By Jonathan Kopp
Since last Friday we’ve heard a lot of buzz about the Harry Winston Opus XIII, but this time not in a good way. Its designer, the independent watchmaker Ludovic Ballouard, and the Swatch Group, who became the owner of the brand in 2013, entered into what turned out to be similar to warfare.
In the fact, one day Harry Winston did a deal with Ludovic Ballouard to design the Opus XIII. The renowned Opus watch collection is very well-known not only because of the complexity of the timepieces that make it up, but also by the watchmakers who created these micromechanical masterpieces. We could include some prestigious names like François-Paul Journe, Emmanuel Bouchet, Vianney Halter, Felix Baumgartner (Urwerk), Greubel Forsey, or Christophe Claret. In the end, this will become a big profit for Ludovic Ballouard, who even if he didn’t necessarily need to be highlighted, this realization would be a great showcase of his work for all to see.
Well, unfortunately, we were not counting on the acquisition of Harry Winston by the Swatch Group a few months before the official presentation of this exceptional piece.
While Ludovic Ballouard had already conducted all of the research and development, he then decided to take charge of the realization of the piece by quadrupling the teams working on it. If the contract is well-respected by the new owners of Harry Winston, there is no risk for Ludovic because he will be reimbursed on all sales to come and which he would deliver. This is the basic contract that we all know and that is used in the industry quite often. But it didn’t seem to please the Swatch Group which preferred to change the rules of the game.
It all started at Baselworld 2013.
While Ludovic Ballouard had done dozens of demonstrations to customers and to the press, four out of five pieces had worked perfectly, they asked him nicely to leave the booth in advance compared to what was originally planned. It looked like the calm before the storm. Nevertheless, with a mutual agreement, Ludovic Ballouard then continued the optimization of the Opus XIII, which obviously was not quite ready to be put on the market. The optimization and adjustments must be done so that there is no need for the watch to return after delivery.
The Swatch Group had passed some tests of the Opus XIII in its own laboratory while the contract specified that they must be done in an independent laboratory which was a disturbing breach of contract. In short, the Swatch Group laboratory findings reported that the piece would show serious defects and that it would even be unable to enter into production. This was surprising as all the pieces on display at Baselworld had worked perfectly. Inevitably, Ludovic Ballouard denies the report and requests the return of the pieces for his own personal inspection. To add insult to injury, the Swatch Group refused to send him the pieces and thus from November 2014 it was, therefore, impossible for Ludovic Ballouard to see the defects by himself, and even less to remedy them. Yet, in the contract it says that he is fully responsible for that.