Thanksgiving weekend saw a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it release from Louis Erard, an independent brand known primarily for their wide array of regulator style watches. A regulator is a watch or a clock with a layout that separates the hour, minute, and seconds hands onto their own distinct axis, a technique used by early horologists to keep an easy to read and set reference time in their workshops as they worked on other projects. Once you get used to seeing time displayed in this way, it’s a quite intuitive method of time telling, and regulator watches have their strident supporters just like any other watch sub-genre. Louis Erard makes plenty of watches that keep all of their hands on the same post, but they’ve made a name for themselves as makers of regulators, and have released them in styles that go well beyond the classic dress watch aesthetic that is most often associated with these timepieces. Their newest release is a collaboration with none other than Vianney Halter, and it gives us a chance not only to talk about a very cool brand that more people should know about, but the increasingly popular practice of watchmakers who live in the world of the very high end lending their names to more commercial products, something we hope to see even more of in the future.
The Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Vianney Halter, as it’s officially known, is part of an ongoing series undertaken by the brand. Faithful readers might recall that we discussed Louis Erard’s collaboration with Alain Silberstein in this guide from last year, and the new Halter designed watch shares a similar ethos while having a very different look. The idea here is for high end watchmakers, particularly, I think, figures in the watch community with a very clear and identifiable design language, to apply their signature look to Erard’s classic regulator format. The Silberstein collaboration looks like a Silberstein watch – his use of color and shape is unmistakable. But Halter, best known for his steampunk inspired Antiqua, has a style that’s a little harder to pin down.
Halter himself refers to his style as “future past,” or how 19th century watches would look if they were created in the future, and his watches often have a put-together quality to them, as if they have been arranged from random parts to create something wild and never before contemplated, that really speaks to what an 1800s idea of futurism would look like. In this way the regulator, a tool of 19th century watchmaking, makes a lot of sense for Halter, and even more once you consider that the Antiqua, a perpetual calendar with the time, day of the week, and month all read from separate dials, has a regulator-like feel anyway.
Halter’s regulator starts with a dial that has been sculpted to give it a real sense of depth. The hour and seconds registers sit at 12:00 and 6:00, right on top of one another, and are connected by the outer minutes track. These time telling elements of the dial seem to sit above a base layer with a textured, blasted finish, and the dials themselves have a complex, curved frame that “sinks” the hour and seconds dials. Taken together, it has the appearance of a sector dial that’s been broken up into a regulator layout, with perfectly executed and appealingly symmetrical tracks for hours, minutes, and seconds, with darker black delineations at key points to aid in legibility at a glance. It’s as intuitive a regulator display as I can recall seeing.
Another key design note are the blued steel hands. This is the first time a Louis Erard watch has utilized blued steel hands, and Halter has selected a handset here that’s distinctive and dramatic. The minute and hour hands have been shaped like fountain pens, giving the dial an ornate quality on top of the more modern sector-like aspects. Careful attention has been paid to the relationship between the hour and minutes hands – the hour hand at the top of the dial is thicker at its base, while the minute hand’s widest point is near the end. This is meant to draw the eye to the hour hand first, which is an important part of designing a regulator for daily wear. The crenellated crown at the 3:00 position is another Halter trademark that’s been brought over to this watch, and is a nice finishing touch that ties this watch to his previous work.
With only 178 pieces, it’s no surprise that Louis Erard sold out this edition in a matter of hours. At CHF 3,500, it’s a rare opportunity to own something with Vianney Halter’s name on it without spending well into the five figures. It’s hard to know for sure, but to put my speculation hat on for a moment, I’d guess that many who snapped up this Halter x Louis Erard collaboration were drawn to the idea of owning a piece by a truly high end, artisanal watchmaker, without spending high end, artisanal prices. This is a growing segment in independent watches – we’ve seen a number of big name independent watchmakers take on projects that are more easily accessible to those without an unlimited budget.
One such example that we’ve covered fairly closely is the Kurono brand, the brainchild of Hajime Asaoka. These watches have soared in popularity since their introduction only a little more than a year ago, to the point that Asaoka has taken steps with new releases to ensure that his limited run watches get into hands of collectors and fans of the brand, not resellers looking to flip a watch for profit. With his Kurono watches, Asaoka displays a consistent and coherent design based on Art Deco motifs, and has been able to keep prices affordable by leveraging his good relationships with suppliers and using stock movements. Like the Louis Erard x Vianney Halter collaboration, these watches have a clear appeal to fans of Asaoka’s work who don’t wish to spend upwards of $ 20,000 on a commissioned piece.
Stepan Sarpaneva is another independent watchmaker who has branched out in recent years by creating a spin-off brand of sorts to produce more consumer focused products. S.U.F. Helsinki, as a brand, was conceived as something purely Finnish, a way for Sarpaneva to tell the story of his country’s watchmaking history in an accessible way. Sarpaneva’s style, as applied to his bespoke pieces, has been described (by him) as “nouveau Gothic” in tone. There’s an obvious craft to his watches, met with a whole lot of whimsy and plenty of humor as well. The S.U.F. Helsinki watches, by contrast, are utilitarian and tool-like. While the brand has a tendency to get creative with dial colors, these watches are very much a different side of the Sarpaneva coin, and thus convey Finnish culture and heritage from a different perspective.
As a watch lover with eyes larger than his budget, I’ve enjoyed seeing a handful of my heroes in indie watchmaking take on projects that can reach larger numbers of people, and I’m personally fascinated by the idea that other significant watchmakers in the independent scene might do similar work in the future. In the case of Kurono and these recent Louis Erard collaborations, there’s clearly a market for this type of product. A consideration that these watchmakers will have to make on an ongoing basis is what their involvement in these side projects means to the name brand. If the Grönefeld brothers, for example, decided to make a series of watches in the $ 3,000 dollar range, what does that do to the value of a high-horology Gronefeld piece? Asaoka’s solution, with Kurono, has been to keep his own name off the dials, creating a completely distinct brand with a unique design language. Halter and Silberstein lend their design chops to Louis Erard on watches that are extremely limited, with the idea being that these are one-time collaborations that won’t be repeated. There are probably other ways that independent watchmakers can get into this game if they want to, and it will be interesting to see, in the wake of some notable success stories, if others choose to enter the market.
More information on the now sold out Le Régulateur Louis Erard x Vianney Halter can be found here.