Monochrome Watches
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A Breath of Fresh Air with Ludovic Ballouard

The independent watchmaker reminds us that innovation is always possible, and it comes through patience, perseverance and passion.

| By Denis Peshkov | 7 min read |

During the Geneva Watch days this year, under a radiant sun, we embarked together with my colleague Robin on a journey to the tranquil Swiss countryside town of Avusy, home to Domaine des Graves. Our destination, however, was the workshop of Ludovic Ballouard, a renowned independent watchmaker celebrated for his imaginative creations like the Upside Down and Half Time. What awaited us was an intriguing glimpse into his newest project. While it’s still early days, with only a patent granted, the mere idea of crafting a chronograph like never before demands an understanding of the visionary Ludovic Ballouard himself, with whom we spent a day.

Ballouard’s roots trace back to a unique upbringing. Ludovic was born in 1971 to a French father and a Dutch mother, and his childhood was spent in a remote coastal area of Brittany. Here, the rhythms of life revolved around agriculture, tending to farm animals, and casting nets into the sea. While his father toiled in the expansive fields with heavy machinery, young Ludovic found himself drawn to the endless expanse of the sky and the mysteries of the miniature, and he yearned for the celestial and the minuscule (which also led him to the hobby of aero-modelling). The nature of farm life could have pushed him to become a farmer, like his parents, but he took a different path. 

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At 14, Ballouard left traditional school to get a BEP (vocational education diploma) in shorthand typing. Then, he decided to become a dental prosthetist but was not allowed into the training for this profession for lack of a proper high school diploma. A guidance counsellor – should have been a very good one – suggested watchmaking, something Ludovic Ballouard immediately felt passionate about. He applied among 200 other candidates for the Rennes Lycée Jean Jaures watchmaking course offering 13 places and was not accepted. Giving up was not a trait Ballouard ever possessed, so he returned to the watchmaking school with a boat model he created to demonstrate his skills and eagerness to learn and perform meticulous work. The school made an exception, and Ludovic Ballouard entered the watchmaker training. A quick learner, Ludovic completed the course programme too fast and left the school – to pass the watchmaking exam as an external applicant later so that he would obtain a diploma (1988). 

The place where you’ll most likely find Ludovic, behind his watchmaker’s bench

After Rennes, Ballouard worked for a local watchmaker in Brittany but was dissatisfied as the work offered no challenges, so he left after six months and landed a job at Lemania in L’Orient, nestled in the heart of the Swiss Jura watchmaking valley (now the property of Swatch Group, under the Breguet brand). However, the picturesque mountainous terrain, the cold temperatures and all the winter snow were not to his liking. After a few months, he decided to return to the wide-open spaces of Brittany. He spent almost eight years meticulously tending to aircraft control board instruments at the Dinard Bretagne airport, where a steady stream arrived for servicing and repairs.

Despite his departure from the mountains, Ballouard remained connected to the world of horology. Perhaps an anecdote, but Ludovic recalls buying a yearly watch catalogue to track what brands were offering. He remembers a pivotal moment when he offered his watchmaking skills to a brand featuring the most expensive watch in the catalogue, as he thought the pay would be good – a 2-million Swiss franc timepiece adorned with diamonds from Franck Muller, housing a quartz movement. Franck Muller accepted his offer, and for the next three years, starting 1998, Ballouard worked in the after-sales service department. During his tenure, he conceived an idea to lay the foundation for Franck Muller’s iconic Crazy Hours collection. Regrettably, he never received due credit for his innovation, and by the time the collection was launched, Ballouard had parted ways with the brand.

The FP Journe Sonnerie Souveraine – Ballouard was responsible for the assembly of this highly complex watch

The next chapter of his journey led him to Francois-Paul Journe, an experience that would leave an indelible mark on his watchmaking career. From 2002 on, during the seven formative years, he honed the knowledge and skills essential for creating his watch movements. His time at F.P. Journe (in his last three years, Ludovic was responsible for assembling the extremely complicated Sonnerie Souveraine) has taught him that audacity and unwavering perseverance could unlock even the most intricate horological complications. This, and the legacy of self-reliance deeply rooted in the independence and traditional labour he learned from his parents, became the cornerstones of his career as he ventured into independent watchmaking in 2009 amid the worldwide financial crisis.

Before his departure, Francois-Paul Journe offered Ludovic a toolbox containing all the tools he had at his disposal when he launched his brand in 1999, a symbolic gesture from one watchmaker to another to launch a brand which bears his name. And so the seeds of Ludovic Ballouard’s journey as an independent were sown during the period of turmoil, aligning with his philosophical outlook on life. During this time, he crafted his first independent creation, the Upside Down watch. On this timepiece, all numerals on the dial, except for the current hour, are consistently positioned upside down, a poignant reminder of our limited control over the past and future. In 2013, he introduced his next masterpiece, the Half Time. This watch featured a unique arrangement of hour markers, split and spread across two separate discs. The outer disc carried the upper half of the hour numeral, while the inner disc held the lower half, albeit in reverse order. Only when the top hour lined up did it indicate the current one. (We invite you to explore our comprehensive analysis to understand better these original timepieces, their indications, functions, and underlying movements).

A unique example of the Upside Down, with an osmium dial

Harry Winston recognized Ludovic’s exceptional talent during this same period. The brand entrusted Ballouard with creating the OPUS XIII, a project he managed to complete in less than a year. The OPUS XIII was a groundbreaking jumping-time watch featuring a movement comprised of 660 components. Ballouard unveiled this remarkable timepiece at the Basel World Fair in 2013. However, challenges soon arose in the project, leading to a dispute between Ballouard and Harry Winston’s new owners, the Swatch Group. This and very personal hardships made that particular year difficult for Ludovic Ballouard. 

Harry Winston Opus XIII
The infamous Harry Winston Opus XIII

As Ludovic reflects on past challenges, he does so with a knowing smile. Those experiences have imparted invaluable wisdom regarding the intricacies of running a successful business. With the patent for his latest creation secured (inventors are Ballouard and Victor Vladimir Negault), Ludovic is eager to share detailed descriptions and drawings with anyone interested. In today’s digital age, a quick Google search will yield ample information about his invention: “a timepiece intended to display with the same hands the hour, minutes and seconds, as well as a chronograph function“. 

Imagine a watch with a straightforward three-hand time display that effortlessly transforms into a fully functional chronograph with the push of a button. This remarkable timepiece will record elapsed time accurately and seamlessly revert to its primary function of indicating the current time, all thanks to an ingenious memory function. It’s a marvel of horological engineering; we can’t wait to see it work.

With a long waiting list for Ballouard timepieces (expect to wait for at least 18 to 24 months), the steady revenue allows Ludovic to expand production and hire extra watchmakers to assist with current orders and future projects. The new memory timepiece was initially planned to materialize next year, but Ballouard has yet to make any promises. We’ll wait, wishing the best of luck to the talented – and hospitable watchmaker.

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