Christophe Claret started with heavy machinery, but ended up in haute horology
When luxury watchmaker Christophe Claret is asked what the next big idea in his head is, he jokes in his broken english, “I can’t say—if I say you, I must dead you.” He does eventually acquiesce, and says that he’s currently working on 30 projects. “Some are very complicated. Others are very simple.” Claret’s watches have garnered him praise and clients the world over, known for their complex structures and achingly finessed craftsmanship.
At the start of an interview for Toys for Boys, he doesn’t want to talk watches. Instead, he shows us a picture of the 8-ton Caterpillar tractor that he uses to work the grounds of the castle that he restored himself. Around the castle, “There was a little river, it formed a moat. We could not get [to the castle] because it is an island.” So Claret designed and helped build the bridge that would allow for movement.
“I went from big mechanic to little mechanic,” he says with a smirk.
For his entire life Claret has had a passion for machines of all sizes. The Lyon-born watchmaker is particularly fond of conveyances: “I always liked motorbikes and cars. I drive sports cars—a Porsche 911, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, a Range Rover. I prefer the Porsche because it’s more discrete. I drive it everyday.” This appreciation for discrete style is indicative of a mind tuned for horology, a fervor for timekeeping. Indeed, parallel to his passion for cars and motorbikes, he’s tinkered with pocket watches for much of his life.
Christophe Claret, the company, produces its collections of watches in an astonishing contemporary factory in Neuchâtel, the French-speaking capital of Switzerland. Claret’s staff of 90 artisans works tirelessly to produce the watches, which have an average price of about 160,000 Swiss francs. (He reveals during the interview that he’s currently working on a series of more affordable watches as well.) These luxury timepieces are laboriously crafted, sometimes taking up to two years to complete.
Claret draws from the long, storied tradition of Swiss watchmaking, but adds significant modern twists. The Maestro, available in titanium or pink gold, is an audacious yet refined timekeeper with a curving shape and slim design. The Mecca contains a similar sophistication, but plays with a deep-seated religious sentiment: in the center of the watch is a tiny Kaaba, the black building in the center of the most holy site of pilgrimage for Muslims. The symbol is not only a testament to the faith: it’s an acknowledgement that, to this day, we use the Arabic numeral system of 0-10. “I have a true passion for history,” Claret says.
Such innovative aesthetic flourishes require a mind that is constantly at work. Claret is constantly working, or thinking about his work. It doesn’t matter if he’s doing some construction project on his castle or zipping around the Swiss mountains in his Porsche; Claret’s mind is always ticking. “I create all the time,” the horologist admits. “Sometimes, I dream, and I wake up, I take a paper and write down my dream.” This is the obsessive pattern required for such haute horology.
The level of dedication required for watchmaking is intense, but Claret likes to play with the very concept of keeping time. Rather than treat the watch purely as a means for knowing where we’re at in the day or night, Claret adds functions that one would never think a watch could have. Particularly mystifying is the collection of gaming watches. One has a faceplate wherein up to 3 players can play a game of Texas hold ’em, which is replete with over 90,000 possibilities—all contained within the watch. On the backplate of the watch is a functioning game of roulette.
It turns out, Claret decided to create this collection not because of some personal predilection, but because of his observational nature. “I’m fascinated by the gambler. I never play though.” This speaks to something deeper in Claret that has driven him toward machines big and small, to take them apart completely, figure out how they work, and then build them back up, often with modifications tailored to his tastes. “When I go with my child, I am fascinated by some toys. Sometimes I buy them just to break them, to look inside at the mechanisms, to know, what is the system?”
Though he is secretive about what’s coming up next for the luxury watchmaker, Claret does give some insight. He says that the Latin American market for his timepieces is growing rapidly, specifically in Mexico, as more and more collectors develop a desire for opulent ways of telling time. Claret is planning to open four shops under his name, “one in Miami, maybe one in New York and Switzerland.” Though Claret is forthcoming about certain aspects of his practice, he likes to maintain an air of mystery—much like time itself.