Introducing SEMPER & ADHUC, a Young French Brand Making Old New Again

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When someone like Colin de Tonnac from Bordeaux, France blips onto the horological radar screen we so carefully monitor, we all sit up a little straighter and zoom in for a closer look. With his new company SEMPER & ADHUC, Monsieur de Tonnac is bound to raise far more noise than a blip as he gives new life to vintage wristwatch movements by setting them behind charming new dials and into lovely new cases.

The enterprise resembles what Colorado’s Vortic Watch Company is doing with vintage American pocket-watch movements, but SEMPER & ADHUC doesn’t weather the challenges of making larger movements work on the wrist. SEMPER & ADHUC’s watches are quite small, in fact, reflecting the size trends of the decades between the 1930s and 1960s from which SEMPER & ADHUC sources its movements. Notably, and intentionally, this is exactly the pre-quartz wristwatch era.

Though movements for the first run are Swiss, all other parts are French, and specifically from the lower half of France. That’s an incredibly small radius to source all of a watch’s parts from—or anything—these days, and de Tonnac clearly takes pride in the inherent conservation that springs up when working regionally. As one who grew up among the deteriorating remains of American industry, de Tonnac’s instinct to re-use materials and source new ones locally resonates deeply.

de Tonnac, who is just 30-years-old, studied watchmaking for five years, holds a Diploma of Crafts in watchmaking, and went on to work at Patek Phillipe in their quality control department and then as one of their watch laboratory technicians. This isn’t the kind of pedigree we typically see from one-person start-ups, and his expertise may account for the strength of the ideas, designs, and craftsmanship that go into these watches.

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Semper means “forever” and adhuc means “so far.” That’s poetry right there, saccharine in almost any other context (think Rom-Com), but poignant and cool here. The SEMPER & ADHUC logo features three Fates from Greek mythology, one who spins a thread, another who unwinds it, and the third who cuts it, symbolizing our birth, the passage of time, and the abrupt snip-snip of mortality. Against all odds, the logo’s poetic device works without a hint of grandiosity.

Part of the reason all of this poetry works is that the watches counterbalance it with their earthy charm. I’m no expert in regional French styles, but these dials have an old-school vibe in which the hand of the maker is obvious and compelling. These dials reminds me of traditionally printed textiles from Provence—paisleys and roosters come to mind—and the cream dial with the red print is especially “French” to my American eye. This aesthetic has seen a revival of late here in the USA, but I’ve never seen anything like it on a watch dial before.

For the first run of watches, de Tonnac has chosen to go with only hours and minutes, a choice which helps these watches exude exceptional calm. Slowing time is a stated goal for de Tonnac who, like so many of us, looks to mechanical wristwatches as a panacea to what he calls the “always on communication” of digital life. The case shapes are similarly mellow (and calming) with simple, gentle connections rendered in softly brushed stainless steel.

And, believe it or not, SEMPER & ADHUC is offering these watches à la carte. For any watch, one can choose the crown orientation, and eventually one will be able to consult on hand colors, dial markings, engravings, and more. I can’t help but imagine that de Tonnac’s time at Patek Phillipe made such offers seem de rigueur to this ambitious young man.

Everything about SEMPER & ADHUC seems dedicated to slowing down: slow the pace of production by operating as a one-man show; slow the use of materials by revitalizing preexisting movements; slow the movement of the hands by removing the running seconds. Taken together, the entire enterprise feels uniquely sane.

Though de Tonnac has already invested considerably in SEMPER & ADHUC, the final creations will be available via Kickstarter starting in September. Watch this space for more information on this promising young French watchmaker. SEMPER & ADHUC

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At age 7 Allen fell in love with a Timex boy's dive watch his parents gave him, and he's taken comfort in wearing a watch ever since. Allen is especially curious about digital technology having inspired a revival of analog technology, long-lasting handmade goods, and classic fashion. He lives in a one-room schoolhouse in The Hudson Valley with his partner and two orange cats.
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