The passion for watches runs deep within the MONOCHROME team. That passion is even greater when independent watchmakers are concerned. Not bound by such mundane laws as scalability, robotic manufacturing processes, or simply having an accountant limiting creativity for the sake of profitability, we applaud the audacity these watchmakers put on display. A case in point is Mr. Ludovic Ballouard and his unconventional and highly complex watches produced under his own name since 2009. We go in-depth with one of his watches, the Upside Down Carbon, and explain more about this intriguing character.
Ludovic Ballouard is the creative genius behind the eponymous independent watchmaking brand. Getting to know Mr. Ballouard and his watches prove that his creations are a faithful reflection of his personality. His interest in watchmaking followed his interest in flying, building, and taking apart model airplanes at a young age. A pivotal moment in his life was when a teacher advised him to enroll in watchmaking school and put all his engineering knowledge and skills learned through his miniature model aircraft to good use.
Being a Breton native, son to a French father and Dutch mother, opportunities were scarce, and following his education, he continued to work in the field of aviation. Working as an aircraft control technician for about six years, he eventually pursued his passion and moved to Geneva. Kicking off his watchmaking career was a three-year position with Franck Muller’s after-sales service department. What followed was nothing short of perfect timing. A conversation with a friend working for F.P. Journe, and learning about a job opening up that very morning, led to a six-month period working for the industry legend. That six-month period would extend into seven years, in which he managed to develop his skills immensely. At the end of his employment with F.P. Journe, Mr. Ballouard was working on the most complicated pieces, expertly displaying his skill in watches like the Sonnerie Souveraine.
But, as these things tend to go, all things come to an end and lead to new beginnings. Filled to the brim with ideas on new complications, Ludovic embarked on his most daring adventure yet to establish himself as an independent watchmaker. While his timing for a career with other watchmakers was spot on, going solo coincided with a severe global financial crisis. Despite the odds, Ludovic Ballouard presented his very first wristwatch under his own name and with his own in-house movement in 2009: the Upside Down.
The Upside Down perfectly sums up Ludovic’s philosophy of creating very complicated timepieces with a high dose of eccentricity whilst remaining true to traditional techniques and craftsmanship. In his watches, the dial doesn’t always hint at the complexity hidden on the reverse side of things. In 2014 I had the pleasure of spending quite a bit of time with an Upside Down. As anticipated, most of the people I showed it to enjoy the whimsical dial but had no inkling as to the complexity beneath.
What Ludovic Ballouard created was a display that had only the correct hour right side up, with all the rest flipped upside down, hence the name. This ingenious yet simple display provides ample amounts of fun on the wrist. And contrary to what you might think, telling time is still rather easy and intuitive. A small dot in a contrasting color helps identify the correct hour a little bit faster. The hour discs are joined by a centrally mounted minute hand and a small seconds indication classically positioned at 6 o’clock.
But where the dial is fun and eccentric, the other side of the watch is all business. The reverse side of the Upside Down reveals the incredibly complex movement animating the show on the dial. The Ludovic Ballouard Upside Down features the in-house developed, hand-wound caliber B01, using the gear train and barrel set-up of a Peseux 7001 as a starting point. At the heart of things, visually at least, is a snail-cam attached to the minute wheel that essentially “primes” the movement for the jump of two hour discs at the same time. As the snail cam rotates, a lever is pulled back and moves along a large gear on the outside edge of the central opening of the movement. Once it has traveled far enough along with the gear, it holds the position until the snail cam makes the full rotation.
At that precise moment, all the built-up tension is released and sent through the movement to the discs. One disc jumps back upside down, hiding its indicative dot under the edge of the bezel, while another jumps right side up to show the current hour. The jump is instant, and although you can see the snail cam releasing the lever and the lever pushing the large outer gear forward, the jump of the 12 Maltese crosses underneath each hour disc is so fast you don’t even notice it.
For twelve years now, the Upside Down has been part of Ludovic Ballouard’s collection and has seen many bespoke iterations and limited series. Production capacity is very limited due to the complexity of the watch and the fact he has another model on offer; you can only do so much over a 12-month period, of course.
In 2013, already eight years ago now, Ballouard presented his follow-up watch, the Half Time. If the Upside Down is literally true to its name, so is the Half Time. The concept is similar and again revolves around the hour indication. This time around, the hour markers are split and spread across two separate discs. The outer disc carries the upper half of the hour numeral, while the inner disc carries the lower half – but in reverse order. If you look closely, you will notice only the top hour lines up, and the rest doesn’t. The outer disc jumps counter-clockwise at the hour, with the inner disc jumping in the opposite direction. A floating window outlines the correct hour at the top of the dial. To add to the complexity of the movement, the minutes are indicated with a retrograde hand mounted on the bottom edge of the dial.
In the same spirit of the Upside Down, the Half Time only reveals its complexity from the reverse side. Again using the Peseux 7001 gear train and barrel as a base, the in-house developed B02 caliber features Ludovic’s second patented mechanism. You can see the similarity in the two movements, as the B02 also uses a central snail cam to build up energy to instantly jump the two halved hour discs on the full hour. While visually it might not be as powerful as the B01, with its 12 Maltese crosses spread across the movement, there’s still a lot to discover. If you compare the two in parts count only, you’d be surprised to learn that the Half Time has over 300 components in the movement alone versus the 228 in the Upside Down.
Something as special as this requires a fitting case, and neither model disappoints. The Upside Down and Half Time are available exclusively in either gold or platinum with an optional diamond setting. The size is a very modest 41mm in diameter and 11mm in height, making it pretty much perfect for anyone. The style and shape of the case make it well suited for formal occasions, but the play of the dial and the patented jumping hour complications also suit more relaxed situations.
It has a discreet crown positioned in between two crown guards at 2 o’clock. The shape of the case is subtly enhanced with concave sections on the caseband and a nice curvature in the lugs. The concave bezel is slightly wider than you might expect, but it partially covers the dial and hour discs or the mounting point of the retrograde minute hand, depending on which one you look at.
As mentioned earlier in this in-depth story on Ludovic Ballouard, customization is very much part of the brand. Offering bespoke creations or very limited series allows clients to create their own look. The dial, for instance, can be finished in an elegant black or blue, but also a mother-of-pearl marquetry design or even carbon fiber. The freedom of creativity is a bit less in the Half Time given the nature of the two rotating discs, and as a result, options are limited to colors, finishings, and possibly the hour markers. On display throughout this article is a platinum Ludovic Ballouard Upside Down with a carbon fiber dial, something relatively new to the collection.
Naturally this is proper Haute Horlogerie stuff, at Haute Horlogerie prices. The price for the Upside Down starts at CHF 75,000 in red gold and CHF 82,000 in platinum. The Half Time is priced at CHF 85,000 in red gold and CHF 92,000 in platinum. Bespoke options will most likely push that into six figures. These prices do not include tax.
All in all, Ludovic Ballouard is a fascinating man, creating equally fascinating watches under his own name. The creativity, the ingenious mechanism, the opportunity to play with the design and materials result in highly unique watches. This is exactly why we have such a deep-rooted love for watches, especially creations by independent watchmakers not bound by the laws of common sense.
More information on Ballouard.com