The More-Than-Bearable Lightness Of Being Antoine Tavan
Can a classically styled dress watch be compared to the future-forward and decidedly un-dressy world of motorsport? When it comes to skeletonised watches, the answer is in fact “yes”. Indeed, that “un-dressy” word is particularly apt, as the point of comparison simply comes down to the act of undressing. Undressing the dial and movement in the case of Antoine Tavan 1805’s beautifully hand-crafted watches, to reveal their intricate mechanics and celebrate the watchmaker’s artistry. In the case of a sports car, undressing the body work to afford lightness, flexibility and aerodynamism.
Of course, less-is-more sparseness is par for the course in the stripped-back and uncompromising world of F1. But it may come as a surprise to learn that the original pioneer of the lightweight monocoque spaceframe, sheathed with thin alloy panels and mounted whole onto the chassis, was an Italian coachbuilder by the name of Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera, whose archive – in contrast to the prickly, vented forms of today’s hardcore racers – reads as classically and elegantly as a Tavan watch. Need we say any more than Aston Martin’s DB4GT? Or Maserati’s seminal grand tourer, the 3500 GT?
Just as Aston and The Trident were storied pioneers of both beauty and technology, Antoine Tavan himself was one of Geneva’s pioneers back in the 19th century, whose revolutionary refinements of the ticking “escapement” mechanism earned him “chronometer” prizes, with precision performance still hankered after by Switzerland’s modern-day brands.
It’s a tough act to follow and big shoes to fill, but Roger Zarzoso has revived Tavan’s name and is proving more than up to the challenge. In 1983 (at the youthful age of 22) he attended a watchmaking school, where he studied how to repairs clocks and timepieces. Subsequently he continued his education in Limoges, France and learnt the fine art of gemsetting, going on to work for companies like Christophe Claret, Zenith, Ulysse Nardin and Manufacture La Joux Perret. It was 2008 when he made leap of independence, establishing his own brand as Antoine Tavan 1805 in the heart of Watch Valley itself, in the town of Le Locle. A brave move, and a lonely one, working entirely solo, lost in his tiny universe of hair-thin bridges, wheels and springs, all within a space no bigger than a five-franc coin.
Zarzoso is one of very few who still skeletonises entirely by hand, with saw-frame cut-outs, fine-finished with metal files. The Antoine Tavan brand also asserts its exclusivity by hand-engraving every bit of sinuous bridgework, or setting with precious stones. Zarzoso works on individual timepieces for several months, sometimes years in the case of the more elaborate tourbillons, which can be inspired by horses, dragons or that most romantic of creatures, the bird of paradise.