ichel Herbelin’s parents had always assumed their son would take over the family business. Except the young man grew up in Charquemont, a village in France’s “watchmaking country”, a hop across the border from Switzerland, and had other ideas – ideas that revolved around precision micromechanics. His mind was made up.
He cut his teeth at a local watch factory but left after a few years, determined to go it alone with production that would reflect the region’s reputation for quality timepieces. He set up a workshop on the top floor of his parents’ house and set about making his first watches. That was in 1947. Michel Herbelin was 26 years old. He named his debut design Impec (short for impeccable), making clear his intention to produce, in France, elegantly stylish watches that would run without a glitch. From the very beginning, he worked with local French and Swiss suppliers. Success was on the cards and in 1965 the Michel Herbelin brand saw daylight.
- The original Newport from 1988
Until 1970 Michel Herbelin made only mechanical watches. Components, sourced mainly from Swiss suppliers, were assembled in the brand’s workshop into watches whose design reflected a certain French elegance. This is also when sons Jean-Claude and Pierre-Michel joined the business, having inherited their father’s passion.
In 2020 the third generation took up the mantle with the arrival of grandsons Maxime and Mathieu Herbelin as part of the management team, alongside two “honorary” family members, Cédric Gomez and Benjamin Theurillat. They bring with them a modern vision of watchmaking. “We want the brand to continue to move forward without turning our back on the past,” insists Maxime Herbelin. “Creative design is ingrained in our DNA. We need to take that creativity and apply it to the materials we use. We also aim to produce more mechanical, more complex watches.”
But first, back to 1970 and the advent of quartz. Immediately, Michel Herbelin and his sons recognised this new technology as the opportunity to develop their women’s lines and to offer quality at even more affordable prices. In 2000 production was almost entirely quartz. Since then, the proportion of mechanical movements has steadily increased and now accounts for almost a quarter of the brand’s output.
Maxime Herbelin explains the direction the brand will take: “Historically, we’ve had a very broad range. We now intend to focus on our flagship lines. This will make our offering easier to understand, as well as enhance our image and quality.”
- Newport Automatic Chronograph 35th Anniversary Edition
The collections are clearly identified. The Newport range, first launched in 1988, has been refreshed to suit the modern watch wearer. Released this year as a 350-piece limited edition, the Newport Automatic Chronograph 35th Anniversary Edition confirms the growing share of mechanical automatic movements [from Sellita] in the Newport range. Models in titanium and carbon have also been introduced, with the addition of a Slim version to complete the lineup.
Spearheading the brand’s women’s collections is the Antarès. This is Herbelin’s most important line, acclaimed for its design and for the versatility of interchangeable straps.
A 2018 reissue of a 1968 model, the Cap Camarat has earned nothing but praise ever since it was launched. Indicative of the brand’s move upmarket, the automatic skeleton introduced in 2022 has been a particular success, while demand remains strong for the square three-hander.
- Cap Camarat Square Automatic
The decision to rename the brand simply Herbelin (rather than Michel Herbelin) reflects that this is now a family-wide business, and that this continuity is part of its DNA. A fresh, modern logo captures this new direction.
- Newport Slim Mechanical Skeleton
In 2022 Herbelin opened its first flagship store in Paris. This new space, in the chic Saint-Germain district, is designed to build the Herbelin image and highlight the French flair of the brand, which is also looking to grow internationally. “We’re a well-known name in France, Germany, the Benelux countries and the UK, as well as in South Africa, where we’ve been present since the 1970s. Now we want to grow our share of the China and US markets, but first we have to find the right partners,” says Maxime Herbelin.
At a time when a lot of brands are pushing the fact that they are integrated manufactures, Herbelin builds on its strengths, as Maxime Herbelin explains: “We don’t aim to become a manufacture. It would take massive investment and that would lead to price hikes. I mean, we’re five miles from Sellita, a proven specialist! Part of our expertise is that we know exactly which movements to adjust to our standards. This isn’t about revolutionising who we are but making a gradual evolution with watches that keep our ‘French touch’ and deliver value propositions of even greater quality.”
Clearly this family-run brand is in good hands, ready to carry on its legacy with affordable, good-looking watches that are designed, assembled and adjusted in France with a Swiss movement.