oncert-goers at the 2019 Bellerive Festival, in the canton of Geneva, were introduced to a brand they had probably never heard of before: Charles Zuber. There had certainly been a Charles Zuber, master jeweller and inventor who ran the Ch. Zuber & R. Baumgartner studio in Carouge, but he had never given his name to a brand.
That would be down to three men: gem-setter Vincent Perego, jeweller Aram Garabetian and entrepreneur Mohamed Hilal. Why Charles Zuber and not, say, Jean-Claude Gueit, part of Zuber’s circle and himself an inspired watch and jewellery designer? The idea is said to have come from Vincent Perego, after a formative encounter with Charles Zuber in 2006.
- Design by Charles Zuber for Audemars Piguet
Having acquired the rights to the name and the archives, it was now a matter of creating a range of watches and finding a designer who could embrace an iconic era for watch design – the 1970s-1980s – while aligning it with contemporary tastes. That task fell to an artist known equally for his talent and discretion: Eric Giroud.
The mission: embrace an iconic era for watch design – the 1970s-1980s – while aligning it with contemporary tastes.
- Design by Charles Zuber for Harry Winston
The result – Perfos - is an attractive form watch with a subtle vintage vibe and a rather strange story attached. In May 2022, three years after the Perfos had been launched, Vincent Perego went to see Charles Zuber’s wife to ask for some photographs of her husband which the brand could use in its communication. Rummaging through a box of old documents, he came across some sketches by Zuber of a watch that bore a surprising resemblance to the Perfos designed three years earlier by Eric Giroud – who could never have seen these drawings.
- These sketches of a watch by Charles Zuber were found in his archives three years after the launch of the Perfos
- The Perfos comes in 36, 39 and 42mm sizes
The form movement, which is wound by a micro-rotor, was developed for the brand by Swiss suppliers. Knowing that the founders of Charles Zuber have acquired Manufacture Contemporaine du Temps (MCT) SA, the brand could switch to in-house calibres at some point in the future. The price range of the new collections is wide and rather high: it goes from CHF 7,900 to CHF 75,300 depending on the dimensions and the setting. The Perfos 39 mm in steel with a leather strap is positioned at CHF 17,900. We talked to Eric Giroud.
- Designer Eric Giroud
Europa Star: How did the adventure begin?
Eric Giroud: I was at Baselworld when my phone rang. It was Vincent Perego, whom I knew. He asked if I was free, right there and then. He said he had an idea he wanted to run by me. That’s when I met his business partners, Mohamed Hilal and Aram Garabetian. They asked to see my portfolio. As first contacts go, it was very informal, spontaneous. They told me they wanted to create a new watch brand and it went from there.
- The movement for the Perfos
Did you know Charles Zuber?
Yes, we ran into each other early on in my career, when I was working for Harry Winston. I always used to see him with Jean-Claude Gueit, a well-known designer. I spent some extraordinary moments in their company. It was a different era. I also met him in his studio, when we were working on prototypes. Charles Zuber was a magician, a remarkable character. There was always an air of mystery about him, as though he belonged to a different time. He smoked a lot and said very little. I can still picture his wiry frame and double-breasted suits. He had a reputation for making the impossible possible, and had invented microsystems for watches and jewellery by some of the greatest names, the likes of Piaget and Harry Winston.
“Charles Zuber was a magician, a remarkable character. There was always an air of mystery about him.”
What was the brief for the Perfos?
A stylish watch with a metal case and bracelet that would follow on from the icons we all know, such as the Royal Oak and the Nautilus, and capture the spirit of the 1970s-1980s, Charles Zuber’s heyday. The dial is a special nod to him. It’s a very complex piece.
It has a studied, geometric shape that’s both elaborate and elegant. I drew what look like sunrays as markers, with a minute track around a circle in the centre. So far, so simple. However, take a closer look and you’ll see that the dial is built from two plates: one on top with the sun shape and another underneath that shows between the rays. Every wrist movement creates a kind of kinetic effect that gives life to the watch. You wonder how the dial is constructed: what’s on the bottom and what’s on top?
“The dial has a studied, geometric shape that’s both elaborate and elegant. I drew what look like sunrays as markers.”
How do you design a watch for a brand that’s just been created and has no history or archives to build on?
That’s precisely what made this such an interesting project. The lack of information meant a clean slate. The brand’s founders asked me for a watch that had character. I took a deep dive into the 1970s-1980s and set to work. I showed them other ideas, for more classic round watches, but they preferred this design, for the shape. I’d turn up at meetings with to-scale models cut out of paper [laughs]. Those were always fun moments. When I came up with this shape, something clicked. I’m more than satisfied with the project and really feel I’ve had the support of the entire team. In a way, this watch came out of nowhere. As though someone had waved a magic wand…
“Every wrist movement creates a kinetic effect that gives life to the watch.”