Extreme complications: the weird and wonderful world of Christophe Claret

“I don’t like to do what others do,” says Christophe Claret. “I want to arrive at something new, crazy and sometimes that is too new for the market. There are many technical challenges and then of course you also have to sell it, and to sell well you need to be different.”

With a range of pieces that subvert the idea of what a wristwatch can be, it appears that Claret’s self-inflicted challenges haven’t been too much of a problem so far. In fact, the French-born, Geneva-trained watchmaker thrives in this disruptive, innovative space. His background working alongside some of horology’s more rebellious innovators – Roger Dubuis, Rolf Schnyder amongst others – has served him well on his own disrupting journey.

Not shy about getting ahead of a challenge, his career really started when Schnyder asked the then 24-year-old watch graduate to design a minute repeated for his newly acquired Ulysse Nardin. “Minute repeaters are so complicated and in 1987 nobody used autocad or computers. It was very challenging! We started the calibre and after two and a half years we arrived at the product. I started with the most difficult complication. Schnyder was a visionary; his innovations and creating things that don’t exist are loved by collectors and I do think it’s easier to sell something that is different.”

From playful pieces that incorporate a game of ‘He loves me, he loves me not’ into the dial, or offer the wearer a chance to play a miniature game of poker, to pieces that place audacious complications at the centre, nothing in the Christophe Claret universe is expected, predictable or by the book.

“In watchmaking, everything has already been done, and everything has yet to be invented,” says Claret. A natural-born anti-conformist, Claret’s work expresses a desire to go against the grain – not for its own sake, but to add something new to the horological conversation. That naturally means turning away from the traditions of watchmaking when it comes to seeking inspiration – “aircraft, cars, many different things inspire my designs that are naturally new, crazy….” says the watchmaker with a smile, revealing that an epicentre for great works of art became creative fodder for one of his most intriguing creations today.

“For the Maestro, I was inspired by the architecture of the Louvre and its pyramids, to include a pyramid shape within the watch,” says Claret.

Comprising two pyramid-shaped aluminum disks, one for the tens on the upper part and the second for the units, this patented large date display topped with ruby or sapphire performs a semi-instantaneous jump between midnight and twenty past midnight.

The Memo also offers a playful ‘reminder’ function, which thanks to the adjustable display of a gemstone, allows the wearer to press a pusher when he has completed a particular task, the positioning of the stone a visual cue to complete whatever is required. The Maestro can be selected in either rose gold or platinum, with a level of hand-finishing on every part that few manufacturers can claim to master – such as the stepped Charles X style bridges featuring 26 interior angles. A novel way to tell time, the Maestro is also one of the brand’s most accessible complications to date, with an entry price of $68,000 for the titanium version. That’s an attractive price for a well-to-do collector and the fact that the piece is limited to just 88 further enhances its desirability. The chance to own a Christophe Claret is about as ‘every day’ as the watches themselves – in other words, not very.

“It’s important for me to always arrive at something different. When I came up with the Margot, it was something a bit crazy. The Margot is an extremely complicated watch for women, the first time we did a big complication for women.”

The watch was awarded the Grand Prix de Geneve for a Ladies’ High-Mech Watch in 2014 and features a mechanism that allows its wearer to play a mechanical game of ‘He loves me, he loves me not.’

Press the pusher at 2 o’ clock and the petals at the centre of the dial begin to disappear either individually or in pairs – the randomness isn’t possible to predict, thus affording the wearer an unexpected result each time, thanks to the answer appearing in calligraphic letters on a display at 4 o’ clock.

“Before, when I worked with other brands, I always talked about complications for women but they didn’t share my vision. Many brands use a movement from a men’s watch and put it in a women’s watch, so with my Margot and Marguerite watches I wanted to bring something totally new, sophisticated and romantic. It took me a year to do this… not that long!”

The watchmaker credits his long experience with other brands such as Franck Muller, deGrisogono, Girard-Perregaux, Jean Dunand and Harry Winston, having worked behind the scenes for many years designing complications and movements and earning a reputation within the industry as one of its true originals. He set up his own manufacture, acquiring the Manoir du Soleil d’Or near Le Locle, where he established his own workshops.

In 2009 he launched his own watch, the DualTow, which introduced his abilities to a wider audience for the first time. Other models followed, and today, Claret continues to offer his services to the world’s greatest watch brands while allowing his own creative vision to be expressed through the watches that bear his own name.

The Extreme Complications family perfectly expresses boundary-pushing when it comes to watchmaking. “People thought I was crazy to introduce the enemy of watchmaking into a watch. How could we even think of doing this? But we did it.”

The X-TREM-1 uses a system driven by magnetic fields to display the hours and minutes.Two small steel spheres – hollowed to make them lighter and encased within two tubes placed to the right and left of the caseband – are controlled by precision magnetic fields generated by two miniature magnets moved by cables.

“I am never happy just to redo something that has already been done. The brand is dedicated to technological innovation and never hesitates to venture off the beaten track,” adds the maestro of unexpected watchmaking.