Interview: Montreal fine watch designer
Alexandre Beauregard reveals what it takes to create a work of haute-horlogerie from the ground up.
By Carol Besler
As an independent watch brand, Beauregard is the result of a collaboration of artisans who contributed to a final piece that could never have been mass produced. Creating it took patience, passion, and persistence, supplied in abundance by the detail-obsessed, design-focused Alexandre Beauregard. The Montreal native’s debut timepiece, the Orchid, was nominated last year for a Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, the Oscars of watchmaking, and has also caught the attention of the industry. A least one big Swiss brand has asked Alexandre to co-design a special edition using his patented jewelling technique.
The Orchid stands out among high jewellery watches because it is not dominated by diamonds and because the gems are more sculpted than cut, rising above the watch dial in a rolling landscape of three dimensions. The watches are set with hardstones or opaque gems like turquoise, mother-of-pearl, and onyx that are carved and polished by hand in the shape of flower petals and invisibly set in a uniquely overlapping pattern around a centre tourbillon escapement. The gemstone petals, rather than the tourbillon, are clearly the focus of the watch. In fact, the tourbillon, usually the star of the show when it is used, is all but obscured by a full-cover bridge with windows carved in the shape of the flower petals.
“I fell in love with watches when I was a teenager,” says Alexandre, now 45. “I was carving cases from ebony. I remember buying bracelets in China that were made of titanium. Those were the days before the Internet and I had to order them by fax without even seeing exactly what they looked like,” he laughs. “I had a few regrets.”
His method of sourcing and choice of materials have improved since then and Alexandre has emerged as a master of collaboration, assembling a team of artisans and craftsmen to articulate his design and then watching the magic unfold.
His squad of mostly Swiss suppliers is the culmination of a prolonged and careful sourcing journey through Switzerland’s watchmaking districts. “It took a long time to find the right people,” he says. “You don’t find them right away – some are quite good and others are not so good, and then there are the exceptional ones. It took me four years to find them.” The white gold cases are made by Fimm, a small firm located in Switzerland’s Jura watchmaking district that has made cases for the likes of Tiffany, Jacob & Co. and Louis Moinet. The movement is made by Telos, a boutique movement maker in La Chaux-de-Fonds that has worked with Harry Winston. The custom straps – colour-matched to the gems – are made by Geneva company Cesar. The intricate bridges, carved in a floral pattern and finished by hand, were made by Inhotec of Le Locle, a components wiz that has worked with Richard Mille. The gems are set by Sercab, of Geneva, which specializes in invisible setting. The gems are sourced throughout the world.
The gems are cut in Beauregard’s workshop in Montreal, under the watchful eye of Yves Saint-Pierre, one of the world’s top gem cutters and a man Alexandre calls his “secret weapon.” They met and bonded several years ago over their shared love of gemstones, and together developed a patented technique of carving gems into perfect petals. The gems are invisibly set into a grid system that requires them to be cut to tolerances of .02 millimeters. Get it wrong by only a fraction of a millimeter and the gem could break during the setting process. Perfecting the proportions became a year-long process of tweaking and experimentation, and ultimately, they had to create their own tools along with their own special mix of cutting powder and a customized ultrasonic machine. As a finishing touch, the crown is sculpted in the shape of a flower bud.
The Orchid was launched in 2018, seven years after Beauregard was founded. It was nominated that year for a GPGH. Beauregard has since made 10 pieces, his production capacity for the year. They are sold privately to clients at a price of CHF 190,000 (approximately $277,700 CDN). Last week the company launched a second model, the Lilli, a smaller, cocktail version of the Orchid with a choice of stainless steel or gold case, priced at a more accessible 5,900 CHF ($8,624) and 18,000 CHF ($23,300), respectively. The Lilli is no more mass produced than the Orchid, but Beauregard will be able to make a few more pieces – about 200 a year, says Alexandre.
And what about a watch man’s watch? “I am working on one,” he says. “It’s a man’s jewellery watch, also with a central tourbillon, that will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen … but it will be a challenge to make. Six people in the trade so far have told me it’s impossible,” he laughs. “It should be ready in a year.”