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Why Top Watchmaker Christophe Claret Thinks He’s The Steve Jobs of Horology

"It's not interesting to produce something that's already been done," says the visionary Frenchman.

Christophe Claret sometimes finds it difficult to communicate his ideas to staff. It’s not because the Lyon-born watchmaker – who has been in the business for some 30 years – has trouble expressing himself. Rather, it’s because his ideas tend to have few, if any, precedents.

Speaking to The Peak, Claret draws a parallel between himself and late tech visionary Steve Jobs. In a heavy French accent, he muses out loud: “When Steve Jobs first wanted to make the iPhone, his team didn’t understand what he wanted or why he wanted to do it. It’s the same for me. When I developed a watch movement with a bridge and plate made of sapphire in 1997, people told me, ‘It will break, it won’t work.’ And now, maybe 70 brands use sapphire in their watches. People take time to adapt to your ideas when you’re the first (to develop them).”

It’s a big statement – and one that he is well-qualified to make. Over the past three decades, his manufacture has created and developed high-end complications for many major watch brands such as Ulysse Nardin, Franck Muller and Harry Winston. The production of timepieces bearing his name gained traction following the 2009 launch of Dualtow, an innovative chronograph with a time display comprising rubber belts. Incredibly, he even designs the machines used for making watch components.

Today, his creations continue to be just as inventive, and tricky to execute. During our meeting, he shows us the latest version of the X-Trem-1, a signature Claret piece that indicates time via two metal spheres that are suspended in sapphire tubes and moved by magnetic fields.

It is not just the unorthodox time-indicating mechanism that poses a challenge – making the new case is no walk in the park, either. Combining Claret’s interest in technology as well as antiquity, the case is crafted from Damascus steel, a material used to make swords in ancient times. Here, it is made the traditional way, by forging and folding layers of steel. Because of the unpredictability of the process, as many as two out of three cases may have to be discarded, says Claret with a smile. One senses that he enjoys doing things the hard way – even if it means not selling more watches.

Currently, the Christophe Claret manufacture in Le Locle produces about 100 watches a year. At this point, the brand’s international sales director, Nicolas Gigaud, who’s sitting off to the side, says: “Sometimes I ask him, can you do something simpler and cheaper? But he says, ‘If I do that, that’s not me anymore.’”

Claret assents: “It is not interesting to produce something that has already been done.”

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