Time, With a Parisian Flair

Home/Time, With a Parisian Flair

Time, With a Parisian Flair

This post was originally published on this site

PARIS — At a time when luxury brands are racing to market with connected watches, the Parisian lifestyle retailer Merci is taking the road less traveled.

In September, it quietly introduced La Montre Merci, a.k.a. LMM-01. A deliberately unconnected model, it is simple, solid and designed for only one purpose: telling time.

The LMM’s retro-leaning style, which comes in mechanical or quartz versions, was influenced by vintage looks such as American military watches from the 1930s and the relatively obscure Longines 13zn step-case chronograph.

There are no bells, whistles or even a date display. The dial comes in black or white, with black or white hands. A red second hand and the address in red capital letters curving around the bottom of the dial — 111 Bd Beaumarchais Merci Paris — inject a shot of color.

A choice of 30 straps — in two-tone leather, smooth or distressed calfskin, nylon weave and fabric — gives the watch’s unisex aesthetic room for a little personal expression. In a clever bit of merchandising, the in-store display allows customers to slide the watch back and forth among the band options to assess different combinations.

Five hundred units of each model were produced for sale in the store and on its website; the mechanical version retails for 365 euros ($424), the quartz for €190.

Three years in the making, LMM was a pet project of Arthur Gerbi, Merci’s managing director. But to the 32-year-old entrepreneur, the watch represents more: It is style as an act of resistance to these face-paced times, even if that resistance lasts no longer than the few moments it takes to wind a watch.

To that end, Mr. Gerbi and the architect Jules Mesny-Deschamps, his longtime friend and business associate, compiled a 60-page manifesto titled “60 reasons to wear a watch in 2017,” which is included with each sale. The arguments range from the obvious (“to be on time, or measure tardiness”) to the esoteric. Mr. Gerbi’s favorite is a quote by the German educator and time researcher Karlheinz Geissler: “I can only be flexible if I have rituals, fixed moments.” And on page after page, like a flipbook, the second hands on a graphic rendering of the LMM advance.

As for outer packaging, a Japanese-made, stapled box in folded gray cardboard flouts the customary codes for better timepieces.

During a recent visit to the Used Book Cafe in Merci, Mr. Gerbi looked only slightly disheveled. He had just arrived in Paris from Tokyo, where he often travels with Mr. Mesny-Deschamps.

For years, Mr. Gerbi said, the two had been toying with the idea of designing a watch. Then in 2015, when he left a career in commercial real estate to join Merci, they found their platform.

A popular destination since its opening in 2009 on the then-scruffy fringe of the Marais, Merci has always been a family affair. It was created by Marie-France and Bernard Cohen, the founders of the children’s clothing brand Bonpoint. Then, in 2013, it was purchased by Gérard and Danielle Gerbi, founders of the women’s ready-to-wear brand Gérard Darel.

Mr. Gerbi, the youngest of the couple’s three children, runs the business in the same friends-and-family style. His sister-in-law, Valérie Gerbi, is artistic director and oversees women’s fashion. Daniel Rozensztroch, who founded the store with the Cohens, also is an artistic director (and, Mr. Gerbi said, a compulsive watch collector). Mr. Mesny-Deschamps, for his part, shrugged before defining his role as “right-hand man.”

In contrast to the aloof glamour of the Golden Triangle, the nickname of Paris’s wealthy Eighth Arrondissement where many luxury houses are based, Merci’s allure (and success) has always come from being many things to many people. The sprawling building houses a selection of men’s and women’s clothing and housewares as well as three restaurants, all making Merci a favorite fashion week hangout. It is also a pioneer in socially conscious retailing: Since the Cohens opened its doors, a portion of the store’s proceeds have supported charitable works in Madagascar.

Mr. Gerbi, a longtime watch aficionado, says he reads people by the timepieces they wear and how they wear them — pristine or well loved, expensive or affordable, left wrist or right, face in or face out. As a yoga devotee and new father, he also believes that now it is more important than ever to “use time to anchor oneself.”

“Being connected to everything means being connected to nothing,” he said of these gadget-driven times. “It’s not what I believe in personally. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ll resist as long as possible. You have to know when to put down the phone and just be present.”

For example, he didn’t download anything for his 13-hour flight from Tokyo to Paris, preferring instead to lug along magazines and reconnect with what he called “the pleasure of paper.”

Saying you’re going to design a watch might play well at a dinner party, but as Mr. Gerbi soon discovered, actually making it happen was a different matter.

When Mr. Gerbi and Mr. Mesny-Deschamps started working on the watch, the only nonnegotiable feature was the Swiss-made ETA 2801-2 movement. Using what Mr. Gerbi described as sheer obstinacy, they had gotten the Swatch Group company, one of the world’s largest producers of watches and movements, to supply what was essentially a start-up. “We knew exactly what we wanted,” he said, adding that “any collector could take a knife to the case, pry it open and see how truthful” they are that it has an ETA part. (The quartz model features a Ronda 513 movement.)

Mr. Mesny-Deschamps said the two men stressed over at least a thousand details. “If Arthur and I agree on something right away, it usually means something’s amiss,” he said.

They settled on a diameter of 33 millimeters (“otherwise, the watch wears you,” Mr. Mesny-Deschamps said). Other features include a Perspex crystal (for a vintage feel), a polished step case (the term for a case with a ridge or step around the crystal), a brushed finish, Helvetica typeface and curved lugs.

If the watch’s success is measured by its acceptance beyond the Merci community, then it is a hit. It had favorable reviews on sites such as the well-regarded watch blog Hodinkee and admiring comments from bloggers like François-Xavier Overstake, who said that an executive at a top-end watchmaking brand brought the LMM to his attention.

Mr. Gerbi attributes the watch’s success to the persistence that he and Mr. Mesny-Deschamps devoted to the project.

“Merci is not about status, it is a moment in time,” he said. “When you have the time and the means of expression, you might as well say as much as possible.”

By | 2017-11-17T09:45:03+00:00 November 17th, 2017|Comments Off on Time, With a Parisian Flair