Late last week, a few minutes after midnight, Louis Erard sent me an email announcing another pair of collaborative pieces made with French watch designer Alain Silberstein. It marks the fourth instalment of the ridiculously popular collaborative series. Unsurprisingly, when I opened the email the following morning, the product page for this limited edition helpfully suggested I ‘join the waitlist’.
Of course, this Louis Erard piece is not the only Alain Silberstein collaboration to successfully launch last week; our own Grail Watch 1, with Ressence and Silberstein also debuted and also sold out shortly after.
A good question to ask at this point is why the eponymous founder of a long-defunct brand is enjoying this level of success and, dare we say it, hype in 2022? First of all, I believe the collaborations with Louis Erard, which kicked off three years ago, are a significant factor in Silberstein’s return to favour. For sure, he had worked with other brands previously, notably MB&F, and achieved critical acclaim for his work. But those were highly limited, pricey pieces that appealed to a niche audience, who were likely already familiar with Silberstein.
The Louis Erard collaborations, on the other hand, offered something different. Priced at a few thousand francs and limited to — I believe — 178 pieces per watch, these Silberstein designed pieces allowed the spirit of Silberstein’s watchmaking philosophy to shine through. The primary colors and the funky dial touches evoked the golden era of Silberstein’s design, while avoiding the pitfall of being stuck in the past. While the dial is the clear star of the show, a lot of the credit for the relevant-feeling design is down to other choices. Take, for example, the bold, modernist titanium case, with open horns giving it an architectural feel. The nylon hook and loop straps for a casual, sporty flair.
These elements are in place on the latest series, formally known as Le Diptyque Louis Erard x Alain Silberstein, consisting of an opaline white-dialled regulator and a day-date model which features perhaps the greatest day display ever, a little face which starts off decidedly unhappy on Monday, and gets progressively cheerier as the weekend approaches. This is clearly a clock with its priorities in order.
The real genius of these collaborative pieces with Louis Erard is that they showed Alain Silberstein through a new lens. Not just a legacy independent watch designer, but one whose legacy is not yet fully written. The watches brought the French designers’ colourful and theoretical approach to watch design to a new generation. But more than that, the generation that is now discovering Silberstein’s work has, thanks to 20-odd years of ‘watch internet’ had the benefit of greater access to knowledge on the modern history of horology and just how special and important a free-thinker like Alain Silberstein is in this mix.
If the first act was Alain Silberstein (the brand) which debuted in the late 80s, the time is right for a renaissance; the triumphant return of Alain Silberstein the designer. Someone who has never deviated in his cheery, idiosyncratic approach to cheery watch design, which, with help from brands like Louis Erard and others, will continue to create some exceptional pieces. After all, free of the, at times, brutal constraints of running his own watch brand, who knows where Silberstein’s work will go. The visual language of the Ressence X Silberstein Carpe Diem already shows an evolution of his traditional iconography, and I suspect that’s just the beginning. One thing is for sure, if I get another email from Louis Erard with Alain Silberstein in the title, I’m not going to wait to open it.