Alex lives in Paris. He and his wife are the proud parents of four daughters. Alex is also a watch person. In particular, he has a thing for Speedmasters, as his Instagram account clearly shows, especially on Tuesdays. Ever since Omega became his favorite watch brand, Alex has had a particular interest in Bienne. For several years now, he has dreamt of visiting. The pandemic made it harder, but he will finally be coming over in a few weeks. Before he does, I wanted to make sure to catch his thoughts on how he imagines our town… We’ll later see if it lives up to his expectations!
So Alex, how did this passion for watches all start?
When I was 7, my grandmother gave me my first watch. A mechanical watch, with manual winding. It had a hockey player on it, with the puck ticking as the seconds hand. I then went through the 80s with digital watches, Casio, etc. And then I “graduated” to something “made in Bienne”. I’d dreamt of having a Swatch Chrono for several years. In the early 90s, I eventually got one for my birthday. And I still have it.
Until the mid-90s, I was attracted to Breitling, the world of aviation. But then, in 1995, came a game changer: GoldenEye. That is what turned my attention to Omega, initially divers specifically. My first was actually a 007 Seamaster.
When did you cross the line and start considering yourself a true collector?
I’ve had quite a few watches for about 15 years now, but for a long time the selection was pretty eclectic, without a real logic. The true beginning of what I consider a collection was probably around 3-4 years ago. That’s when I settled, came down with a pattern. And focused on the Speedmaster.
Tell us about your current collection. How many watches are in it?
I would say the core of the collection is about twenty watches. Mostly Omega but also some Tudor, Hamilton, Rolex, Oris and a few more exotic ones.
You mentioned the logic of your collection. Can you tell us more?
I like models that are a bit exclusive, a bit rare, a bit unusual. I like limited or special editions. For instance, I have several Speedmasters but no “classic” Moonwatch. I like relatively small productions. Then, obviously, I have to be attracted to the watch itself. And perhaps more importantly, there needs to be a story, something to tell about it. I enjoy being able to share my passion with people I meet. Having a model that is a bit different, a bit unusual, will often make that discussion even more interesting. I actually dragged quite a few people into the hobby, starting with my brother!
Last question about your collection… If you had to single one out, the queen, which would it be?
If i had to really call one out, it would probably have to the Ed White 321 Speedmaster. It just combines so many strengths. First, the overall execution, the craftsmanship, are superb. Then, the historical significance. And finally, the movement itself, which is just incredible. It’s not a Moonwatch, rather a “pre-Moon”, celebrating Ed White, the first Astronaut to do a spacewalk. The model brings together what Omega does best in my opinion. It’s my grail and I think the watch that best corresponds to my personality. It’s easy to wear, versatile, under the radar but those who know will know.
OK one more actually… the latest acquisition?
I don’t have a Moonwatch but I recently bought a… MoonSwatch! The Mars variant, specifically. I wanted to start with this one because of the tribute to the legendary Alaska Project. I think the teams at Swatch and Omega did a great job, combining clear nods to the inspiration while also creating a new, distinct identity.
It was interesting for me because the Swatch staff in Paris were initially not quite sure why there was such demand for the Mars. It was fun to chat with them and explain the background, the history from an Omega perspective.
So now let’s talk about Bienne. When is the first time you heard of Bienne?
It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly. When I started getting into watches, the place that kept coming up, at least that I remembered, was La Chaux-de-Fonds. It’s really when I started focusing more on Omega that Bienne came to my attention. Then, I started learning about Swatch being based there too, the Swatch Group headquarters, Rolex, etc. Also, when it came into being, the new Shigeru Ban Swatch / Omega campus really caught my attention.
And when did you decide you wanted to come out here?
I generally like going pretty deep into the topics I’m interested in, understanding the history. I actually used to want to be a history teacher. So when I started getting into Omega, I wanted to know more about the past, where it started, how it developed into what it is today. And since then, it’s been a dream for me to come to Bienne, where it all started. I want to feel the pulse of the manufacture. See where the Brandt brothers first settled in Bienne, rue de Boujean.
How do you picture Bienne?
If you’d asked me 3 or 4 years ago, I may have given you an oversimplified, idealistic vision. A little picturesque Swiss town, perhaps even a village. But since, between reading about the different brands and landmarks, I think I have a more decent sense. I imagine it as a balance between an industrial city and a town immersed in its history. A place that went through various iterations over time, facing crises and emerging from them. A place that was first ideal for the textile industry and later watchmaking, with its river, its lake. A city that had to reinvent itself when watchmaking became the focus. And then again during the quartz crisis. A city of renewals, today at the epicenter of watchmaking, between Swatch Group and its brands, Rolex, independent watchmakers… We talked a lot about Omega, but the Rolex example is also interesting, as you mention in your blog: how there is both the very first workshop and the current expansion of the ultra modern movement production facility.
What are the 3 places you are most keen to visit in Bienne?
My answer will be pretty focused on a single brand, as you can imagine. First and foremost, the Omega manufacture, and within it, the 321 movement workshop. Seeing the surgical nature of the place, observing the watchmakers in motion… Second would be the Omega museum, the latest acquisitions such as Ralph Ellison’s Speedmaster, or JFK’s inauguration watch. Third, I wouldn’t say a specific place but rather the Bienne city overall, the center, the lake… I want to feel the town’s atmosphere.
Editors Note: Speedmaster references are listed in order of appearance below.
- Ed White 321 3220.127.116.11.01.001
- Silver Snoopy Award 50th Anniversary 310.32.42.50.02.001
- Speedy Tuesday Ultraman 318.104.22.168.01.001
- Apollo 11 50th Anniversary 310.20.42.50.01.001
- Tokyo 2020 Olympics 522.214.171.124.03.001