Louis Moinet is today an independent watch brand located in Saint-Blaise, Switzerland, specialising in the creation of high-end timepieces, often featuring exotic materials and innovative technology, underpinned by the philosophy of limited edition mechanical art.
All of Louis Moinet’s timepieces are either exclusive limited editions or unique pieces.
Uniqueness, creative horology, art and design, and exclusivity are at the heart of Louis Moinet creations.
The most extraordinary of the meteorites used in Louis Moinet timepieces – the Sahara 955, a fragment of which can be found in the dial of Astralis, for example – has been estimated as 4.6 billion years old, making it the oldest known rock in our Solar System.
Louis Moinet timepieces are the subject of numerous patent applications to protect technical innovations which have won several international accolades.
Tempograph and Jules Verne Instrument have each won a prestigious Red Dot Award for design while the Jules Verne Instrument also claimed the prize for ‘Most Innovative Design Watch’ at the Journey Through Time awards organised by Malaysia’s renowned Starhill Gallery.
Continuing and preserving Louis Moinet’s historical heritage, Louis Moinet is proud to count a number of today’s celebrities among their prestigious clientele, such as the King of Malaysia, among others.
For CEO and Creative Director Jean-Marie Schaller, the responsibility of reviving the Louis Moinet name and of heading the brand today is a natural vocation.
Mr Schaller says: “Watchmaking has always been in my blood. Coming from the Jura Mountains, the world surrounding me revolved around one thing: Horology.
“I grew up knowing that a watch is no ordinary object: It is a cultural testimony, a legacy inherited from a generation of craftsmen.
“In a watch, you see the brain of the engineer, the heart of the designer, the eye of the artist and the hand of the watchmaker.
“Indeed, the watch is an objet d’art in harmony with the real values we harbour inside ourselves as human beings.
“The master watchmaker Louis Moinet was both an artist and a brilliant horologist. He was one of the most influential watchmakers of all time.
“I am proud to revive his heritage of ‘mechanical art’, blending it with the exciting possibilities offered by today’s technology.”
1768 Born in Bourges
Louis Moinet was born in Bourges in 1768 into a well-to-do family of farmers. During his studies, he quickly distinguished himself for his mastery of classical subjects, and he regularly took first place in academic competitions.
While still a student, he was introduced to the world of watchmaking, and he spent almost all of his free time by the side of a master watchmaker.
1788 Master of Art
By the time he was 20, Louis Moinet had become irresistibly drawn to Italy, the quintessential land of fine arts. He left France for Rome, where he lived for five years, studying architecture, sculpture and painting. He became acquainted with members of the Académie de France, which encompassed some of the finest artists of the time.
He then moved to Florence, where he learned the art of fine stone engraving in an atelier placed at his disposal by Count Manfredini, Minister of the Grand Duke of Tuscany. He also completed several paintings there, and even as a painter, his legacy includes a number of fine works.
1795 Professor of fine arts
Upon his return to Paris, he was appointed Professor of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, in the Louvre.
He became a member of several scholarly and artistic societies, and cooperated with eminent artists such as the astronomer Jérôme Lalande, the bronzier Pierre-Philippe Thomire and Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, the skilled automaton-maker considered the father of the modern-day conjuring.
1800 A genius in the making
While teaching, Moinet pursued his theoretical and practical study of horology, the art for which he already nurtured a passion. He renewed contact with his former teacher, and the student quickly became the master.
Watchmaking occupied Moinet’s entire time from the beginning of the 19th century onwards.
He spent long periods in Switzerland, from the Jura mountains to the Vallée de Joux. He met many famous watchmakers there, including Swiss clock and chronometer maker Jacques-Frédéric Houriet, and acquired his horological tools and instruments.
Moinet himself was described by his peers as a “gifted artist”, an “eminent scholar” and “a specialist in transcendent horology”.
Moinet met Abraham-Louis Breguet when the latter was already fairly famous.
Both men shared the same passion for the art of horology and Breguet recognised Moinet’s worth at once.
From 1811 onwards, Moinet became Breguet's personal advisor, with the two men working closely together until Breguet’s death in 1823.
Moinet was also appointed President of the Chronometry Society of Paris, whose membership included some of the greatest talents of the era, and whose avowed purpose was “the development and encouragement of watchmaking, one of the finest sciences of the human mind”.
Within this setting, he cultivated ties with his fellow members including Louis Berthoud, Antide Janvier, chronograph pioneers Louis-Frédéric Perrelet and Joseph Winnerl, as well as Benjamin Vulliamy, who served as the King’s Watchmaker in London.
Louis Moinet made Napoleon’s Clock for French military and political leader Napoleon Bonaparte and it boasts an eight-day movement and displays hours, minutes and date.
The amphora-shaped clock’s great originality lies in an outstanding mechanism displaying the moon phases inside the day hand, by means of a tiny ivory ball.
Meanwhile, Napoleon and Josephine are crowned emperor and empress as soon as the music box is activated via an ingenious mechanism that physically places the imperial crown on their heads.
This historic clock epitomises the origins of Louis Moinet as one of the best horologists ever and in recognition of this, the year of this timepiece’s creation – 1806 – forms part of the modern-day Louis Moinet logo.
Today, Napoleon’s Clock can be admired at the National Museum Speelklok in Utrecht, the Netherlands.
Napoleon’s adversary Tsar Alexander I also owned a Louis Moinet clock.
ca. 1810 Marshall Murat, King of Naples
This exceptional clock of astonishing intricacy was manufactured for Joachim Murat, brother-in-law of Napoleon, Marshal of France and King of Naples and the two Sicilies. It now forms part of the Louis Moinet brand’s collection.
The four different dials combine a full calendar indicating the hours, minutes, seconds, day, date, month and moon-phase. The movement is entirely visible from the back and the key-winding mechanism is ingeniously concealed.
ca. 1810 Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States
Thomas Jefferson – signatory of the Declaration of Independence and also United States Ambassador in Paris – became acquainted with Louis Moinet, and spelled out for him his three criteria for creating artwork: Beauty, durability and utility.
Those three qualities are embodied in the clock that Moinet made for Jefferson and which accompanied him during his two White House terms of office and until his last breath. It can now be admired at Monticello Museum, Virginia.
ca. 1810 Ernest Augustus, Prince of Hanover
This bronze clock created for Ernest Augustus, at the time Prince of Hanover, and later king – boasts impressive technology based on ‘rotating circles’, with the hours and minutes read through two different cylinders located inside the urn.
1817 James Monroe, President of the United States
James Monroe’s clock is an original piece that still decorates the White House to this day.
A lot of the original White House furniture has been lost over the years, and only a handful of historical vestiges remain.
One of these is the famous ‘minerva’ clock by Louis Moinet and the acclaimed bronzier Pierre-Philippe Thomire, who collaborated with the esteemed horologist on many of his clocks.
Minerva was the Roman goddess of poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce, weaving, crafts and magic.
This clock was purchased in Paris in 1817 to adorn the White House after it had been burned down by the English three years earlier and then rebuilt by architect James Hoban.
Master of mechanics
The work of Louis Moinet encompasses alarm watches, regulators and astronomical watches.
As the inventor of unprecedented concepts, he devised some truly astonishing mechanisms.
For example, several of his pocket-watch calibres boasted unusual arrangements of the components, such as with the whole set of gears built around the same pinion.
Moreover, he invented a mainspring that improved the rating of the watch, a spring he poetically described as being a “half-ripe cherry red” colour when fired in the kiln.
He also developed a new balance-cock that facilitated winding. After tireless efforts, he created a construction serving to remove the stud of the balance-spring stud so as to poise the escapement correctly without needing to dismantle anything.
He also slotted, rounded and hand-finished the gear trains of his marine chronometers in order to ensure their precision.
Pioneer of chronometry
To enhance his astronomical observations, Louis Moinet invented a sensational instrument: A counter in the shape of a watch displaying 60ths of a second, and which he called a “compte-tierce” or 60th of a second counter.
The obvious advantage was a degree of accuracy superior to any other time measurement at the time.
One of its particularly original features was a jewelled escapement that oscillated at 216,000 vibrations per hour without any trace of wear nor increased friction during prolonged use.
The bronze clock created for Ernest Augustus, Prince of Hanover at the time and later king – boasts impressive technology based on ‘rotating circles’, with the hours and minutes read through two different cylinders located inside the urn.
Meanwhile, the amphora-shaped Napoleon’s Clock exudes great originality thanks to an outstanding mechanism displaying the moon phases inside the day hand, by means of a tiny ivory ball.
And loyal to his usual practice, Louis Moinet presented a chronometer providing several original indications, including an annual calendar and days of the week, at the Great Exhibition world fair at the Crystal Palace in London’s Hyde Park in 1851.
Louis Moinet devoted 20 years of his life to writing the Traité d'Horlogerie which comprises detailed descriptions and diagrams of the finest watchmaking techniques.
It contains in particular a practical and universal method for gears that follow scientific principles duly modified by their application.
“The Traité d'Horlogerie by Louis Moinet is the most comprehensive, best written and most indispensable of all the watchmaking books ever written,” said Monsieur Delmas, vice-president of the Société Chronométrique de Paris in 1853.
The treatise was appreciated by the great watchmakers of Moinet’s era such as Charles Frodsham, Abraham-Louis Perrelet, Claudius Saunier and Joseph Winnerl, as well as by several other scholars and connoisseurs such as Alexander, Prince of Orange.
They all are part of a list of the numerous subscribers to a book that was reprinted three times and circulated as far afield as Russia and Cuba.
“Horology is a science and a liberal art: You need to be a meticulous and scrupulous mechanic, and to have sufficient knowledge of physics and geometry,” wrote Moinet in the treatise.
Moinet added: “One should invent solely for the needs of the Art… a true artist cannot remain behind his times… it would be a mistake to think there is nothing left that deserves deeper study.”
Alexandre Dumas, author of the The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, called Moinet “a king, viceroy and prince of modern decorative arts” while the horological journal La Tribune Chronométrique referred to Moinet as “a giant among Parisian watchmakers”.
Monsieur Delmas, watchmaker and vice-president of the Chronometry Society of Paris at the time, gave a glowing eulogy of Moinet after his passing.
“He sacrificed everything to art: His time, his fortune and his health,” said Delmas.
“He spent most of his life creating, imbuing materials with a life of their own.
“We had the great fortune to live near to him during the last 12 years of his life, and no one can appreciate the many qualities of heart and spirit of this excellent man more so than we can.”
Delmas continued: “He was always, in all of his interactions, the man we knew as president of the Chronometry Society: Precise, lucid, indulgent, illuminating the weak with support and encouragement, sharing his own light and knowledge without restriction or the slightest hesitation.
“We hold him in our memory as one of the most capable watch makers that ever lived. He is undoubtedly one of the most capable watchmakers who lived in any time and in any nation.”
Even after his death, Louis Moinet’s creations were celebrated with Napoleon’s Clock exhibited at the Exposition Universelle world fair in Paris in 1900.
Louis Moinet’s masterpieces have been preserved in major European museums such as the Louvre and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, the Château de Versailles, National Museum from Carillon to Street Organ, in the Netherlands, the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, Scone Palace in Scotland and the Palacio del Tiempo in Spain.
In the United States, Louis Moinet creations are present the White House and Jefferson’s Monticello Museum, Virginia.