Manufacture Royale, headed by Arnaud Faivre, is a young & dynamic luxury watch brand that creates exceptional watches. Arnaud Faivre is the CEO and Charles Grosbety is the artist-designer of the brand. By taking the name of Manufacture Royale, the company pays tribute to famous French writer Voltaire, who was also a remarkable businessman involved in watch making.
This elite watch brand has set itself the objective of pushing the limits of watch-making standards so as to offer a watch to the connoisseur that will stand the test of time and become, quite simply, the reference by which all others will be judged. The brand unveiled its first timepiece “Opera “, a Répétition Minute Tourbillon model in 2010.
François-Marie Arouet Voltaire
François-Marie Arouet Voltaire (1694 – 1778) had established a thriving watch making business during his long stay in Ferney, close to Geneva. He had produced timepieces for the social elite, and which he hoped would help towards the creation of the ideal society for which the broad outlines can be found in his literary output.
November 21st, 1694 was when Voltaire, born François-Marie Arouet, of middle-class parents with some aspirations of joining the nobility after acquiring a notary’s office, first saw the light of day. He is famous for a brilliant career as a man of letters, but much less so as a successful businessman, trading in luxury items and, in particular, watches.
A brilliant student, he was very soon picked out by the more liberal-minded nobility of the age, who soon welcomed him into their circles. Turbulent, and not a little insolent and sarcastic, the author and poet was widely recognized and appreciated from around 1723 onwards. Of his prodigious output, one really only knows a very small part, and one also forgets that he demonstrated amazing business acumen from a very early age.
This ability to spot future trends was no doubt acquired during his exile in London. During the two years, starting in November 1726, that he spent there, he would meet all the eminent minds of the age including, no doubt, the astronomer and watch-maker, George Graham. He would have felt the first stirrings of the industrial revolution, and clearly he understood the enormous potential that watchmaking could have in the changing world economy.
As someone who frequented the court and as a keen observer of those who moved in those circles, Voltaire was well aware how much the aristocracy in the Age of Enlightenment were taken with philosophy and the sciences, especially the world of watch-making.
It is from Voltaire’s time that the watch became the piece of male jewelry which every member of court needed, to be worn with a certain degree of ostentation, and of which he needed several versions. In addition, such a man of letters could not but be aware that the ‘Encyclopedia, or a systematic dictionary of the sciences, arts, and crafts’ was in preparation by Diderot and d’Alembert (first publication was in 1751). And he would certainly know that the longest article in this savants’ ‘bible’ was devoted to the art of watch-making.
One knows Voltaire for his writing and his penchant for imposing his superior intellect at court, but one knows far less about his capacity as a super salesman. Such an idea is so far removed from what we think of intellectuals that this part of Voltaire’s make-up has quite simply been ignored. However, when he set off for the court of Frederic II of Prussia in 1750, he took with him a large range of those typical French products most sought after by the aristocracy of the time, with the idea of selling as much as possible or of using them to curry favor with the great and powerful.
Following his trip to the court of Frederic II, Voltaire, convinced of the need to marry the useful to the desirable, decided to settle in a place which most people thought of as a sort of retreat. However, his decision in 1758 to set up in Ferney, a village of just forty souls close to Geneva, was well thought through, since it offered several advantages.
The first of these was that the garden of his manor house marked the frontier with the then independent Geneva Republic. Thus, in dire necessity he could always escape into neutral territory. But this was certainly not the main reason for choosing such a region, considered by many as a real backwater with no future, but which had started to be thought of as an area with a potential for attracting members of acceptable society following the scientific works on the surrounding mountains by the Englishman, William Windham.
Voltaire was aware that Swiss watch-making was not up to much and that, in the 1750s, the great names in the craft were French or English. But he also knew – he was someone who kept himself well informed – that recently, in the Jura mountains, a certain number of local watch-makers had started to produce high-quality articles at prices which significantly undercut those demanded by the master craftsmen of Europe’s capitals. Clearly, the business potential offered by the possibility to buy high quality watches and to sell them on with a sizeable mark-up also helped Voltaire choose this otherwise inhospitable location.
One should not be surprised to find that, hardly had he set foot in Ferney, he concentrated his efforts in the manufacture of two items highly prized in the courts of eighteenth century Europe – silk stockings and watches. These two products had three inestimable qualities in common: they were expensive, fashionable and could be transported in quantity in a trunk without significantly increasing the weight.
And in addition, they could be made by local people since the two activities were already part of their expertise. In fact, the local craftsmen in the valleys around Cluses and in the Swiss Jura had long since become masters in the art of weaving and lace-making. As for watch-making, Voltaire was able to take advantage of a disagreement between the city of Geneva and its craftsmen, and attract a certain number of those to Ferney. Thus, with the backing of a highly qualified workforce, Voltaire was able to grow his business and the fame of the town – nowadays known as Ferney-Voltaire – but also those of the craftsmen of the little Geneva Republic.
And Geneva watched with interest the success of the watch-making in Ferney. Based on this, Voltaire was able to persuade the Genevois to concentrate their enameling activities around watch and clock making and to offer watches comprising complicated innovations such as ringing and alarm mechanisms, much in fashion during the second half of the 18th century.
From trying to transform a village into an ‘ideal society’, like other idealists tried to do some years later in Salines d’Arc and Senans in the Doubs department of France (designed by the architect Claude- Nicholas Ledoux in 1762), a now world-renowned industry was born. It is to pay homage to one of the fathers of modern watch-making that the young Manufacture Royale presents a creation that Voltaire would certainly have appreciated as it combines the know-how of yesteryear with modern day skills married to an ultramodern design that will guarantee sustainability.
The Manufacture Royale has a motto: “E pluribus, unum”, usually translated as “Out of many, one”, which is the very essence of this young company whose roots go back to the time of Voltaire, and where the creativity of its founding aces combine to bring to lovers of beautiful timepieces an object which is simply unique. United in the search for perfection, these artists have pushed the limits of human creativity to deliver a work capable of increasing the fervor of those who love such objects, and even change one’s idea about time in all its forms.
“Great minds think alike”, said Voltaire, and Arnaud Faivre knows what that means. This not-so-young French entrepreneur, having already a full career behind him whilst working for the best in the industry, wished to take his art to another level and provide timepieces designed to satisfy the very demanding expectations of the real enthusiast.
Having had the responsibility within the most prestigious firms of creating delicate hand-made watch parts, he has decided to launch his own brand. Although daily able to contemplate the most beautiful of objects, he has taken up the challenge of breathing new life into an undertaking dating back to the Age of Enlightenment and which almost everyone has either forgotten or never even knew: the workshop founded by Voltaire in Ferney, a village bordering Geneva but on the other side of the frontier.
Driven by an unquenchable sense of perfection, and an equally consuming passion for the art of watchmaking, he has been joined by similar ‘pure’ spirits prepared to give their all – talent, time and technique – to a project that, in both concept and creation, takes that art to heights until now unimaginable. The idea is not to produce the next rare, exclusive watch, but to create a work of art in the full sense of the term; to produce an instrument whose objective qualities make it stand out from the crowd. In short, the idea is to push all the relevant concepts to their limits so that, starting from scratch, one can create the ‘ultimate’.
The brand follows a purely intellectual approach to horology where the strength and beauty of the object are the very essence of its nobility, of its pertinence, and of its durability.
Nobility: Manufacture Royale’s emblem, freely derived from the anvil in the rock which, according to the legend, housed King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, is a powerful sign for those who are capable of forming ideas from symbols. Such a symbol sets the tone for the noble ambitions that the company has fixed for itself.
Attached to these noble qualities, the creative talents of Arnaud Faivre and Charles Grosbéty are associated with the unparalleled skills of master watch-makers Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini to offer to 12 lucky individuals the chance to possess a masterpiece such as no-one has seen before. Each in his own sphere, these men, motivated by the idea of the ‘bienfacture’, have put all their skills towards producing something quite simply exquisite in terms of the conception of the movements and the quality of the finish.
Nobility also in the way in which the company has been founded! It’s not just a question of the Manufacture Royale leaving for posterity some one-off exotic mechanisms, but rather some extremely original, but reliable and reproducible concepts and constructs. This is the reason for choosing to combine features that improve the watch’s precision with others that enable the eye and the ear to take advantage of this new level of precision.
Durability : Decidedly innovative, although classic at first sight, the caliber is just 5.45 mm thick for its 32 mm and its ingenious openwork design for the plates and bridges can be observed through the back and front sapphire crystal windows (three mirrors for seven views). It required three years of research at the Fabrique du Temps by Michel Navas and Enrico Barbasini, two master craftsmen who have spent a lifetime designing exceptional movements for the most prestigious names in the business.
For the Manufacture Royale, these two have created the mechanical heart with manual rewinding, regulated by a tourbillon, which is fundamentally classical, but for which the functional ideas are quite simply audacious. In effect, if the bottom plate and the bridges have been machined traditionally in brass, rhodium plated and finished by hand, the components of the escapement oscillating at 3 Hz (i.e. 21,600 vibrations per hour) are really avant-garde. For functionality and performance reasons, the company has chosen for the assortiment of the tourbillion cage, an escape wheel and anchor sculpted in silicon.
Durability comes at this price because the components possess longevity hugely in excess of that usually found in the profession, guaranteeing a much higher degree of precision over time. But the originality employed goes far beyond the futuristic materials used. For this exquisite object, comprising some 319 parts, including 29 rubies, has been conceived in such a way as to offer a power reserve of more than 100 hours. In addition, three significant innovations provide a powerful and clear striking mechanism (hours in A, minutes in C sharp), such as can be found in the finest examples of pocket watches made towards the end of the 19th century.
Pertinence: To be sure that the chimes of a repeater watch can be heard without the user having to put the watch to his ear, it was necessary to completely rethink the way the sound waves were to be created and to change the transmission method in the case.
In this area of acoustics, the Manufacture Royale has focused particularly on the force and regularity of sound by perfecting a very original repeater mechanism comprising three innovations – a more powerful rack spring, a striking mechanism spring longer than that used in traditional watches (6 turns instead of 3) and bells/chimes made with a single internal part using jealously guarded alloys and processes.
With an above average structural strength, the sound deserved a made-to-measure presentation. A work of art is something that has attained the ultimate balance. To be able to grant such a status to this watch, it needed a real craftsman to cast his artist’s eye over the mechanical creation.
When Arnaud Faivre first asked Charles Grosbéty to create the case middle for the watch, he refused. This from a man with 25 years’ experience in creating unique watch-cases, and having carried out several design projects for Maserati, testifies to the level of the challenge. He is a man who works with traditional methods, i.e. without computer aid, a man whom one would call a watch sculptor. But finally, he was persuaded that the challenge of conceptualizing and producing a casing for significantly increasing the sound capabilities of an extraordinary object, was something he could not say no to.
Working with an iterative process, he conceived an articulated casing, opening and closing like the bellows of an ancient organ. This variable geometry resonance cage, tracing the Fibonacci spiral – a geometric expression linked to the golden number – resembles the exterior of the Sydney Opera House, an architectural masterpiece the artist used freely as an inspiration for creating this part.
Such a watch, with just 12 unique pieces being made, deserves a watchcase worthy of its status. Each one, made from a solid block of the most noble woods, is a reproduction of the Bastille Opera House in Paris, built on the site of the former Bastille Fortress, where the French Revolution all started, but which is also the place where Voltaire was twice imprisoned for his disrespect towards those in power at the time.
Official website : http://www.manufacture-royale.ch