Watches: Finishing School
Is 100 years of experience really required to produce an exceptional watch? Jérôme De Witt does not think so. In only four years, he and his fledgling company, De Witt, have made significant progress in building genuine, high-quality timepieces—and he is not even a watchmaker.
Jérôme acknowledges that his curvaceous New Age collection and the more complicated New Emotion range, with its gearwheel-inspired case design, are powered by supplied movements, which may impugn their quality in the eyes of some purist collectors. Jérôme, however, emphasizes that what truly sets De Witt apart are the old fashioned hand-assembly and hand-finishing skills of his 17 employees. He believes that assembly and finishing capabilities are at the core of modern quality watchmaking; De Witt’s hallmark, therefore, is an extremely high level of finishing.
Supplied movements are selected for their reliability and are hand-assembled entirely by De Witt’s watchmakers, allowing them to apply their refined finishing touches to individual pieces, including the circular-grained perlage engraving on each plate and hand-beveled edges on the major components. In fact, De Witt’s Perpetual Calendar Bi-retrograde, fitted with Chopard’s L.U.C. movement, easily qualified for the prestigious Geneva Seal, awarded to select timepieces that meet the industry’s most stringent standards for production and finishing. While De Witt uses certain design elements in other movements that may preclude most of its models from consideration for the seal, the company asserts that all of its timepieces are finished in the same spirit.
A descendant of Napoléon, Jérôme grew up around fine watches and was fascinated by their complexity—when he was a boy, he even dismantled a family heirloom. He went on to run his own contract engineering firm, so he naturally took a very methodical approach to building his watch company. His strategy has allowed De Witt to build a collection that is somewhat insulated from the reliability problems that are traditionally part and parcel of new mechanism development. For example, the basic GMT and retrograde seconds models in the New Emotion collection are based on the ETA 2892, a well-regarded workhorse movement used by many premium brands. And the most advanced complications, including the tourbillon and minute repeater mechanisms, come from reputable specialty house Christophe Claret.
Despite the company’s conservative approach, De Witt’s more complicated offerings are quite impressive. The newly developed models include a limited-edition platinum grand complication that is thinner than comparable models from established prestige brands, and is, therefore, an irrefutable watchmaking achievement. Also exceptional is a minute repeater with a dial that is embellished with champlevé enamel. Not only is the piece well-tuned for sound, but the slide activator is cleverly tucked away in a hidden recess in the side of the case. Pieces such as these are indicative of an overall quality standard that goes well beyond the origin of their parts.
Still, Jérôme recognizes that exclusive in-house manufacturing is becoming more sought after by collectors and enthusiasts, and he is slowly and carefully building his company’s capabilities toward this goal. “The modules we use now are purchased, but we modify them thoroughly to improve weight and efficiency,” he explains. “We have someone in-house developing our own modules, and in the future we have plans to build a new manufacture facility for movements.”
De Witt’s no-nonsense philosophy may lack the sex appeal of brands that tout celebrity endorsers or genius watchmakers, but then again, the company’s watches can speak for themselves.