The story of the world's first chronograph watch
The great watchmaker Louis Moinet was someone that I always felt strangely drawn to. To me, Moinet is two people. The first is a humble man who is widely considered one of the greatest watchmakers that ever lived; the next is me, or, more specifically, the ‘Louis Moinet’ brand that I launched in 2005.
I felt that resurrecting his name in the modern age, somehow felt like it was my destiny, and so in I bought the rights to use his name.
The first few years were tough because I had a big heart and great passion for the brand but I had a very small wallet. Some good friends helped me craft the first few watches, out of steel as we couldn’t afford gold. We had to be careful because we wanted to do our own thing but watchmaking is a very ancestral art, which can sometimes be hard to uphold without deep pockets.
During my research into Louis Moinet I found out that he started to write a book in 1848. It took him 20 years to write, and in it he mentioned that he made a “Compteur de Tierces,” which is French for a device that counts every 60th of a second.
His book stated that the Compteur de Tierces was able to beat at 216,000 vibrations an hour. This was quite an achievement, because a normal watch beats between 21,600 and 28,600 vibrations an hour. He claimed that the Compteur de Tierces beat 10 times faster. I was so amazed that one day I started looking for it.
During my search I found out that when Moinet died the piece was purchased by the Prince of Luxembourg, who put it with his collection of other antiques in a safe in London. In 2012 I heard via a rumour that it was to be auctioned, but I didn’t know the exact details because auctioneers tend to be very secretive people
An antiques expert friend of mine suggested that CHF 30,000 (Dhs100,000) would be a good price for the piece, but on the day of the auction I woke up with a figure that fixed in my head, CHF 50,000 (Dhs180,000). That would be the maximum I could spend.
I went along to the auction and saw that the piece was set for CHF 3,500 (Dhs13,000). I couldn’t believe it. It was like selling an Aston Martin for £100!
Following two Breguet watches, which sold for a combined total of seven million Swiss Franc, the Louis Moinet Compteur de Tierces was up next.
I started at CHF 9,000 and the hammer nearly went down at CHF 12,000! There was a man behind me, I don’t know who he was but he ended up bidding and we competed with each other, going up in increments of CHF 2,000 all the way until I said CHF 50,000.
I closed my eyes, praying that he wouldn’t go one further because I was finished. BANG! The hammer went down.
Jean-Marie Schaller - Louis Monet CEO
I was delighted, because I thought that I had bought the first-ever high frequency watch. But I was to be pleasantly surprised further a few days later. On closer inspection, not only did it prove to be the first-ever high frequency piece, but the first-ever chronograph!
At first no one could believe it, we had endless experts analysing the piece and people we very reluctant to overturn the established history of the first chronograph.
We took it to receive testimonies from experts and museums all over the world. Months later, in 2013, we had all the documents to certify it was the original and first ever chronograph. I was time to set the record straight and rewrite history in the name of Louis Moinet.
Our research showed that Louis Moinet began creating the Compteur de Tierces in 1815 and completed the piece by 1816 – which means this year was the 200th anniversary of the first ever chronograph. It is something that was even recognised by Guinness World Records.
To this day I still have the original letters that Louis Moinet wrote. I read them regularly in hope to find another genius invention from the man himself.
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Louis Monet is available at Damas Jewellery