A l'Emeraude A Gem of Swiss Watch Retail (Pt 2)
On the 110th anniversary of A l’Emeraude, director Derek Cremers examines the Lausanne retailer’s key role in supporting independent modern horology.
Founded in Lausanne on 24 December 1909, A l’Emeraude is synonymous with fine watch retail in the region. From the very beginning, their deep ties with the very best brands in the industry have allowed them to be instrumental in shaping the commercial and cultural landscape of watchmaking in Switzerland.
Starting in 2004, the horological influence of A l’Emeraude has taken on an additional dimension. In the 15 years since the Cremers family acquired A l’Emeraude, they have promoted modern independent watchmaking in their close interactions with their exclusive clientele.
Currently, A l’Emeraude is one of the very few retailers in Switzerland for brands such F.P. Journe and the only Swiss retailer for De Bethune and Voutilainen. Director of A l’Emeraude Derek Cremers opens up to WorldTempus on the subject of independent artisanal horology.
Derek Cremers © A l'Emeraude
When we think about independent watchmaking, the first markets that come to mind are Asia and perhaps North America. The general observation is that independent brands are not as strong in Europe. Can you tell us more about the choice of A l’Emeraude to push strongly for such brands?
We focus on independent and artisanal brands because we feel it’s part of our responsibility to support and transmit awareness of these artisans and what they are doing. We are lucky to count some amazing collectors among our clients, and it’s always great to be able to introduce them to new things. Since the very beginning, we have wanted to support the independents. For example, François-Paul Journe has been our friend since 2001.
When my brother, Patrick, was with Les Ambassadeurs in Geneva, he was one of the first to support François-Paul that very year. You can imagine how it was in those early days — François-Paul bringing the very first Tourbillon Souverain watches to the boutique on his bicycle! At A l’Emeraude, we have carried on building our relationships and business with these artisanal watchmakers, and we’re sure that we can continue to do more and more with them.
What would you say is the advantage of an independent brand, from the perspective of a customer?
Well, first I would say that a customer can meet the watchmaker whose name is on the dial. What’s also very interesting with these brands is that you can have a high level of personalisation. I think that today, more and more, the client really wants to have something unique.
Of course, you can have really special pieces from brands like Patek Philippe and Rolex. With the artisanal and independent brands, however, it’s different. You can actually go and visit them. You can meet, in person, Kari Voutilainen, François-Paul Journe, Denis Flageollet and Romain Gauthier.
Kari Voutilainen, François-Paul Journe, Denis Flageollet et Romain Gauthier © Baselworld, Le Figaro, De Bethune, Romain Gauthier
Also, the fantastic thing about some of these watchmakers is how they do almost everything themselves. Someone like Kari Voutilainen — he can even make his own dials at Comblémine, his dial factory, like what F.P. Journe does with les Cadraniers. To see how far these brands have come today, their success based on a vision from years ago, it’s just incredible. We believe in them very much, and so do the collectors.
Do you think that the innovations and creativity of these independent brands are essential for fine mechanical watchmaking today?
Of course! The big brands will always be very important, but we also need the independents. For example, Kari Voutilainen only makes 50 pieces a year; he doesn’t want to increase his production even though he could have more success that way. And because he is happy like this, he can concentrate on making things like high-complication watches and unique pieces, things he has made for different clients of ours.
We have a lady client who is a big fan of tourbillon watches — she has a big collection of them from almost every brand. And after buying three other Voutilainen watches, she asked him to create a tourbillon for her, and he did. This is something very special. The demand coming from our clients is very high; this is why we were able to start working with the independents.
That’s very interesting, because a lot of people assume that independent brands are not interesting for the European market, but your experience shows that it’s not the case at all.
Well, this is our job too, to expose our clients to independent brands. We have a lot of clients who come here for some of our more well-known brands — some of them we can say are very important clients of these brands, so in a way they are highly knowledgeable. And yet at the same time they didn’t know about independent brands.
Rolex space © A l'Emeraude
Patek Philippe space © A l'Emeraude
We’re fortunate to have a team that is highly trained and passionate about watchmaking in general. It’s essential, because you need some specific skills and knowledge in order to present a watch made by an independent watchmaker.
So this is how we started talking to our clients about F.P. Journe, Voutilainen, Romain Gauthier and De Bethune, for example. We brought them to visit these brands. They quickly understood what these brands were all about and that’s how it started for them.
Could we say, though, that European audiences may be more receptive to the classical style of watchmaking? This fits with the watches of Kari Voutilainen, François-Paul Journe or perhaps the DB25 watches of De Bethune — whereas the avant-garde looks of the DB28 might be more of a challenge.
I agree with this. We can say this is a cultural point of view, to prefer the classical aesthetic. I mean, the classic watch is timeless, that’s for sure. But it’s good also to have other brands and other watches that embrace a more futuristic look. Not only is it more modern, it’s also more interesting. In terms of design, we need something special and different; I really believe we need that in our industry.
A l'Emeraude boutique © A l'Emeraude
Recent events like the Only Watch auction and the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève have really validated what small independent brands are doing for the industry.
Exactly! It’s fantastic, and I’m so happy that we have these independent brands with A l’Emeraude and we of course take a close look at other newcomers — not just to represent them, but also to support them in other ways.