Baume & Mercier’s Promesse To Keep

by Paige Reddinger

Over its 184-year history, Baume & Mercier has been revered for its quality Swiss-made watches that have the look and feel of luxury at a price point that encourages collecting. For the first time in a decade, the brand is launching a new women’s line, Promesse, based on an archival piece from the ’70s. So what took them so long? CEO Alain Zimmermann and longtime design director Alexandre Peraldi fill us in on the complicated process of perfection.
BY PAIGE REDDINGER

What inspired the collection’s name?
Alain Zimmermann: Designing watches is very difficult—this one took around five years just to design. The name is the first contact—it’s a message. The overall brand message is about celebration, so we said, “How can we find a name that tells the story?” It’s not just a watch. It’s not just mechanics and components. Promesse sounds feminine, and it’s a name you can use all over the world: “Promesse” in French, “promise” in English, “promessa” in Italian. Like a promise, it’s universal. The watch is a promise to somebody you love, somebody who’s important to you, or even a promise for yourself.

This is Baume & Mercier’s first new women’s watch in 10 years. Why now?

Alain: I am relatively new to the brand having joined in 2009, but Alexandre has been here for 10 or 15 years. I discovered how important it is to have a balance between men and women. A lot of brands have both collections, but when it comes to credibility, is it natural? Only for very few brands, and Baume is included. In the past 10 years, because of the success of some of our men’s collections like Classima and, more recently, Clifton, we went toward men’s. The last very successful collection [for women] was Linea, and then we had the Hampton line. So five years ago, we decided it was time for something new.

How did you decide on the oval shape?

Alain: The Hampton featured a rectangular shape, and with Linea, we used the Tourneau shape. There was no reason why we shouldn’t have added one more very unique shape. So let’s go for the most important, the round shape. But creating a round shape with some signature is the most difficult. Alexandre had hair five years ago, but he doesn’t have it any more! [Laughs]

Why did the design process take so long?
Alain: You have to explore every direction to make sure the final one is the right one. If you have no price limit, it is very easy. When it comes to combing quality, uniqueness, and price, that takes time, especially on a round watch.
Alexandre Peraldi: The round shape was a nightmare, to be honest, but also a great pleasure. To design a watch for a man is easy. It’s big or small, black or white, sporty or classic.
Alain: Designing the case for men is where you put all your energy, then you add the bracelet. For women, it’s a jewelry piece, so the bracelet is equally as important as the case. Even more complicated is the integration, making sure that it is one whole piece, not just something that has been added onto the case. Either you compromise and say, “I’m fine with it,” and you’re ready after three years, or you don’t. That’s not the way we conceive watchmaking. If we have to compromise, we prefer to say “no.” We pull back and we start again. It’s not a fashion collection—a watch lasts forever, so you only have one chance to make it right.

How long does it usually take you to create a new design?

Alexandre: Between two and three years. The Promesse took five. We tried many, many different aesthetics.

It’s based on an archival piece from the ’70s?
Alexandre: Yes. We chose it because of the round interval. The objective was to be round, but with a touch of originality.
Alain: We wanted it to be wearable every day. We didn’t want a niche watch for just three occasions a year.
Alexandre: We came back with something simple. We kept the oval and we tried to keep the vibration from the oval to the bracelet to have fluidity on the wrist. It was hard work to develop all the parts separately but as the same piece. Adding the bracelet took very, very long. We also worked with the industry and the marketing team, because they have a target in terms of price, and we have a target in terms of aesthetics.
Alain: What makes Baume & Mercier strong is making watches that are very contemporary. The woman of today is not living in the ’70s. Our purpose is to create watches for now and the future, like the Promesse.

How is the collection priced?

Alain: Some styles are priced at $1,900 and our most special piece is $7,300. It’s very important as a brand that we remain accessible to our clientele. We want them to feel good about purchasing a 100 percent Swiss-made watch of the highest quality that is still affordable.

Do clients ever request custom pieces, like those from your museum in Geneva?

Alain: Sure. If we were in Geneva today, we would put pieces from 1918 on your wrist, and you might say, “Could you produce one for me?” But our goal is not to make just one woman happy. It’s to make as many women happy as possible.

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