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May 20, 2024

Ludovic Ballouard: the master watchmaker and the ode to”carpe diem”

The work of independent watchmakers is always deeply connected to their life experiences. Their childhood, their mistakes and joys, their important decisions, their regrets and loves. All real and intense moments of existence that converge in the formation of their identity, uniqueness and their incredible timepieces. 

In WATCH INSANITY we are the mouthpieces of these “exceptions”. We tell their most unusual creations, their most sophisticated designs, their most original inspirations and their most exciting stories. 

On this occasion, we had the pleasure of meeting and talking directly with master watchmaker Ludovic Ballouard of the prestigious AHCI (Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants) and Flavia Ballouard, sales manager and Ludovic’s wife. 

Ludovic Ballouard

Ludovic Ballouard is the creative mind behind the independent watchmaking brand that bears his name. A man of rare depth and ingenuity whose story, initially dramatic, reveals both the background of his extraordinary creations and the philosophy he has chosen to live with. 

The loss of his first wife Eveline, the unexpected arrival of Flavia and the birth of his son Gabriel leave an indelible mark on Ludovic’s life. These experiences affect the “man” but also the watchmaker and drive him towards the creation of the Upside Down and Half Time. Both timepieces pay tribute to life and remind us that the most important moment is the present. In fact, past and future time are represented upside down to constantly remind us that we should have no regrets for the past and no qualms about the future. 

Ludovic Ballouard

Who is Ludovic Ballouard and what experiences led you to the world of watchmaking?  

I was born in ’71 in Brittany, France, to a Breton father and a Dutch mother, and from a young age I developed a particular interest in assembling and flying radio-controlled model aircraft. Given my obvious ability to assemble and disassemble these planes composed of infinitely small parts, a teacher, during school orientation, suggested me that I should attend a watchmaking school and discover the work of a watchmaker. I immediately fell in love with it and that is how my journey began. I think it was written in destiny that I would become a watchmaker. 

Ludovic Ballouard
Ludovic Ballouard

Tell us about three years at Franck Muller and the concept behind the “Crazy Hours” collection

My passion for watchmaking never left me and guided me to one of the main watchmaking centres in Switzerland, Geneva. I remember buying an annual watch catalogue to follow the brands’ offers. It was a particular moment when I chose to offer my skills as a watchmaker to the brand that presented the most expensive watch in the catalogue, and I found a 2 million swiss francs diamond-decorated watch by Franck Muller, with a quartz movement. Franck Muller accepted my offer and for the next three years, starting in 1998, I worked in the after-sales department. During the assignment I had an idea that laid the foundation for the creation of the “Crazy Hours” collection. Unfortunately, I never got proper recognition for this creation and was dismissed shortly before the official launch of the line.

Crazy Hours Prototype

In your career, you have had the opportunity to work for Françoise-Paul Journe. What did you learn from working on his timepieces and especially the complicated Sonnerie Souveraine? 

This work has made me much more confident, in my abilities and in the quality of my work, and it is certainly also thanks to the experience i’ve gained working for Françoise-Paul Journe that I have had the strength to embark on the path of an independent watchmaker. As a token of friendship and esteem, Françoise-Paul Journe gave me the tools he used at the beginning of his journey into the world of watchmaking in 1999.  

F.P. Journe Instruments
F.P. Journe Instruments
F.P. Journe Instruments

2009 marked the beginning of the dream, Ludovic Ballouard the independent watchmaker. Tell us about your first creation, the Upside Down 

The Upside Down represents the combination of impulses, emotions, and reflections that have matured over the years and their subsequent concretisation into a seemingly simple but complex and eccentric timepiece. During the 2008 financial crisis and the worldwide media turmoil, I optimistically thought that if even one figure had the strength to defy the downward trend and remain standing, it would be enough to sustain the momentum of life itself. That is why, with the exception of the current time, the remaining 11 numbers on the clock face are constantly positioned in reverse, reminding us to live in the present and not in the past or future

Ludovic Ballouard Upside Down

What references guided you towards the creation of the B01 hand-wound movement?

In making the Upside Down, I immediately thought of the use of the “maltese cross” system (a technique I became familiar with when repairing antique clocks). The idea behind it lies in the 12 rotating hour markers, with 11 numerals positioned upside down and the hour corrected to the right. When the blued steel central minute hand touches the 12 o’clock position at every 60-minute interval, the past hour indicator makes a 180-degree downward rotation and, in quick succession, moves the next hour indicator up to the right. This mechanical exchange is achieved thanks to the Maltese crosses that control the rotation mechanisms. I also wanted the owner to be able to see the beauty of the movement at work just as the two hour discs pass the “baton” to each other after marking another hour, all through the caseback. The movement is called Calibre B01, is entirely in-house and has 228 components.

Ludovic Ballouard Upside Down

This was followed in 2012 by a further demonstration of your technical and creative flair, the Half Time. Tell us about your second creation.

This creation continues the idea of presenting time in an unusual way with an extremely complicated jumping-hour movement. Its vision reminds us of two things: that the most important dimension of time is the present, and that the world is dual (halves become one). Looking at the dial, the numerals are split in half on two discs that rotate in opposite directions, making it difficult to read, except for the present time, which is whole at 12 o’clock. The minutes are presented in retrograde form on a 120° arc at 6 o’clock. This complication, also my patent, is technically more advanced than the Upside Down and took a good three years to perfect and bring to light. 

Ludovic Ballouard Half Time
Ludovic Ballouard Half Time

How many pieces per year are produced today? To which audience do Ballouard watches appeal? 

We started with 12 pieces per year, and today we are producing 35 pieces per year. The goal is to reach 50 pieces with a current waiting time of about 18 months. Our target audience are enthusiasts and collectors who are looking for fine handcrafted watches with a classic design and creative, eccentric features.

Ludovic, Flavia and Gabriel (GaGa), yours is an incredibly moving story of great intensity. This journey of rebirth also has a way of taking concrete form in a timepiece, so tell us what the “Ludovic Ballouard et Fils Upside Down – Series GaGa” represents for you.

This experience was very special, an opportunity to reflect both on the future of the brand and to be able to create, for the first time ever, a timepiece with our son. The idea behind it came from Gabriel, when he was just three years old. We gave him a black and white sheet of paper containing the first drawing of the Upside Down model and told him to do what he wanted with it, to draw the pictures as he wished. It was breakfast time and when we returned, after a few minutes, we found the drawing completed with dots and coloured stickers placed on the colours he had prepared. A fabulous idea from that for us is a work of art. The aventurine dial, the colours and Gabriel’s naïf touch of contemporary art make it unique in every way.

Ludovic Ballouard Upside Down GaGa
Ludovic Ballouard Upside Down GaGa
Ludovic Ballouard Upside Down GaGa

Ludovic Ballouard today and five years from now. What ideas, collaborations or projects are on the horizon?

I am currently working on a third model/complication which in its ‘simple’ nature conceals great complexity. At the same time I am also developing new versions of the Upside Down and Half Time.  

By Luca Barone