Theo Auffret Tourbillon à Paris
Theo Auffret Tourbillon à Paris is a remarkable timepiece from a young watchmaker based in Paris. Based on his work to date, I suspect Theo Auffret will eventually become one of the finest watchmakers of his generation. His latest model is an evolution of a prize-winning prototype he entered for the F.P.Journe’s young talent competition back in 2018 and is now offered on a subscription basis.
I am the greatest
I suspect many men of my generation will recall standing in the school playground, perched on tip toes, jabbing thin air with clenched fists and proclaiming ‘I am the greatest’. Muhammad Ali fever pervaded all sections of society. Despite subsequent heavyweight boxers displaying immense talent, nobody ever matched Ali’s boxing pre-eminence. However, it was not merely Ali’s natural ability to box, he was also intelligent and articulate. Ali was not only a gifted athlete he was a born entertainer. His legend will live forever.
In the history of horology, the names of the most talented watchmakers readily roll off the tongue. They include such names as Harrison, Arnold, Berthoud and Janvier. However, the name that sits above all others is Breguet. His horological prowess has never been surpassed. Similar to Ali, Breguet’s talents were not one-dimensional. He was an incredibly gifted watchmaker, however, he also possessed an amazing eye for design and, most pertinently, he was a consummate businessman. It was his array of talents that distinguished him as remarkable.
Often, when guest speaking at events, I am asked who is the greatest living watchmaker. There are some incredible talents, including Felix Baumgartner, Philippe Dufour, François-Paul Journe, Robert Greubel, the Grönefeld brothers, Michel Parmigiani, Peter Speake, Andreas Strehler and Kari Voutilainen. However, it is very difficult to say whether any one of these gentlemen exhibits more talent than his contemporaries. Each watchmaking luminary has his own style and particular areas of expertise. For example, Dufour is known for his peerless finishing, while Voutilainen is famous for his exquisite dials and so on.
Nevertheless, nailing my colours to the mast, I would say the best watchmaker of my generation is François-Paul Journe. He is a brilliant watchmaker perhaps best known for his resonance watches. However, he has also employed his talents to make melodious grande sonneries, vertical tourbillons and some of the finest chronographs in existence. All Journe’s watches exhibit a distinctive, handsome appearance, likely to engender avaricious thoughts in most purists’ minds. Lastly, Journe’s watches, invariably endowed with gold movements, are finished to the highest order.
However, what makes Journe extraordinary is he is not only an incredible watchmaker and aesthete, he is an accomplished businessman. In my opinion, he bears the closest resemblance to a modern-day Breguet.
Furthermore, and to his credit, François-Paul Journe has endeavoured to put something back, encouraging young talent to pursue a career in high horology with his aptly named ‘young talent competition’. He established this initiative in 2015 and it has attracted entries from some exceptional talents between the ages of 18 and 30.
In 2018, three winning finalists received a grant as well as various other forms of support. The finalists included Theo Auffret, Rémy Cools and Charles Routhier. Last year, I chatted to Theo Auffret, eager to learn more about his initial collection, Tourbillon à Paris – Subscription Series.
Despite only being born in 1995, Theo Auffret has already amassed a wealth of experience. He embarked on his apprenticeship with Denis Corpechot before completing it under the tutelage of Jean-Baptiste Viot. Once he had completed his apprenticeship he worked as a model-maker at Ateliers Studio 7h38, a discreet workshop in the canton of Neuchâtel, Switzerland. This company is probably best known for developing complicated watches such as the Jacob & Co Astronomia Tourbillon.
In order to showcase his work, Theo produced a prototype watch, the Tourbillon à Paris. Although it wasn’t finished he chose to submit it for the young talent competition. Nevertheless, its composition was clearly enough to impress the jury.
Theo returned to Paris and, with the help of Jean-Baptiste Viot, established his own workshop. His idea was to produce a small number of bespoke watches made to his exacting standards, employing the tried and tested ‘Souscription’ (subscription) business model.
Breguet conceived the idea of a Souscription watch between 1793-1795. These watches were reliable, precise and comparatively affordable. Customers would make a down payment at the time of ordering their watch and pay the balance on delivery. Receiving money from his clients prior to making their watches, inevitably helped Breguet’s cashflow.
Interestingly, the first F.P. Journe Chronomètre a Résonance was a subscription watch, another similarity between Journe and Breguet.
The Theo Auffret Tourbillon à Paris is a regulator. Regulator clocks and watches were historically used as a point of reference when setting other clocks or watches. The minute hand is the dominant hand with the hours usually depicted on a smaller, dedicated dial.
In this instance, the small dial features applied golden batons set atop a circular brushed track. The central part of the dial sits slightly lower than the track and features a contrasting finish. Prospective clients can choose from a silver, gold or platinum dial. The hour hand is endowed with an interesting spade-shape tip. The unique hands are exquisitely formed using traditional hand-turning.
The central minutes are enunciated using a tapered hand with spade-style tip, again turned by hand. The slender hand floats above the dialscape kissing a minuterie located on the outer edge of the dial.
Positioned opposite the hour track is a stepped tourbillon bridge which is affixed to the mainplate with one oversized screw. The bridge, along with the mainplate, features charcoal finishing, created using a combination of charcoal and oil. Its edges of the bridge are hand filed to form a 45° bevelled edge. Thereafter, the bevels are hand polished using wood and diamantine paste, culminating in a gleaming finish. The openworked dial design affords views of the tourbillon cage, balance wheel and pallet lever in motion.
The barrel is located in the upper portion of the dial and sports a circular-grained finish. A stepped barrel bridge holds the barrel in position. The upper section of the bridge is straight grained with hand-bevelled edges, including beautifully executed interior angles, a further illustration of Theo’s skill.
The openworked dial reveals much of the keyless works. Moreover, it allows the wearer to savour numerous soupçons of horological excellence while at the same time reading the dial with ease. Various pins on display feature domed heads and mirror-polishing. Furthermore, the slots and rims of the screws, which sit within polished sinks, are hand bevelled, mirror polished on top and circular-grained on the sides.
On the prototype model, there was no seconds indication. However, Theo informed me that he has produced a watch for a client with a small indicator on the tourbillon cage and a corresponding 20-second track. The notion of a ‘demi-mesure’ or bespoke watch will no doubt appeal to the cognoscenti.
When Theo made the prototype watch the case was handcrafted in silver. In terms of his Subscription Series of watches, the cases are made by a specialist firm in Switzerland using CNC. It would not be viable to make each watch case by hand and, to be honest, I cannot think of any other firm that does. The case finishing is sublime, courtesy of a delightful blend of grained and polished surfaces.
The Theo Auffret Tourbillon à Paris is offered in a choice of platinum, gold, silver or steel. The case measures 38.5mm in diameter and 12mm in height. These dimensions are comparatively modest, but they should prove suitable to most buyers. Moreover, the diameter should remain popular, irrespective of changing horological trends.
Choice is at the heart of this company’s paradigm. This extends to the glazing to the front and rear of the case. Theo offers the choice of hand-moulded mineral glass or sapphire crystal. Personally, I would always favour the latter option but it is good to be given the choice.
When the hand-wound movement is viewed via the exhibition caseback, the wearer is presented with two large plates, each embellished with charcoal finishing. The transmission wheel is mirror polished at its centre and features two prominent screws, while its perimeter is softened. The adjacent ratchet wheel adopts the same surface treatment.
The ratchet wheel sits atop the barrel. Most of the bridges are made of maillechort, also known as German silver, with the exception of two bridges formed of hardened steel. These two bridges hold the second wheel in place and the tourbillon carriage pivot and they encompass polished bevels and sinks with brushed sides.
Theo Auffret is a consummate finisseur. For example, the centre wheel is circular-grained on both sides, while the arms are bevelled and polished. The lever spring for the hand setting mechanism features polished bevels and straight graining on top. This exceptional watchmaker repeatedly demonstrates his fastidiousness.
Close examination of the tourbillon reveals a plethora of fascinating details. The arms of the cage are beautifully rounded and taper in diameter as they approach the periphery of the cage. On the prototype model, the tourbillon cage was fitted with cylindrical weights for poising, however, these proved very time-consuming to set up and will not feature on the Subscription Series.
The rate of the balance is regulated by altering the moment of inertia. This is achieved by tightening or loosening the timing screws affixed to the rim of the balance. When Theo made the prototype model, he used the escapement and regulating organ from a vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre calibre. However, when we chatted, he explained that the Subscription Series will use components supplied by Precision Engineering AG (the sister company of H. Moser & Cie). The frequency of the balance is 18,000 vph (2.5Hz). The movement has a power reserve of 50 hours.
It is obvious that Theo obsesses over the minutiae. For example, the Theo Auffret Tourbillon à Paris is supplied on a custom leather strap paired with an engraved buckle.
Likewise, the watch is supplied in a handcrafted wooden box formed of white ebony and pear tree, made by the Italian, Walter Bellini. He deftly fashions the box with a chisel in hand, taking an inordinate amount of care, crafting it to the highest order.
Unusually, the watch is not just supplied with one box but two. The Theo Auffret Tourbillon à Paris comes supplied with a leather travel case featuring a silver buckle and nubuck interior. The travel case was made by David Colin, an artisan based in Paris who has worked for an array of prestigious brands.
Consistent with Theo’s ethos of ‘demi-mesure’, the client can select the leather strap, the materials used for the wooden box and the travel case. It is obvious this watchmaker is keen to sate his client’s every desire.
When Theo Auffret produced his prototype model in 2018, he demonstrated incredible talent. He had to work with the limited resources at his disposal, sometimes using the odd component from a vintage parts bin, but otherwise making every part himself. To possess this skill-set is rare.
At just aged 25 years of age, Theo is comparatively young. While this may imply that he is professionally immature, nothing could be further from the truth. Auffret is a remarkable watchmaker, surpassing the abilities of many accomplished watchmakers twice his age. Will he evolve over the decades to come? Quite possibly.
The Theo Auffret Tourbillon à Paris – Subscription Series is a magnificent timepiece. It is practical, features a tourbillon, one of the more challenging complications to realise, and it is beautifully finished. Moreover, consistent with the finest exemplars of luxury, it can be tailored to meet the client’s precise needs.
Priced circa €108,000 + tax, the watch is remarkable value for money. This creation is not mass-produced, it is handcrafted and encompasses the notion of ‘demi-mesure’. Some buyers may wish to play it safe and buy a tourbillon from one of watchmaking’s old guard, however, I think Theo Auffret’s timepiece makes a compelling case for acquisition.
At this juncture you are no doubt wondering what the future holds for this remarkable watchmaker.
François-Paul Journe, my favourite watchmaker of the moment, clearly looked at Breguet’s work and learnt much from the great man. Ironically, both men spent many years working in Paris, perhaps there is something in water! Nothing is certain in life, but I will be monitoring the career of Theo Auffret in years to come, keen to see if he will become the Journe of his generation or as Ali once proclaimed, ‘the greatest’.
- Model: Theo Auffret Tourbillon à Paris – Subscription Series
- Case: Platinum, gold, silver or steel; diameter 38.5mm; height 12mm; mineral glass or sapphire crystal to front; exhibition case back.
- Functions: Off-centre hours; central minutes; seconds on tourbillon on request
- Movement: Hand-wound movement; frequency 18,000 vph (2.5Hz); power reserve 50 hours.
- Strap: Custom strap paired with an engraved buckle
- Price: €108,000 + taxes (RRP – July 2019)