Ten years ago, my wife and her sisters planned a trip to Paris for her mom’s 60th birthday. To prepare for that trip she signed up for French lessons with a couple from the Western Alps temporarily living in the States. We became fast friends. Finally, 10 years later, it was my turn to head not only to the City of Lights, but this time, to visit our friends in the mountains of France as well.
Earlier this year, I was catching up with my friends Gabriel Vachette and Jérôme Burgert, the co-founders of Serica Watches, based in Paris. Serica is a relatively new watch brand, but they’ve managed to quickly establish themselves as an enthusiast favorite by creating clean, badgeless, modern watches that nod to vintage references, yet they also have a design language that’s all their own. I, of course, let them know of my pending visit to Paris and the roadtrip that would follow. I was thrilled to learn they’d be opening a new boutique right around the time when I’d be in town. The wheels instantly started cranking. I felt it’d make for a fun edition of Tool/Kit and they quickly agreed to lend me a model that I could pick up at the boutique toward the beginning of our excursion.
We’d be gone for a week, road-tripping from Paris to Chamonix and back, with plenty of stops and a pretty wide range of potential climates along the way. I love packing for trips. In fact, I’ve joked that sometimes I enjoy the packing more than the trip itself. Even though I’d say I’m a pretty minimalist packer, I’m the type who prefers to overpack by just a little bit, rather than leave an unforeseen necessity, for something like a change in the weather, behind. So this particular trip was a fun packing challenge to accept. Not to mention, Paris requires an added bit of panache to your wardrobe choices, because… let’s face it, it’s Paris!
To spruce up the wardrobe, I looked to a couple of brands who I knew would have the vibe I was going for, let’s call it: classical functionality. This is also a solid way to describe the look and feel of a Serica watch. I picked up a couple of striped shirts from my pals at Quaker Marine. Thanks to Coco, striped long-sleeves are basically France’s version of America’s plaid flannel. They’re a mission-critical staple and can be worn confidently and without it seeming too on the nose. Quaker Marine tossed in a waxed canvas bucket hat too, more on that later. I also snagged an outerwear solution in the form of the Chapman Jacket in grey-ish Sea Green, the Democratic All Day pants, and a Utility Shirt in Chambray all from Taylor Stitch, knowing that their pieces could come in handy.
To top off the kit, I turned to our friends over at Camera West for a loaner. I gave them the specs… looking for a no-frills, easy-to-use workhorse that would fit the overall vibe of the trip. Without hesitation, they sent me a pre-owned Leica Q2 calling it the new value-backed go-to, in light of the recent release of the Q3. It arrived just in time and, needless to say, I was stoked to give this setup a try. I instantly tossed it onto one of Topo Designs’ iconic climbing rope camera straps.
Arriving in Paris early on a Sunday morning is an interesting moment in time. You get to see the city slowly awaken and come to life. Obviously, the bakeries open first. The intoxicating aromas of buttery croissants and fresh baguettes had us stopping at nearly every bakery we stumbled upon as we weaved through the skinny streets below the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre. Little by little, the alleyways came alive with a mixture of locals, vendors, and yawning-yet-excited tourists like ourselves. We’d need to push all the way to the evening to get ourselves even somewhat on track with the time change. Pro tip: be sure to bring a basic canvas tote to collect all your baked goods since you can only eat so much at once.
Monday morning is a much wilder and bustling version of the city. After a petit déjeuner overlooking the reconstruction at Notre-Dame, we circumnavigated a vast array of school field trips across the Seine to a shop just around the corner from Victor Hugo’s apartment. It was Serica’s brand new boutique. Paris is downright hot in June, so we were extra excited when we were greeted by Gabriel, who welcomed us in from the heat. The boutique has a mixture of vintage decor, modern accessories, and a slew of tool watches all in line with Serica’s sleek aesthetic.
I knew that they’d just released a CSOC version of their popular 5303 diver, so I naturally assumed that’s what they’d want to feature. But Gabriel insightfully suggested, “You are traveling, you need a traveler’s watch.” He picked up their 8315 GMT Chronometer released at the Windup Watch Fair in New York City last October. With one glance at my getup, he swapped the strap to their charcoal grey tropic and began to explain the various ways you can use the Soprod C125 Caliber “Caller” style movement inside to track multiple time zones. We set the watch to Paris time, and the fourth, lollipop hand to East Coast time, where my kiddos were attempting to hold down the fort.
Though I’ve used 12 hour bezel watches to track multiple time zones in the past, I quickly realized this was actually my first time using a four-hand GMT watch, and a striking one at that. You can’t look at Serica’s 8315 and not be immediately drawn to the starkly contrasting 24 hour black and white bezel. It’s impactful to say the least, but useful as well. At first I was a little bummed that Gabriel hadn’t affixed one of their flat mesh bracelets; I’d always struggled with tropic straps in the past. However, this particular shade of grey—not too light, not too dark—complemented the black & white bezel so well. Not to mention, it was just the right length for my bang-on 6-inch wrist and the tail end of the strap didn’t protrude into view like my past attempts at tropics always seemed to do.
With the 8315 nicely strapped on, we bid adieu to Gabriel and headed back into the summer heat. I was very thankful for three things as the sun relentlessly beat down on us. First, I fully understood the benefits of a perforated tropic strap made of supple, yet pliable natural rubber. Second, I was beyond grateful to the folks at Quaker Marine for tossing their waxed canvas bucket hat into the mix. Its extra wide brim supplied the perfect amount of shade when trees were nowhere in sight and the sun was at its peak. Finally, I grew to love the benefits of gelato cones in the shape of flowers. Yeah, that’s right. Just trust me on this one. We finished out the day with a sunset view from the Eiffel Tower. Tomorrow, our road trip would begin.
There are literally no traffic rules in Paris, especially when it comes to vehicles of the two-wheeled variety. Our white and black Citroen C4 rental was no match for the agility of the swarm of motorcycles, scooters, and e-bikes that bobbed and weaved their way through the city’s skinny streets. But once we got onto the highway, it was a whole other story. Though we never reached Autobahn-level speeds, folks were bound by highway etiquette, which proved for some seriously smooth sailing—first stop, Château de Fontainebleau.
Just over an hour outside of Paris, the palace at Fontainebleau was a late summer to early autumn residence for multiple generations of French monarchs. Its cobblestone paths, Renaissance-style architecture, and Italian-influenced gardens provided a perfect chance to become a bit more proficient with Leica Q2, knowing what subject matters lay ahead.
Next stop was in the beautiful mountain town of Chambéry. I’ve been a big fan of Opinel knives for some time, and in anticipation of this trip I contacted their PR team and arranged for a rare behind-the-scenes factory tour. Opinel has been making their distinctive style of wooden-handled folding pocket knives since 1890.
Opinel’s seemingly small factory footprint hides their proficiency and efficiency quite well! We witnessed their now high-tech approach to the wood shaping of their various handle sizes. Thanks to their proprietary automation, blocks are almost instantly shaped, sanded, and polished with every ounce of sawdust captured and stored in a silo to be used as heating fuel for the following winter. Steel strips are continuously cut, sharpened, and polished into blades—24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And the team of artisans who assemble, test, and apply that final razor’s edge sharpness to each and every blade seemed to exude both joy and pride to work at a decidedly French institution that enjoys both icon status and global appeal.
As the tour was wrapping we had the chance to wave hello to François Opinel, the great-grandson of the founder. I was then given a stunning souvenir. Unlike any of my other Opinel knives, this was a unique limited edition called the N°08 Palmier Noir, with a blade made of Sandvik® 12C27M Stainless Steel and a handle carved from black palm wood. It was such an honor.
After a delicious dinner in Chambéry with, you guessed it, Opinel knives on the tables, we arrived at our longtime friends’ home in the mountains. The GMT hand of the noir et blanc Serica instantaneously reminded me that back on the East Coast, the kids were just getting out of school. We gave them all a quick call, consumed copious amounts of cheese with our friends and headed to bed for the next stage in our adventure: Mont Blanc.
Located in Chamonix, another two hours from our accommodations, Mont Blanc sits proudly in the French Alps, with epic views of the Swiss and Italian ones too. There are not one, but two cable car rides up, not to mention an elevator, but that only gets to the 12,604 ft summit of Mont Blanc’s closest neighbor, Aiguille du Midi. Or you can hoof it, with crampons, ice axes, ropes, and harnesses. We did the sightseer version this time, donning a few extra layers including the Taylor Stitch Chapman Jacket as a final windbreaker layer of protection from the sub-zero temps at the top of the neighboring observatory.
The views of the Chamonix valley below Mont Blanc’s nearby summit above were intermittently obstructed by constantly rolling cloud cover. But when the clouds broke, it was clearly worth the trip. We were certainly jealous of the alpinists using Aiguille du Midi as their basecamp for both ascents on foot and descents on skis, yet simultaneously satisfied with our own introductory experience to the French Alps.
After a couple more days of mountain living, exploring villages, and raiding fromageries, it was time to return to Paris, Cannonball Run style while striving to avoid speed traps. We returned our trusty rental and checked into our final hotel with just enough time to ditch the road trip clothes and don something a little more appropriate for dinner in the City of Lights. I finally had the chance to pair the Serica with the Chambray button-up I’d been saving for a moment just like this—proving that, in fact, I did not overpack! We made it over to a café overlooking the Arc de Triomphe just as the sun was setting. Checked the Serica’s GMT hand one more time and after a quick call to the kiddos, I looked at the Arc and remembered something our friend whispered to us back in the Alps as we gazed at white-tipped peaks… “Make a memory picture.”
Kyle Snarr is the Head of Partnerships at Worn & Wound