BA111OD, the 3920 Swiss francs tourbillon made in Neuchâtel
Ever since he launched his brand to demonstrate that a new model of watch distribution was possible, Thomas Baillod has loved shaking up preconceived notions in the industry and relentlessly attacking the word “impossible”. On October 11, he launched via social networks his tourbillon manufactured entirely in Neuchâtel by BCP Tourbillons, for the revolutionary price of 3920 francs excluding VAT! Isabelle Cerboneschi
It was in 1801 that the genius watchmaker Abraham Louis Breguet had the idea of patenting his famous tourbillon, a watchmaking complication still considered one of the peaks of the watchmaking art.
He designed it to protect the heart of pocket watches that were worn, as their name suggests, in a pocket and remained stuck there vertically. This static position led to deviations due to the force of gravity, which had a negative effect on the oscillations of the balance wheel and the balance spring. To avoid this, Abraham-Louis Breguet had the idea of enclosing the regulating organ (the balance wheel, the hairspring and the escapement) in a cage that rotates once in one minute, thus compensating for the effects of gravity. This rare and therefore expensive complication is highly prized by collectors.
In 2021, 220 years later, Thomas Baillod, who founded the BA111OD brand in 2019, is launching a revolutionary tourbillon entirely designed in the canton of Neuchâtel. This model is equipped with the hand-wound tourbillon caliber BA.01, beating at 21,600 vibrations per hour, made by watchmaker-designer Olivier Mory, based in La Chaux-de-Fonds. This model is guaranteed for 2 years and has a 105-hour power reserve. The case is made of grade 5 titanium with an anthracite DLC treatment. Its price? 3920 francs + VAT. A real revolution. Why and above all, how is this possible?
Why a tourbillon?
Thomas Baillod: When I created the first BA111OD watch, many people, even connoisseurs, thought that it was a double tourbillon, but it was in fact a double oscillator. My brand slogan, which was coined by my brother, is “Spectacular Wrist Machine”. I want watches that offer a spectacle. I wanted to offer the most impressive movement to go with it. The tourbillon is a spectacular complication, one of the most mythical and mystical movements in watchmaking. I have often been called a watchmaking troublemaker. My watch is the troublemaker’s tourbillon.
Why a tourbillon for the revolutionary price of 3920 Swiss francs excluding VAT?
Normally, with the design and quality that I propose, it should be found on the market at 40,000 francs. In the 1970s and 1980s, the answer to the industrial crisis was industrial performance. Mr. Hayek did it with Swatch. I consider that today the erosion of the entry and mid-range, the base that supports the entire watchmaking edifice, is a real threat to the industry. We need to rethink things differently. The demonstration I made, when I launched my first watch in 2019, was already clear: when the brands’ playing field is delimited on one side by the cost of production and on the other by their turnover (the ex factory), with a 50% margin, half of their problem is the cost of production. Therefore, this is what they need to optimize, hence the historical pressure that brands put on subcontractors. But when you work directly with the consumer, from the playground, you move to a huge stadium that includes the spectators, and the turnover increases accordingly. From 50%, the production cost becomes a fraction of the price (between 10 and 20%) and it is therefore logically the distribution cost that must now be optimized, the latter representing up to 65’% of the total price of the watch sold in stores.
Why 3920 Swiss francs and not 3900?
Because during a meeting with my hand manufacturer in Grenchen, I was told that the quality I wanted cost twice as much as another hand: 20 francs instead of 10. So I raised my price by 20 francs, not x7, x10 or even x12, as other brands can do. I don’t do things less well. The price has nothing to do with the quality. That’s why I called my watch “The Veblen Dilemma Tourbillon “*.
How is this possible?
I simply called the best subcontractors in the watchmaking industry, people who have adhered to my concept since the beginning. From the first sketch to the first prototype, it took only 6 weeks. These manufacturers wanted to help me: it allowed them to affirm that they were neither slow nor expensive. I can’t afford to lower production prices like the big groups do, I pay a fair price to subcontractors who work for the jewels of the Swiss watch industry. Through my example, they manage to show that the problem of the watch industry does not come from them.
Are you still working with the Chinese production workshops with which you collaborated in the beginning or have you switched entirely to Swiss Made?
I still work with China to produce Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and partially for Chapter 3. But I dare say so.
Do customers buy your tourbillon by subscription?
Yes, as Breguet did.
What is the status of the orders?
We have launched 30 watches at a special price: we are approaching 50 pieces. The sale is done only through Linkedin, simply on the basis of a gouache of Estelle Lagarde. People trust me enough to buy a watch without having seen it.
Had you ever imagined making a tourbillon?
No, but when I thought about doing it, I wanted to engrave a phrase from my father on the barrel: “To love time, the one that doesn’t count.” This tourbillon comes 100% from the canton of Neuchatel and my father would be proud to have his quote engraved on it. The barrel is the real engine of the watch: it turns, it counts time, but it is time that does not count. My father didn’t write this sentence in that sense, he wrote it on the cover of a book about time measurement, which he gave to my best friend.
You made your first million last June: how did you feel?
I was extremely happy: you don’t just happen to make a million in the middle of a pandemic. That means I did it right.
* The Veblen effect, named after the economist and sociologist Thostein Veblen (1857-1929), refers to the snobbery that consists of believing that the high price of a product should make it more desirable.