I met Rémy Cools for the first time two years ago, during the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the FP. Journe boutique in Paris. The location of this meeting was hardly surprising since Rémy had just won the "Young Talent Competition" organised on the initiative of François-Paul Journe, whose vocation for several years now has been to support and reward talented young watchmakers.
Rémy Cools had won the prize thanks to an entirely hand-made tourbillon table clock, but it was a wristwatch that caught my eye that evening. Rémy Cools was wearing his school watch (montre école) which had required more than a thousand hours of work over a period of 8 months. This watch featured a magnificent tourbillon supported by a stepped bridge and an off-centered time display. I was immediately won over by the quality of the design and the level of execution of the project.
In fact, this school watch prefigured the "Tourbillon Souscription" that I am presenting to you today and which is the first piece that Rémy Cools sells. It therefore marks the beginning of his activity as an independent watchmaker and creator... what is quite remarkable given his young age: Rémy Cools is only 23 years old and it takes much more than talent to dare to embark on such an adventure. It also requires self-confidence and mastery of other parameters than those of a purely watchmaker. In other words, such an adventure requires maturity, an ability to define a guideline and stick to it, and a capacity to apprehend the environment. I am convinced that Rémy Cools, who has very clear ideas about what he wants to do and how to get there, has all the means to succeed in building and developing his company.
A quick analysis might suggest that the Tourbillon Souscription is a sort of clone of the school watch. It is true that the spirit, atmosphere, approach and aesthetic context surrounding these two pieces are similar. By working on his school watch, Rémy Cools has in a way laid the foundations for his future "professional" watch. However, the Tourbillon Souscription represents a significant evolution of the school watch. It is not just a question of adapting it to a context that allows it to be produced in a few copies per year. The Tourbillon Souscription is the culmination of the path initiated with the school watch because it is undeniably more accomplished, more rational and more coherent, while respecting the basic principle: the artisanal production of a watch designed, manufactured and entirely finished in a unique place, the Rémy Cools workshop in Haute-Savoie.
The Tourbillon Souscription is undeniably easier to wear and this was one of the key points on which Rémy Cools worked as a priority. The case of the Tourbillon Souscription has a diameter of 40mm instead of the 42mm of the original watch. Its thickness has been considerably reduced from 18mm to 15mm. Behind these raw figures lies a considerable amount of optimisation work that required a complete rethinking of the movement and its components. Indeed, the school watch included some moving parts from a Unitas 6497 calibre. With the Tourbillon Souscription, all the parts are exclusive. Some of them are supplied as rough or ebauches to Rémy Cools, but are then finished by hand by him. And above all: the prototype of the Tourbillon Souscription incorporates a very large majority of components that were created by the young watchmaker himself. For example, the hands require around forty hours of work and a single wheel can even exceed thirty hours.
The architecture of the Tourbillon Souscription remains similar to that of the school watch. The time display is located at the top of the watch thanks to two hand-engraved silver dials. The curved minute dial is higher than the hour dial. Like the tourbillon at 6 o'clock, it uses an angled stepped bridge. Thus the time display echoes the tourbillon. The watch offers both spectacular depth effects (which justifies its relative thickness) and great overall coherence. The two fundamental elements of the watch are vertically aligned, but the orientation of the bridges (the one of the tourbillon being much longer than that of the display) enables the watch to avoid an overly rigid and linear design. In any case, I really liked this very pure aesthetic approach, which is both traditional and original.
It is traditional because its execution requires artisanal methods that respect the fundamentals of beautiful classical watchmaking: the analysis of each detail proves the care taken in the finishing touches. Depending on the case, different decorative techniques are used, such as polished bevelling, black polishing, inward angles, circular graining, engraving, etc... But it is also original because today's watchmaking no longer accustoms us to a classic visual rendering. Originality does not only come from the aesthetic or decorative aspect. It is also due to the technical context because, in order to obtain this pure and slender style, Rémy Cools has removed any visible crown. The two steel crowns required for winding and setting the watch are positioned at the back of the case, which of course has a lock position to prevent any unwanted movement.
The prototype of the Tourbillon Souscription is truly bewitching. The two main elements inevitably attract our eyes, contrasting sharply with the very sober background. The centrepiece is the spectacular tourbillon with a generous diameter of 15.5 mm. It occupies almost the entire lower area on the front side of the watch. The bridge is majestic, its stepped shape accentuates the effect of relief and it is a real delight to observe the aerial revolution of the cage, the oscillations of the balance wheel, all amplified by the curved glass.
The time display is not to be outdone: while its rendering is more peaceful, the relief effects are very present and the remarkable work carried out on the silver hands and dials makes reading the time a charming and seductive experience.
Despite its superb appearance, the tourbillon does not overwhelm the time display and this balance between the top and bottom of the dial, the contrast between the quieter zone and the dynamic part contribute to the success of the Tourbillon Souscription. The cage makes a full revolution in one minute. In the context of this traditional approach, I believe that this is the right speed that allows one to fully appreciate the speed of rotation of the cage while at the same time taking advantage of the balance wheel's oscillations.
The back of the watch reflects what happens on the front: the finishes are exceptional and the presence of the two crowns also gives it a lot of singularity and relief effects. This side has also been considerably reworked in comparison with the school watch since the movement is now much more open. The visible bridges take up the stepped shape and from this observation a feeling of great purity and perfect coherence emerges. Nothing is shocking, everything is homogeneous and this is a further demonstration of the quality of the design of Rémy Cools' project.
In terms of performance, the movement offers a power reserve of 36 hours for a 2.5hz frequency. First of all, I am pleased that Rémy Cools has chosen a low frequency. It is the one best suited to the desired traditional context and the one I prefer from a visual or sound point of view. I love the ticking of low-frequency watches... and I find that the slower oscillations of the balance allow better observation, especially in a tourbillon cage. Let's not forget either that the cage has a diameter of 15.5mm, so the power required is not insignificant and it's a good idea to control the frequency in order to stay with a reasonably sized mainspring. Finally, the movement incorporates a specific balance wheel, different from that of the school watch, and a balance hairspring with a Breguet terminal curve. Its winding, which has to be daily, given the power reserve, is special because it is carried out by means of a crown on the back. Winding the watch requires a period of accustoming in order to master this small gesture, which must be carried out with delicacy.
If the diameter/proportion ratio is a little surprising at first (the watch appears to be thick), this feeling fades later on. First of all because a large part of the thickness comes from the glass itself, which represents almost half of this height (7 by 15mm). Secondly, because the case has a polished and brushed finish that makes it lighter. Finally, the shortened lugs make it comfortable to wear with good support on the wrist.
It is important to note that this case is made of steel. Such a choice may be surprising for a high-end watch. But I find it judicious. It fits well with Rémy Cools' idea of making the Tourbillon Souscription a practical watch that can be worn on a daily basis. Then a more precious material would have made the price of the watch higher without any real technical added value: the magic comes above all from the tourbillon, the display and the impeccable finishing of the movement. Finally, such a case is more in the spirit of a watch sold by subscription.
Customers interested in such a piece should order it directly from Rémy Cools. Be careful not to wait too long, however: only nine copies of the steel Tourbillon Souscription will be produced. Its price is set at 85,000 euros excluding tax, which seems quite reasonable considering the work done, the small series and above all the pleasure this watch gives. Compared to the entirely handmade prototype, the production models will incorporate some elements which ebauches will have been machined by CNC machines. But all the finishing work will of course be carried out manually.
In any case, I am delighted to note that once again a young French watchmaker is offering a magnificent watch, faithful to the pure watchmaking tradition and attractive in its presentation and execution. The Tourbillon Souscription is one of those watches with incomparable charm that seduce by their flawless execution and the magical atmosphere they exude. The decorative techniques are by no means demonstrative: they support the technical approach and enhance the animations created by the moving elements. Traditional and original at the same time, the Tourbillon Souscription provides further proof of the vitality and talent of the young French watchmaking scene.
+ the quality of the finishes
+ the mesmerizing tourbillon
+ the spectacular effects of relief and volume
+ a watch designed to be worn on a daily basis
- the ratio between diameter and thickness is surprising at first.
- the winding experience by the crown located on the back of the case is more delicate than with a conventional crown.