Manufacture Royale The sum of all parts
"One for all and all for one": the Three Musketeers’ adage applies perfectly to the Manufacture Royale project. Here’s how the Voltaire-founded brand also evokes Alexandre Dumas via the Gouten family.
The Three Musketeers were, in fact, four: Athos, Porthos, Aramis and d’Artagnan. Their "One for all, all for one" maxim seems a perfect fit with the Manufacture Royale collegial concept: the brand’s new ownership reunites various competences within high-end watchmaking and is also personified by four figures – Gérard Gouten, David Gouten, Alexis Gouten and Marc Guten. Yes, that is the correct spelling: three Goutens plus one Guten, a line-up that inadvertently seems to cast Marc as the odd man out (d’Artagnan?!).
Nonetheless, Manufacture Royale’s history is more about Voltaire than Alexandre Dumas. Voltaire was also a renowned writer who produced works in almost every literary genre, but it was mainly as a philosopher that he became a major figure in the Age of Enlightenment. What is less well known of the latter period of his life, spent in the Geneva area is that the illustrious free-thinker employed the "One for all, all for one" axiom by gathering the talents of the nearby Jura watchmaker-farmers in 1770 and thus founding "Manufacture Royale de montres de Ferney" to produce prestigious timepieces for the European aristocracy.
A question of mottos
Fast forward to 2010: Manufacture Royale was born again, this time under the aegis of Arnaud Faivre – aiming to unite watch collectors, connoisseurs and enthusiasts around thought-provoking masterpieces outlined by iconoclast designer Charles Grosbéty. After the recent GTN Luxury Holding takeover, the Gouten family now embodies that concept straight from the management level. I met up with David Gouten and Marc Guten at SalonQP, in London, to discuss whether another famous formula, Voltaire’s "Great minds think alike", would also apply to a brand that by heritage carries a fair amount of symbolism.
Starting from the beginning, why the involvement with Manufacture Royale?
David Gouten: After all these years, we of the Gouten-Guten family decided to join forces and form a project for the future by pooling our complementary fields of competence around a brand that deserves to be developed. We wanted to build a personal project that would be "personal" in the family rather than the individual sense.
Marc Guten: We’ve all been working on the watch scene for a long time, over several generations, each in his respective domain. The idea of getting together at the helm of a brand with such history and remarkable design in order to bring a breath of fresh air to the industry definitely appealed to us. We have thus united our competencies.
How complementary are your competencies?
David Gouten: I would say they are multiple, but complementary. We have experience in three different domains. Marc has spent 20 years with various high-end Richemont brands in the areas of marketing and brand awareness. I’ve always been with independent brands, heading Perrelet; serving as vice-president at Harry Winston Timepieces which involved participating in the conception of twelve works in the Opus series; then also working for DeLaneau – so I have plenty of field experience and am acquainted with the different suppliers. Meanwhile, Alexis is more into distribution and has his own boutique, Maverick at the Kempinski Hotel in Geneva. All of which means that our complementary paths allow us to cover the universe of production and distribution right down to the final client. So, with our global expertise, we decided to join forces to develop the brand.
Which are Manufacture Royale’s main assets?
Marc Guten: First of all, its history. It’s a brand created in the 18th century by a great philosopher who set out to deliver timepieces to the crowned heads of Europe. It is now an original and full-fledged Fine Watchmaking Manufacture, something that is a big asset these days. It features an audacious design, exudes a lot of creativity, and as an authentic Manufacture builds its own movements in the tradition of Swiss haute horlogerie at Vallorbe, in the Swiss Jura, where our headquarters are based.
David Gouten: We have a history, watches with sophisticated complications, a strong image with the traditional side of hand-decorated movements, as well as the highly creative architectural side of the case that provides it with a bold identity. It is precisely that daring spirit that connects us to Voltaire with his innate restlessness and impertinence.
The brand has an identity tied to a specific designer. What can we expect in the near future?
David Gouten: Right now we have two complications and fifteen references; at Baselworld we will unveil some new releases. The brand shouldn’t be the signature of just one designer; it’s supposed to be the sum of partnerships, tastes and a complete range of skills – just like a patchwork. We have our own approach to watchmaking, and we’re already working with designer Éric Giroud for the next collection – because he’s a friend and because we’ve worked with him previously. We have not set out to make Manufacture Royale a commercial project, but instead a venture driven by passion, which is why we choose to work with friends.
Marc Guten: We’re aiming at a catalogue comprising prices ranging between 40,000 and 320,000 Swiss francs. We’re making 100 pieces per year right now, but next year we’re planning on about 200 and production will continue to grow.
The conversation with David Gouten and Marc Guten made me remember the final conclusion of Voltaire’s best known novel (Candide, or Optimism, which was written precisely in the Ferney area where he founded the Manufacture Royale workshops): “It is up to us to cultivate our garden”. It is indeed up to the four musketeers of the GTN Luxury Holding to follow that motto and cultivate their own brand. Although a new model was introduced this year (the Volteface 180º), right now Manufacture Royale stands on two pillars boasting distinctive geometrical designs and industrial aesthetics. On both, the skeletonized dial with a tourbillon (of which the escape wheel and levers are in silicon) enhances the watch’s pure horological content, while the steampunk aura is taken to a sophisticated extreme.
The remarkable Opera combines a Minute Repeater and a Tourbillon on a stunning patented articulated structure inspired by the Sydney Opera House that enhances acoustics, while the Androgyne offers a dichotomy between square and round forms with moving lugs that sit well on the wrist. Ever the non-conformist, Voltaire would doubtless gladly wear a Manufacture Royale timepiece of the new generation.