Samuel Gillioz, watchmaker and cabinetmaker – Le Temps

When we talk about wooden watches, the first image that comes to mind is that of a somewhat kitsch and cheap object. Kauri, the project of Samuel Gillioz, a 30-year-old from Geneva, quickly shatters these prejudices. Watches from him are not designed for green sores, but for true lovers of fine mechanics. Often owners of watches from very large manufacturers, their customers are looking for something unique that no one else has.

It was in a prestigious house that Samuel Gillioz started working as a movement designer-builder. More precisely in the holy of holies, Les Cabinotiers, the specialized watchmaking department of Vacheron Constantin. The same man who designed the world’s most complicated watch. The young designer-builder had been spotted by the brand when he was completing his training, during the presentation of his diploma project. He had more or less set himself the challenge of integrating an alarm clock into his school clock.

experience the adventure

The taste for challenges, the thirst to create, to develop new ideas and the dream of founding his own brand led him, in 2018, to leave everything, due to the lack of prospects for evolution. “I was 30 years old, with no children, and I told myself it was now or never to give up my comfort zone and try the adventure.” The first step in this new beginning is a trip to New Zealand with your partner. There, anyone who has always wanted to mix wood and steel discovers kauri. A revelation. These trees are over 30,000 years old. They were preserved thanks to the acidity of the swamps where they fell and where they are now unearthed, before being carbon-14-dated in the United States and resold. It is in this essence that he made his first model, shortly before the covid outbreak.

Read too: The Mysterious Zombie-Vampire Strain of the Kauri Pine

But what made a watchmaker fall so in love with this plant? “I’ve been working with wood for twelve years, I bought machines while still in watchmaking school, including a lathe from 1949 and a milling machine from 1973. This passion comes from childhood. We spent our family vacations with an uncle from Freiburg, who carved figurines out of raw wood with a knife. That fascinated me.” Samuel Gillioz uses his knowledge of metallic materials to tame the subtleties of wood and its reactions. It took him no less than seven years to achieve the perfect balance. “It’s a very difficult material to tame. A box, every facet finished with sandpaper, it requires no less than 12 steps and between four and six days of work. The wood expands and after each operation must be readjusted.”

In addition to kauri, which gave its brand its name, the watchmaker also works with Brazilian violet wood, one of the densest in the world, which presents attractive contrasts in terms of the veins, macassar ebony, a precious wood par excellence, as well as amaranth. Not without specifying that they all come with a Cites certificate – confirming that the conditions for authorization to trade are met, i.e. that it is legal, sustainable and traceable.

More atypically, the briar burl also adorns Kauri watches. “A non-precious wood, but with incredible characteristics. From all over the Mediterranean, it is a ball-shaped growth that forms in the heather, between the roots and the trunk. Despite being an anomaly, it is a very dense wood that is stable over time, with a characteristic vein of flame. It is mainly used by pipe makers in Saint-Claude, in the Jura”, explains Samuel Gillioz’s passionate gaze. Hearing him talk about each species like that, one would believe he was a carpenter.

Also wanting to be able to offer Swiss wood, whose density is guaranteed, he found his happiness near Zurich, with a start-up that uses a process developed at EPFL. “It’s a walnut heated and compressed five times its thickness.” Genevois’ idea is to give shape to wood that has history and only resort to shavings. “I want to sublimate the material and give it a second life. Some clients bring me essences from their garden.”

On a human scale

By launching himself in this way without an investor behind him, with the desire to remain completely independent, Samuel Gillioz was aware that he would not be able to accomplish everything immediately. So he initially gave up on developing his own movement, a step that requires significant capital, and instead works with a subcontractor. “I chose Soprod, which manufactures everything internally. All components of my watches are Swiss, with the exception of the sapphire crystal.”

But the watchmaker is stomping its feet and intends to arrive very soon with its manufacturing movement to gradually move up in the market. “I want to bring work into the plays and do things myself. It is a human-scale project that must remain so.”


Profile

1987 Born in Geneva, 31 August.

2008 Entrance to the Geneva School of Watchmaking.

2009 First mechanical watch offered by Richard Mille in the award ceremony for the best first-year student at the Grand Prix de l’Horlogerie de Genève.

2014 Arrival at the Vacheron Constantin watchmaking specialist workshop.

2019 Official launch of Kauri watches.


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