Colin de Tonnac & The Art of crafting time
Resurrecting / Creating
By restoring and reviving old watch mechanisms, Colin de Tonnac has built a unique new brand called Semper & Adhuc, complete with 6 unique watch models with timeless charm. Meet this craftsman and master of “watchmaking upcycling”.
Remembrance of things past
French watchmaking has the wind in its sails. In an attempt to challenge Swiss horology hegemony, a new generation of French artisans are asserting their creativity in the field. Among them is Colin de Tonnac and his brand Semper & Adhuc – in Latin: “for a long time, and until now” – a collection of 6 timepieces designed and assembled in his workshop in the south-west of France and “upcycled”. He explains: “I design watches from old, ‘orphaned’ movements, without cases or bracelets, abandoned by their owners, that I find in flea markets, auction rooms or on Ebay, all originating from the 30s to the 80s. By restoring these objects rich in their own watchmaking heritage according to traditional artistic codes, I wrote a new story and created a new aesthetic. From this, a collection of new watches was born, with mechanisms from the past always at their heart”.
Launched in 2018, his first “classic” and “original” models were based on a sober aesthetic with contemporary details. L’Instantanée is inspired by the sky charts taken from old engravings and displays its numbers in letters. Others, like L’Inopinée, use more classic watchmaking codes with a black and white dial designed to resemble a musical score. The shapes vary from a round to oval case to a “cushion” model revealing a minimalist and airy dial and reducing the time indications to their strict essentials. All of them show a taste for timelessness. “I believe in elegance through discretion – it’s my signature” explains the designer.
From Lego to Patek
“From entomology – the study of insects – to model making, the scale of tiny things has always interested me. As a child, I dreamed one day of becoming an engineer at Lego. A few years later, reading Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions taught me that his father was a watchmaker. In the search for the infinitely small, watchmaking became my new passion,” he explains. Upon completing his Baccalaureate exam, he left to train in Morteau, in the east of France, then to Patek Philippe, a Geneva-based luxury family firm renowned for its high-quality timepieces. The apprentice watchmaker worked in a series of positions, first in a supporting role in production workshops, then as a watchmaking technician in the labs where prototypes are assembled and future watches are tested and approved.
“My obsession with always trying something new quickly caught up with me. In this era of crowd funding and online communication, I got to work.” In 2016, Colin de Tonnac left Switzerland and Patek Philippe and returned to the Landes (region of Southwestern France) where he moved into his first workshop. “Semper & Adhuc was born at a time when “made in Switzerland” began to lose its monopoly and when a new generation believed, as I do, in the renewal of “made in France” in watchmaking. Collectors began to open their eyes to other creations and other origins. Even if Switzerland was still conquering the market, other countries such as Germany, France, the Netherlands, the United States and Hong Kong were beginning to challenge preconceived notions and offer fresh blood”.
La French Touch
Now settled in Labouheyre, a small village in Gascony, Colin de Tonnac has opened his workshop to visits from customers and the “watch-curious.” In his words, it is “a hybrid workshop, a cross between craftsmanship and science fiction, where my drawers hold the same tools as they did a century ago, where old mechanisms are stacked up here and there, and where new technology also has a place”. Here, a 3D printer makes it possible to create the missing parts, those details that tie together the movement and the rest of the case and that can be designed and manufactured in less than a day. “The profession and tools have evolved,” he says, “but the design of a watch never changes much.”
A proponent of rational production – only around 60 watch models leave his workshop each year – Colin de Tonnac relies on personal relationships. “My watches are not sold in a store behind a window,” he explains. “I create my models on demand, I personalize them and I listen to the stories of my clients, mostly French and American, who are increasingly sensitive to French creation and who see in Semper & Adhuc the mark of a rare craft, as romantic, they tell me, as haute-couture”.
Find Semper & Adhuc watches on www.semperadhuc.fr