Trilobe: a journey through poetry, architecture and watchmaking2 November 2023
“In watchmaking, the idea of visualizing time in a completely alternative, unique way has been with me since the beginning. I felt the need to free time from the empirical research and make its display fluid instead of being fixed on the dial”.
Telling us this is Gautier Massonneau, creative director and founder of Trilobe. We had the pleasure of hearing and talking directly with him and Volcy Bloch(CEO) in Milan at GMT Great Masters of Time, Trilobe’s dealer and a reference point in the independent watchmaking scene.
It is the beginning of a personal project, starring Gautier and his desire to create a unique and exceptional timepiece. Passion and dreams led Gautier to approach one of the first mechanical wristwatches with a “jumping” hour and minute display, the Zeitwerk by A. Lange & Söhne. His young age and inability to access such a watch generated an impetus in him that laid the ideational foundations for the creation of the Trilobe brand.
The name “Trilobe” and the reasons for choosing it are not accidental. Both the origin of the name and Trilobe’s “stylistic register” are strongly connected to the world of architecture. The reference is to the trilobe or trefoil, one of the main openwork elements in European and Islamic Gothic ornaments. This universal architectural form, a symbol of eternity and balance, became the hallmark of the brand and was specially chosen by founder Gautier Massonneau to pay homage to his family background.
Who is Gautier Massonneau and how did you make the transition from the world of finance to watchmaking?
I was lucky enough to grow up in a family of architects and interior designers, with parents who always encouraged me to be alert, to change perspective, to mix materials and shapes, while respecting a certain tradition, always with this attraction for beauty and complexity.
I had never really worked in France before launching the Trilobe adventure. After studying mathematics and economics in a previous life, I worked in the development of large infrastructure projects, first in Tokyo and then in Dubai.These were intense years supporting the development of power stations in East Africa and desalination plants in Oman. At first glance, this ecosystem seems a world away from the hushed world of High Watchmaking, but it is nonetheless very close to the complexity, engineering and timeframe involved in developing a watchmaking project. These years abroad also gave me the opportunity to make many incongruous journeys, and so many opportunities to shake up my preconceptions and cultural references. In short, I was ready to take the plunge!
It is the drive to create my own watch that motivated me to learn everything I know on watchmaking and to surround myself with professionals of the field.
Trilobe was officially launched on 17th December 2018, but the idea was initially born in 2015. It all began when I decided that it was time for me to buy my first watch. I was looking for an original piece, that would stand out from others and fit with my personality. But these kinds of watches were completely out of budget for me. Therefore, I decided to create my own watch. Some would say it was an incongruous idea! At first, I bought watchmaking books and spent a few months studying and sketching. But I soon realized that I could not do it by myself. Rather than giving up I decided to contact watchmaking professionals to help me and end up meeting with Jean-François Mojon, a noted name in watchmaking, former head of R&D at IWC, who was seduced by the project right away. This decisive encounter completely turned my personal watch project into what we currently known as “Trilobe”.
During the creation of the Trilobe project, what difficulties did you encounter and who guided you in the realization of your first watch?
The most complicated process in creating and launching the Trilobe project was the development phase. At Trilobe, there is no shortage of ideas, but we strive to create the never-seen-before and those are the pieces that takes the longest time to be developed.
Jean-François Mojon accompanied us for almost three years on the research and development. He is the one who implemented our inaugural series with a modified ETA-based movement.
After the launch, one of the greatest challenges was to succeed in breaking into a hyper-competitive market such as watchmaking and staying afloat after being launched at one of the worst times. Since its launch in December 2018, Trilobe first had to go through the French yellow jackets movement and then suffered from a hard stop due to the COVID outbreak. It is safe to say that the brand would not have been able to survive if it were not for its creative and innovative concept.
Another challenge, and still a key element to the blossoming of the brand at this time, is to manage to find the right collaborators who are experts in their fields and possess the rights skills to help you grow, but it is only possible as long as they believe in your project.
Technically speaking, where and by whom are your dials and the unique X-Centric movement made?
In keeping with the unique spirit of the brand, our watches are equipped with the X-Centric calibre, a signature automatic movement developed exclusively for Trilobe. The automatic X-Centric calibre defies the codes of traditional watchmaking with a new time display.
Trilobe has entrusted its manufacture and partner of La Chaux-de-Fonds (Le Cercle des Horlogers) with the task of architecturing its X-Centric calibre. Its mission was to combine the technical challenge with an “artistically offbeat” approach, while perpetuating Swiss watchmaking excellence.
We wanted to equip our watches with a calibre in harmony with Trilobe’s spirit and architectural DNA. We chose to play with contrasts by designing this movement in a concentric way around symmetrical axes, at the opposite of our eccentric dials. We drew our inspiration from brutalism architecture, characterized by a striving to create functional buildings with a pure design, a clear exposure of the structure and a valorization of the materials for their intrinsic qualities. The electroplating bath treatment of the bridges and plates gives them a gray anthracite color reminiscent of concrete and offers a contrast between a search for brightness on the front side and an invitation into the storm gray depths on the reverse side. The micro-rotor was chosen to expose the structure of the movement by revealing its components, that are usually hidden away. It also allowed us to reduce the thickness of the watch for more elegant proportions. It is made from tungsten, a heavy material that produces enough power to put our energy-consuming time display in motion (3 rings are much heavier than 3 hands…).
The company that makes our dials is Quadrance, located in la Chaux de Fonds.
Regarding our collection Les Matinaux, the dial is made up of 5 parts, three of which are in permanent rotation: the larger ring for hours, the median one for minutes and the small one for seconds. Three indicators in shape of trilobes allow to read time (Respectively hours, minutes, and seconds). The dial is made of brass with a sunray brushing to reflect the light and the color is obtained by electroplating bath. It is then lacquered in Blue, Green and Red to add more depths. The pattern of the seconds wheel is inspired by the large rose window of the Sainte Chapelle in Paris. A so called “radiating” architecture that lets in the rays of light. A luminous and subtle invitation into the heart of the movement. Just below the seconds ring you can observe the movement plate treated with a rhodium bath on the front to obtain this silver color. Notice the three non-aligned trilobes. Why not? A touch of eccentricity on your wrist and a step sideways dear to Trilobe!
Regarding our collection Nuit Fantastique, the dial is made up of 4 parts, three of which are in permanent rotation: the larger ring for the hours, the minute wheel that appears within an aperture, and the seconds wheel. Two indicators allow to read time, one for hours and another for minutes and seconds. The dial is made of brass with a graining realized with a counterstrike and the colour is obtained by electroplating bath. The intertwining of the minutes and seconds gives a glimpse of the infinite and the time that goes on endlessly. At the centre of the seconds wheel, you can observe a clous de Paris guilloche encircled by a railroad track itself encircled by an azured ring worked with a comb. Look closely, the surface beneath the numerals is not plane but waved. The design of this collection is inspired by deconstructivism architecture, which shakes up the conventions, and disturbs our way of conceiving shapes and their functions.
Regarding our collection Une Folle Journée, the dial is only made up of 3 parts in permanent rotation: the larger ring for hours, the median one for minutes and the small one for seconds. One single pointer allows to read time (hours, minutes, and seconds). These rings are in grade 5 titanium and the color is obtained by DLC treatment. They are hold by a titanium hollowed and polished cornice which are themselves balanced by titanium pillars. The precision of the pad-printed numerals on the concave curved rings highlights an exceptional watchmaking know-how.
Regarding our personalized edition Secret, available for our collections Les Matinaux and Nuit Fantastique, the dial is made of brass with a sunray brushing to reflect the light and the color is obtained by electroplating bath. The constellations are engraved on the dial and correspond to the map of the stars from a moment in time. The stars composing each constellation are hollowed and filled with superluminova. At nightfall, after being activated by a UV light, the stars come to life and light to illuminate the chosen moment, thus suspending the passage of time.
One of the key aspects of the relationship between man and watch is personalization and the concept of uniqueness. What is your approach in this regard and what makes the “Secret” model special?
The first intention with the Secret edition was to offer the highest level of personalization with a piece that tells the story of its owner. I wanted to create a magical and poetical piece by offering to people a way to hold on to one of their most important memories on their wrist, while keeping it a secret. What best way to tell a story in a poetic way than using the starry sky that was above you at this special moment. It then becomes a completely unique and singular timepiece.
The Secret Edition embodies Trilobe’s vision of luxury to perfection: A luxury for oneself instead of for others, with a watch who holds a secret at its very core, that only its wearer knows about.
The Secret edition was my first idea, but it took more time with the research and development phase to develop the bespoke starry dial, and therefore the collection Les Matinaux was the first one to be launched.
Who chooses Trilobe watches and what audience do you target?
Our customer’s profile is very wide, from collectors to first-time buyers. In fact, many of Trilobe’s clients have never bought a single mechanical watch in their lives before now. Some might say that our customer profile is rather atypical. Because who would buy a watch at this price from a not renowned brand? It can easily be explained by the fact that our customers are attracted by the unusual design of our watches, which are easily recognizable compared to others. It is also linked to the fact that Trilobe is about more than a product. In fact, our clients also relate with the philosophy behind the brand and its artistic and eccentric DNA. Like us, they fancy seeing the world from a different point of view and embrace difference!
I would say that every region and market is ready to bet on new brands, as long as the brand expresses something different compared to other brands and thus, set itself apart.
Looking at your path, almost “picassian”, dense with references and full of experimentation we are curious to ask, what could we expect in the future from Trilobe?
You should expect the unexcepted! We aspire to keep surprising people with innovative and creative pieces reflecting our vision of beauty. We also want to continue to engage people emotionally with meaningful artistic creations inviting their owner to put poetry back into their relationship with time.
Daring is part of our DNA, so it is important for us never to rely on our past, and go where no one expects us to go, while remaining true to our native ambitions and our vision of time.
We have many projects planned, so stay tuned!
By Luca Barone