Christophe Claret is one of a handful of celebrated geniuses in the watchmaking industry known as the “independents.” From his own workshop in the Jura Mountains, the famous Swiss watchmaking district, Claret has for the past almost 25 years created some of the most memorable watch movements, mostly on behalf of other brands, but now under his own label. He specializes in the invention of new calibers – fantastic one-of-a-kind mechanisms that forge new territory in watchmaking, and are highly sought after by serious collectors.
Claret began his watchmaking education as a child, when he set about to dismantle his parents' alarm clocks to satisfy his curiosity about how they worked. When he was old enough, he attended the Geneva Watchmaking School, graduating with exceptional honors, all the while operating his own repair show in his nearby home town of Lyon, France. Claret's first creation was an hour-and-quarter-repeater with automatons (jaquemarts), a mechanical feat he would repeat and continue to perfect when, in 1987, the prestigious brand Ulysse Nardin commissioned him to develop and produce 20 minute-repeater calibers with jacquemarts. Thus began a lifelong fascination with striking watches.
Soon after his collaboration with Ulysse Nardin, Claret created a limited company bearing his own name in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, specializing in developing movements, a niche in which he would become recognized and respected around the world. Today, his workshops are situated at the beautiful Manoir du Soleil d’Or, a magnificent mansion perched on the hills overlooking Le Locle, in the heart of Switzerland’s watchmaking district. Here in this peaceful setting, Claret has transformed the building into a superb contemporary watch production facility, uniting all the professions involved in the design, development and production of movements as well as other parts of the watch, such as cases.
Claret’s virtuosity has been applied in particular to striking watches, including minute repeaters and automatons. His first creation as an independent movement designer was a minute repeater, the Caliber CLA88, followed by his introduction of the first “music box” wristwatch to chime in passing and on demand, featuring a 20-tooth comb that plays two tunes. A more recent example is the Adagio, which, in addition to being a cathedral minute repeater with a patented gong system, includes a dual time-zone display with day/night indication and a patented large date.
In 2009, after two decades of creating movements exclusively for other brands, Claret officially launched his own label, beginning with the DualTow watch, a planetary gear single-pusher chronograph featuring a striking mechanism and tourbillon. This was followed by the impressive casino-on-the-wrist, the 21 Blackjack, an interactive watch on which the wearer can play blackjack on the dial. The wearer can go up against a dealer in any one of 4,096 possible hand combinations – the dealer 216 different card combinations, for a total of 884,736 ways to win or lose. On the back is an operable roulette wheel, which doubles as a rotor, and on the side, two windows reveal the striking hammer and two dice. Every time the shutter opens to reveal a new card for either the player or the dealer, a cathedral gong can be seen through a caseband window at 2 o' clock.
One of his latest inventions, the Soprano, combines two of the finest horological complications: a 60-second tourbillon and a minute repeater with a Westminster chime. The watch is fitted with four patented cathedral gongs and four hammers, for a rich, clear sound unlike any other. It is highlighted by stepped bridges inspired by the Charles X style, characterized by columns and beveled edges.
“The Charles X style has greatly inspired many artisans, including the makers of pendulum clocks (with their four columns) and of course, watches, with these famous Charles X stepped bridges,” says Claret.
In 1998, he created the Tourbillon movement with stepped bridges and plate, crafting them out of sapphire – a world premiere. “These bridges are of course more difficult to produce, especially in sapphire,” he says, “but they make a very interesting architectural and aesthetic movement.
The Kantharos is his latest masterpiece, introduced at Baselworld 2013. It is a monopusher chronograph striking on a cathedral gong, with a constant force mechanism that enhances the regularity and accuracy of the watch. It has a fully integrated automatic movement.
“Launching my own brand, Christophe Claret, is a fantastic challenge for me,” says Claret. “For all these years, my real source of motivation has been to actually make watches based on simple sketches of the initial ideas behind a product. Seeing that special sparkle in the eyes of collectors and devotees of extremely high-end watchmaking who acquire my timepieces is a source of great satisfaction to me.”