With its signature rotating discs, Trilobe watches have shown a refreshing, avant-garde twist on mechanical watchmaking. We sat down with CEO and founder Gautier Massonneau to hear the makings of this next-gen brand, his creative process and the Parisian pride.
“It’s fun. I mean, I haven’t been ‘working’ a single day for the last five or seven years,” Gautier Massonneau, shared with a warm smile during our interview. Pure passion is unmistakable in the face of the CEO, founder and creative director of Trilobe who was visiting Singapore. Prior to starting the brand, the 33-year-old born-and-raised French had nothing to do with watches. His parents were architects while Massonneau himself came from a finance background with an impressive resume that featured work in project and infrastructure development in Tokyo, Dubai, and even southeast Africa.
“But, growing up, it has always been in our family DNA to play with shapes and textures. We liked interesting, intellectual challenges and would question why things are or aren’t done a certain way,” said Massonneau. He went on to joke, “For example, why did the English choose to drive on the left? That was my thought this morning.”
Photo: Gautier Massonneau, founder of Trilobe
TRILOBE: THE ORIGIN STORY
Evidently, Massonneau has always been inherently curious. While some people would spend ages looking for the perfect watch, the Trilobe founder had a different approach. “I was looking for my first watch and I wanted something very different yet classic. I was eyeing the A. Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk but at 24 years old, I didn’t have that kind of budget. So I decided to do it myself.”
As a habitual self-learner, Massonneau pored over books, attempted calculations and drawings to learn how to make a watch. “It ended up nowhere because watchmaking is very difficult. It took me two years to realise I needed help. I turned to a Swiss partner and decided to return to France to start the brand. We officially launched Trilobe in December 2018 and so, it’s been five years since.”
Photo: Trilobe Les Matinaux
TRILOBE: A BRIEF TIMELINE
The first watch that Trilobe released was the Les Matinaux (The Morning), named after a mid-century poetry book by Rene Char. Featuring three rotating discs and three pointers in the shape of the brand’s signature trefoil logo, it garnered attention for its unique way of telling time. It was the culmination of a friendship born with Jean-Francois Mojon after a successful first meeting that resulted in Massonneau missing his flight. “I had the chance to meet Jean-Francois Mojon in Geneva and it was meant to be a 30- or 60-minute appointment. I was living in Dubai at the time and I was scheduled to fly back in the afternoon. He fell in love with the project and so, time flew by with us just discussing ideas.”
After a few years of working with Mojon and Chronode, Massonneau then teamed up with Le Cercle des Horlogers to develop their own patented X-Centric calibre. Successfully completed in 2020, it now powers every Trilobe watch. By 2021, the second Trilobe watch, Nuit Fantastique (Fantastic Night) – inspired by a 1920 fiction piece by novelist Stefan Zweig – made its debut. The third watch, Une Folle Journee (A Crazy Day), which takes creative notes from French playwright and watchmaker Beaumarchais, was revealed at Watches and Wonders 2022. In the same year, Trilobe’s Nuit Fantastique Dune was awarded GPHG’s Petite Aiguille prize.
Photo: Trilobe Nuit Fantastique Dune
THE MEANING OF COLLABORATIONS
On the side, Trilobe has also worked on collaborations, including one with Parisian cabinetmaker Elie Bleu and another with French conceptual artist Daniel Buren. When asked on his approach with collaborations, Massonneau admitted his love for the arts. “Daniel Buren is one of the greatest French artists alive and there’s a funny story. We met him through Kamel Mennour, his gallerist, and for our initial meeting, Buren said he didn’t understand the point of it because firstly, he hates watches and, secondly, he has never done any collaborations before,” Massonneau reminisced.
“We spent three hours explaining our vision to him – how we’re not doing watches per se, but pieces of art that do tell time in the end. As Jean-Claude Biver said, you don’t spend $100,000 to tell time. If you do, you’re an idiot because you’re better off buying an Apple Watch.”
Going back to the topic of collaborations as a whole, however, the Trilobe CEO firmly believes in limiting them, while admitting that despite the easy cashflow it brings in, it risks killing their core collections. “We want to build the maison, so I don’t think it’s the right way to go when we consider the value of the brand in the long run.”
Photo: Trilobe La Reciproque Clock, collaboration with Daniel Buren
INSPIRATION AND CREATIVE PROCESS
“I love watchmaking but it’s not the primary source of inspiration. Paris is the real muse, being surrounded by its culture, food, and architecture,” claimed Massonneau. He added that reading helps too, particularly science fiction (he recommended the ‘Three-Body Problem’ trilogy by Chinese science fiction author Liu Cixin). However, he confessed that the only flaw of not being based in Switzerland is the challenge of nurturing relationships with partners. “On the other hand, a Parisian environment is great for nurturing creativity.”
The local architecture and interior are among the clear influences. The Sainte-Chapelle rose windows served as the inspiration behind the openworked floral-pattern lattice of the Les Matinaux. Meanwhile, the chandelier in the Paris Opera House was the reference for the diamond-set version of Une Folle Journee. With collections that constantly spark surprise and marvel, and as someone who had carved out a path of making something very different, we had to ask if there was any pressure of answering the question ‘what’s next’? He answered with much ease:
“It’s funny because we mainly had a French audience when we first launched the brand. I’m a born-and-raised Parisian so I think we are the worst kind of people when it comes to appreciating something. You know how New York has those ‘I love New York’ T-shirts? In Paris, we have ‘I love Rien, I am Parisian’, which means ‘I love nothing because I’m Parisian’. That says a lot. It’s interesting because if you can convince a Parisian snob, like me, that something is cool, then you can convince everyone.”
Massonneau added that people’s mindsets have changed too, with the pandemic being a huge factor in boosting the independent watchmaking scene. “At first, yes, we had these Parisian people who asked ‘what’s next?’ but we’ve proven over the last five years that we can have three completely different collections that still apply the same base movement.”
“I like to prove by example. We’ve had yellow jackets and strikes in France, Covid, and almost a year of war in Ukraine – and still, we have shown that we can be super creative and do cool stuff. Creativity is not an issue. That’s the easiest part, surprisingly,” he added.
Photo: Trilobe Une Folle Journee Diamant
TRILOBE: FIVE YEARS AFTER ITS INCEPTION
As a young independent watch brand, Trilobe undoubtedly gained quick and deserving attention among enthusiasts and collectors. But how much did the brand change since day one? Massonneau chuckled at the question as he answered how everything from the business plan back then didn’t fall through.
“The ambition has always been there so that hasn’t changed, but how we run the business has evolved. At the beginning, we didn’t foresee building a team with a watchmaker because we felt that we just needed a good watchmaker subcontractor in Switzerland,” he said.
But as the brand grew, Massonneau and his team understood better what Trilobe needed to match their ambition. They knew they told time differently and they wanted to tell their story differently – with an added twist. “We concluded that it was extremely important to have our own watchmaker and to recreate the story, especially since Breguet left Paris 200 years ago, there has been no watch manufacturer in Paris. That became the tipping point for us and it has been an exciting project. We now have six in-house watchmakers and a workshop. It’s key for us to do things on our home-ground and home happens to be Paris.”
Photo: Trilobe Secret
TRILOBE’S THREE PILLARS OF VALUE
Playing on the meaning behind ‘Trilobe’, we asked Massonneau the three pillars of values that the brand and its watchmaking art stand for, and his answer perfectly encapsulates why many believe Trilobe’s future is bright in the indie watchmaking scene.
“Creativity and differentiation are the first two, but not for the sake of being different. Anyone can come up with a watch that looks different in just five minutes. The real challenge is to be able to do something that is different, elegant and subtle. It has to make sense today, would have made sense 100 years back and it will make sense 100 years later,” Massonneau answered.
“Another one would be true personalisation. To me, that’s what luxury is all about. This vision is embodied in our ‘Secret’ collection where the client can choose a date, time and location corresponding to an important moment – whether it’s their first kiss or wedding day. We then put the starry sky from that night onto the watch. It’s called ‘Secret’ because you can show the dial to everyone but if you don’t share the story behind it, no one will know. True luxury has to be for yourself,” he continued.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.