The name Simon Brette might not ring a bell, except maybe to a small group of highly seasoned collectors. Yet, Simon has been behind the conception of many important modern watches by renowned independent watchmakers (think Chronode, MB&F and more). Two years ago, following some changes in his personal life and probably the effect of the pandemic, Simon Brette decided that it was time for him to fly solo… Or at least, to steer the ship with artisanship and human values in mind, and the help of talented suppliers. The result of his convictions takes shape today, and the result, named Simon Brette Chronomètre Artisans Subscription Edition, is a time-only watch the way we love it. Overly engineered, ultra-decorated, modern and traditional at the same time. And stunning on the wrist too.
Frenchman Simon Brette, the son of a carpenter, studied engineering and in 2011, he joined renowned movement constructor Jean-François Mojon at his company Chronode (a development company that is behind many movements for independent watchmakers). As a technical constructor, he has worked on the most ground-breaking calibres in contemporary watchmaking. Simon later went on to join the avant-garde watch brand MCT as a project manager and, after that, joined MB&F where he was responsible for the management and implementation of movement concepts from R&D to production. In 2021, he decided that it was time for him to create his own, eponymous watch brand.
Independent watchmaking company Simon Brette is more than just a name on a dial. It’s a collaborative horology project, where talents meet. Simon is actually very clear in mentioning the names behind the creation of his first watch, with all parties listed. Most indie watchmakers have to rely on external talents, as one cannot do all by himself – machining parts, regulating a hairspring, engraving – but kudos to Simon for being transparent.
The result of this new project is a watch that is named the Chronomètre Artisans, and the first series, the present Subscription Edition (12 pieces only, already sold-out), is the first chapter of a story that will continue with a production edition to be launched later this year.
The Simon Brette Chronomètre Artisans
The first creation of a new independent watchmaking company, the Simon Brette Chronomètre Artisans is classic on paper. A time-only watch, with ultra-decorated movement, complex technical solutions and a focus on chronometry, it is a recipe that has been used in the past by other great names – Rexhep Rexhepi of AkriviA, Kari Voutilainen and many more. What sets this watch apart is the expression of the design and the movement construction. It is classic yet contemporary, it is executed with traditional techniques yet doesn’t feel like a tribute to the past, and it shows inspirations from great past names – Derek Pratt, George Daniels, Urban Jurgensen or even Girard-Perregaux with the Three Golden Bridges, to name a few – yet it has its own personality and a modern edge.
Objectively, this debut watch makes a strong entry on the indie scene. The watch was designed from the inside out, starting with the movement. And thus we’ll start to talk about that part. It is a classic chronometer, with an essential construction and tried-and-tested solutions (because, who needs to reinvent the wheel anyway…) Two barrels in parallel, a 3/4 plate and a large balance wheel beating at a slow frequency. Typical marine chronometer. But of course, there’s more to the movement.
The large proprietary calibre SBCA (33.30mm in diameter) is composed of a large balance wheel with adjustable inertia blocks, a free-sprung architecture and paired with a hairspring with Breguet overcoil. The assembly is held in place by a single straight rounded bridge crafted in non-magnetic grade 5 titanium and beats at a rate of 2.5Hz (or 18,000 vibrations/hour), similar to marine chronometers that used a large diameter/high inertia balance wheel coupled to a low beat rate. All the steel parts adjacent to the balance wheel are crafted in Phynox, a non-magnetic steel alloy. A stop-second mechanism with single flexible S-shaped arm allows for precise time setting.
As you can see, the movement feels aerial on the balance side, since the third and fourth wheels are lowered to the dial side. The other side is devoted to energy, with two large barrels offering substantial yet stable torque (a necessity for a chronometer) and a 3-day power reserve. The ratchet and crown wheel feature very attractive wolf teeth gearing. An important element, both visual, tactile and audible, is the winding mechanism of the Simon Brette Chronomètre Artisans. The click is a contemporary and pragmatic solution to a rarely revisited component. It consists of a compliant monolithic mechanism integrated into the crown wheel, and it provides a more responsive feel, as well as an extremely pleasant winding sound and sensation. The crown wheel is actually one of the most complex components to produce in this movement, with three different types of gear-cutting (wolf teeth, vertical teeth and internal teeth).
Beyond the technical aspects, the decoration of the movement is simply stunning. Again, it is classic yet contemporary, using traditional techniques with unique details to stand out. The three-quarter bridge is decorated with a grained texture and finished in an anthracite ruthenium tone, with hand-applied anglage, internal angles and mirror-polished edges. All titanium and steel parts are finished with hand-mirror polished surfaces, as well as the edges of the gear spokes and inner rims, the chatons, and even the pinions. But the most striking element (which is found on many other parts of the watch) are the concave surfaces of the screws – a theme that is also used on the barrels. A unique feat, the screw heads are bowl-shaped and then mirror polished. Yet, from a distance, these appear like small domes rather than concave. The movement’s screws are fixed into solid gold chatons, providing visual contrast and emphasising the three-dimensionality of the movement. Altogether, we’re talking about true haute horlogerie decoration… mesmerizing!
Let’s now talk about the watch itself. The case of the Simon Brette Chronomètre Artisans Subscription Edition will be special, in the sense that it will be made of zirconium (the prototype photographed here is grade 5 titanium). Light yet durable and highly corrosion-resistant, it is nevertheless greatly finished with brushed surfaces and polished accents – and yes, to match the movement, the polished bands are also concave… The case itself is a multi-part construction, with lug modules invisibly screwed to the inner case from the inside. The bezel and caseback are then screwed to the mid-case.
It is also a pleasantly shaped case, with a nice balance between modernity and elegance, the latter being mostly due to the compact proportions – 39mm in diameter, 10.5mm in thickness and only 45mm in length. It is a joy on the wrist, being perfectly proportioned for a time-only watch, with lightness and distinctiveness too. In keeping with the concave surfaces of the screw heads, the crown is also bowl-shaped. The side of the case features a small personal detail, a polished gold element shaped like a dovetail, a tribute to his carpenter father. Interesting detail, the tapered lugs feature two sets of holes that accommodate either curved or straight spring bars. And the watch is delivered with two straps, and both a folding clasp and a tang buckle.
The dial of the Simon Brette Chronomètre Artisans is… well, as striking as the rest of the watch. Opened, textured, technical and asymmetrical, there’s a lot going on but also great consistency with the rest of the watch – case and movement. The dial feels like an extension of the movement, revealing openings on both sides with technical elements in full view. On the left, the third and fourth wheels, supported by two rounded and mirror-polished titanium bridges, drive the small seconds indicator, positioned slightly above the 9 o’clock mark. The right side reveals the ingenious and lavishly finished time-setting mechanism, shifting as the system toggles between winding and time-setting positions – again, mirror-polished with chamfered edges and sharp internal angles, and concave mirror-polished screws fixed in gold chatons.
The rest of the dial is a combination between tradition and modernity. In order to bring contrast but not clutter the dial, two translucent, frosted sapphire plates are used to indicate the minutes and the seconds. The dial is framed by a silvery inner flange with an opaline finish. The base of the dial is, on the other hand, far more demonstrative. Made from solid 5N red gold, the plate is hand-engraved with a chiselled dragon scales pattern. Executed by external talents, this deeply textured surface is like a 3D mosaic that scintillates depending on the ambient light. Quite mesmerizing but the most discreet, it is reserved for the 12 watches of this Subscription Edition.
The hands are nothing short but impressive too. The hour hand is clearly inspired by the Urban Jurgensen “observatory” hand designed by Derek Pratt, yet reinterpreted with an interior angle in the pointed tip. Polished by hand and flame-blued, the upper surface of the steel hand’s open portion is mirror-polished revealing its two-tone nature. A pair of slender blued steel hands indicate the minutes and seconds and the central axle of the hands has been finished with the same attention to detail as the rest of the watch.
Thoughts, Availability & Price
The Simon Brette Chronomètre Artisans Subscription Edition is quite an entrance on the indie scene. The conception of the movement feels classic at first but comes with several clever features, and mostly, the decoration is of an incredible level. The design, if a personal question, is a finely tuned recipe between traditional elements and modernity, yet in a compact, easily wearable watch that is made from resistant materials. Altogether, Simon Brette starts here, in my opinion, on the same level of technicality and finishing as famed watchmakers such as Voutilainen, Rexhep Rexhepi or Grönefeld, who all once made the ultra-decorated time-only chronometer watch their cornerstone models. And to me, this is quite a comparison… Complications are certainly a thing, but making a time-only watch as stunning and complex as possible is an exercise that we’ve always deeply appreciated at MONOCHROME. Simon Brette has managed to impress us at first sight.
The Chronomètre Artisans Subscription Edition is released as a 12-piece series, which are all already allocated. They were priced at CHF 50,000 before taxes – quite a large amount of money, but also in line with the competition (if not quite competitive, relatively speaking). The production edition will be launched at the end of the year, with traditional metals for the case and different dial textures.