Another freaking tourbillon. Why should I care? Why should you care? To find out, I made the trek to the Jura and the watchmaking farm from 1850 that is home to David Candaux, who likens his trade to a beehive.
Serpentining through bluish pine forests and intensely green fields surrounded by moderate peaks – the Jura Mountains, momentarily capped by low but silver-lined clouds, is renowned as a cyclist’s dream. But today I am in a softly humming Volkswagen SUV, driven by third-generation watchmaker David Candaux. The man behind the wheel has more than 20 years of watchmaking on his CV, is humble yet self-assured, sports a perfect three-day stubble, and en route through Vallée de Joux shows me horological pilgrimage destinations such as the studio of Philippe Dufour and the looming factory of Jaeger-LeCoultre. Also an epicurean who knows his local produce, he proudly points out gastronomic highlights such as the farm selling the creamiest Vacherin cheese, which is only made in winter. I have tried it in the past. A bit toe-juicy on the nose, but when eaten half molten with fruit-bread, dried apricots and walnuts, it is nothing but a mouth-watering delicacy. David himself was for a brief moment in time part of the Jura’s alternative foodie map, as he used to be a partner in his skateboard-manufacturing neighbour’s microbrewery.
But now there is no time for hops and malts, as it simply takes too much time to produce and sell watches under your own name. David is however not one to succumb to stress – en route to David’s watchmaking farm we pass through the kind of villages where you get out of your car at a red light to say hi to a childhood friend you haven’t seen for too long, and nobody honks for having to wait a few seconds when it turns green again. Yes, the Jura, the cradle of Swiss watchmaking, is a fairy-tale country of mystical forests and mathematical genius on a level that would put Einstein to shame were it applied beyond horology. It is a Swiss cliché filled with picturesque farms dating as far back as the 1600s and an ever-present soundtrack of chiming cowbells. But scratch the idyllic surface and you will find tension. This traditionally leftist stronghold played a crucial role in the 1920s rise of anarchism. And currently the region struggles with unemployment and the social problems that follow in its wake; beautiful as it is, the Jura is just as complicated as its watches. Eventually we arrive in Solliat, east of the sun, west of the moon – or at least east of the French border, west of Lac de Joux. This hamlet has been the home of David Candaux for three years, and is thus the place where a realistic dreamer in a shaky year like 2017 has the guts to start a new brand flogging extreme tourbillon watches for 190,000 euros.
You are likely to have heard it before: how Jura farms were a single structure comprised of living quarters, a barn for the animals and a loft space for watchmaking in the winter months. Trust me: Letting a finger run along a scratched, patinated 148-year-old original bench bathing in natural light from north-facing windows, a surface marked by time and sharp tools, truly makes the legend come alive. This feeling only expands when such a sacred space is not a museum – to this day the bench is the workspace for David and his father Daniel. Thus David Candaux has all the ingredients of a new-school horologist – the heritage, the storytelling, the genuine Swiss Made, modern technical know-how and a CV listing brands like Badollet, Bovet, Van Cleef & Arpels, MB&F, Rebellion and others . His father Daniel who works for David three or four days a week, has an equally impressive record, especially with Patek Philippe, where he worked with the finest watches for decades in the Grandes complication workshop.
But another tourbillon? One hundred fifteen years have passed since the royalty-pleasing Louis-Abraham Breguet forever parked his patent in horological history. What could be its raison d’être in 2017, now that every Tom, Dick and Harry has made tourbillions? Well, you can rest assured: Just like you cannot compare a Segway with a Lamborghini, nor spritzed Retsina skulled by a drunken teenager in Ayia Napa with a Grand Cru Millésime champagne sipped by a connoisseur in Épernay, there are tourbillons and there are tourbillons. And David’s definitely belong in the latter category. Which you would expect from some who started his career at the age of fifteen and has made watches like the Master Minute Repeater and the Hybris Mechanica for Jaeger-LeCoultre, the curved tourbillon movement of Badollet Ivresse and the Rebellion T1000 calibre.
At the turn of the millennium, David started dreaming about making his own watch. Dreams slowly transformed into technical concepts around 2005, a real turning point in watchmaking history thanks to the advent of 3D software.
“This totally changed the conceptual vision. Back in the heyday of my father the ideas where always a lot more two-dimensional,” David says.
His concepts eventually morphed into real construction drawings some four years ago, maximising the capacity of the latest five-axis machines – such a watch could not have been made five years ago. And David knows how to utilise the capacity of the whole production chain to the max – alongside diplomas in watchmaking and clock restoration he also has studied engineering, specialising in industrial systems. And in March 2017, after thousands upon thousands of hours of hand finishing machined parts, the D. Candaux 1740 The First 8 saw the light of day. It features three patents and eight design registrations, and by looking at it and touching the partly satin-finished, subtly drop-shaped, asymmetrical, nine-part steel case, you realise that you are dealing with a unique construction. Everything seems to be angular. A big central second hand sweeps around the grainy rose gold dial, which is leaning 3°, as are the crystal and the movement. The single-axis titanium bi-plan flying tourbillon mounted on ceramic ball bearings leans 30°, offering the audience a twisting mechanical ballet starring a variable inertia balance oscillating 21,600 times per hour. “A flying tourbillon and flying balance make it very aerial,” says David, who knows a thing or two about being airborne since he loves to go paragliding. Even more angles are introduced by the spherical small grand feu compass-rose styled dial showing the hours and minutes at three o’clock.
The most eye-catching detail on the ergonomic case is perhaps the central 31-part secret crown placed under 6 o’clock. It is not screw-down crown, but a spring-loaded innovation that jumps up like a jack-in-the-box when you push it. “We took a huge risk with this, as it is something you like or you don’t. And of course we have tested it thoroughly. The prototype had the crown pushed 12,500 times without showing any signs of problems,” David explains.
Given the 55-hour power reserve, this would give you a winding time of more than 10 years were you to fully wind it each time you use the crown, which has three positions. In my eyes the crown is not only a beautiful solution; the lack of an ever-present crown also makes the case appear smaller than its 43-millimetre diameter and, at the highest point, 12.65-millimetre height.
Turn the watch around and you will find a 309-part lightweight movement made of titanium, with a design different from any other movement you may have seen: a staircase-profiled movement in three layers with 0.4 millimetres in between each. And if you believe the diagonal waves are your average decorations, think again. Unlike Côtes de Genève or Glashütte ribbing, both with profiles similar to industrial ceilings, David’s so-called “Côtes du Solliat show off bands with three different types of polishing, which together creates a trompe l’oeil: The bridges are completely flat! “I always wanted the beveling to be perfect and not cut off by the angles of the côtes,” David says.
And let’s not forget David’s love of hexagons. At the end of the long-stitch sewn strap sits an hexagonal metal plate made for engraving. You also find part of an hexagon on the buckle, and in the face of the bear at the back of the movement.
“I like the hexagons because it reminds me of a honeycomb. Remember that it takes around 42 professions and hard work to make a complete watch, which is why I have always thought of watchmaking like a beehive.”
If the look is extremely good, so is the chronometry: David claims it is ±3 seconds per day. This is accomplished by the constant energy supply of a double barrel system, which ensures the chronometric performance throughout the power reserve cycle of 55 hours. “This is much better than COSC. But I don’t have the possibility to send away watches for several weeks for testing, since clients are waiting,” he says.
To ensure future performance and service he has placed an engraving on the movement that the client cannot see, but that future watchmakers can, which describes some parts and principles of the movement.
While David is taking a business call, his wife Caroline comes up to the loft just as I am examining the photos of the day. She sits down on the Verner Panton chair, one of several design classics scattered around the loft space – as are the inevitable toys that comes with having two small children.
“Nice photos,” Caroline says approvingly. “But it is so weird to see David wearing a watch. He never wears a watch.”
Turns out his father doesn’t wear a watch either.. Nearly one hundred years of watch industry experience under one roof, but nobody is wearing a watch? I bring it up with David after the call. “It is so unpractical during work, not to mention when you ski and climb and do stuff.”
But do you like watches?
“Of course. I do have a collection of watches. And every now and again for more formal occasions like a fine dinner or an event, I love wearing a watch – but not in everyday life. And I wouldn’t spend my whole life around watches if I didn’t like watches – I love watches, pocket watches and clocks.”
Or like David said to Louis Nardin in 2015 in an interview for Deluxe Swiss Made Magazine: “watches are so beautiful and the result of such efforts that wearing them is almost a sacrilege, because they will be slightly damaged every time.”
Before leaving the watchmaking farm I take a final look at the D. Candaux 1740 The First 8. And the more I look, the more I like it as more and more details pop out. And having witnessed a few of the thousands of painstaking hours needed on the bench to complete such a creation, I completely get why watchmakers make tourbillons in 2017. I also completely get how the price of 216,800 Swiss francs can be seen as a bargain.
“It was always my dream to make my own watch, and now I have – the next step is to be able to live off of my dream. I cannot say why I do what I do. But this is what I do. This watch is me,” says David Candaux.
D. Candaux 1740 The First 8 is one of six pre-selected watches in the category “Tourbillon and Escapement” for the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève on November 8.