Chronopassion What makes Laurent Picciotto tick?
Following Laurent Picciotto’s unprecedented and well-publicised decision to sell off his entire personal collection, WorldTempus decided to find out more about this fascinating figure. He proved rather difficult to pin down.
On 31 May, a rather unusual watch sale took place at the Phillips sale room in Hong Kong. As expected, several prestigious lots from some of the world’s finest watchmakers went under the hammer, and a decent haul of records were broken in the process. And then there were lots 991 to 1033.
These watches were also unique in their fashion, as is their erstwhile owner. For the first time in watch auction history, a rather unusual person had decided to say goodbye to his entire personal collection. The man in question was Laurent Picciotto. Could he be the only watch retailer who is well-known in his own right, apart from his shop?
It’s one of those questions that raises yet more questions. Yes, Laurent Picciotto is a retailer. He’s also a collector. And he owns a watch gallery. His personal obsession with collecting watches has always overlapped with his watch retail business in Paris. This is the first time a retailer’s own collection has been auctioned off, which is probably why the event was so avidly followed, and perhaps also why it was so phenomenally successful (63% above the original estimate). In the end, Laurent Picciotto is a bit of everything, and something of a trendsetter, and that’s what makes him so difficult to pin down.
In order to try to ascertain what makes him tick, WorldTempus approached the problem from another angle. We looked for answers from the people around him, the people whose careers he launched, promoted or simply guided. So, who is Laurent Picciotto?
“An artist!” exclaims Françoise-Henry Bennahmias, CEO of Audemars Piguet. His watch manufacture was one of the first to be represented in Paris’s temple to horology, Chronopassion. Laurent Picciotto even operated a dedicated boutique for them. The same happened a few years later with Hublot, under the helm of Jean-Claude Biver, who also paints a complex portrait of Laurent Picciotto: “Laurent is a retailer, a gallery owner, a collector, an enthusiast, a connoisseur of fine things with a respect for tradition and curiosity about the future. He is a wonderful person, very charming and endearing,” notes the head of watchmaking at LVMH.
Laurent Picciotto with François-Henry Bennahmias © David Carteron - Delos Communications
Vincent Perriard, co-founder of HYT, adds: “He’s a man with a heightened 6th sense, with a visionary understanding of the overarching influences and trends of our industry. He’s a lunatic, a genius, a hedonist. He’s very funny, with great humanity. He loves iconoclastic things, and objects that carry a high emotional value.”
As we can see, the portrait grows as the canvas expands. Max Büsser adds his own two centimes’ worth: “A curator, talent-spotter, risk-taker, an ambassador for those who need help, a watch fanatic, a die-hard enthusiast and, above all, a loyal friend.” Xavier de Roquemaurel (Czapek) plunges into the breach: “An aesthete, a joker, completely un-selfconscious.” Fiona Kruger waxes lyrical: “Laurent is much more than just a retailer or gallery-owner. He’s like the godfather of the independent watchmaking scene. For me, he is also a mentor. He was the first person who believed in me, and I’m very proud of that.” We conclude with the succinct description offered by Edouard Meylan (CEO of H. Moser & Cie): “Laurent Picciotto? An activist trailblazer.” Yes, that fits.
Behind the dial
But what does the man himself think about all this? WorldTempus went and asked him. Laurent Picciotto was instrumental in bringing retailers out from their back rooms, demonstrating that the people were as important as the brands. The opinions of the movers and shakers of the watchmaking world reflect this striking achievement. “Obviously, I am pleased and touched,” Laurent Picciotto responds. “These opinions come from all levels, all ages, from watchmaking pioneers to some of the most important drivers of the industry’s renaissance. It’s extremely flattering, for sure.”
Laurent Picciotto and Jean-Claude Biver © David Carteron - Delos Communications
But here, too, what interests Laurent Picciotto is not the sale that just concluded, but what happens next. What does he have up his sleeve? Which new timepieces have caught his eye? Laurent Picciotto deftly changes the subject. “For one thing, I can now die in peace! If I want to hang on to all these wonderful compliments I’ll have to keep quiet for the rest of my days! It would probably better if I just disappeared, but nevertheless I’ll carry on, taking care not to make any mistakes that would jeopardise their good opinion. But it’s precisely the thrill of this recognition that makes me want to keep going.” We look forward to the next instalment…
Audemars Piguet is one of the few independent family-owned watch businesses and has been based in Le Brassus, in Switzerland's Vallée de Joux region, at the heart of the fine watchmaking industry,...Find out more
From the outset, Hublot has embodied design and innovation that differ markedly from the established watchmaking order. With the impetus provided by Jean-Claude Biver, by 2004 these values had...Find out more
The Hydro Mechanical Horologists at HYT have realised an impossible dream: combining mechanics and fluids in a wristwatch.Find out more