Lebeau-Courally: From Gunsmithing To Haute Horlogerie
As I am always on the lookout for good independent brands in fine watchmaking, I was quite pleased to meet Laurens Peeters, director of Lebeau-Courally, in the hallways of Baselworld 2016. At his booth in the Palace, I had the opportunity to learn more about the company.
Founded in 1865 by Auguste Lebeau in Liège, Belgium, Lebeau-Courally was then first and foremost a high-end hunting rifle manufacturer. Ferdinand Courally joined the company in 1896 with the goal of expanding internationally. Three ownership changes ensued up to 2010 when it was taken over by Belgian industrialist Joris Ide.
The company was in serious financial difficulty at this point and Ide decided to branch into a new luxury sector for the brand, one that followed from his second passion: horology The parallel between the worlds of fine watchmaking and hunting rifles starts with the degree of engineering and craftsmanship they both require and they even share the same vocabulary: caliber, lever, barrel, decoration.
A watch manufacture
At the beginning, the Lebeau-Courally collection was rather generic powered by movements from ETA and Technotime. The key design elements were created by Antoine Tschumi (whose clients include Greubel Forsey) and include a distinctive “locking lever” (which later became a moon phase adjuster) emulating the locking levers on the brand’s handcrafted hunting arms.
But this was not enough for Ide, who wanted a true manufacture to acquire credibility and legitimacy in the watch industry. So he bought Innovation Manufacture Horlogère SA in 2014, taking over the Julien Coudray brand at the same time, a creation of IMH’s Fabien Lamarche.
So Ide now owns a true manufacture with two brands to develop.
The new Lebeau-Courally models are based for the most part on an oversized moon phase with intricate details at 6 o’clock. Red and white gold versions of it even come with grand feu enamel dials. Everything is completed in-house thanks to the 46 crafts integrated within IMH, including enameling, engraving, guilloche, and finishing. Both brands benefit from this vertical structure.
IMH confidentially acts a movement supplier for other brands as well. Currently, the third party business comprises 80 percent of the company’s revenues as the two in-house brands require significant financial resources to develop..
Top priorities are distribution and creativity
Distribution is the battle horse of all independent brands. Therefore, Lebeau-Courally targets retailers specialized in independent brands in order not to go head-on with big brands.
And the brand wants to reach collectors looking to differentiate themselves. Its historical Belgian origins anchor it well in Benelux countries, but it would like to reach broader connoisseur markets like Italy, France, Japan, Dubai, and Russia.
Peeters relates that he would also like to capitalize on the high-end hunting rifle network, where there is a plethora of watch aficionados.
As a niche brand, Lebeau-Courally needs to be creative to gain visibility. It works on tailored events with retailers and collector visits to its manufacture in Le Locle for watches and Liège for firearms. Bridging watches and guns is actually a great opportunity to stand out in an extremely competitive environment.
Lebeau-Courally currently produces about 900 timekeepers per year, though it has the production capacity for up to 3,000.
Growth potential exists: it has the tools and distinctive “DNA.” All it now needs is to be out there to meet potential customers.
For more information, please visit www.lebeau-courally.com.
Quick Facts Phase de Lune
Case: 43 mm, stainless steel, white gold, red gold
Movement: manually wound manufacture Caliber LC0040
Functions: hours, minutes; date, moon phase
Price: 12,500 Swiss francs in stainless steel; 29,000 Swiss francs in red gold, 35,000 Swiss francs in white gold