The exclusive mechanical watch atelier JEAN DUNAND Pièces Uniques was founded in 2003 by watchmaker Christophe Claret, Switzerland’s leading inventor and constructor of complicated movements for prestige houses, and entrepreneur Thierry Oulevay. The purpose of both men was to create advanced and unprecedented horological mechanisms as the basis for unique timepieces, each representing the summit of contemporary watchmaking .
Thierry Oulevay, an expert in watch design and marketing, gained his experience with the highly respected house, Piaget , and engineered the successful relaunch of the Bovet brand from 1995 to 2001 with an award winning design. He urged Christophe Claret to develop the orbiting tourbillon – an idea many in the watch industry considered impossible.
The two men share a fascination for the work of the Swiss-born artist, Jean Dunand (1877–1942), one of the great craftsmen of the Art Deco movement, embodying one of the most style periods in post-Renaissance times. Their shared interest and appreciation drove them to do the only thing they could consider as a proper display of respect: Oulevay and Claret decided to name their new brand in his honor.
Art Deco celebrated the machine age – speed, streamlining, aircraft, skyscrapers and ocean liners – to the rhythms of George Gershwin’s music, to Hollywood films at their most elegant, to the automobiles of Bugatti, Delage, and Bucciali. Consecrated at the Paris International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in 1925, Art Deco’s simple geometries captured the image of the Twenties and Thirties in furniture, typography, industrial design and sculpture. It touched every area where design mattered.
The JEAN DUNAND Pièces Uniques seek to re-capture the spirit and essence of the Art Deco movement rather than merely to replicate the watch styles of the period. Art Deco embraced the technologies and new materials of its world, emphasizing peerless craftsmanship and functional design above all.
The styling of JEAN DUNAND watches thus reflects the elite crafts and techniques of today rather than of the past. But the fine workmanship and clean design of the Art Deco zeitgeist are, and will always be, fundamental to the watches that bear the name JEAN DUNAND.
In the JEAN DUNAND watches, Christophe Claret defines what makes watchmaking an art. Essentially it’s to conjure up an impossible dream and then to make it reality. It requires a spatial imagination to configure forces, levers, springs and wheels into mechanical solutions that have never been done before.
His stake in the JEAN DUNAND brand gives Christophe Claret the outlet for his prodigious skills and creativity in works that represent the highest levels of contemporary horology. To earn the designation of Pièce Unique, decorations and materials must be different for each timepiece introduced to the market.
The styling and overall form of the watch are, however, always consistent with the Art Deco ideals of simple geometries, true functionality and faultless craftsmanship in precious materials. Each JEAN DUNAND Pièce Unique is thus an integral and contemporary work of art, and a truly unique piece. Only by adhering to these tenets is the watch connoisseur guaranteed an unparalleled level of exclusivity.
Exquisite finishing is an essential component of the watchmaking art, and as such it must be impeccable and comprehensive. The graining, chamfering and polishing of the movement are done entirely by hand. The sharp, inner angle of a chamfered edge, for example, cannot be done by machine. The artwork and decoration of the case are similarly executed to the highest standard.
Thierry Oulevay was already an experienced watch industry entrepreneur when he met Christophe Claret in 2001 and decided to launch a new product concept at the highest level of watchmaking. Oulevay had just sold his stake in Bovet Fleurier, a brand he had resurrected from scratch in the 1990s establishing it among the prestige watchmakers, with an award-winning case design.
They both also discovered a common interest in Art Deco and decided to call the brand JEAN DUNAND Pièces Uniques, after a Swiss artist and academic who was influential in the Art Deco era.
Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, Oulevay graduated from Babson College, Wellesley, Mass. In 1982 and worked in France and Germany for Bahlsen, a high-end food company. But he wanted to be an entrepreneur, not a manager. His break into the watch industry came in 1989 when he met Alain- Dominique Perrin, the president of Cartier. The Vendôme (now Richemont) Group had also just acquired Piaget, and its managing director, Francis Gouten, invited Oulevay to join the company.
His four years at Piaget were a valuable apprenticeship during the revival of the mechanical watch industry, but he still wanted to be an entrepreneur. In 1994, he left Piaget, and with a friend, bought the Bovet Fleurier name from Michel Parmigiani and set about establishing the brand.
Entrepreneurship and watchmaking run in Oulevay’s blood. His mother’s parents were watchmakers, operating a small workshop from home. He remembers watching his grandfather assembling extra-slim movements for Piaget, while his grandmother was engaged in precision timing. The entrepreneurs are on his father’s side. The Oulevay family built up Switzerland’s biggest biscuit company after World War II.
Christophe Claret is rare among watchmakers in Switzerland. He is one of the few whose contribution is sometimes acknowledged by the brands who are his clients. Indeed it would be futile to try to hide his talent. Most watches with extreme or unusual complications trace their origins to the Claret workshops in Le Locle, whatever the name on their dials. Claret’s complications start off with the tourbillon, his standard escapement. He is particularly known for his chiming and carillon watches with double-length cathedral gongs, and he is the only watchmaker to produce water-resistant minute-repeaters.
Claret was therefore the natural partner for Thierry Oulevay, whose ambition was to produce watches the like of which had never been seen before.
While other brands might impose restrictions, Thierry Oulevay simply wanted Claret to excel himself in originality and mechanical complexity. It was a challenge that the watchmaker couldn’t resist. Claret therefore took the unusual step of becoming a financial partner in his client’s company, World Première Watchmaking S.A., and together they set out to astonish the world under the name of JEAN DUNAND Pièces Uniques.
Born in Lyons, France, Claret graduated from the Geneva School of Watchmaking in 1981. He then trained with watchmaker Roger Dubuis for a few months before setting up his own company. His big break came in 1987 when he received an order from Rolf Schnyder, owner of the Ulysse Nardin house to produce an unusual complication – a chiming watch with animated figures called striking jacks or jaquemarts on the dial.
Claret’s success is partly due to his early adoption of the latest technology, especially sophisticated computer-aided design software. His workshops are among the most modern in the industry, capable of producing every imaginable watch component except for the balance springs.
His work is finished to the high standards demanded by his clients. He now designs and produces movements for more than 15 luxury brands. JEAN DUNAND allows him to demonstrate the full extent of his talent.
The prominent watch models from JEAN DUNAND are Palace, Shabaka, Tourbillon Orbital and Grand Complication.
Official website: www.jeandunand.com