As is the case with anything in life, what makes a great watch is wholly in the eye of the beholder. However, something that is universally appreciated is effort and care – both of which will should always translate from prototype to final product. And if anyone is qualified to speak on this topic, it is the Design Director for Baume & Mercier, Alexandre Peraldi.
After being granted entry into Parisian design school, Ecole Boulle, at only 12 years of age, Alexandre ended of his studies by scoring an opportunity to intern with watch-making giants, Cartier, for a month. After crushing his internship, he admitted into their prestigious design team – first contributing towards accessories and then learning about watch design, step-by-step. It wasn’t until after the first watch he designed however – which was for Yves Saint Laurent – that he realised exactly how fun watch design could be.
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“It was fun because there is some constraint, and I discovered that for me the most important is to have constraint because without constraint I am not really happy,” said Peraldi.
“For me it’s like art. It’s not really easy to design something without constraint. I discovered the watch, the movement, the small size of this piece and the difficulty to produce it and like that I continued with Cartier for twelve years. After twelve years I joined Mercier.”
Working at Mercier is undoubtedly a great opportunity for Peraldi and he has used it to truly help transform the brand, but he says constraints still confront him often especially when it comes to price.
“For me, (the constraint) depends on the brand,” said Peraldi. “For Baume & Mercier, it’s the price – definitely the price. The price is the most important constraint that we have…I just engaged two new designers: the first thing they have to do is learn the brand and to understand the brand. But after that, it’s the price for each project.”
“The purpose from the marketing (of the Clifton Club collection) from the beginning was that they would like something really sport oriented,”
The idea of restrictions actually providing a sense of freedom has been one that Peraldi has carried on throughout his long and established career, and has been instilling on his protégés, so to speak.
“I try to explain to my designers that it’s not a constraint but an opportunity,” said Peraldi. “If you design something, if you do a sketch that’s very interesting, and you can directly build and produce and sell, it’s dangerous. But if you have a constraint of price, or if it’s not possible to make with our tools you have to think differently. You have to find another solution – to go further in your design. To think without solutions. Sometimes in the beginning it’s difficult but after the second or the third step you say, “Oh, perhaps I have another solution, and better.”
However, as evidenced by Mercier’s stunning Clifton Club collection, Peraldi points out that sometimes one needs to look beyond constraints that don’t exactly exist – they are preconceived notions of barriers, but not ones that can’t be broken.
“The purpose from the marketing (of the Clifton Club collection) from the beginning was that they would like something really sport oriented,” said Peraldi. “For me, no – it’s not to have a purpose for this collection. The sensation is to play sport…When someone in marketing said “What will be the sport?” I said, “No, there is not one sport. There are a lot of sports.” It’s the fact that you have three, four, five guys who play a sport together and after they finish, they are tired, they take a seat, they take a beer and this moment is the moment that you want to celebrate at the end.”
Another constraint that confronts Peraldi at Baume & Mercier is that the brand doesn’t have entirely creative control. As Mercier is not a manufacturer, they purchase their movements from other manufacturers. However, Peraldi, in this sense, doesn’t see the necessity behind using new materials at this point in time.
“We are always open to find something new but it’s difficult. It can be frustrating for me, but in the end, it’s not so important,” said Peraldi.
Peraldi can’t be blamed for this way of thinking. In a world where watchmakers are always on the hunt for being innovative in their design (sometimes excessively) and where brands are constantly feeling confined by so many variables outside of their control, Mercier have found a way to use those restrictions and harness them to be more creative and that will always keep them relevant.