Seconde Hands: the Parisian firm injecting vintage watches with nerd humour

The work of Seconde/Seconde/ is the most entertaining (and transgressive) take on vintage watches we've seen in years

Seconde/Seconde/
Seconde/Seconde/

“Talking about it sounds weird,” admits Seconde/Seconde/ founder Romaric André, referring to his first, ill-fated business venture. After graduating from business school in 2005, the Parisian partnered with a childhood friend and established Celsius X VI II, a brand that made an ultra high-end mobile phone with an integrated tourbillon. The hinge of the clamshell phone would wind the mechanism each time it was opened or closed.

Ridiculous as it may sound, the project attracted venture capital funding, had Richard Mille on the board and H Moser boss Edouard Meylan as co-CEO. “Sometimes I like to consider this project like a baby Richard Mille,” André reflects. “Because Mille was showing to people that you don’t need 100 years of history to approach the high-end mechanical market.”

Even in the heady pre-crash days of the Noughties, an asking price of €250,000 per phone proved excessive, and the business eventually folded in 2015. But it left André with a network of suppliers in the watch industry, and an evident passion for fusing horology and technology in the most unpredictable ways. “I got really hooked on this business, with all of the workshops in the Jura, I liked this part.”

Seconde/Seconde/ founder Romaric André
Seconde/Seconde/ founder Romaric André
Seconde/Seconde/

For the next two years, André went on to work with start-ups in Paris, though watches were never far from his thoughts. “I was still crazy about watches. I like vintage watches; I like simple, reliable, affordable watches. I like the patina.”

The genesis for Seconde/Seconde/ came when André was looking at the rich Champagne dial of a vintage Chronographe Suisse watch on his computer. “I drew a white line on it and when I saw the contrast between the Champagne dial and the pure white I was like, ‘Wow, that’s cool!’ But afterwards I realised just a colour was not enough; just repainting hands was not strong enough. What would be the message? I didn’t want to be a T-shirt with a message on it, I wanted to be a little bit more subtle than that. So I had to behave not like a designer just putting flashy colours on old vintage stuff, I had to use my own knowledge of vintage.”

Seconde/Seconde/
"Our main tools": Seconde/Seconde/ combines watchmaking with a dry French humour and hipster aesthetic
Seconde/Seconde/

André refined the concept further in search of missing “relevance”. His first progress was realising he could be disruptive with vintage watches as long as he was respectful. He decided to remove and replace a single hand but supply the original part in a glass vial alongside the watch. “I’m not suggesting my clients put back the original hand but they would be able to do so one day. I felt at this point I was being really respectful in not binning the nature of the watch but totally creating a new product. I’d found a balance for the concept.”

Restricting his source material to watches produced before 1990 and no larger than 37mm in diameter, André then decided to make a tongue-in-cheek cryptic statement with each piece, usually rooted in pop culture, through the pairing of the replacement hand and the watch itself. For example, Batch 003 is based on a Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Memovox alarm watch with a distinctly mechanical sound, so André replaced its second hand with the image of a bee.

Seconde/Seconde/
Air King. Get it?
Seconde/Seconde/

This seam of quirky humour is crucial to the whole enterprise; laying a finger on vintage watches is a sensitive area at the best of times, let alone replacing the second hand of a Patek Philippe Calatrava with a Nineties-style Windows pointer icon. André’s creations tread a fine line, but are always built with quality and respect in mind; what looks like a Photoshopped joke is in fact a sensitive, loving tribute delivered with levity and a knowing humour not often encountered in the collector world.

Seconde/Seconde/
Two examples of replacement hands
Seconde/Seconde/

“I want my stuff to be considered by people who know about vintage watches,” he rails. “I don’t want to be too easy to understand. When people ask me the meaning I don’t usually tell them. It’s your problem, the why; you’d lose all the magic. I prefer to give clues, to be elusive, cryptic. Sometimes I just want to be funny. I want to play the art card, I like to be ironic. I put a ‘pause’ symbol on an Omega Chronostop replacing the chronograph hand: it’s to tell you to stop rushing, live your life. But who am I tell you to stop rushing — I’m not a life coach.”

Seconde/Seconde/
Four of the brand’s projects: a Rolex Oyster Precision, an Omega Constellation, an Omega Chronostop and a Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox
Seconde/Seconde/

By replacing second and chronograph hands with graphics, illustrations and logos, he is happy to remove functionality in favour of creativity. To deliver these miniature works of art, André turned to France’s last surviving hand manufacturer, La Pratique in Morteau, a stone’s throw from Le Locle on the other side of the French/Swiss border.

“I’m not the first guy to have an idea — when they see you coming they are not judging the idea but whether you are serious about it. Since I’ve been doing this I’ve received enquiries about custom orders, so I guess [La Pratique] will have heard everything in the last 30 years and they have to separate out all these personal initiatives from real business. But once we’d met a few times I guess they realised I was serious,” he says.

Seconde/Seconde/
The original hands are always provided with the watch
Seconde/Seconde/

But any industrialised supplier would be wary of creating such elaborate designs (despite their graphic nature the new hands must be manufactured using the same exacting tolerances as any other hand before being painted and varnished) in such small volumes.

André has certainly taken an expensive path when it comes to creating the hands, as the tooling costs to produce a single design remain the same whether the order is 10 or 10,000. While the watches he sells are all technically unique — as no vintage watch will have aged the same way — they are “produced” in small batches of differing sizes depending on how many examples of a specific watch he can source, usually between three and 12 pieces. André orders 20 pieces of each hand design which allows for fitting to finished watches plus spares. Each watch is authenticated and fully serviced and will be delivered with a custom-designed strap produced by Bouveret in Besançon.

Seconde/Seconde/
A Zenith pilot’s chronograph accessorised with a Millennium Falcon second hand
Seconde/Seconde/

News of the venture was sent out ahead of Baselworld and meetings at the show set as a barometer to gauge reaction, which in general has been positive especially on Instagram, with the brand having already taken orders through the social media channel. “It’s so powerful,” says André. “You’ve got the product and people are reacting immediately. It’s crazy.”

The entire proposition of Seconde/Seconde/ is so polished and stylishly realised that while it’s obvious André has learned innumerable lessons since the days of Celsius X VI II he has, in other ways, stuck to his guns. “I like to think a little differently. Is it smart to put a mechanical device on a digital mobile phone? Maybe, maybe not, but you don’t know, so let’s find out! I’m doing the same now. Is it relevant to play with vintage? People buy vintage watches because they are vintage, so why would you put a flashy yellow hand on it? But to me it makes sense because it creates a contrast on the dial, a war between two different time periods.”


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