What if you could build your very own luxury watch? And better yet, what if you only had to pay cost price for it? Watch collector William Sanders asked himself very similar questions before bringing together a group of watch enthusiasts with the goal of designing a timepiece built to their exact specifications. So, who were the Lyrique group hoping this watch would appeal to? Collectors and enthusiasts who have a developed soft spot for fine independent watchmaking, but who have a limited budget.
First, they had to get a top-notch movement maker and case manufacturer on board, not to mention all the other parties involved in bringing a watch to completion. The group reached out to some of the most renowned names in the watch industry, many of whom otherwise exclusively supply fine haute horlogerie brands.
This ambitious undertaking was made possible by a subscription model that was used by none other than Abraham-Louis Breguet himself, among others. In other words, interested parties had to make a firm commitment to buy a watch that wasn’t yet manufactured. These upfront payments helped finance the project and reduced the risk in the event of a failed outcome – we’re talking crowdfunding before crowdfunding was a thing.
Okay, we don’t want to keep the amazing results from you any longer. Who knows? Maybe this project will inspire you to embark on your own build!
The Movement: Agenhor AGH-6801
Selecting a movement is the first and most important step in designing any watch. The caliber determines the case’s minimum diameter and height, dial layout, subdial and complication positioning, and the location of the crown.
Since the goal was to create a watch that was outstanding for its price point, the group looked further afield than the proven, but overused portfolios of ETA and Sellita. No, they honed in on much smaller, exclusive makers of movements and complications. This breed of manufacturer is behind many a technical masterpiece from the high-end sector, but they tend to keep a low profile, leaving the fanfare to the brands who commission their work. The group considered companies like Jean-François Mojon’s Chronode, Uhrenwerke Dresden, and Agenhor. In the end, they chose for the latter for the Étude No. 1.
Agenhor was founded in 1996 by Jean-Marc Wiederrecht and his wife Catherine. The company is now successfully run by their sons, but it remains massively undervalued by the wider public. The movement maker has quietly collaborated with the likes of Parmigiani Fleurier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Harry Winston, Arnold & Son, and MB&F. It’s only in recent years that the manufacturer has caught the attention of the watch media, largely spurred on by the release of the completely new and innovative Agengraphe chronograph caliber, which was promptly picked up by both Singer and H. Moser & Cie.
In short: Agenhor is the place to go for a high-quality, exclusive movement.
The family-run business supplied the Lyrique group with a three-hand, hand-wound movement with a decentralized seconds between 8 and 9 o’clock. The caliber has a 40-hour power reserve and runs at a frequency of 3 Hz. While this may sound like a run-of-the-mill movement at first, the AGH-6801 actually boasts numerous innovations.
For starters, the gear wheel uses flexible teeth, a feature that Jean-Marc Wiederrecht patented back in 2002. This eliminates backlash and allows the gear train to run without introducing unnecessary friction. It also avoids overloading the system. The perfect place to employ this technology is the decentralized seconds, which is precisely where the AgenEse technology features in the Étude No. 1.
You can find similar mechanisms with flexible teeth in certain Patek Philippe timepieces, as well as the Rolex Daytona; however, by patenting the idea some 20 year ago, Wiederrecht certainly was a pioneer.
A second Agenhor specialty is the AgenPIT regulator, which replaces the classic, finicky adjustment of the balance length via two studs, with a separate screw that can be locked into place, thus fixing the balance length in place.
The Case: Voutilainen & Cattin SA
The case with its distinctive teardrop-shaped lugs comes from renowned manufacturer Voutilainen & Cattin SA. Legendary watchmaker Kari Voutilainen is the majority shareholder of this business. In addition to producing cases for their own in-house watches, Voutilainen & Cattin also supplies third-party watch manufacturers. The company has secured its reputation as an affordable, high-end supplier thanks to links with contemporary microbrands like Ophion.
Designer Matthieu Allègre is the man behind the case shape. In addition to taking the lead on the artistic and creative aspects of the Lyrique project, he also coordinated all the necessary technical drawings.
The Dial: Metalem
For the dial, the group turned to Metalem, a manufacturer from Le Locle, Switzerland that has been in business for over 90 years. As an integrated company with more than 200 employees, Metalem covers the entire vertical chain of dial production. Its subsidiary RvK Guillochage is a firm favorite among the most prestigious haute horlogerie brands. Metalem can count no less than Philippe Dufour to its clientele; you’ll even see the dial manufacturer mentioned by name on Dufour’s 37-mm Simplicity model. Supposedly, Metalem insisted on the shoutout due to the extremely small order quantity.
The Étude No. 1’s dial doesn’t feature an elaborate guilloché finish, but rather a clean layout with Arabic numerals. The small seconds at 8:30 is the only textured surface. The rest of the dial is printed, including the obligatory “Metalem – Swiss Made” inscription at 6 o’clock.
The Hands: Fiedler
Fielder is based in Carouge in the canton of Geneva. The company is a similar size to Metalem, but has a history dating back over 170 years. Anyone who’s anyone in the watch industry sources components from Fielder. Watchmakers like Patek Philippe even mention the firm by name in their brand magazine.
Fiedler supplied the Étude No. 1 with unique burgundy-colored hands inspired by a watch from Urban Jürgensen, namely the Ref. 3 designed by watchmaker Derek Pratt.
The Band and Clasp: Protexo and Boucledor
Lyrique even handpicked the band and clasp suppliers. The former stems from Geneva-based company Protexo, which proudly advertises its wares as being 100% Swiss Made. The name has been around since 1953. Also from Geneva, but some 10 years younger, is Boucledor, the producer responsible for the Étude No. 1’s buckle.
A new trend in the watch world?
The first Étude No. 1s have since made their way from conceptual drawings to real, chronometer-certified timepieces. The path wasn’t always easy for the group or their suppliers, and numerous difficulties had to be dealt with along the way, but in the end, the Étude No. 1 was born.
The Lyrique project proves that it is possible for a group of watch enthusiasts to create a watch from scratch. But it also brings suppliers who have been indispensable members of the watch industry for decades out from the shadows of the big brands and highlights their work. Transparency is a hot topic for many brands in this day and age, at least on paper. Perhaps some of the bigger names would benefit from naming and actively promoting their suppliers rather than hiding them away. I personally think there are plenty of watch lovers out there who would appreciate this kind of honesty and reward it in kind.
Who knows? Maybe the Lyrique project will inspire others to do something similar. Supposedly, the Étude No. 1 is just the beginning for these enterprising enthusiasts. I guess that news isn’t so surprising when you consider the meaning of the musical word “Étude,” i.e., works that performers use as practice pieces to perfect their skills.