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Watches: Rotator Cuff

James D. Malcolmson

Thierry Oulevay lights up when he speaks about Jean Dunand, the Swiss Art Deco designer, whom he describes as “a master of many different media.” Oulevay, a veteran watch industry executive, is so captivated with Dunand’s work that he named his fledgling company after the artist—a bold stroke considering that Jean Dunand never made a watch. However, Dunand’s abilities in a wide range of disciplines inspired Oulevay’s formula for producing premium timepieces. For his debut Tourbillon Orbital collection ($270,000), Oulevay drew from Switzerland’s rich pool of independent artisans to create one-of-a-kind pieces, each powered by a world premiere complication: a flying tourbillon with a cage that rotates around the dial once an hour.

Oulevay is refreshingly forthcoming about the various contributors involved with his collection. The revolutionary movement is the creation of Christophe Claret, author of many of the most complex and unusual mechanisms offered by the major brands (and a minority shareholder in Jean Dunand). The three-piece dial, with an engine-turned (engraved) center section and two outer rings that can be customized, is the product of boutique dial manufacturer Les Cadraniers de Genève and guilloche engraver Georges Brodbeck. Producing watches in this collaborative fashion is a long-standing practice, yet it is normally cloaked in secrecy. “I want to be completely transparent,” explains Oulevay. “All watch companies rely to some extent on unheralded independent artisans. I want to give them their due.” For Claret, he does so definitively by having the artisan’s name engraved on the casebacks.

Even those nonplussed by the concept of an orbiting tourbillon (these days, tourbillons do everything except a triple toe loop) must acknowledge the technical prowess represented by the movement. The winding barrel, power train, and tourbillon cage rotate around the dial on two sets of ball bearings. The movement design requires a special winding apparatus on the caseback, which reveals a moon-phase display, one of the mechanism’s few stationary parts. A four-gong Westminster chime minute repeater, a favorite new complicated movement of Claret’s, is planned for future Jean Dunand models.

The design oeuvre of the company’s namesake is only hinted at with the geometric hands and sapin (fir tree) pattern engraving of the first few Tourbillon Orbitals. However, as Oulevay eagerly leafs through his sketch book, he points out upcoming designs that are more redolent of Art Deco. Proposed dials call for exotic materials—such as fossilized roe and meteorite—and elaborate enamel and lacquer embellishments.

“I am in love with métiers d’art,” says Oulevay. “This really represents the spirit of Jean Dunand, who was impressive in a wide variety of disciplines. The artisans I work with are so bright and creative, they give me far more ideas than I can possibly execute.” 

Jean Dunand
+41.22.706.1961
info@w-p-w.ch

Photo by Bonhams
Photo by Simon Clay/RM Auctions
Photo by Shooterz.biz/RM Auctions
Photo by Daniel Simon