Hands on review of Theo Auffret's Tourbillon in Paris (Tourbillon à Paris)
The trend is confirmed: France gradually regains its place as a country that counts in the world of high-level watchmaking. What gives me the greatest pleasure is that this growing credibility is the result of the work of young watchmakers, which augurs well for a very promising future. In my opinion, the person who created the spark for this revival was Jean-Baptiste Viot. His chronometer in Paris (Chronomètre à Paris) largely defines the main characteristics of a French and contemporary Haute Horlogerie watch. I remember very well what Jean-Baptiste had told me when I discovered his watch 10 years ago. He insisted on the architecture of the movement designed to facilitate the work of the watchmakers who should service it thereafter, on the regularity of behavior obtained thanks to a low frequency and a large balance wheel and on specific aesthetic and decorative details as the scrambled stripes (traits brouillés in French). In fact, his chronometer had been designed with a major idea in mind: the watch had to be sustainable, that is to say, be reliable and easily repairable even in several decades. And it is in this specific point that the creation of Jean-Baptiste Viot was a real tribute to the French watchmakers of the past: hand-made crafted and by using traditional machines and "old watchmaker's tricks" as Jean-Baptiste said, the chronometer appeared to me as timeless, both respectful of the past but also totally inscribed in the long term because of its intelligent and robust design.
It is not by chance that I am digressing on Jean-Baptiste Viot. While discovering the prototype of the Tourbillon in Paris (Tourbillon à Paris) by Theo Auffret, I felt the same emotions as observing the chronometer 10 years ago. This is obviously not a coincidence: Theo Auffret devoted a very large part of his apprenticeship to Jean-Baptiste Viot's workshop before continuing it in Luca Soprana's workshop. Beyond the transmission of his experience, Jean-Baptiste greatly facilitated the task in the development of the Tourbillon prototype by allowing him to use the machines of the workshop outside working hours.
The influence of Jean-Baptiste Viot is evident in the construction of the Tourbillon: the watch has a low frequency (2.5hz for a power reserve of 50 hours), its architecture is truly three-dimensional and perfectly organized and I find again finishing elements of style such as the scrambled stripes. Now, it would be very unfair to say that Theo Auffret's Tourbillon is only an evolution of Jean-Baptiste Viot's chronometer because it has a real identity and its own characteristics. The Tourbillon is in any case a real proof of the maturity of Theo Auffret ... who is only 25 years old. Because the watch that I present to you was made by hand by a watchmaker born in 1995. I don't know if one realizes the talent that it is necessary to mobilize to carry out such a project. Why am I talking about maturity? Simply because in realizing the prototype, Theo Auffret thought at the same time to the subscription watch whose vocation will be to be produced according to the orders, with a target of 20 pieces. Slight technical differences will exist between the two pieces (for example the prototype escapement comes from a Jaeger-Lecoultre watch from the 30s and some mechanical elements like the center wheel, the barrel and the clutch wheel were extracted from the Peseux 260 ) but the ambition and the guideline will remain the same: the subscription watch will remain an exceptional piece, made in large part by hand. And since the main part of the production costs will be the time spent producing, shaping and assembling the components, the selling price of the subscription watch will not vary according to the chosen case material (platinum, gold, silver or steel).
The subscription watch is offered at a price of € 108,000 excluding tax. Looking closely at the prototype, I had no doubt about the relevance of this price. The Tourbillon in Paris is not only a successful watch but it also bears the signature and commitment of its creator.
First of all, the range of colors attracted me. A refined, yet peaceful and energetic atmosphere emerges from the watch, largely due to the contrast between the dominant monochrome and the color of moving elements such as the barrel or the balance wheel. The Tourbillon in Paris always plays on the contrasts. The organization of the front side of the watch is thus balanced because the barrel, the Tourbillon cage and the dial form a kind of equilateral triangle. But the slight off-centering of the triangle and the impressive effects of depth also bring a lot of dynamism.
I had the opportunity to see a first version of the prototype a few months ago. Its latest version shows many advances and appeared to me more airy and bright. A detail changes everything: the barrel bridge has been opened which is appreciable and reduces its visual impact. The tourbillon bridge remains full and I see two interests. Besides the security it brings, it creates an additional contrast from the aesthetic point of view.
The finish of the barrel bridge is interesting. It is softened then it is finished with long drawn lines (traits tirés in French) which gives it almost a two-tone appearance. This type of finish allows the bridge to visually detach itself from other bridges and plate made of German silver whose scrambled stripes finishes were made with charcoal.
The Tourbillon cage is wide and the balance wheel has enough room to "breathe". I never liked narrowed Tourbillons, stuck in too small openings. The size of the cage gives the opportunity to clearly appreciate on one side the escapement, on the other cylindrical weights that counterbalance the weight of the escapement (they look like thick pucks). These cylindrical weights will not a priori used in the subscription watch unless the owner of the watch makes the request.
The display is a "regulator" type with a long central minute hand and an hour hand on an off-centered silver dial. These pear-shaped hands with perfect symmetry, hardened steel, contribute greatly to the charm of the watch. They are shaped and turned by hand and their crafting method leads to square bases. I must admit that I really like these square bases which bring a small visual break compared to a very circular general atmosphere. Of course, the owner of the subscription watch may request a round base. I asked Theo the question of changing the color of the hands to make them more visible on the dial. The problem is that they would have become too blued and have seemed to be out of context on the front side of the watch. For harmony reasons, it is better that they keep this color.
The silver dial is also softened. Its exterior is polished and beveled and the indexes are gently chased and slightly riveted. There is nothing stuck with glue. Finally the screws also reinforce the perceived quality. I think in particular of the screw of the Tourbillon bridge and the imposing screw of the balance bridge. Their edges are beveled and they offer drawn lines on the sides. They bring volume to the whole. Finally note that the subscription watch will include a discreet block bearing the name of the watchmaker at 6 o'clock on the peripheral scale.
The face of the Tourbillon in Paris is really successful. Thanks to the quality of the finishes, the contrasts and the feeling of depth, it offers a mesmerizing show magnified by the behavior of the Tourbillon. The hand-molded mineral glass lets the natural light get in and it matches the finishes executed by Theo Auffret. However, the specific shape of the glass can create some reflections.
The back of the watch is at the same level of quality. It is certainly not as animated because of the position of the Tourbillon cage face side. The fact remains that the result is also spectacular. Theo Auffret also plays on contrasts such as with the softened finish of the steel bridge of the third wheel and the small steel bridge of the Tourbillon cage. The contrast between these two bridges and the scrambled finishes of the other elements is striking. Likewise, the crown wheel and the ratchet offer distinct finishes by combining a softened base with matt and polished contrasts. I like the way the third wheel is highlighted.
In this mechanical context of excellence, the case appears more like a frame that fades and that gives the key role to the movement. In fact, it is not the most original component. It is however very well done with rather long lugs which aim to increase the perceived size. The diameter in itself is 38.5mm. This diameter is ideal for a dress watch. The will of Theo Auffret was to respect this diameter while offering the largest possible Tourbillon cage. The goal is achieved and the Tourbillon in Paris offers harmonious proportions that are felt once the watch is put on the wrist. It is worn with comfort even if the small wrists should pay attention to the length of the lugs. The watch appears a little thick considering its rather low ratio diameter / thickness. The shape of the glass accentuates this sensation but it has a virtue: it significantly accentuates the depth effects that give a lot of pleasure.
The Tourbillon in Paris is a magnificent watch. It is even more than that: the prototype foreshadows an ambitious subscription watch that can adapt itself to the wishes of personalization of future owners. It is also a double ambassador for French excellence. Ambassador of French craftsmen who accompany the project. The glass is molded in Paris, the box is made of white ebony by Walter Bellini while the transport pouch that is integrated into the box is made by David Colin. And ambassador of this high-end French watchmaking that rises as evidenced by the creations from Rémy Cools, Cyril Brivet-Naudot, John-Mikaël Flaux or Charles Routhier (most of them rewarded by the Young Talent Competition by François-Paul Journe ). What makes me happy is to see that some projects are becoming realities and take the path of commercialization.
Theo Auffret hasn't neglected the crucial stage of communication and is surrounded by a team that has already developed a website and regularly animates the Instagram account. This is a new proof of the maturity of this young watchmaker who has set his selling price realistically and who believes in the commercial success of his Tourbillon in Paris. Theo Auffret plans in this context to produce 20 pieces in 4 years with a delivery period of 10 months from the order taking. I believe in the success of this ambition given the quality of execution and the image that emerges from this watch.
+ a masterful watch
+ the balanced presentation
+ the high-level finishing techniques, rarely seen for some of them
+ the size of the Tourbillon cage in a watch with a 38.5mm diameter
- the case seems less daring than the other components