Bertrand Savary of Arnold & Son and Angelus
Angus Davies chats to Bertrand Savary, the President of Arnold & Son and Angelus, eager to learn more about the two brands he manages. In this interview, Bertrand reveals the identity of the new Arnold & Son’s Ambassador, Mo Farah, and reveals how the firm came to make a watch for American NFL athlete, Justin Jefferson.
John Arnold (1736 – 1799) needs little introduction. He was probably the finest English watchmaker to have lived. He was survived by his son, John Roger Arnold, a consummate watchmaker in his own right. John Roger Arnold trained under the legendary horological genius, Abraham-Louis Breguet. Breguet and Arnold Snr were close friends and often shared information. Moreover, Breguet modified one of Arnold’s pocket chronometers, equipping it with the first tourbillon regulator.
In 1995, the name Arnold & Son returned to the world of watchmaking, relaunched in La Chaux de Fonds. Some 15 years later, the firm became a fully fledged Manufacture making in-house movements. Since its revival, the brand has created a myriad of different models, often influenced by English clocks and watches dating back to the 18th century and frequently encompassing artistic crafts.
Angelus can trace its origins to 1891 when Albert and Gustav Stolz established the company in Le Locle. Over the years, the firm made various types of clock, often equipped with numerous functions such as alarms, barometers and thermometers. In addition, it made movements for third parties, including the legendary 8-day calibre SF240 supplied to Panerai. However, it was best known for making sublime chronographs, including the iconic Chronodato, a bicompax chronograph equipped with a calendar function. Sadly, like many Swiss brands, Angelus ceased operations amid the quartz crisis of the 1970s.
Ultimately, La Joux Perret, the parent company of Arnold & Son acquired Angelus in 2011. It may have been tempting to create reissues of former Angelus chronographs, however, the management of the brand did not countenance such an idea. Instead, the Swiss firm embraced a new contemporary design language. The inaugural model under the new ownership was the U10 Tourbillon Lumière which featured seven panes of sapphire crystal. Thereafter, the company released a number of other models, each equipped with a tourbillon escapement and incorporating unusual dual-beam style bridges.
Both brands have a distinctive character of their own but are made at Manufacture La Joux-Perret. Earlier this year, Bertrand Savary was appointed the President of both Arnold & Son and Angelus. Considering the importance and prestige of his new role, it may be surprising to learn that Bertrand is only 44 years of age. However, peruse his curriculum vitae and you will discover that Bertrand has worked extensively within the industry, held positions in various global markets and has a multitude of academic qualifications, including an MBA.
Recently, I asked Bertrand a series of questions, eager to learn more about the two brands he manages.
Interview with Bertrand Savary of Arnold & Son and Angelus
You are the President of both Arnold & Son and Angelus. They are very different brands, what makes each marque special?
Arnold & Son is defined as “Swiss Watchmaking with British Roots”. All the collections are designed and made by our Manufacture La Joux-Perret here in La Chaux-de-Fonds (Switzerland) but they all reference the company’s founder, the great English watchmaker John Arnold (1736 – 1799), through the aesthetic details employed. For example, the shape of the bridges on the Tourbillon Chronometer 36, the mainplate of the Constant Force Tourbillon and various technical features, such as the constant force, dead beat seconds or 8-day power reserve, were found on John Arnold’s marine chronometers. The Arnold & Son style can be defined as “traditional high-end watchmaking”, but we always go further, looking closely at details. We have created many open-worked movements, embraced three-dimensional forms and selected the finest materials.
Angelus has a very different character. The brand’s reputation for making chronographs from the 20s to the 60s is legendary, exemplified by the Chronodato. I have always been astonished by Angelus’s innovative spirit. Our aim today is to retain this spirit of innovation, but apply it in a contemporary way. We honour the Stolz brothers (founders of Angelus in 1891) with our dedication to advanced movement engineering, but our aim is not to cling to the past entirely but rather to design and develop efficient, powerful, and adaptable timepieces for today. Thanks to our integrated manufacture and our wide portfolio of movements, we have the tools and the expertise to conceive stunning collections.
If we look closely at Arnold & Son first of all, John Arnold & John Roger Arnold were incredible talents. John Arnold was particularly innovative. He is credited with inventing the detent escapement, obtained a patent for his keyless works, worked extensively on marine chronometers and expended much effort trying to improve the precision of pocket watches. It’s quite a legacy. How does Arnold & Son honour that heritage today?
As I mentioned earlier, we always reference John Arnold’s work when creating new timepieces, either with aesthetical elements or technical details. But we do not want to live entirely in the past, so we have decided to partner with contemporary British personalities coming from very different worlds. The link they share is their British origin and/or nationality and their talent. We have recently announced a very special British Ambassador: “Sir Mo” (Sir Mohamed Muktar Jama Farah). He is the most successful British athlete in the history of the modern Olympic Games and the most decorated in the history of British athletics. He has just broken the world record for running the furthest distance possible in one hour, clocking up an impressive 21.330 km! Our partnership with Sir Mo is founded on the inherently British values of exception, endurance and elegance.
Arnold & Son was relaunched in 1995 and subsequently in 2010 it became a fully integrated manufacture. One of the remarkable aspects of your portfolio is that virtually every model has its own dedicated movement, delivering optimal proportions. This imbues each watch with a unique appearance, however, it clearly costs more money to achieve. Indeed, it sets aside the notion of economies of scale. Bearing in mind you have an MBA and possess vast business experience, do you envisage continuing with this approach?
As you correctly state, we are privileged to have a fully integrated manufacture with our sister company Manufacture La Joux-Perret providing us with the freedom to constantly create, research, test, respond quickly when required, improve processes, etc while still operating within our cost parameters. Nevertheless, the development of a movement from scratch costs time and money and it would be irrational and nearly impossible to come every year with a completely new calibre for both Arnold & Son and Angelus. We have new movements planned as part of our 3-year strategy. Our aim is to adopt a sustainable approach with our collections produced to a no-compromise standard and in limited quantities. Interestingly, more and more of our customers are commissioning custom-made pieces. Fortunately, we have the infrastructure to accede to their requests.
Another strength of Arnold & Son is that it offers products infused with different artistic crafts such as hand painted dials and various hand-engraved components. Are these skills performed in-house?
Hand-chamfering is performed in house. Engravings and miniature paintings are handled by long-time partners. The strength of the Swiss watchmaking industry comes from its unique, rich ecosystem and incredible diversity. Our subcontractors bring their talents and ideas to every project, adding something special and helping us to offer products that would be impossible to deliver without their input.
In terms of Arnold & Son, there is a strong emphasis on finissage. And yet, despite the impressive finishing of the company’s movements and the remarkable quality of the habillage, Arnold & Son repeatedly delivers incredible value for money. What is the secret behind this?
Our customers deserve the most impeccably finished timepieces. It is fundamental that we always operate at this high level. In my opinion, luxury isn’t necessarily a quality–price related issue; more a state of mind and the relentless pursuit of perfection. We, as brands and as individuals, must never be complacent and must commit to continuous improvement at every stage of the process, from our day-to-day business dealings to the way we continue to explore and push for greater innovation and creativity.
Angelus is an old name in watchmaking, dating back to 1891. Interestingly, when the brand was revived in 2015, it did not revisit Angelus models of yesteryear, it conceived wholly new designs. Are there any plans to make re-creations of vintage Angelus models?
Our Angelus models celebrate the innovative spirit demonstrated by the Stolz brothers, as well as encompassing contemporary design. Of course, we have demands to recreate Angelus vintage chronographs which we are thinking about, but nothing is ready yet.
One aspect I like about many of the Angelus models is that they feature openworked dials, twin-beam bridges and extensively use high-tech materials. To date, the company has only ever made tourbillons which, by their nature, are costly to produce. Do you envisage offering more affordable Angelus models in the future, for example, a simple time only watch?
You are right. So far, Angelus only offers tourbillon movements, but we are working on a full new non-tourbillon collection that will be presented within the next three years and obviously at a more affordable price. This new non-tourbillon collection will still follow our motto of “advanced engineering with athletic aesthetic”.
Both Arnold & Son and Angelus are subsidiaries of Citizen Watch Company which also owns Frederique Constant, Alpina, Manufacture La Joux-Perret as well as an array of other watch brands. Is there much information sharing between these brands?
Manufacture La Joux-Perret is our sister company, producing our movements. We are based in the same buildings, we are colleagues and we part of the same family.
Does being part of this group provide any synergies which ultimately benefit the customer?
We have very good relationships with other brands of the Group and we share our expertise in various domains. We are always stronger together so, yes, ultimately synergies will benefit the customer.
As the President of Arnold & Son and Angelus, you clearly have a vision for both companies. Can you provide a clue as to what we can expect from both brands in the future?
Regarding Arnold & Son, we will soon unveil a stunning astronomical timepiece. Our aim is to uphold what Arnold & Son stands for: focusing on our strong in-house portfolio of movements, stunning finishing and limited editions, while at the same time placing a strong emphasis on the design and appearance of our watches. We have many interesting projects in the pipeline for next year in terms of products as well as on the communication side of the company, courtesy of our partnership with Sir Mo Farah. We hope to soon announce a further partnership, something completely different, with a great personality, well known in the watch industry…
As I explained earlier, for Angelus, we will present a completely new range of timepieces within the next three years. Moreover, we will continue to embrace new materials and designs, as demonstrated with the U50 Diver Tourbillon. On another level, we recently came to meet a young American NFL athlete, Justin Jefferson, a real talent who asked us to make him a custom-piece and we decided to partner with him. We are also excited to announce a partnership, this time for a very limited edition of 25 pieces, with a great, well-known European football figure this autumn. He worked with us to redesign elements of a timepiece to reflect his own taste.
Image – Copyright © Russell Heeter Photography
Both Arnold & Son and Angelus are names rich in history. John Arnold’s work with marine chronometers is legendary and, over 200 years later, he continues to be spoken of in reverential tones. Likewise, many self-respecting collectors of vintage chronographs will talk effusively, often with animated hand gestures, about the firm’s esteemed bi-compax chronographs and the highly desirable Chronodato.
By acquiring Arnold & Son and Angelus, Manufacture La Joux-Perret has been able to tap into the legacies of both marques. However, this is a double-edged sword where the reverence afforded to the historical brands could easily be tarnished if the present-day models prove unworthy of the esteemed names.
However, in my opinion, both brands have been expertly managed to date. Each timepiece is beautifully made, rich in technical elements and endowed with handsome features. Hearing Betrand Savary’s comments leaves me in no doubt that both firms will maintain the exalted standards found common to each. In addition, Bertrand has provided a clue of what is to come in the future, including some more affordable Angelus models. It certainly promises to be an exciting period.
At this juncture, I will don my marketing hat and talk about brand awareness. For any brand to enjoy long term success it needs to engage with existing customers as well as attract new clients to consider its products. Clearly, with its recent announcements regarding ambassadors, friends and partners, Arnold & Son and Angelus should become increasingly visible. More pertinently, its products may become increasingly sought after.
In recent times, both companies have released unique pieces, showcasing their respective skills. In the last few weeks, Angelus released the U41, a fabulous watch featuring a flying tourbillon and available in a choice of blue or orange hues. Bertrand Savary is making some interesting changes and, based on what I have heard, I suspect his efforts may well yield extraordinary results.