Driven by a love of watchmaking engineering and with more than three generations of family watchmaking behind him, the inventor of this new company, which bears the name of his great-great-grandfather’s workshop where exceptional timepieces were already being made, is making a big splash with a watch featuring a single barrel ensuring a 1000-hour power reserve.
Stéphane von Gunten is not just a watch engineer. He is also a visionary. His career in the industry has been one of concepts, inventions and creativity. If he chose independence, it is because he sees creativity at the heart of his work. To imagine. To push forward. He regards himself as a humble innovator, aware of the limits of his art yet committed to pushing them further. With Haute-Rive, he is entering a new – no doubt his most personal – period of expression in watchmaking. At his own pace, the newly independent watchmaking engineer sets out on his own path in the traditional, one-off design and production of timepieces that reflect his character and life philosophy which is all about the humility characterising all forms of passing on knowledge and gives rise to the most accomplished watchmaking.
Today, Stéphane von Gunten announces the birth of Haute-Rive, an independent Swiss watch brand at the top of the watchmaking hierarchy. After nearly 20 years at prestigious watchmaking Maisons, Stéphane von Gunten decided to step away from the time constraints of big groups and enjoy total freedom of expression with the skills acquired on a journey that intimately prepared him for this new chapter. Haute-Rive is naturally a tribute to horological engineering, but above all to family values, to what it means to be human, to sharing, in the spirit and service of Swiss watchmaking excellence, rooted first and foremost in wonderment and delight.
Honoris I: in honour of Irénée Aubry
High watchmaking, tradition and innovation. Three intertwined subjects in which innovation is often the poor relation.
With Honoris I, its inaugural collection, Haute-Rive places these three elements on an equal footing. A wristwatch in yellow or white gold, polished, elegant, with a mysterious flying tourbillon and a grand feu enamel dial, all backed by a finishing ethic (handcrafted chamfering and decorations) that exemplifies Haute Horlogerie, high watchmaking.
The element of tradition is rooted in the cultural and family heritage of founder Stéphane von Gunten. Through the Honoris I, he perpetuates the work of his ancestor Irénée Aubry, the 19th century watchmaker who notably invented the eight-day pocket watch known as Hebdomas.
Innovation is equally present at the heart of Honoris I. Stéphane von Gunten takes his grandfather’s inventions further, creating the first wristwatch with a 1,000-hour power reserve that is both wearable and elegant.
Once a month, Honoris I needs to be wound via its 60-facet bezel, controlled by a column-wheel function selector. The construction of the case, movement and complications, as well as the way they interact, are all the result of an extreme pursuit of slimness, performance and refinement. This rare combination provides coordinates for the trajectory that Stéphane von Gunten is charting for Haute-Rive.
Irénée Aubry: a workbench with view
Haute-Rive – meaning “high shore” – is the name given to the place on the shores of Lake Neuchâtel, in Chez-le-Bart, near St-Aubin, where Stéphane’s ancestor Irénée Aubry set up his workshop. There he had laid the foundations for the Hebdomas pocket watch. One of the greatest successes of the 1900s, it offered eight days’ running time and was produced at a rate of a 1,000 units per day – three extraordinary distinctions at the time. Haute-Rive – “Haute” as in Haute Horlogerie, and “Rive” as in the visible but narrow shore where excellence lies.
Haute-Rive, the brand, thus speaks to watch purists who reject traditional limits. One such constraint notably spurred Stéphane von Gunten’s watchmaking creativity: If Irénée Aubry succeeded over a century ago in designing an industrially produced watch with a running time of eight days, he, Stéphane von Gunten, must be capable of moving the power-reserve cursor even further, to the maximum, yet without diverting from the language of fine watchmaking. The other thing was that he wanted a watch that was wearable, and as slim possible.
He then laid down the specifications and a symbolic number, 1,000 hours. Stéphane von Gunten’s first calibre, the HR01, allows his inaugural Honoris I to be 42.5mm in diameter and just under 12mm thick.
Before they were tamed, the rivers that flow down from the Swiss Jura Mountains to Lake Neuchâtel were unpredictable. Threatened by floods, the people who lived there favoured higher ground, like that offered by the place called Haute-Rive in the town of Chez-le-Bart. Long since part of the municipality of St-Aubin-Sauges, it was here that Irénée Aubry set up his workshop, sheltered from the rising waters, after leaving Saignelégier, the village nestled in the mountainous Franches-Montagnes district of the Jura canton where he was born. Irénée Aubry was not your typical Jura watchmaker. He didn’t have a farm; he didn’t do piecework or daywork. His friends and neighbours nicknamed him “the inventor”.
Extending the power reserve
His favorite subject was the power reserve, one of the weak points of pocket watches despite their large size. Irénée Aubry did something about it, coming up with a concept for which he obtained patent no.88 on 10 January 1889: a watch that, once wound, could run on its own for eight straight days. The Graizely Frères watchmaking company acquired his patents and registered the brand name Hebdomas. Graizely added its own patent for a regulating organ visible through the dial, and thus was born one of the most important watchmaking successes that lasted from 1890s to the 1930s. Practical, affordable, slim and honoured with several awards at World’s Fairs, Hebdomas pocket watches were manufactured in La Chaux-de-Fonds by the company renamed Graizely et Cie, which later became Schild & Cie.
The Pope’s Watch
Another timepiece conceived by Irénée Aubry created a sensation. In 1887, Irénée Aubry developed an exceptional pocket watch to be presented to Pope Leo XIII on the occasion of his Jubilee by a delegation of pilgrims from Franches-Montagnes – the region where Irénée was born. This pocket watch – the famous Montre du Pape (the Pope’s watch) – ran for 40 days with a single winding, an unprecedented achievement. In 1888, he was decorated with the Croix pour l’Eglise. Widely acclaimed, he stole the show with his watch at the Paris World’s Fair in 1889.
The gold case of the Montre du Pape features a portrait of Pope Leo XIII and an engraving of the Franches-Montagnes coat of arms. The gold bezel is fluted – a motif Stéphane has echoed in his Honoris I, whose bezel is an important feature, as indeed is its 1,000-hour power reserve, which evokes the scope and ambition of 40 days’ running time – back in that era.
As a child, Stéphane had often heard about this foundational event in his family’s history. The pope’s watch is the basis of Stéphane’s inspiration and the spark for creating the Haute-Rive brand. It is the emotional touchstone from which he draws his creative genius. Another commonality is the fact that as inventors, Irénée and Stéphane hold some 30 patents.
One of Irénée Aubry’s preoccupations was to navigate between concept and design. This is also at the heart of Stéphane von Gunten’s approach. For Honoris I, he aimed for the formal elegance of a dress watch, the technical language of visible mechanical attributes and performance.
The design of his inaugural timepiece takes the form of a fully polished gold case. It is topped by a bezel with 60 concave facets and honed edges. It measures 42.5mm in diameter. It is barely 12mm thin. These could be considered the dimensions of an elegant chronometer with no special complications. And yet the Honoris I’s case houses several exceptional attributes: a flying tourbillon, a 1,000-hour power-reserve, a function selector, and a power-reserve indicator on the back in the form of a readily legible disc.
Rounding off the aesthetic of this classic timepiece, Haute-Rive opted for a grand feu enamel dial. Available in black or white, it is expertly executed at high temperature on an 18-carat gold plate using the champlevé technique. Prior to the five consecutive firings, the plate is cut to accommodate the movement’s protrusions. For this dial is more than just a surface; it is the canvas for an aesthetic and technical composition.
A large wheel, known as the wheel of time, the gear train under a central bridge with four pillars, and the tourbillon – these three elements emerge from the dial without revealing quite how they interact. The mystery continues with the long crown stem and its flowing pinion, easy to spot next to the column wheel required for function selection. The space dedicated to the barrel and its sizeable mainspring pushes these elements upwards. Stéphane von Gunten builds on this, transforming them into a technical statement set within a classically crafted whole. This echo of a traditional aesthetic is reinforced by the two leaf-shaped, perfectly polished hands iin white gold or flame-blued steel depending on the version.
The thousand-beat waltz
To achieve the goal of a 1,000-hour power reserve for the HR01 calibre, Stéphane von Gunten increased the mainspring’s size to the maximum while preserving the overall dimensions of the watch. Usually, timepieces that offer 10 days of running time are quite enormous, often packaged in futuristic designs. Honoris I was conceived in the most classic spirit of wearability. That’s why Stéphane von Gunten opted for a single barrel. Increasing its size meant having the plate act as the drum. Custom-designed by a specialist in this field, the mainspring inside is three metres long, certainly the longest ever installed in a wristwatch. To deliver the smoothest possible torque, it is fitted with a sliding flange that prevents surges and peaks. The sliding flange also protects the gear train when the spring is fully armed.
The barrel communicates on one side with the power-reserve indicator, located on the case back. Around a grained central cover runs a ring graduated from 0 to 1,000. This 360-degree indication offers optimum readability at all times, impossible with a traditional gauge. On the other, the barrel engages a differential that connects it to the gear train and to the winding mechanism. Winding is effected by turning the bezel counterclockwise. Why? The force required and the number of barrel turns would have made it quite impossible to use a crown. What’s more, the bezel feels comfortable to the touch and easy to turn thanks to the 60 subtly recessed grooves. They provide just the right grip for the winding operation, which can be spaced 40 days apart, i.e., once a month, with a 10-day safety margin.
The time for secrets
The function selector created for Honoris I is unique. It is linked to a crown that cannot be pulled out, to a column wheel, as well as to a sliding pinion located on the longest and most visible of all the crown stems. This directly engages the gear train for setting the time, right at the heart of the HR01 calibre. The central, three-dimensional gear bridge, shaped like a double moustache, is an essential graphic but also horological element in the design of the HR01 calibre and a Honoris I hallmark. Its shape and prominence hint at a layered movement, entirely in the spirit of classical watchmaking, which lends itself to the play and interplay of superlative finishes.
Above the barrel, the HR01 calibre is topped by the “Wheel of Time” that transmits power to the gear train, reminding the beholder of the importance of the driving force in this watch. The “Wheel of Time” meshes with a gear train vertically spread across seven levels. the end of this kinetic chain, Stéphane von Gunten installed one of his specialities, a complication that holds no secrets for him: a flying tourbillon. A large rhodium-plated brass cage, in the shape of an openworked cross, holds the finely tuned assembly. It houses a flat steel alloy balance spring, a variable-inertia balance wheel, and a Swiss lever escapement. It is the structure and verticality of the cage that stand out here: They emerge from the dial, creating a third focal point above the expanse of exquisitely executed enamel.
November 16, 2023