‘Time Piece’: If You Only Watch One Film On Independent Watchmaking, Watch This One

In 2006, the daughter of a London-based watch collector friend of mine, Max Hellicar, became interested in her father’s watches, particularly those by independent watchmakers.

Max’s daughter’s name was Kat Mansoor, and at the time she was setting out to become a documentary film director. She and a few friends had co-founded a film production company called Animal Monday and they had already had some success in getting a couple of their documentaries commissioned for television.

Kat thought that a film on independent watchmakers might be interesting and asked Max if he knew a few she could talk to. Max replied, ”No, but I know someone who does,” and he called me.

I happily arranged for Kat and the rest of the Animal Monday team − Will Hood (sound) and Adam Lavis (editor) − to spend a few days in Switzerland meeting as many independent watchmakers as I could organize. The Animal Monday team then went back to the UK to think about what they had learnt.

A couple of months later, Kat contacted me to say that they thought that a short film featuring Philippe Dufour and Vianney Halter might be interesting and started work on a script that we bounced back and forth a few times.

Sunrise in Le Sentier from the film 'Timepiece'

Sunrise in Le Sentier from the film ‘Time Piece’

Money, money, money

As they had no funds to finance the documentary − accommodation, food and equipment rental are all expensive in Switzerland − they had decided to apply for a grant from the British Film Institute, which provides around £6,000 to one promising documentary project each year out of hundreds of submissions.

It sounded to me as though there was as much chance of this film being made as winning the lottery.

Bear in mind that this intrepid film production company consisted of what appeared to me to basically be three kids playing with a fancy camera. I was really only helping out because Kat was the daughter of a friend, not because I was expecting much in the way of a film.

And if you have ever read a film script, you’ll know it’s nothing like a book. Because much of a film is visual, it’s virtually impossible to imagine what the director has in mind from reading a rough synopsis.

Philippe Dufour in the film 'Timepiece'

Philippe Dufour from the film ‘Time Piece’

A few months later

But, surprise, surprise! A few months later I received notice that the British Film Council had selected Animal Monday’s proposed ten-minute documentary on two independent watchmakers that nobody had heard of within a short list of ten.

And then it was announced that it had made it into the top three!

Now, while at first I thought being taken from a list of hundreds into the top three was great news, it soon turned to the idea that the honor might be a cruel reward as it would encourage the entertainment company’s hope that it might actually win. Which would make the fall even harder if they didn’t.

I’m generally optimistic by nature, but couldn’t shake the thought, “What are the chances?”

Philippe Dufour at his bench from the film 'Time Piece'

Philippe Dufour at his bench from the film ‘Timepiece’

And the winner is . . . .

What were the chances? Well, pretty high, actually, as Animal Monday won the grant and the planning began. One of the conditions of the grant was that they work with a cinematographer, and Robin Fox came highly recommended. A cinematographer helps create that big-screen look.

So the work began: the availability of Vianney Halter and Philippe Dufour was confirmed, rental equipment (lighting, camera equipment, lenses, filters, booms, etc.) organized, flights and accommodation booked.

Fingers crossed for the weather, and the five days of filming began. I had no idea how much work was involved in creating a short documentary or how pre-planned each scene is.

Then it was all over and the months went by as untold hours of editing and creating the music took place.

Bear in mind that despite the work that went into the organization and filming, I wasn’t expecting anything special. To me these were young kids learning their craft and starting out, not seasoned professionals. I was expecting a nice film, a good film, but not a great film.

Then months later, a call

Then I got a call from my friend Max. He had just seen an early cut of the film and thought it was fantastic. I felt it was good news that things were nearing the end and I was looking forward to seeing the film, but as his daughter was responsible for the film, I thought to myself that naturally he would think it was great. That’s not exactly an unbiased review.

Vianney Halter from the film 'Time Piece'

Vianney Halter from the film ‘Time Piece’

Time Piece

A few weeks later I received a DVD and watched it on a large-screen television with good sound.

I was blown away.

As was everyone else who I showed it to as well, whether they knew anything about watchmaking or not.

So, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, I present you Time Piece.

If watching on a laptop or small screen, I recommend opening it up to full screen, then sit back and enjoy.

You might also enjoy Why Philippe Dufour Matters. And It’s Not A Secret.

8 replies
  1. Richard Baptist
    Richard Baptist says:

    Love this film! Short but goes into the mind of the artisans that make these wonderful pieces. Makes you understand that when you own one of these time pieces you own a piece of the person that created it. Great work!

  2. Eric
    Eric says:

    What’s the background music and how can I listen to it? I’ve been wondering about it for quite a while.

  3. Ghulam Gows
    Ghulam Gows says:

    For me, this 10 minute documentary successfully captures the core concepts of independent watch making in particular and quality craftsmanship in general. The beautiful portrayal of the two most reputed watchmakers and their desires to let the timeless techniques, arts and workmanship survive is what forms the true selling point. “Time Piece” perfectly conveys a silent message that in this world of high paced automation, the nonpareil works of gifted craftsmen and artisans have to face an opposition of seismic magnitude.


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