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Q&AHaute-Rive’s Founder Stéphane von Gunten Talks About His Vision For The Brand And What It Takes To Create A Technical Marvel

A fairly new, young independent player in the watch business, Haute-Rive have already achieved a great feat by developing the Honoris 1—a timepiece featuring a flying tourbillon and a 1,000-hour, or a 41-day power reserve. We chatted with the founder Stéphane von Gunten to know more about the concept of ‘long time’ and how the works of his ancestors have inspired his spectacular creations

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You have worked with some of the most prestigious names in the watchmaking business, and after almost two decades decided to launch your own brand. What prompted this move?

I think it happened during the Covid period, to be honest, because I’m the fifth generation of watchmakers in my family. It all started when I read an article about a famous watch in my family that you call the Pope Watch, which was offered to the Pope in 1888 and it was a special one because it had a very long power reserve. I thought, it was incredible because this was created by my paternal great-great-grandfather Irénée Aubry, who was always interested in watches with a long power reserve, and it was the same for me, even back when I was working for Patek Philippe, Ulysse Nardin, or Girard-Perregaux. I always kept wondering how to increase the power reserve of a watch. So, my family legacy definitely has a strong role here, and after reading that article, I thought it was probably time for me to try and make a wristwatch based on the pocket watch that was presented to the Pope.

Stéphane von Gunten Haute Rive Interview
Haute-Rive’s founder Stéphane von Gunten holding the 3m-long barrel spring that’s used inside the Honoris 1 to equip the watch with a 1,000-hour or a 41-day power reserve

At a time when there are so many independent brands flooding the market; some even doing groundbreaking work, how do you think your vision for Haute-Rive is different and changing the game?

For me it was important to pay tribute to my history and family legacy. The name comes from the old workshop, which was close to Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland, which belonged to my great-great-grandfather. I could have taken my own name… Stéphane von Gunten, but that would not be relevant to my family’s horological lineage. I wanted to have a strong relation with my history and that is why I’ve chosen the name Haute-Rive. So, it’s kind of a pursuit of history and also an endeavour to revive the achievements of my great-great-grandfather. Back in the day, it was a unique piece with a 40-day power reserve and now with the Honoris 1, which is a tribute to my ancestors, I am happy that I have been able to achieve a wearable size of 42.5mm, a bit less than 12mm in thickness with 1,000 hours of power reserve, which is 41 days and it comes with a 3m-long mainspring—only one spring to regulate the power reserve inside the timepiece—a record for any wristwatch.

The Watch Guide

Irénée Aubry, Stéphane von Gunten's great-great-grandfather created the Montre du Pape, a timepiece presented to Pope Leo XIII on the occasion of his jubilee celebration

The Watch Guide

The pocket watch ran for 40 days after being wound completely

How much time does it take to manufacture a single watch and what was the biggest challenge while working on the Honoris 1?

For just the assembly of the movement it takes about three to four weeks because there are 300 components and they are all made specifically for this watch. I don’t buy them from outside because parts like the bridges and main plate are all specific to this watch. The biggest challenge was that I set the specifications in such a manner that it had to be of a wearable size. That’s why I wanted a watch below 43mm in diameter and below 12mm in thickness. However, I faced a lot of challenges with this size because there was tremendous difficulty in fitting such a big barrel inside the watch. So, I turned the main plate into the barrel to solve this problem and I am happy with the results. I always wanted a classical design otherwise it would have been pointless because I wanted to pay tribute to the past with my creation. However, there is a slight contemporary touch where the gears are visible above the dial.

Stéphane von Gunten Haute Rive Interview
The Honoris 1, comes in a wearable size of 42.5mm, a bit less than 12mm in thickness with 1,000 hours of power reserve, which is 41 days and it comes with a 3m-long mainspring—only one spring to regulate the power reserve inside the watch—a record for any wristwatch

For this watch you have kept a very elegant aesthetic. Will this be the template for all your watches going forward or are you also open to experimenting on the design front?

I will not have ten lines. My idea is to have one line but I want to discover different aspects of design. So, I will have one classic line, one dress collection maybe, and a contemporary range with steel or titanium cases—a watch that you can wear every day.

In a market where big brands are associated with big conglomerates, how challenging is it to work as an independent company?

I have freedom to do what I want to and how I want to go about it. Of course, I ask for advice but I would like to keep the freedom and this is the reason I don’t want to run after big companies. I want to keep the business small and enjoy the creative process. It’s not that I want complete control but I would like to be able to bring my ideas to life without any compromise.

The Watch Guide

For the Honoris 1, just the assembly of the movement takes about three to four weeks because there are 300 components and they are all made specifically for this watch

The Watch Guide

The barrel communicates on one side with the power reserve indicator, located on the caseback. A ring with a graduation from 0 to 1,000 in a 360-degree indication offers optimum readability at all times

How is India placed on your scheme of things and how do you see the country driving the growth for Haute-Rive?

I am not thinking on the business aspect as of now but my focus is more on creating a family or a small community of like-minded individuals, who understand and enjoy what we have to offer.

Do you see other independent brands as competition?

I don’t think that’s the case. In fact we are friends and constantly challenging each other to come forth with our best work. I feel independent brands need to come together, support each other, and perhaps even collaborate on interesting projects.

The internet and digital revolution have certainly changed the way we tell time, thanks to our phones and smartwatches. Do you think that will have an impact on the future of fine watchmaking?

I don’t think this will have an impact, especially for the high-end and premium segment because these are artworks for the wrist and no smartwatch will ever be able to replicate that. And these are built to last over generations so I think the fine watchmaking business will continue to thrive as long as it keeps innovating and introducing new ideas and concepts.

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