Thursday, May 23, 2024

Haute-Rive’s New Chapter

For the debut of his own watch company, Stéphane von Gunten, a veteran Swiss watchmaker whose career has included a litany of jobs at elite brands and more than 30 patents, created a model that emphasizes what he called the “first pillar” of his new Haute-Rive brand: “to respect tradition.” He didn’t need to look further than his family tree for inspiration.

In a way, his first release, called Honoris I, is a sequel to the historic timepiece created by his paternal great-great-grandfather Irénée Aubry. Titled La Montre du Pape (in English, the Pope’s Watch), it was commissioned by the Swiss canton of Jura in 1887 as a gift to Pope Leo XIII. The pocket watch, which kept time for 40 days on a single wind, is now believed to be in a private collection. (Mr. Aubry also was responsible for a patent behind the Hebdomas, an eight-day watch popular in the early 20th century.)

Mr. von Gunter’s new watch is a combination of a flying tourbillon — a mechanism that counters gravity’s effects on time-keeping accuracy — and a 1,000-hour, or 41-day, power reserve. He said that power reserve is a record-setting feat for a timepiece using a single mainspring and tourbillon. The new watch is wound with the bezel, the ring that holds the crystal in place around the dial’s outer edge.

Also, while most watches with tourbillons and long power reserves require relatively thick cases, the Honoris I is a comparatively compact 42.5 millimeters in diameter and 11.95 millimeters thick (1.7 inches wide and 0.5 inches thick).

The dress watch — available in 18-karat white, yellow or rose gold — has a grand feu enamel dial in white or black (Grand feu enameling requires multiple firings of enamel powder layered on a metal surface). It sells for 148,000 Swiss francs ($167,955).

According to Markus Hansen, a portfolio manager in New York with Vontobel’s Quality Growth Boutique, Mr. von Gunten is optimistic about his brand’s potential: “The shortages of popular timepieces has allowed a lot of these smaller guys and niche guys to develop a business model because they have the kind of product people are looking for.”

About 18 months ago, when Mr. von Gunten was ready to establish his company, one of the first people he contacted was Patrik Hoffmann, who had been chief executive at Ulysse Nardin during Mr. von Gunten’s years with the brand. Mr. Hoffmann now has a consultancy and is the executive vice president for Europe at WatchBox, a platform for pre-owned luxury watches.

At the time, Mr. von Gunten “had the story and the concept,” Mr. Hoffman said, but little else. “It was all on paper.” Still, he signed on as an investor and put Mr. von Gunten in contact with potential backers; now he serves on the Haute-Rive board of directors and describes himself as a “coach” for the fledgling brand.

Mr. Hoffmann said he was sold on the concept for Honoris I, but it was Mr. von Gunten’s track record that was even more compelling.

Mr. von Gunten said he does not have a fixed notion of where the company is going.

For the moment, however, he is satisfied with being able to focus on Haute-Rive and the reception it has received.

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