At the time, the introduction of the battery-powered quartz watch in the 1970s was widely believed to have sounded the death knell for the Swiss watch industry. But the mechanical watch, through a miracle of selective evolution, defied its doom and made one of the most astounding comebacks in the history of the industry. It reinvented itself as less of a necessity, and more of an art form and personal expression, which led to the resurgence of mechanically complex and exotic watches. Whereas much has been said about the labors of those who have sustained the craft and commercial viability of the mechanical watch, the contributions of independent subcontractors responsible for some of the most seminal timepieces in the post-quartz era are often passed over.
Back then, Swiss watchmaking was still very much a cottage industry in which a great deal of complications was developed by external specialists. Chief amongst them was Renaud & Papi, a fecund independent atelier that was behind many of the most decade-defining movements of the 1990s and 2000s. Its workshops also became a veritable breeding ground for some of the most brilliant horological minds, who have in turn gone on to stake their place among watchmaking’s foremost vanguard, spearheading what many consider to be the second golden age of the mechanical watch.
From Start-up to Powerhouse
Renaud & Papi was founded in 1986 by Dominique Renaud and Giulio Papi. Both men were former watchmakers at Audemars Piguet who shared a passion for grand complications and skeletonized watches. Instead of yielding to tradition, which dictated that they had to spend 20 years pushing jewels and polishing before they could get to work on their first complication, they decided to speed up time by leaving the brand and starting Renaud & Papi in Le Locle, primarily designing complications, with minute repeaters being their specialty.
In the years that followed, their atelier grew to become a technical powerhouse that played an instrumental role in the grand complications race crucial to the revival of the mechanical watch. For instance, Renaud & Papi was one of the first to adopt 3D computer-aided design technology, which opened up a new world of mechanical micro-miniaturization.
Its first watch was the landmark IWC Grande Complication ref. 3770. Günter Blümlein, the visionary who at the time was reviving the fortunes of IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre, tasked the young duo to create a minute repeater mechanism for Kurt Klaus’ revolutionary perpetual calendar module. This was followed by a clutch of other watches including minute repeaters for Jaeger-LeCoultre, Breguet and a Grande Sonnerie for Audemars Piguet.
Up until the early 1990s, Renaud & Papi operated primarily as a design and R&D studio that employed a slew of talent in the mold of its founders — young, bright, brimming with ambition as well as a type of stubborn singularity. At one point in time, it boasted a dream team that comprised the likes of Bart and Tim Grönefeld, Andreas Strehler, Robert Greubel, Stephen Forsey and Christophe Claret, alongside the founders. It was a beacon of creativity that glittered from the rubble of a post-quartz world. For them, as it was for the founders, Renaud & Papi presented a fast track to tackling watchmaking’s finest, most complex mechanisms without having to climb the corporate ladder.
Very rapidly, there was an increasing demand for movement production and the pair began expanding their manufacture and expertise while, unfortunately, pulverizing their capital in the process. By 1992, they ran out of funding, and neither the banks nor the canton was ready to lend support. Eventually they turned to their client as well as former employer, Audemars Piguet.
Georges-Henri Meylan, the patriarch of the Meylan family and the CEO of Audemars Piguet at the time, saw great value in bringing them closer, and the Le Brassus-based company purchased a significant stake in the firm. This put Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi or APRP — as the company was now known — in the most unique and admirable position in the industry in that they had the backing of a large company while being able to maintain the operations and diverse portfolio of an independent.
One of the firm’s most crucial work for Audemars Piguet in the early 2000s was the Audemars Piguet escapement. It was an improved version of the Robin escapement that Abraham-Louis Breguet had used in a number of his timepieces. Like the detent escapement, the Robin was inherently unsuitable for a wristwatch due to its weak shock resistance. APRP, however, altered its geometry and, more importantly, designed a safety finger to ensure a more secure locking system while maintaining the direct impulse of the escapement.
Indeed, it is this sort of highly specialized and innovative work that has characterized the last three decades at APRP, but equally impressive was the talent it magnetized, nurtured and catapulted into the industry spotlight.
Robert Greubel & Stephen Forsey — Masters of the Tourbillon
In 1990, having worked on the Grand Complication project at IWC, where he became acquainted with the Le Locle movements atelier, Robert Greubel joined the firm as a prototypist and was eventually appointed joint operational director at Renaud & Papi, along with Fabrice Deschanel. Greubel would spend almost a decade at the company before moving on to establish CompliTime in 2001 together with his former colleague Stephen Forsey.
Stephen was head of Asprey’s prestigious watch restoration department where he worked for a year with Bart Grönefeld, who would return to Switzerland to complete his training and join APRP in 1992. Grönefeld would then introduce Forsey to the company that same year.
Forsey immediately became involved in chiming watches. In 1994, he prototyped the Grand Sonnerie for Audemars Piguet, and in 1995, was put in charge of the assembly department along with managing several bigger projects.
At the dawn of the new millennium, Renaud & Papi had a team of 60 people and he felt that it was time for a new adventure. He proposed a new project to Greubel on the precept that “perhaps not everything had been invented”, and the duo set sail to start CompliTime, which has run its business in the same way as APRP, producing movements for third parties.
As is the case for many independent watchmakers who emerged from movement contractors, setting up their own contracting workshop was a discreet but vital first step for Greubel and Forsey towards establishing their eponymous brand in 2004. And like many of their peers who came out to play in the early 2000s, the tourbillon seemed like the place to start as it was a chronometric work of art that got lost in translation when it was adapted for the wrist.
The brand’s first invention was the inclined tourbillon. Because the pocket watch was carried vertically, Breguet’s tourbillon had to compensate for just one axis of rotation. A wristwatch would, in theory, require a bi-axial tourbillon that compensates for two axes. This meant that the size of the balance wheel would have to be reduced to be mounted vertically so as to keep the case at a reasonable height. However, reducing the size of the balance would, in turn, reduce its inertia.
Inclining it from the horizontal plane solved both problems. It avoided the most extreme gravitational errors in the balance wheel, while still averaging out errors on a second plane of the balance. The result essentially came close to a double tourbillon. And a large diameter balance could be used while keeping the thickness of the movement manageable.
At Baselworld in 2004, Greubel Forsey introduced their first invention, the Double Tourbillon 30° which compensates for errors in all regular positions in a wristwatch. It featured an outer cage that makes one revolution in four minutes and an inner cage inclined at a 30-degree angle.
Since then, the pair has introduced several other notable patented mechanisms devoted to improving precision, including a fast rotating 24-second tourbillon, quadruple tourbillons powered by a spherical differential, and perhaps the most pared-back yet the most intriguing, the différentiel d’Égalité, which eliminates the disturbance to the balance wheel during the rewinding of the remontoir every second by creating two paths of energy transfer with the use of a differential.
But the singularity of their vision goes far beyond these mechanisms. In fact, today, there is no other watchmaker that pursues dual ideals of chronometry and craftsmanship as vigorously as Greubel Forsey, while simultaneously demonstrating an inimitable expertise in constructing dynamic, three-dimensional movements. The company is made up of approximately 115 staff today, including 22 for finishing and decoration, for production volume in the ballpark of 100 timepieces a year.
Andreas Strehler — The Watchmaker of Watchmakers
Renaud & Papi’s first hire was Andreas Strehler, who joined the company fresh out of watchmaking school. Under Robert Greubel, he worked as head of prototype development from 1991 to 1994. There, he acquired the knowledge and skills in developing and constructing movements that would evolve into an impressive mastery that distinguished him from his contemporaries later on.
By the end of 1994, he left Renaud & Papi to set up his own workshop back in his native Wülflingen, near Winterthur. Like many of his peers, he spent the first few years restoring vintage clocks and watches. This gave him, on top of his ability to construct movements, the practical experience of a watchmaker.
Soon he began developing his own timepieces, beginning with the Tischkalender, a modern-day Sympathique, featuring a perpetual calendar with a mechanical memory that resets the day, date and month as soon as the user places the pocket watch back into its housing. This was followed by the Zwei (German for “two”) a year later, the first pocket watch that could indicate the date and month with the hour and minute hands at the push of a button. He was soon inducted into the Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants (AHCI) and began constructing movements for other brands. Eventually, he expanded the business by establishing UhrTeil in 2005 to distinguish his work as a subcontractor from the watches that would bear his name.
His most renowned work is perhaps the H. Moser & Cie. Perpetual 1 of 2002, which till today, remains the most advanced perpetual calendar on the market, boasting both an instantaneous calendar display and synchronized indications that can be adjusted both forwards and backwards via a single crown.
A lesser known but equally fascinating project was the chronograph movement that Strehler developed for Chronoswiss. The Chronoscope was the first chronograph with a regulator-style display in which the hours and seconds are displayed in subdials, while the main dial was reserved for the minutes as well as the chronograph seconds. This is a deceptively simple dial layout that required a complex and highly unusual construction which comprised of a modified Enicar base movement and a frontally mounted chronograph module.
In this movement, the second, fourth and chronograph wheels are all located in the middle while the barrel drives the hour wheel independently and the seconds subdial is indirectly driven with a secondary train. When the chronograph is activated, the fourth wheel engages the chronograph wheel via an oscillating pinion.
In 2007, Strehler moved to a new facility in Sirnach, where he began focusing on his own watches. Today, he is best known for his magnificent, highly nuanced movement constructions, in which every aspect of the movements is designed from the ground up, from its organically shaped bridges to the gears with circular spokes. These elements demonstrate a well-thought-out philosophy of building which permeates all levels of the watch as well as the collection.
His most iconic timepiece is arguably the Sauterelle à Lune Perpétuelle 2M presented in 2014 that earned a place in the Guinness World Records as the most precise moon phase indication in the world, requiring a correction every 2.045 million years. And this was followed by the Papillon à Lune Exacte which shows the age of the moon to the closest three hours. These watches demonstrate not just his technical knowledge and practical talent, but also his mathematical prowess as moon phase precision is ultimately determined by how precise gear ratios are.
Today, Strehler is one of the most underrated independent watchmakers and movement constructors, whose timepieces are built upon request, producing between three and 10 timepieces a year for private clients.
Bart and Tim Grönefeld — Vanguards of High Horology
The Dutch brothers Bart and Tim Grönefeld arrived at APRP in 1992 and 1995 respectively and trained under Robert Greubel. It was not long before they became head of their respective departments. In 2008, the brothers headed back to their hometown of Oldenzaal in the Netherlands to open their own atelier. Like many of their peers at APRP, they began creating complex watches right out the gate.
“Without Renaud et Papi, we would never have done these kinds of watches. There we learned all the high-end complications in high-end watches. Our friends were also working at high-end factories and we only talked about high-end watches. We knew nothing about ETA movements because we started straightaway at the top of the ladder,” says Bart.
Their first watch was the GTM-06, launched in 2008. It featured a minute repeater with cathedral gongs and a tourbillon — a combination of two power-hungry complications that is as rare today as it was back then. However, it was the second watch, the One Hertz, that perhaps laid the foundation for their highly distinctive style of movement engineering and finishing. Till today, it remains the only watch on the market with an independently driven deadbeat seconds.
While there are typically three ways of achieving a deadbeat seconds — through the use of an additional escapement, a one-second remontoir and the simplest of all, a star-and-flirt mechanism — the One Hertz gives the deadbeat seconds its own gear train and power supply. The movement thus features two barrels and two going trains, one powers the timekeeping function as well as the secondary escapement, which then releases the secondary gear train once per second. Additionally, what can be gleaned from their watches, apart from their pursuit of chronometry, is their focus on the display of precision; the seconds subdial is pronounced on the dial and sits close to the crystal to emphasize the complication.
The One Hertz was followed by several other watches similarly dedicated to this twin pursuit including the Parallax Tourbillon. It is one of the few tourbillons on the market with a central seconds hand. Typically, a one-minute carriage at six o’clock is conveniently used to indicate the seconds, but a central seconds tourbillon requires a secondary train to relocate the seconds back to the middle. Additionally, the Parallax Tourbillon also features a stop seconds function that guarantees down-to-the-second accuracy when setting the watch.
Apart from these quietly wondrous solutions, Grönefeld has also established a strong signature style of finishing. Very unusually, their movements feature frosted stainless steel bridges with a raised lip that is straight-grained on the surface and polished, beveled on the edges.
The movement parts are custom-made by APRP and assembled and finished in-house by Grönefeld in Oldenzaal. Today, the atelier produces approximately 70 watches a year.
Carole Forestier-Kasapi — The Superstar Movement Developer
After training at the École d’Horlogerie at La Chaux-de-Fonds, Carole Forestier-Kasapi began her career in the engineering department of Conseilray, designing and building movements for brands, before joining APRP in 1994. She was soon making headway as the firm’s chief of development. Four years later, she made her first breakthrough when she won the Breguet Competition that was held to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Breguet’s birth with her design for a carrousel tourbillon, which would be built upon to become one of the most significant watches of the 21st century — the Ulysse Nardin Freak.
Forestier-Kasapi saw the tourbillon as a new way of displaying time and proposed a strong mainspring encircling the movement, which was wound by the back bezel. In fact, her greatest accomplishment from a mechanical standpoint was pioneering the concept of a rotating regulator in wristwatches. It was something that would remain with her throughout her illustrious career.
Ulysse Nardin, under the auspices of its owner, the late Rolf Schnyder, purchased the patent from Forestier in 1998, and together with a Vatican clock restorer, Ludwig Oechslin, the concept came to fruition. When Ulysse Nardin released the Freak in 2001, it fomented a revolution on three fronts — design, mechanical and material. It was perhaps mechanical horology’s first genuine effort at reinventing the wheel after the Quartz Crisis.
It was this idea of an orbital escapement that would continue to inform a great deal of Forestier-Kasapi’s later work. In 2000, she left APRP to join Richemont where she explored the concept further with watches such as the Piaget Tourbillon Relatif, becoming Cartier’s head of movement creation in five years. She is responsible for spearheading Cartier’s fine watchmaking revolution, which began in 2006. Some of her most significant works include the Astrotourbillon, the Mysterious Double Tourbillon, culminating in the Astromystérieux in 2016 — each representing a different approach to her pioneering idea.
In the Astrotourbillon, the escapement and balance are mounted on the extreme tip of a carousel tourbillon cage that revolves around the central axis of the dial once a minute, with the balance serving as the seconds hand of the watch.
The Mysterious Double Tourbillon, in contrast, is based on the same principle as Cartier’s original mystery clocks in which a sapphire disk is fitted with a toothed rim that meshes with the gears of the movement. The tourbillon cage makes one revolution per minute while the sapphire disk, on which the cage is mounted, rotates once every five minutes.
The Astromystérieux, however, upped the ante in conception, execution and effect. While the Freak required an enormous mainspring to sufficiently power the time display, the entire movement in the Astromystérieux, including the mainspring barrel, completes one revolution every hour. The entire movement is suspended and supported by a structure made up of four stacked sapphire disks with toothed rims, each for the hours, minutes, winding system, and time-setting respectively. To maintain the mystery, all the metal rims, along with the gearwork for winding and setting, are secreted away beneath the chapter ring of the dial.
After two decades at Richemont, Forestier-Kasapi was appointed movement director at TAG Heuer in 2020. One can only imagine the boundaries she might push and the great things she will achieve, alongside LVMH’s resident rocket scientist Guy Sémon.
Peter Speake-Marin — The Stoic Philosopher of Time
English watchmaker Peter Speake-Marin came onboard the dream team in 1996. It was at APRP that he acquired the skill set to design and construct movements, from tourbillons and repeaters to grand complications, which added to his practical experience, having spent the first seven years of his career repairing and restoring some of the world’s finest watches at Somlo Antiques in London.
During this time, he began acquiring his own machinery and constructing by hand a tourbillon pocket watch with two barrels and going trains. This timepiece would eventually elevate him to the house of the independent watchmakers, the AHCI. It also served as the foundational watch for his own independent atelier, established in 2000 in the village of Rolle in Switzerland.
During the first three years, he began building complications for other watch companies while working on his own line of watches. He initially relied on overhauled ETA-movements before presenting his first in-house movement in 2009, the caliber SM2. It was a slim, automatic time-only caliber that was aesthetically constructed yet classically solid with a large 3Hz balance and a power reserve of 72 hours. This was followed by the SM2m, a hand-wound version, a year later.
Apart from building exceptional foundational movements, Speake-Marin also unveiled tourbillons, chronographs, repeaters as well as perpetual calendars. Some of his most notable works include the Piccadilly, a perpetual calendar built on a humble ETA 2824 movement, his most complex watch, the Renaissance Tourbillon Minute Repeater as well as the Bi-Tourbillon, featuring double tourbillons linked by a limited-slip clutch spring.
In the movement of the Bi-Tourbillon, a spring is sandwiched between and attached to two gears, each driving its respective tourbillon. The spring is tensioned when the rates of the two regulators differ or if subjected to asymmetric shocks. While it functions much like a differential in that it is capable of distributing both equal as well as varying torque to the escapements, depending on circumstances, to achieve a single averaged output, it is an unusual alternative and the first of its kind.
However, in 2017, Speake-Marin had to bid goodbye to the company that bore his name, leaving it in the hands of investors and the current owners, who have since removed his first name from the brand name. A year later, he started Stoic World, an affordable brand of watches powered by Seiko automatic as well as quartz movements.
He also launched what is perhaps the single greatest gift to the industry in the digital age, The Naked Watchmaker, where he documents his deconstruction processes in great detail, offering a rare insight into watch movements — to which many of us owe a great debt. Particularly in the Insta-age, where information is characterized by brevity and a breakneck pace, The Naked Watchmaker is an invaluable educational resource for anyone, from scholar to layperson, who is interested in learning more.
Anthony de Haas — The Successful All-Rounder
Anthony de Haas arrived at APRP in 1999. Hailing from the Netherlands, de Haas studied micromechanics and watchmaking before joining IWC Schaffhausen in 1997, where he met the late Günter Blümlein. When Blümlein received de Haas’ notice to leave IWC, he called him to his office to question his decision and de Haas explained that Renaud & Papi was his dream as it had a school of thought and practice that was unlike anywhere else. Blümlein then whipped out a prototype of the Datograph to persuade him to stay. While it might not have been an immediate success, it certainly etched an indelible impression.
From 1999 through 2004, de Haas worked at APRP where he specialized in chiming watches alongside Forsey, Speake-Marin and the Grönefeld brothers, who continued working on certain projects at the company even after their departure in 1998. Unusually for a movement builder, de Haas would later go on to head the company’s department of sales, marketing and human resources. This made him an outstanding all-rounder, which would crystallize in his later role and success at A. Lange & Söhne.
In 2000, de Haas would cross paths with Blümlein again at Baselworld, and Blümlein asked if he was ready to go to Germany. Following Blümlein’s untimely death in 2001, de Haas was tasked by APRP to manage the Tourbograph project for Lange as he was one of the few watchmakers who could speak German. He finally joined A. Lange & Söhne in 2004 as the director of product development, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Equipped with an expertise in chiming watches, de Haas understood that to assert its place amongst the likes Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet, A. Lange & Söhne had to produce a sonnerie. Though it was not without precedent — the manufacture had a history of producing repeating pocket watches, though the movements were supplied by Swiss companies and finished by Lange — no one at the brand was equipped with the expertise of building a repeater, which is a particularly unforgiving complication when it comes to precision of construction.
De Haas, thus, had a much broader remit, that of not just creating watches but developing an in-house expertise to secure its future. Around the same time, the manufacture was restoring the Lange Grand Complication No. 42500, a pocket watch that dates back to 1902. Inspired by the elaborate complications it hosted, de Haas decided to interpret No. 42500 in a wristwatch form.
The project came to fruition in 2013 with the A. Lange & Söhne Grand Complication, incorporating a perpetual calendar with moon phase, a split seconds chronograph with lightning seconds, and a grande and petite sonnerie and minute repeater. It was a technical bombshell that required a total of three barrels and going trains, one for the time and calendar, one for the sonnerie and the third for the lightning seconds.
Following the Grand Complication, many thought it was only a matter of time that the brand would strip the watch of all its other complications and present a classical minute repeater, but de Haas instead launched the Zeitwerk Minute Repeater and subsequently the Zeitwerk Decimal Strike. They are till today some of the most fascinating, decidedly modern and holistically designed chiming watches around, despite being designs that built on Lange’s preexisting Zeitwerk, which was in itself a complex watch that displayed time digitally with jumping numerals, necessitating the use of a constant force mechanism. With a digital display, a decimal repeater seemed like a fait accompli.
While minute repeaters typically have a second source of power to drive the strike train, the Zeitwerk chiming watches rely on the existing mainspring of the time-only Zeitwerk. Thus, the constant force mechanism found perhaps one of its biggest applications in the Zeitwerk repeaters as it became necessary to insulate the escapement from the surge of power to the minute jumper every 60 seconds.
Additionally, the watches were also built with wearability in mind. Because of the complexity of the movement, and fragility of the parts, the team implemented several safety mechanisms, one of which prevents the crown from being pulled out when chiming is in progress while another prevents the chime from striking if the movement has less than 12 hours of power reserve remaining. Such safety measures are often underappreciated yet essential in complex watches. Inept or careless adjustment can cause considerable damage to the mechanism, resulting in costly repairs. In contrast to other repeaters on the market, the Zeitwerk chiming watches are also water resistant to a depth of 30 meters.
Over the past 17 years, de Haas has led the team at Lange that is responsible for some of the 21st century’s finest, most influential watches. But the real point to be made is that the independence of thought and spirit, the immeasurable creativity, and the irrefutable progress that Renaud & Papi has stood for and nurtured remains tremendously paramount to the growth and sustained success of the watch industry.