fficially, Jean-Marc Wiederrecht is a consultant for the company he and his wife Catherine founded, having handed over the day-to-day running of the business to their two sons, Laurent and Nicolas. Even so, it is his philosophy that continues to inform and inspire the family firm, which is based in Meyrin on the outskirts of Geneva.
What exactly is this approach, this philosophy that is so uniquely Agenhor? As Europa Star wrote in 1995 (has it really been almost 30 years?), “the calibres developed by Agenhor are remarkable for their very great functional aestheticism. This aestheticism is by no means the pursuit of ‘art for art’s sake’. Quite the contrary. The beauty of the design and mechanical architecture of Agenhor’s calibres stems from a constant pursuit of technical and mechanical simplification. The purity of the lines and forms, the simplicity of the technical solutions and the inventiveness to which they testify mean that Agenhor’s mechanisms are innovative, highly dependable products: not a single one has been returned in the last three years!”
- Fabergé’s Lady Compliquée is one example among many of Agenhor’s poetic treatment of the retrograde function. Hours are read level with the winding crown on a disc that rotates counter-clockwise. Minutes are shown on the peacock’s tail feathers as they fan out. On reaching 60, the fan snaps shut in a retrograde movement.
Writing today, our opinion is unchanged – except to add that Agenhor infuses its inventions and solutions with a rare poetic quality. Two of the most striking examples – and there are many – are the Quantième de Saison for Van Cleef & Arpels and, for Hermès, Le Temps Suspendu.
The root of it all
Nicolas Wiederrecht readily admits that “the retrograde and the perpetual calendar are the root of it all.” In 1983 Jean-Marc Wiederrecht and Roger Dubuis set about making the simplest, thinnest, most elegant, most efficient perpetual calendar around. Over the course of the next decade or so, they went on to log a succession of innovations and patents, devising mechanical modules that lived up to this same ideal: an elongated and ultra-thin (0.98mm) perpetual calendar; a perpetual calendar with twin sectors; an equation of time; a dual time zone that could be adapted to a perpetual calendar; and a perpetual calendar that could be added to a chronograph. The list is long.
Unsurprisingly, retrograde functions became a theatre of invention for Agenhor. In a recent interview with our esteemed colleague Stéphane Gachet at Watch Around, Jean-Marc Wiederrecht recalls “an irresistible urge to do something different with the perpetual calendar. I wanted to move away from the circular read-off of the cycle (…). I wanted the perpetual part to be separate from the time display.”
He accomplished this with a patented innovation, in which a spiral on the wheel driving the retrograde hand absorbs shock and prevents latency in the return movement of the hand. This was the beginning of Agenhor’s reputation for inventive retrograde mechanisms. Jean-Marc Wiederrecht describes this breakthrough as the “Lego brick” on which the most stunning contemporary retrograde complications would be built.
Agenhor’s creative journey has taken it to destinations other than its remarkable command of the perpetual calendar and retrograde functions. One of the company’s major developments is the AgenGraphe®: a chronograph that was ten years in the making.
The AgenGraphe® is a truly revolutionary chronograph movement that displays short elapsed times centrally and with extraordinary precision thanks to the instantaneous minutes jump (on a conventional chronograph, the minutes jump starts at around the 58th second and “drags” on for two seconds).
The AgenGraphe® comprises a number of patented modules: the AgenClutch® combines the best features of horizontal and vertical clutches (minimum power consumption and maximum precision respectively); the AgenGraphe® Heart enables chronograph hours, minutes and seconds to be displayed centrally for optimal legibility; the AgenPit® regulating mechanism does away with the complexity of adjusting the balance wheel mass by adjusting the length of the balance spring, while the AgenPal® is an independent module, positioned on the dial side, comprising a force-reducing device and an oscillating weight on a slide bearing rather than a ball bearing. Revolutionary indeed.
Agenhor intended the AgenGraphe® – a complete movement as opposed to the retrogrades which are designed as modules – to be a strategic step forward. However, developing such a radically different calibre was a slow and complex process that required substantial investment. Nicolas Wiederrecht, who at the time was taking the reins of the company alongside brother Laurent, doesn’t beat about the bush: “We went through some tough times. Production volumes were down. We needed outside help and didn’t always knock on the right doors. We ended up having to sell the premises and relocate the entire company to a single floor. But by sharing the building with independents – engravers, designers, assemblers – we were able to create the kind of dynamic you get with a start-up. The place was buzzing! We turned the company around, so successfully that the order books are full for several years to come. And from 15 staff in 2020 we’re back to twenty-three.”
In March this year, MELB Luxe, which owns H. Moser & Cie and Hautlence, took a minority stake in Agenhor, already a longstanding partner to the group. The deal provides strategic support and security for Agenhor, which retains its independence and will continue to serve its existing customers, including Hermès and now Parmigiani Fleurier.
H. Moser & Cie brings Agenhor the benefit of its expertise in tourbillons. This is also the beginning of a fruitful collaboration as part of the ongoing relaunch of Hautlence. “In the space of five months, we have developed for Hautlence a jumping hours, a linear retrograde and are currently working on a tourbillon movement,” Nicolas Wiederrecht says, clearly delighted.
Collaboration with Parmigiani Fleurier
“Guido Terreni’s appointment at the head of Parmigiani made all the difference,” he continues. “We’ve already supplied the brand with a rattrapante GMT, a piece that is as aesthetically pure as it is technically innovative, a rattrapante minute, a Gregorian perpetual calendar and a Hijri perpetual calendar.”
The Hijri (or Islamic) calendar is calculated according to the lunar year whose mean duration is 354.36 days, making it 10.88 days shorter than the solar year. It is divided into 12 months of 29 or 30 days. Where the Gregorian calendar intercalates a leap year every four years, the Hijri calendar has 11 leap years. These are the 2nd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 13th, 16th, 18th, 21st, 24th, 26th and 29th years of a 30-year cycle, when one day is added to the final month, increasing its length from 29 to 30 days. Hence, a leap year has 355 days whereas a non-leap year has 354 days.
- The AGH-511 Hijri Perpetual Calendar calibre for Parmigiani Fleurier (Courtesy The Naked Watchmaker).
It takes 2,525 lunar years to observe an error of one lunar day in relation to the age of the moon. This gives some measure of the complex calculations required to devise a Hijri perpetual calendar wristwatch that follows this 30-year cycle without any need for correction.
Another noteworthy and recent development is the Lyrique Etude N° 1, which was entered for last year’s Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. Lyrique Timepieces is unusual in that it was founded by 51 watch enthusiasts from 16 countries across five continents. Contributing to this debut timepiece were Agenhor for the movement, Voutilainen & Cattin'>Cattin for the case, Metalem for the dial, Fiedler for the hands, Boucledor for the clasp and Protexo for the strap. Agenhor’s hand-made movement is the AGH-6801. Building on the AgenGraphe®, it incorporates AgenEse gears to prevent small interferences within the geartrain and the AgenPit regulator that adjusts for variations in rate.
- The magnificently finished AGH-6801. A small cut-out in the baseplate shows the AgenEse second wheel. Spring-like elastic teeth prevent slippage, ensuring seamless transition of power from the mainspring to the eccentric seconds hand. The AgenPit regulator uses a rotational movement to modify the effective length of the balance spring for fine adjustment.
“We’ll never launch our own brand”
Agenhor is not a manufacture in the strict sense. “We don’t make anything,” Nicolas Wiederrecht explains. “We work closely with the leading specialists in every field. However, the entire conception, construction, finishing and assembly is by us. We are also equipped to carry out analyses and controls throughout development. We’re basically creatives, developers. We don’t do off-the-peg; purely bespoke.”
Accordingly, Agenhor movements and modules are produced in small quantities only. Their degree of complexity plus the high level of finishing rule out any possibility of mass production. Both Nicolas and Laurent Wiederrecht thrive on “contact with our customers. We’re bombarded by ideas and input from all manner of brands. We’re driven by a kind of creative mania. Also, and this is very important, we don’t muddy the waters. We’ll never launch our own brand.”