Laurent Ferrier, 69, launched his eponymous brand just seven years ago, but his simple yet sophisticated watches are already regarded with the respect reserved for heritage brands with centuries of craftsmanship. He makes less than 200 watches every year—priced between Rs 24 lakh and Rs 1.7 crore—in a small, converted family home with a team of 15 people, and does little or no marketing. Ask those in the industry about him and his watches and they point in reverence to the skies. Ferrier talks exclusively to Fortune India about some of the levers that he pulls to create his high-end timepieces. Edited excerpts:
When you make your watches, who you do you have in mind?
My initial thought was to make pieces that watchmakers would want to wear. Soft winding sound, comfy case, and just the right reflections of the sapphire crystal. That's how the Galet Classic was born. I keep trying to rethink the fundamentals of traditional watchmaking. In a highly competitive environment where originality is sought after, it’s important to remain consistent and persistent.
How did you get started?
I'm actually a third-generation watchmaker. My grandfather, William, and then my father, George, both worked independently, so I grew up seeing that. I also had a 37-year stint at Patek Philippe, where I worked closely with the owner, Philippe Stern, and later his son, Thierry.
What was the one thing you learned from Patek that became part of your watch-making DNA?
It was how to feel a watch. By that I mean the way it feels to the touch—if it’s warm or cool, soft or hard. A lot of those aesthetics then went into the making of the Laurent Ferrier Galet, a watch that is built like a pebble, rounded and smooth. It’s also about the visual balance of a piece. It has to look a certain way from every direction, from every little angle, nook and corner, even the thickness of the case.
Some of your pieces take months, if not years, to make. What do you focus on the most?
My aim is to develop balanced watches with pure lines, and softness in look and feel.
In the past seven years you've made just 1,600 watches, a small number compared with most watchmakers. Even Patek Philippe makes 50,000 watches a year. Do you want to make more?
Maybe I will go beyond 200 a year—I have been thinking about it. This means creating new movements and deciding how to launch new calibres. Our watches are not for the masses. So the development takes time, maybe a full year for one new movement. But it’s on our mind.
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What is the one thing you will never do?
I don’t want to do gimmicky things like make the world’s smallest or slimmest watches. For me, it's about precision and simplicity and that's much harder to do.
Which are the three best watches ever made?
I would think Patek Philippe’s Chronograph, the Rolex Daytona and the A. Lange & Söhne 7 Chronograph.
Do you have any advice for enthusiastic up-and-coming players in today’s ultra competitive world of watchmaking?
Just have the will to do it and you will get somewhere. You may not end up becoming a superstar, but you will at least become a watchmaker. Have the will.
How does the litmus test for your classic watches—resale—hold up?
As far as we know, our customers don’t get bored with our pieces, so not many get resold. The one that did was bought for 35,000 Swiss francs (Rs 22.2 lakh at current rates) and then later resold for 62,000 Swiss francs.