The path to becoming an independent watchmaker is often steeped in romanticism. It is built on the perception that some watchmakers are born with a singular, unwavering vision, which they cannot realise by any other means than independence. However, the reality is often less idealised, driven by tenacity, the seizure of opportunities and constant refinement. In short, a lot of work with no guarantee of success.
This is the story of Gaël Petermann and Florian Bédat. From meeting at the Geneva watchmaking school to working closely with Dominique Renaud of Renaud Papi, they have gradually built the vision behind their eponymous brand. Most of all, their story is one of partnership and collaboration. We took the opportunity to visit the pair, in their workshop in Renens, to find out more about their story, in this short film.
In 2007, Gaël and Florian met in their first year at the Ecole d'Horlogerie de Genève. Having remained friends throughout that period, they stayed in touch after finishing their education. Gaël went to work for A. Lange & Söhne, where he spent almost three years, working his way from simpler watches such as the Lange 1, to more complicated pieces, such as the Datograph.
Having started at Harry Winston, Florian eventually joined Gaël in Glashütte, spending his time assembling entire movements from start to finish, in a tradition which has been lost in many modern manufactures. At A. Lange & Söhne, both watchmakers refined their craft, while at the same time developing certain aesthetic sensibilities that would later carry through into their own creations.
After a few years in Germany, both watchmakers felt the desire to return to their native country, Switzerland. However, the traditional watchmaking route did not speak to them. Despite having worked on assembling complications at A. Lange & Söhne, if they joined the traditional manufacturers such as Patek Philippe or Vacheron Constantin, it would likely be decades before they would be given the opportunity to work on complicated pieces again. After a brief time spent elsewhere, including Gaël working closely with Sven Andersen, both friends shared a desire to start their own workshop. The path to independence had begun.
At the start, they had planned to work as restorers, a path often taken by celebrated independents such as François-Paul Journe, Kari Voutilainen and Franck Muller. Working closely with a number of collectors, as well as Christie’s Watch Department in Geneva, they had the opportunity to handle and restore some of the most interesting pieces of the past few centuries, from Cartier mystery clocks, to a Breguet tourbillon perpetual calendar retrograde. Through their restoration work, both watchmakers began to build a respect for the watches of the past and wondered why pieces of this quality are so rarely found in this day and age. Though their intention was never to create their own watches, the wheels began to turn in their minds.
Then, quite out of the blue, an opportunity presented itself. The pair happened to find a workshop right next to that of Dominique Renaud of Renaud Papi, the famed complications manufacturer. The possibility of being neighbours with one of the founders of the most celebrated complications manufacturer in Switzerland – having developed movements for Audemars Piguet and Richard Mille among others – seemed worthwhile.
In 2017, Dominique asked Gaël and Florian if they could decorate two watch movements he had been working on, as well as encase one of them. In exchange for the work, rather than accept payment, the watchmakers asked Renaud and his engineer to help them develop their own movement. As Gaël recounted to us, “we were lucky to find ourselves working with one of the masters and, through that, we were given the opportunity to develop a movement. When the opportunity arose, we kind of thought to ourselves, why not?”
The movement designed in collaboration with Dominique Renaud, of Renaud Papi.
Gaël and Florian chose to create a deadbeat seconds movement, one of the more obscure complications in horology, rarely found in contemporary watchmaking. The mechanism they adopted was designed in the 1940s by a teacher in a Swiss watchmaking school, which they came across whilst exploring archival documents at the library. They chose this system not because it was the easiest – far from it – but for its accuracy and appealing aesthetics. This became the foundation for the Petermann Bédat 1967 Deadbeat Seconds.
"We were lucky to find ourselves working with one of the masters and, through that, we were given the opportunity to develop a movement. When the opportunity arose, we kind of thought to ourselves, why not?”
Dominique Renaud, on the left, in the early days of the celebrated complications manufacturer, Renaud & Papi.
Having had a chance to handle the initial prototype in November 2019, when we carried out an interview with the pair in Geneva, the quality of the workmanship was evident. Clearly a combination of influences – from the German watchmaking they’d seen at A. Lange & Söhne, to the vintage pieces they had the opportunity to restore – the movement also had its own distinct aesthetic, with a degree of playfulness to the design.
Both sides of the 1967 Deadbeat Seconds.
The watchmakers’ path has also been defined by iteration, constantly improving and refining their design, inside and out. A collector who was an early supporter of the pair even brought Philippe Dufour to the workshop, wanting to pass on some of his knowledge to the next generation. The exterior of the watch evolved over time, going through several iterations.
With the help of Nicolas Barth Nussbaumer, a long-time watch designer in Neuchâtel, the pair ultimately settled on an open-work sector dial, which combines their respect for traditional mid-century design, with an intent to inject their own taste into classic horology. The result is a balanced combination of the past and the present, in a way that showcases their various influences and skill. This year, Gaël Petermann and Florian Bédat have been nominated for the Grand Prix d’Horologerie de Genève, in the Men’s category.
A Collected Man is proud to announce that we are the exclusive European retailer for Petermann Bédat. Whilst all of our allocations of the 1967 have now sold out, we look forward to accompanying both watchmakers along their journey, as they grow their brand.