura region.

Asked how he sees his future as a watchmaker, Sylvain Pinaud answers with a smile: “What matters right now is that I’m able to deliver current orders on time. Beyond that, I just want to keep going, but at my own pace. That of an artisan. Because my ultimate objective is to maintain maximum independence.”

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