Cabestan Cabestan 2020
Cabestan’s CEO sheds a little light on his plans for the future of the brand, based on financial and technical pragmatism
Some stay inside the box, but others prefer to step outside it. In theory, all brands claim to be free of constraints, constantly pushing the limits of technical possibility and creativity. In practice, things are a little different. 99% of brands make the same three-handed round watches whose principles were laid down two centuries ago. Why? Because that’s what’s most profitable.
In reality there are very few watchmakers who genuinely eschew convention. Breguet and Patek Philippe continue to operate within the parameters of traditional watchmaking, and they make a considerable profit. Bovet and Hysek are on the fringes: they have traditional ranges, but they also make unusual and disruptive watches. HYT is completely unconventional, as is Cabestan. Which begs the question: are they as profitable?
Profit first, development after
“Yes, we are,” is the unambiguous answer from Cabestan. Lionel Betoux, the company’s CEO, has an industry background and remains keenly focused on return on investment and industrial production. “We are not a charity, and there is no contradiction in having a vision that is both financial and creative at the same time. Creativity has no limits but, if it’s not profitable, it’s nothing more than a stylistic exercise. We make 30 pieces per year. That’s enough to enable us to continue developing.”
In which direction? Cabestan is not short of ideas. Nevertheless, its efforts will be focused on the chain drive. “That is what we are best at,” continues Lionel Betoux. “You have to be realistic: its principles were established five centuries ago, and the laws of mechanics haven’t changed in the meantime. There are, however, other avenues for progress.”
First and foremost, it’s about mass. The chains used by Cabestan follow the same rules as any other watch part: the lower the weight, the better the performance. Here too, there is no getting around the laws of physics: the heavier something is, the more energy it requires to move. Cabestan has already achieved some enviable landmarks: the Trapezium, for instance, has a power reserve of three full days. This is better than most watches running on a traditional Swiss movement. Cabestan’s current researches should result in shaving off another couple of grams, which will further improve autonomy. “A chain provides three kilos of traction using links measuring 1.5 mm in diameter. The constraints are immense, but we are exploring a number of avenues for dealing with these kinds of loads using a material other than steel,” Lionel Betoux confirms.
For Cabestan, it is clearly vital that it retain control of its own development. Its customised pieces are no exception. Since his arrival in 2013, Lionel Betoux has made bespoke watches a major growth sector for Cabestan. But the limits are clear: “When it comes to customising the outside, the client can have virtually whatever they want. But the movement is ours. We want to have total control over Cabestan’s technical development.”
And this means the chain will continue to be a central element of Cabestan’s future. “We have complete mastery of our technology and we are working on producing a more accessible version of our watches. Nevertheless, we won’t go lower than 75,000 francs. It’s a matter of respect for our market, but it’s also a practical impossibility.” We haven’t heard the last of the chain drive.