t isn’t easy deciding where L. Leroy belongs. In the (closed) book of History or in the (open) catalogue of active brands? More an in-between; one foot in the past, one foot in the present, and a future that isn’t yet clear.
One of the great watchmaking dynasties, eternal rivals of Berthoud and Breguet, the Leroy were, for almost a century, the makers of the world’s most complicated watch (the Leroy 01, on display at the Musée du Temps in Besançon). Little remains of this glorious heritage, apart from a prestigious name that was bought by Miguel Rodriguez, owner of the gigantic Festina Group (5 million watches a year, 91 countries, 2,000 employees).
- Leroy 01
A place in the sun
Like many of his peers (the likes of Belgian industrialist Joris Ide with Lebeau-Courally), the Spanish entrepreneur had his sights set on the fine watch arena. L. Leroy was the key. He enlisted the services of two CEOs: first Guillaume Tripet then Oliver R. Muller. Ambitious projects were launched, in tandem with watchmaker Karsten Frässdorf. Nothing came of them: the Chronomètre Observatoire was presented at the GPHG but never made it to market.
No doubt stung by these investments, Miguel Rodriguez took the necessary measures. Minus a CEO and with no new products, L. Leroy went silent again. A handful of retailers continued to sell its watches from existing stock, including Dubail in Paris, a longstanding champion of the brand whose Parisian flagship has hosted several boutique-only models.
An unexpected comeback
Then, out of the blue, came the news that one of the watches meant to come under the hammer at the Only Watch charity auction this year [which has been cancelled meanwhile] was an L. Leroy, inspired by an 1810 model that is now in the collection at the Patek Philippe Museum. Beyond an unusual time display, this unique piece has much to offer.
Firstly, this is an original creation, something that hadn’t been seen in close to ten years. Next, an intricate hand-engraved decoration and gem-setting embellish a minute repeater from the brand’s catalogue. Lastly, it introduces novel materials, including titanium which L. Leroy had always refused to use (having only ever cased its watches in gold). Was this a sign of an imminent return? At any rate, this newest offering is whetting appetites.
Where appetites are concerned, Hugo Lesizza is convinced “collectors have lost none of theirs.” A ten-year veteran at Festina, this specialist in sales and export for the group’s brands (Festina, Lotus, Calypso, Candino, Jaguar) is steering L. Leroy’s return. “The trend is to move away from the big institutional names, confirmed by the sales we are still making at Pisa, Dubail and Cellini.” The brand has been on the back burner; now Miguel Rodriguez is preparing to turn up the heat. This time, however, he intendeds to do things differently.
Joint venture in Geneva
To begin with, there will be no appointed CEO: Hugo Lesizza will be the face of L. Leroy, overseeing the brand from Geneva and Barcelona. This is also the end of Vaucher base movements. For the next stage, and despite its huge industrial capacities (Soprod, MHVJ), Festina Group will develop new models with a partner in Geneva.
A joint venture has been created for the purpose. “Movement, case, gem-setting, decoration, everything will be verticalized,” says Hugo Lesizza. “Osmior, the brand’s historic collection, will remain our flagship line. Similarly, we will continue with the complications we already master, such as the tourbillon and the minute repeater. We’ll also review our single-pusher chronograph. Cases in steel or titanium will take us into a more attractive price range.”
No change to prices
Ten years ago, L. Leroy watches retailed between CHF 25,000 and CHF 175,000. The brand has no plans to make increases, whether the natural increase in luxury prices or for inflation, and should therefore stay within the same price range. How will it do this? By using less expensive metals than gold – something Breguet did in 2018 with the release of a Marine in titanium. Greubel Forsey is one of many taking a similar direction.
Right now, the brand is laying the groundwork. It made a discreet appearance at WatchTime in New York as well as at SIAR in Mexico City. These were, for the time being, the only two fairs where L. Leroy has been officially present, although it did make an unofficial appearance at Geneva Watch Days 2023, where it bunked with Perrelet. The GPHG is certainly an option the brand is looking into further down the line. Watches and Wonders isn’t. The doors of Palexpo are currently closed to L. Leroy “for lack of space”.
Fifty watches by 2024
The brand will grow steadily between 2023 and 2025. “By the second half of 2024, we should be able to propose around 50 finished watches, selling at Dubail (Paris), Pisa (Milan), Cellini (New York), Swiss Gallery (London) and Carat (Saint Barthélemy).” In other words, at the very most ten watches per retailer.
The reason is that, at the same time, Leroy plans to develop the coveted segment for bespoke watches for private collectors. The brand is proceeding with caution, at a measured pace, no doubt having learned from experience.