n 2003 Didier Leibundgut bought Pequignet from its founder Emile Péquignet (leaving him free to devote his time to his horses, his accordion and his large family). Both men are from Morteau. In 1973 self-educated Emile Péquignet created one of France’s most desirable watch brands. Its collections were in demand for their original designs and elegant shapes - including the “maille Pequignet” bracelet whose mobile segments lend themselves beautifully to decoration. One of the brand’s specialities at that time was the chronograph, powered by an ETA movement. When the company changed hands, it was selling in the region of 15,000 items of jewellery and 10,000 watches (mainly quartz) a year, at an average price of €2,500.
Didier Leibundgut jumped ship from Zenith in Le Locle, a stone’s throw from Morteau, where he had been director of Zenith France then international marketing director from 1994 until the arrival of LVMH in 2001. His entire marketing strategy had been built around the El Primero movement (which also equipped the Rolex Daytona). When he was told, condescendingly, that “we don’t sell movements, we sell watches,” he packed his bags.
On acquiring Pequignet, Didier Leibundgut set himself a mission: to create the first high-end mechanical calibre in contemporary French watchmaking. No mean feat. He hired two experienced movement designers and equipped a testing lab. Working from the ground up, they embarked on a journey to develop a movement that would deliver in terms of power reserve, isochronism, torque and inertia: in other words, a reliable, accurate movement. Several years later, having produced 270 industrial drawings, manufactured 120 stamping tools for the gears alone and sourced 302 original components in Switzerland and the Jura region (only the regulating organ was from Nivarox), the finished movement saw daylight in 2009 and was presented at the Basel fair the following year.
- Advertisement published in Europa Star 5/2009
Beautifully constructed and handsomely finished, Pequignet’s Calibre Royal garnered positive reactions but industrial production proved complex and required heavy investment (investors came onboard as of 2012). Its “Made in France” origins also proved an obstacle in its target high-end segment. Things were not looking good.
Didier Leibundgut realised that he would not be able to meet his target of achieving profitability within five years and withdrew. Some time later, in 2017, the investors threw in the towel. But this wasn’t the end of the story. As the risk of bankruptcy loomed closer, Besançon commercial court approved the buyout of “the only Haute Horlogerie Manufacture in France” by four members of its management team. Subcontractors and partners breathed a sigh of relief. The adventure wasn’t over, but by 2020-2021 the burning question was: where next?
Now with the automatic Calibre Royal, the manual-winding Calibre Royal Manuel (2017) and the Calibre Initial (2021) under its belt, the brand was in need of financial backing if it was to continue its move upmarket. Enter Enowe, a family-owned investment fund whose portfolio emphasises businesses that have a positive social and environmental impact. Set up by industrialist Hugues Souparis, Enowe invests in French companies across numerous sectors and specifically, under the Savoir-Faire d’Excellence label, businesses with a strong tradition and a high level of artisanal expertise.
We met with Dani Royer, Pequignet’s Chief Operating Officer and one of the four musketeers who brought the company back from the brink. A graduate the École Nationale Supérieure de Mécanique et des Microtechniques (ENSMM) in Besançon, he began his career at Richemont, helped set up Manufacture de Buttes (Panerai, Piaget, Baume & Mercier, among others), worked as a movement constructor then a quality manager, did a stint at La Joux-Perret then in 2014 joined Pequignet.
“Calibre Royal was in the process of industrialisation. There were still some technical hitches but from a design perspective it was fantastic,” he says. “It needed some adjustments and we had to rethink production.” All of which would take a few more years. Now, in its 50th anniversary year, Pequignet has three in-house calibres to its name.
Calibre Royal, Calibre Royal Manuel and Calibre Initial
The fully finalised Calibre Royal is the first high-end movement designed and built in France, with integrated hours, minutes, small seconds at 4 o’clock, an 88-hour power reserve shown at 8 o’clock, and with options for a large day and date set by the crown, a GMT hand set by a pusher in the crown, a 122-year precision moon phase set by a pusher and a day/night indicator also set by a pusher. All this in a 31mm diameter and a height of 5.88mm. Automatic bidirectional winding, a frequency of 3 Hz (21,600 vph) and traditional decorations of Côtes de Genève, circular-graining and snailing complete the picture. Eight patents have been filed.
- Calibre Royal Automatic 13 3/4’’’ (31mm) in diameter, 5.88mm in height. Hours, minutes, small seconds at 4 o’clock, power reserve at 8 o’clock. Options: Day/Date with crown correction, 122-year precision moon phase with pusher correction. GMT hand at 4 o’clock with pusher correction in the crown, Day/Night with pusher correction. 88-hour power reserve. 3Hz, 21,600 vph. Eight patents.
Introduced in 2017, the manual-winding Calibre Royal Manuel shares the same diameter and concept as its automatic counterpart and the same traditional decorations. It offers a time-only alternative for a classic dial architecture of hours, minutes and small seconds at 6 o’clock. A large barrel provides 100 hours of power reserve and it too operates at a frequency of 3 Hz.
Pequignet debuted its third in-house movement, Calibre Initial, in 2021. Dimensions are 12½’’’ (28.2mm) in diameter and a height of 4.2mm. Functions are hours, minutes, large centre seconds with stop seconds and a large semi-instantaneous date. This traditionally decorated movement beats at 4 Hz (28,800 vph), provides 65 hours of power reserve and benefits from two patents.
“Made in Arc Jurassien”
While a 100% French-made movement isn’t yet an option, Dani Royer insists on the fact that “we aim to use as many French-made components as we can. The Calibre Initial is 72% French origin. We are still sourcing assortments from Swatch Group [Nivarox]. Even though this isn’t a completely French movement, it does originate entirely in the French and Swiss Arc Jurassien” – the region where all Pequignet’s suppliers are located.
- Calibre Royal Manual 12 1/2’’’ (31mm) in diameter, 5.43mm in height. Hours, minutes, small seconds at 6 o’clock. 100-hour power reserve supplied by a large barrel. 3Hz, 21,600 vph. Traditional decorations, Côtes de Genève, circular-graining, snailing.
The company itself employs 30 people across a range of operations: design, development, plans, pre-assembly, press-fitting components, attaching the balance and spring, adjusting the pallets, final movement assembly and, when required, casing. Controls are performed at every stage, for example micrometric measurement of wheel clearances and the depth of the escape wheel teeth.
- Calibre Initial 12 1/2’’’ (28.2mm) in diameter, 4.2mm in height. Hours, minutes, large centre seconds, date. 65-hour power reserve. Bidirectional winding. 4Hz, 28,800 vph. Stop seconds, semi-instantaneous date. Traditional decorations, Côtes de Genève, circular-graining, snailing. Two patents.
“The Calibre Royal has a distinct identity and is therefore intended first and foremost for Pequignet watches, although we are open to high-level collaborations with artists or with brands,” Dani Royer explains. “Our Calibre Initial, on the other hand, is available to third parties as Calibre EPM 03, short for Emile Péquignet Manufacture. Having said that, we have no desire to become a supplier of movements to any and every brand.”
While Dani Royer declines to give the exact price of Calibre Initial, its positioning “between the CHF 150 of a Sellita and the CHF 1,000 of a Vaucher” puts it at the top end of the mid-range segment. Its market – it equips watches by several quality French brands – is precisely the segment Pequignet is targeting. Business is steadily growing, with the majority of sales currently in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Japan, Pequignet’s main non-European market.