Baume & Mercier have a long history harking back to 1830. The brand has reinterpreted the aesthetic allure of former models from the 1940s and most recently with the Clifton, the 1950s.
The Genevan brand is experiencing growing popularity with its handsome timepieces, several of which feature high quality Swiss movements and are delivered at remarkably affordable prices.
Part of Richemont, Baume & Mercier timepieces are more attainable than the more prestigious and complicated sister brands; Vacheron Constantin, A. Lange & Söhne and Roger Dubuis. This is not to diminish the standing of Baume & Mercier. They are a historical horological company delivering competitively priced watches which are more readily available to those consumers who have finite resources, yet crave Swiss timekeeping excellence.
I was presented with the opportunity to interview Sara Josephine Sandmeier, a designer at Baume & Mercier. Nothing quite prepared me for the vivacious young designer, with profound charm and an abundance of style.
I regularly meet marketing professionals, indeed, I confess to being a marketing graduate myself. However, it is the artisans who embellish the watch industry through craftsmanship or accomplished design prowess, who engage my soul. I can recognise the talent in others even though I lack the fine motor skills to emulate their consummate ability.
The stylishly attired Sara was the personification of grace and elegance. I relished the prospect of interviewing Ms Sandmeier.
AD: This year Baume & Mercier have fitted a sapphire caseback to the Linea model, affording a view of the movement.
SJS: I am very proud of that.
For 12 years, there have been three designers, two of us are women, we are the majority! The two ladies, myself and my colleague, we both like the whole creation of a watch including the movement. We don’t think it is just men who want to see in the belly of the watch, but everyone. Everyone finds it fascinating to see the movement.
Maybe, we like to see the movement for different reasons. For a woman, it is beautiful to see her watch living. Perhaps men like to see the technical aspects, the micro mechanics. Perhaps we like seeing the movement being alive.
I always compare watches to cars. I love cars. I open the bonnet and look at the engine. I don’t know the name of every component and I couldn’t repair it. However, I love a car that has a good sound, that it is powerful and I love to see good craftsmanship.
For the watches, it is the same. We thought, two women, we could create a watch which has an authenticity.
AD: I adore the way it allows the female wearer to see the movement. I wish more brands did this.
I love the lamb skin straps on some of the new Linea models. However, these are only available on the quartz models. Can they not be fitted to the automatic Linea models?
SJS: Unfortunately, they are only available on the 27mm models at the moment.
AD: I would dearly like to see these appear on the 32mm models.
SJS: However, you can swap the interchangeable bracelet on the automatic Linea for the brown satin strap which comes with the watch.
AD: That appeals to me. I have a few watches and I swap them depending on the mood I am in. I like that versatility of being able to change the straps as your mood changes and co-ordinate your watch with your clothes.
SJS: You would be ideal for an interchangeable man’s watch. We have thought about that.
AD: I love some of the new Clifton pieces can you tell me a little about the background to this model?
SJS: It was inspired by a 1950s model, a museum piece. We tried to stay as closely as possible to the museum watch. We wanted to create a bond between the past and the present. The Clifton 1830 is our emblematic piece, an interpretation of the museum watch. The rest of the collection is a more contemporary interpretation of the 1950s watch.
Baume & Mercier historical watch dating back to the 1950s
We have retained the chevé shaped glass, the domed dial, the riveted appliqués. The watch is quite generous, yet thin. We tried to keep the lugs short.
We used a combination of satin and polished finishes to show the different levels. We also used different shape hands and light snailing on the subsidiary seconds dial.
AD: Can we expect to see more complicated watches for women from Baume & Mercier for example a chrono or fly-back chrono?
SJS: For that, I think it is a step too far at the moment. We approach the development step by step. This year we have started with the automatic movement with sapphire caseback for ladies. Yet, I think whilst I work for this brand, I will want to go further.
AD: I appreciate you are not thinking necessarily about SIHH 2013 now, but you are thinking about models to be launched in two or three years time.
SJS: Three years time. We have several projects we are working on at the same time. We work on concepts, two or three years in advance.
AD: How restrictive is designing product, bearing in mind the need to keep the price point competitive and continue to appeal to your market segment. For example, do you ever wish to feature enamelling, guilloché or haute joaillerie pieces?
SJS: I always dream of doing enamel. We had a project looking at enamel. It is a pity it could not come out.
We had guilloché dial on the William Baume collection about five years ago.
We had a tourbillon in the range.
AD: No! I never knew that.
You are such an old, historical brand…
SJS: In our heritage we have a pocket watch tourbillon from 1892.
Unfortunately, the tourbillon was a little too expensive for Baume & Mercier. We decided to be more modest, step back and now we try to go forward more slowly.
AD: I think one of the things about Baume & Mercier, is that you get a lot of watch for the price.
SJS: Yes, this is one of the philosophies of Baume & Mercier. A good balance between, technical detail, design and price. We always try to combine these aspects harmoniously.
AD: When you are conceiving products, is it something you are thinking about all the time? When you are on a plane are you writing things down. Does that happen?
SJS: Yes, it happens.
AD: Do you have a notebook with you all the time?
SJS: All the time. When you are a designer, you cannot just jump out of your occupation. When you are a designer, you are designing all day, all week. All the time you are a designer. Whether you are at home on holiday, you never stop being a designer.
You don’t always have a good idea when you are sitting in front of the computer.
AD: Other than watches, what would you have loved to have designed? Clothes?
AD: Have you designed your dress?
SJS: No, it is a Swiss designer called Christa de Carouge and she lives in Zurich. She makes clothes without sizing. There is one size, either it fits you or it doesn’t.
She was an architect in the beginning. She conceives clothes like houses. She believes that people should be well, just in the way they should feel well, when they live in their house. I agree, I have to feel comfortable.
I love clothes, but they have to be comfortable. I like clothes that get old in a beautiful way. I don’t like clothes you wear once and discard.
I prefer clothes where you cannot identify the designer. I am a person, I don’t want to be a label.
I buy clothes from people who are unknown because I like them.
I do wear clothes from famous names such as; Issey Miyake and Alexander McQueen because I like the clothes, not because of the label. I want to give personality to the clothes and not vice-versa.
AD: I have met some designers who conceptualise the product with an engineer or watchmaker bringing it to fruition. Whereas, I have also met some designers who work on all aspects of the watch from case, movement etc.
At what stage do you have to pass your design to someone to bring it to fruition?
SJS: I never pass the design to somebody else. I just share it.
Firstly, we have a brief from the marketing team, saying for example they want a design for a round man’s watch, 43-45mm diameter, brown, classic, mainly automatic, in this price range…
Then we start the design and very quickly I go and meet the technical guy who is creating the model with the movement within. Sometimes we sit together and we work on it together.
At Baume & Mercier it is good because we do all this in-house and we share the same building. He can phone me, I can go downstairs look at the model. I can then say I want the horns to be more curved. He may then say we can’t do that because of the movement, so we have to seek a solution.
But, I never hand it over. Every step in the creation of a watch I follow, and until it is completed, it comes back to me.
We use wax models and have a 3D printer. I refine the design, create a new wax model. Eventually, we create a metal prototype including the bracelet. We design the dial, the hands, everything.
Nothing is ever perfect first time.
AD: Are you constantly going back to suppliers all the time?
When we start the project, I am the person who visits the supplier. There are times when drawings don’t always convey what I am looking for. I will take examples of dials and describe what I want, sometimes with my hands.
Then there is a project leader, who liaises with the supplier and me and liaises between us after my first meeting. However, everything ultimately comes back to me. So, I never fully hand it over.
We go with the watch from beginning to the end.
AD: When you travel are you always looking for inspiration?
I try to go out and see as much of the world as possible. My last trip was to Tokyo. This was definitely very inspiring for a designer.
AD: Do you bring lots of things back? If I was a designer, I could imagine bringing back different packaging, clothes and fabric. Is that something you do?
SJS: Yes, my office is cluttered with lots of samples, objects, leather, fabric, paper.
Sara Josephine Sandmeier is the epitome of style. She is blessed with a vivacious thirst for life, quaffing every detail that surrounds her and distilling this inspiration into handsome timepieces.
It comes as no surprise that Baume & Mercier have produced a stunning collection of models for 2013 when it has incredibly talented individuals such as Ms Sandmeier on the payroll.
The attention to detail was impressive. Sara pointed out each aspect of her designs, explaining the proportions, the inspiration, the way surfaces play with light with pleasing results.
A proficient professional, she never revealed any clues to the drawings on her desk which will, no doubt, be released at SIHH 2016. However, I suspect they will proffer sublime forms with refined details and cultured character whilst always conferring value for money.