Watches: Julien Coudray 1518 Manufactura 1528 Pétales d'Automne

By Thierry Ané on December 5, 2013

One of Stwitzerland's watchmaking cradles, Le Locle, gave birth to yet another great brand in 2012. Founded by Fabien Lamarche, Julien Coudray 1518 is a highly exclusive brand named after one of the most skilled and creative watchmakers of the 16th century who served as "horloger" to king François I.

The brand’s offer revolves around three collections so far: the “Competentia 1515”, the “Manufactura 1528” and the recently added “Classica 1548”. They all share a common dial design which is in fact a modern interpretation of Renaissance bell tower clocks that were made from grand feu enamel on a champlevé gold base.

What makes the brand so special, though, is the uncompromising search for classical perfection. The use of precious metal for 95% of the watch, the exceptional level of hand-decoration and hand-engraving, the resort to century-old and hard-to-master embellishment techniques like grand feu Enamel or miniature painting, everything in this brand’s work ethics commands respect and admiration.

The timepiece I am reviewing today has an almost poetic name: Manufactura 1528 Pétales d'Automne. It is a unique piece, one of Julien Coudray’s specialties, based on the “Manufactura 1528” model. Hence, before discussing what is so special about this model, let me just start with what the watch inherited from the “Manufactura 1528” collection.

Only consisting of three-hand watches, this collection is the living proof that a classic watch with basic functions can be extremely exciting when it is perfectly crafted. The in-house mechanical movement is made from solid 18 carat white gold and has been meticulously decorated by hand. The sapphire exhibition case back reveals the beautifully engraved bridges, the exclusive escapement and stunning blued screws.

This beautiful three-hand movement hides an unusual complication: a service indicator. This useful function appears in a tiny window above the axis for the three hands. After four years of operation, when the watch needs to be serviced, an enamel gold oil drop symbol will appear in this window.

The structure of the dial is also characteristic of this brand’s timepieces. It is composed of 12 cartouches surrounding a central disc, all machined in 18 carat solid gold. Like with all the other watches produced by Julien Coudray 1518, the cartouche located at 8 o’clock is engraved with the Fleur de Lys-inspired logo of the brand. The remaining cartouches and the centre piece are covered with white grand feu enamel and blue Roman numerals. What makes this model unique is the flower motif obtained by miniature painting. This difficult technique, reserved for the most skilled enamellers, is a subtle blend of enamelling and miniature painting. Hours of hard work, concentration and exceptional skills are necessary for this beautiful rose to come to life.

Let me also mention that a manufacture no so focused on perfection would have perhaps decided to restrict the rose motif to the central disc. In case of mistakes during the firing process, just one part of the dial would have been lost. Julien Coudray 1518 did not take the easy way that would have resulted in a skimpy motif: the miniature painting expands on the cartouches making the rose a little bigger and the work certainly a lot longer and more delicate.

This beauty is matched with a hand-stitched dark blue alligator strap with a white gold buckle engraved with a pictogram. The suggested retail price is CHF 120,000.

I am usually more into contemporary- or avant-garde-looking timepieces but I can easily fall in love with a classic watch when it is perfectly done. Despite this preference for modern watches, I am passionate about artistic arts like enamelling, miniature painting, engraving, gem-setting, marquetry… I am absolutely awe-struck by the beauty of the Manufactura 1528 Pétales d'Automne (and the rest of Julien Coudrays 1518’s production for that matter) that adds the best of decorative arts to the best of what classic design and traditional techniques can offer.

For a technical description of the timepiece and additional pictures: