Fabien Lamarche: Staunch Maverick from Julien Coudray 1518
Spend just a little time with Fabien Lamarche, founder of Julien Coudray 1518, and you’ll quickly realise that when it comes to watchmaking, the man is a contrarian in every sense of the word. One senses his dissatisfaction with many industrial norms, and his insistence on running a manufacture that goes against them. Indeed, this […]
Spend just a little time with Fabien Lamarche, founder of Julien Coudray 1518, and you’ll quickly realise that when it comes to watchmaking, the man is a contrarian in every sense of the word. One senses his dissatisfaction with many industrial norms, and his insistence on running a manufacture that goes against them. Indeed, this soft-spoken master watchmaker is more than qualified to do so. Before starting up Julien Coudray 1518, Lamarche has worked for numerous brands including Breguet, Roger Dubuis and Zenith, in various capacities including product director and head of the mechanical and prototype department.Unsurprisingly, Lamarche’s creations keenly reflect his desire to be different and go beyond what has already been done. For one, Julien Coudray 1518 watches are the only ones in the world with platinum movements instead of the more common brass, for durability and longevity. The use of immutable materials also extends to the rest of the watch – solid gold, titanium, and grand feu enamel are used in lieu of stainless steel or other lacquered, plated, or chemically treated metals. According to Lamarche, save for the straps, Julien Coudray 1518 watches are expected to last for hundreds of years with regular servicing. To guarantee this, each collection of watches produced has its spare parts ‘archived’ by the brand for future repair needs.
As a true manufacture, Julien Coudray 1518’s atelier has around 40 watchmakers headed by Lamarche, and it produces every part of each watch, except for its jewels, sapphire crystal, and leather strap. Lamarche is so confident of his products that the watches come with a 10-year warranty, with all servicing in this period free of charge for the customer. In this interview, Lamarche shares his thoughts on watchmaking, managing the new-old brand Julien Coudray 1518, and the watchmaking industry in general.
I notice that you’re wearing two watches.
Yes. The first is the first watch ever made in solid platinum, including its movement. It took 25 years to be realised, as I had to learn the crafts and wait for the right technology to manufacture it. It’s timeless, like a piece of jewellery, because there’s nothing inside or outside that can be damaged. I made this other watch, the sportier one, for rougher activities when a platinum watch isn’t suitable. The same principle to work with pure metals without any chemical treatments or coating applies here, hence its titanium case.
What were your experiences like prior to starting Julien Coudray 1518, when you were working for other brands?
The experiences were interesting because I could work with several brands to see what had and hadn’t been done. Regarding the latter, I had some initial experience while working as a prototypist to try doing it with a team. This helped when I started the manufacture.
What triggered your decision to come out and establish your own manufacture?
The principle, which I keep coming back to, is to make timeless pieces out of pure metals unadulterated by chemical treatments or coatings. When I was ready to do this, I created the manufacture.Julien Coudray 1518 currently has four collections. Why are they organised like this and released in this order?
At the very beginning, the idea was to make a timeless, classical watch to clearly express that we are not a fashion brand. Also, to be recognised in horology, the tourbillon is the distinguishing complication. Hence, we first introduced the three hands model and the tourbillon. For the third collection, we’ve enhanced the watchmaking side with stop seconds and the special balance wheel to give more attention to the watchmakers. The sport watch comes last and, as explained, is a leisure watch. We will be adding to this collection with a chronograph next.
What can we expect for this upcoming chronograph?
The chronograph itself does not have a counter. The idea is that you will adjust a timer and set a time. For example, you will fix the time of, say, an hour. If you adjust the timer to five seconds, then five seconds before your hour is up, you will be notified with vibrations. If you do a race, the chronograph will vibrate five seconds before it starts to start the countdown. Five seconds before the hour ends, it will vibrate again, so you will know that you have almost finished your allotted time. You then compare your distance travelled in an hour to your target. It does not exist yet, but we have applied for the relevant patents.
Why was this chronograph conceived?
Because it does not exist, and because it’s useful. Suppose you work out every morning for 45 minutes. Using this chronograph, you can give yourself that 45 minutes to work out, and be notified five seconds before the time is up that your session is complete. Of course, there are other applications, like cooking eggs.
While we’re on the topic of things that have not been done before, what are your opinions on new technologies that have entered the market recently, such as silicon escapements?
It’s quite difficult for new materials like silicon, because you need years of experience to make sure that it will last. After five years with silicon, the people who have worked with it have noticed that it might not last that long. So, they might abandon it. You need time to test the material, and five years is clearly insufficient, compared to what has been done in watchmaking for hundreds of years. Unless this material has been used in other industries, it is very difficult to know.
There are watch collectors who like vintage looking pieces, such as bronze watches with patinas. Given Julien Coudray’s emphasis on timelessness, would its watches be able to appeal to such collectors?
My point of view is actually different from yours. I think people who are looking for vintage watches aren’t really looking for watches that are worn. They just want to be sure that they are buying a watch that has been done before watchmaking was industrialised. So, they want to make sure that the watch that they buy has a real movement, or was really created by watchmakers, instead of one that has been mass produced. They aren’t looking for an old watch, but an authentic one. In this sense, we do match what they want.
Have there been any memorable or special requests for bespoke watches in the past?
No. We’ve noticed that people aren’t very imaginative with customisation. We’re used to taking everything from the market without asking anything. During the Renaissance, every single piece of art was commissioned. The same went for watches. In fact, Julien Coudray made the first portable movements because Francis I of France asked him for it. I’d have liked someone to ask me for a platinum watch, but no one did. When we offer customers a bespoke piece, they do not know what to ask. They might ask for an engraving of their initials on the watch. Beyond that? No.
What do customers usually ask for then?
Changes of colours, engravings, and special dial drawings. But nobody has asked for special movements, or hands. Other brands might not be able to offer this because their movements’ manufacturing process is standardised. We can, yet no one has asked for it.
Is there any customisation that you wouldn’t do?
I wouldn’t do anything that isn’t in the philosophy of the brand, such as using materials that will easily corrode.
What do you think about the watchmaking industry now, both as a watchmaker and a consumer?
This obviously does not apply to everybody, but globally, the money is really invested into marketing more than the product, and more effort goes into communications than watchmaking. Because of this, it’s really difficult for someone who isn’t in the watchmaking business to know the true value of his watch. Of course, you must factor in costs such as marketing and overheads from elsewhere, but the actual value vis-à-vis the price is very distant.
Is this why Julien Coudray has remained small scale and put little effort into marketing?
Yes, we want people to buy the product, not the brand. There’s a big difference – when you buy the brand, you’re buying the marketing story. If they decide to buy a Julien Coudray 1518 watch, we want them to know what they’re buying. We’ve stopped putting the name on the dial on all our collections for this reason. The brand’s DNA is in its watches, not the name.
If you could have a watchmaking wish granted, what would it be?
That people know the complete truth about the watches they buy. No fluff, marketing-speak, or lies of any sort. When this happens, they will pay the right prices for the things they buy, and be able to decide if the product is worth its asking price. Even if you decide to pay thousands of dollars for something made of plastic, at least you are making the decision with full knowledge.