Watches: Lone Wolf
A genial, soft-spoken Frenchman, Bernard Richards may not strike you as a rebel, but his maverick nature is clearly evident in the watches he designs—and in his enthusiasm for motorcycles (he owns 12), which has influenced those designs. Richard’s fastidious side is perhaps less obvious. It would be more economical for his company, BRM (Bernard Richards Manufacture), to produce its relatively small annual output of 2,500 timepieces using the established network of Swiss suppliers, as many of his peers do. Instead, however, BRM makes most of its own components, and does so in France rather than in Switzerland. His is the first French watch factory of note since the French industry succumbed to quartz in the 1970s. This year, Richards flaunted his independence even more boldly by introducing BRM’s first in-house, and characteristically unorthodox, automatic movement.
Since Richards’ case manufacturing specialty house of the same name introduced the first BRM watch collection four years ago, it has paired credible supplied base movements, mostly Valjoux 7750 chronographs, with complex, 18-part cases modeled after such motorsports components as piston crowns and even hexagonal bolts. The 48-year-old Richards also has spent years designing cases for a number of prominent brands that he prefers to keep confidential. This experience has left Richards wary of the watch establishment’s typical production processes. “The watches that come from the established names are boring and almost all the same,” he says. “I never wanted to build pieces for sales and marketing. I wanted to make watches my own way.”
To do so, Richards opened a factory in Magny en Vexin on the outskirts of Paris, which is considered the boonies in watchmaking circles; skilled labor is scarce and visits from foreign parts suppliers are infrequent. The location, however, places Richards close to his family and trusted colleagues. Being unable to interface regularly with Swiss suppliers, Richards found it expedient to make his own dials, hands, and other components that most companies contract outside suppliers to build, and thus he can distinguish BRM watches with these key details.
BRM’s new automatic movement, which will power its upcoming Bi-Rotor model, represents the culmination of Richards’ quest for autonomy. As with BRM’s cases, the movement’s radical design also references motorsports, with two rotors, as the name implies, visible through the dial. The rotors are set to respond to different levels of inertia, and they alternately charge the mainspring during periods of normal motion or extreme activity, without overwinding. Underneath these constantly moving rotors is a mechanism that has been constructed without brass plates, which typically support conventional movements. Instead, titanium, carbon fiber, and fiberglass form a network of suspension triangles and shock absorbers that support the gear train, winding barrel, and balance.
The 120 Bi-Rotor pieces that the company intends to produce by the end of this year (priced from $44,500 to $84,900, as opposed to the $10,000 or less that most BRM models cost) should elevate the brand’s profile significantly. For Richards, however, achievements such as the Bi-Rotor satisfy his own meticulous standards. “There are easier ways to make watches,” he says, “but at least I can sleep at night.”