n 1973, Emile Pequignet, a self-taught watchmaker from Franche-Comté, launched his eponymous brand in a bid to pass on French watchmaking skills to future generations in the midst of an entire industry impacted by the quartz crisis. He aimed to introduce a sleek new modern style and manufactured his own cases fitted with quartz and mechanical movements imported from neighbouring Switzerland.
The Moorea collection, an icon to this day, was created in 1984. Its existence, however, was marred by the arrival of big players in the Ladies’ quartz segment and downward spiralling prices. Emile Pequignet was forced to sell the business to Didier Leibundgut in 2004.
Leibundgut, the former head of Zenith, and a watchmaker familiar with the industry, took over the reins. With quartz coming under increasing competition, he aimed to build a genuine manufacture and relaunch the production of mechanical movements. Major investments were channelled into producing an in-house calibre.
- The Royale Saphir collection, launched in 2019, was available in five bright colours and showcased the automatic Calibre Royal, an in-house movement featuring days of the week, large date, moon phase and power reserve.
The Calibre Royal was rolled out in 2011 and brought with it high hopes for relaunching the Morteau-based brand that boasted the only truly French-made movement. However, the movement proved unreliable and Pequignet was faced with numerous returns that eventually plunged the company into financial difficulties. The company was declared bankrupt in 2017, but the manufacture was taken over by four executives, each firmly convinced of the brand’s worth and heritage: Aymeric Vernhol, Antoine Commissione, Bernard Espinas and Dani Royer.
The band of four focussed on local manufacture, committing to more stringent standards. They redressed the financial situation and launched a manual Calibre Royal in 2018. The clouds dispersed, sales picked up and a new movement was introduced in 2021, the Calibre Initial. That same year, a change in the shareholdership also proved decisive with the arrival of ethical funds from family-owned investor ENOWE, headed up by Hugues Souparis.
- Hugues Souparis, chairman of ENOWE and majority shareholder in the brand since 2021
An accomplished industrial entrepreneur, Souparis seeks out companies that embody French know-how. “The idea is to develop companies that exude French excellence. Pequignet is our first partial acquisition (Souparis holds an 80% share, with 20% being held by the three of the four take-over executives, Ed.s note). I love technology, mechanics, and design. Pequignet is the perfect match and I see great reindustrialization potential in France, especially for dials. Technological innovation is somewhat under-developed in traditional mechanical watchmaking, and this should help the transition”, the new chairman concedes.
- 50-piece limited edition of the Royale Saphir in jade green, 13,500€ inc. VAT
What potential does he see in Pequignet? “Firstly, our Calibre Royal boasts 72% French-made components while the Calibre Initial boasts 80%. We now produce our own Moorea bracelets in Morteau and we’ll have our own-in-house polishing operations. We’ll also soon be using 3D printing to create our own dial. Pequignet also offers huge growth potential for exports, which currently account for only 25% of sales. It’s our firm intention to move upmarket and increase our revenues tenfold in the next four or five years.”
- Concorde collection, 3 hands, Calibre Initial made in France, launched at Watches and Wonders in 2023. Available in two versions, 40 and 36 mm, integrated steel bracelet. 4,000€ inc. VAT and 3,800€ inc. VAT.
The positive feedback for the new Concorde collection, launched at the Watches and Wonders fair last year, reflects these predictions. Likewise, the sleek and colourful Attitude Douce France series, add a breath of freshness to the brand. Finally, the Royal Saphir Ombres et Lumières models, introduced in June 2023 to celebrate the brand’s 50th anniversary, seem to have won over a new, mainly export, clientele, and continue the strategy to move upmarket with a price category of 10,800 Euros (inc. VAT). “The goal is also to shorten the time-to-market, which is currently two years. The models on display at the next Watches and Wonders fair will be available immediately”, Hugues Souparis clarifies.
A new Paris store
The brand’s youthful makeover includes plans to streamline an offering that comprised over 180 models in 2021 compared to today’s 150. Souparis continues: “Prices will range from 1,000 to 25,000 Euros. We still have Swiss movements in our entry-level models, but the in-house mechanical movements are making huge headway. The goal for this year is to achieve 70% of revenues with our workshop-manufactured calibres. However, the quartz jewellery watch segment is also part of the brand DNA, so we’ll be keeping it.”
- 50-piece limited edition of the Royale Saphir in topaz blue, 13,500 € inc. VAT
The arrival of the investment fund enables the brand to see out its ambitions. In 2023, Pequignet unveiled a new image with an updated logo and corporate identity. Likewise, the firm has just opened its first Paris flagship store in the highly coveted Saint-Germain district.
- The first Pequignet flagship store, in the highly coveted Saint-Germain district of Paris, was opened in 2023.
The outlook is optimistic if the feedback from past and future partners at the Watches and Wonders fair is anything to go by: “It’s the first time we’re taking part, but we’re delighted with the positive feedback from industry professionals, media and the general public. Sell-in is good among our retailers, old and new. Sell-out is next. The outlook is excellent. We’ve already booked a spot for next year, when we’ll be introducing new collections.” All signs point to Pequignet once again being the leading reference in French watchmaking expertise.