Collector Commissions: Bespoke Sartory Billard SB05 With Exotic Meteorite, Aventurine, And Lapis Lazuli Dial
It’s been quite the few months for me to discover, handle, and photograph my friends’ commissioned timepieces! First, there was the lovely bespoke Christian Klings wristwatch owned by my pal “Chuck,” then the pair of pieces by Torsti Laine with collector group 49 Crowns. And now it’s a stunning Sartory Billard SB05 recently acquired by a long-time friend I’ll call “Lorenzo.”
If memory serves (and despite advancing age, I’m quite certain that it does), Lorenzo was a fixture in the Northern California watch scene well before I began to meet other local enthusiasts in the early 2000s. As now, his collection in those days had an eclectic feel, with pieces that included a Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde with paillonnée dial, a sweet A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 with a guilloche mother-of-pearl dial, several Habrings, and a watch that he bought from me, the No. 1 Speake-Marin Shimoda in red gold that indicated the time with a single hand blued to a deep purple hue.
More recently, the center of gravity of his assortment has migrated toward tool and dive watches and chronographs, but his collection still displays significant variety.
He has never been one to follow the crowd and his good taste, deep knowledge, and generosity of spirit have endeared him to successive generations of new enthusiasts while sustaining his status within the old guard. It was therefore no surprise that when he contacted me to see whether I might be interested in checking out his most recent acquisition the piece was both stunning visually and a bit off the beaten path in its source.
When I asked Lorenzo about the genesis of his interest in Armand Billard and the journey that resulted in this particular watch, the path led back to one of the usual suspects. “I found Armand when I first saw Chuck’s blue-dial SB04. I was stunned at the color. Very lustworthy!” he explained. “Then Chuck posted a picture of the SB05 prototype and then my head was spinning. I like all watches, but truly have a soft spot for subsidiary seconds that comes from my pocket watch collecting days. I mentioned my infatuation to our favorite local watchmaker, Briana Le, who as it turns out knows Armand and introduced me to him in September of 2021.”
“At this point, Armand didn’t have his website as complete with examples as it is now, so to generate some ideas of what I wanted in a bespoke watch I spent a few weeks thinking of some of my past ‘regrets.’ Immediately the lapis-dial red gold vintage Memovox that passed through my collection came to mind. I also thought of the first Lange Saxonia Aventurine dial that I saw in the Paris boutique in 2018 but found a bit too dressy at the time, and finally the new Rolex Meteorite Daytona, which I’d love to own but that is out of my price range. I passed all these ideas to Armand and Briana, and Armand came back quickly with computer renderings that just blew me away.”
“As far as any theme for the design goes, my thinking was along the lines of using several natural materials. It wasn’t until [Kari Voutilainen’s dial factory] Comblémine finished the dial and Armand both sent me some preliminary photos and mentioned the idea of ‘outer space’ that I recognized that twist as well,” Lorenzo explained.
Outer space on a watch dial
As I had the opportunity to inspect this watch in detail, the “outer space” theme became more and more evident. The framed aventurine central dial has a depth that allows us easily to imagine we are looking through a maze of galaxies toward the far edges of the universe.
While we’re here, take a look at those hands! You’d think after all these years there could be nothing new in watch hands; but the characteristic Sartory Billard hands with their micro-blasted stubby central sections and shaped, polished extensions are like nothing else I’ve seen.
Framing the porthole of our spaceship is a ring of meteorite, a true space material. If you check out the details in the photo below of the specific piece used on this dial, you will see a fascinating variety of crystalline structures and subtle colors that would occupy me with a loupe for many hours.
Atop, but not obscuring the meteorite, is a ring of synthetic sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating and printed indices, appearing almost like a map of the zodiac or a navigational tool for our space traveler. Finally, in the subdial for seconds we see an inset of lapis lazuli with its own tiny flecks of included gold. Is that subdial a closeup view of part of the larger image? A nearby planet looming into our perspective? A data display temporarily quiet allowing us to contemplate the outside view?
Once you start staring at this dial, the possibilities seem almost endless.
Not just a dial
The dial of the Sartory Billard SB05 is spectacular, but there’s more to this watch – and more to customize. Lorenzo wanted to stay away from precious metals for this piece, which still left him with a choice among steel, titanium, and tantalum. In the end he went with stainless steel.
As seen in the photo below, the case made by Voutilainen-Cattin to Billard’s specifications, features bold shapes and a combination of brushed, polished, and micro-blasted surfaces. I particularly like the blasted look of the case band; it would have been simpler to just brush it to match the adjacent surfaces of the lugs, but for me the depth of the darker blasted areas both provides visual interest and helps to make the piece less formal and more of a daily wearer.
The movement is a La Joux-Perret Caliber 7380, finished cleanly and given a dark grey metallic NAC treatment.
“Right from the beginning I was very comfortable with the hand-wound La Joux-Perret 7380,” said Lorenzo: “I knew I wanted a manual wind movement as I always felt that my Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Paillonnée really should have had a hand-wound instead of the Frédéric Piguet automatic.”
While some of the detail work including the snailing used by Billard is a bit assertive for my tastes, I feel that the movement and its finishing stand up well to the quality of the rest of the watch. And the choice of a dark grey movement surface finish really works for me in unifying the movement with the look of the case band and the dark, blasted relief sections of the inscriptions on the rear bezel.
Sleepless in Silicon Valley
If there’s one thing about having the luxury of nearly infinite choice, it’s the nagging feeling once you’ve picked that you somehow have gotten it wrong. In Lorenzo’s words: “In the time between signing off on the design and receiving the timepiece, I had a hundred different buyer’s remorse/re-design moments, where I doubted the whole thing. And at the same time, Torsti Laine was creating the 49 Crowns watches, which if I hadn’t already committed to Armand, I would have ordered. Had I made the right choice?”
There’s also the second guessing that comes with options not exercised. “Armand offered to engrave the bridge with something personal as long as it was shorter than 18 characters; I never could come up with anything within that constraint, and that I deeply regret,” Lorenzo added.
If you’re waiting for the part of the story about frustrating delays, you’ll have to look elsewhere as Lorenzo reported. “Once I agreed to the design and placed a deposit, it was about nine months. Armand has the process down and his communication is thorough and timely. And he was accessible even though we are nine time zones apart. Even DHL delivered the watch a day early!”
I like being right, but sometimes it’s good to be wrong
For a couple of years now, I’ve been saying that the worst possible business to be in today is to be making design-forward watches with purchased movements and trying to sell them for $5,000 to $10,000. The Kickstarter crowd can make an appealing-looking, if mechanically unexciting, watch for a few hundred dollars, and at the other extreme the haut de gamme indies are sucking the air out of the room with prices now in the six figures for a three-hand watch.
So how does Sartory Billard (or Laine, for that matter) succeed? For Sartory Billard, I think it’s the combination of a very high level of available customization – making it your own unique watch – and high-quality components such as the Comblémine dial and Voutilainen-Cattin case on Lorenzo’s piece. Whether intentional or not, Kari Voutilainen’s vertical integration into key component manufacture and his willingness to fill his factories supplying other small makers has created a path to success for customer- and quality-oriented mid-tier independents such as Sartory Billard.
Let me know what you think of Lorenzo’s watch – and about your own experiences with customization – in the comments section. I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts!
For more information on the Sartory Billard and its customization possibilities, please visit sartory-billard.com/sb05.
Quick Facts Sartory Billard SB05 Bespoke Edition
Case: 38.5 x 8.5 mm, stainless steel case with polished bezels, polished and brushed lugs, and micro-blasted case band; sapphire front crystal and exhibition back with anti-reflective coating; water resistant to 5 ATM
Dial: multi-material with aventurine central section, lapis lazuli subsidiary second dial, and meteorite chapter ring; sapphire crystal upper chapter ring with stamped numerals and indices and anti-reflective coating
Movement: manually wound La Joux-Perret Caliber 7380; 90-hour power reserve; 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, non-hacking subsidiary seconds
Price: approx. $10,000 for the example shown here
Limitation: limited production of approximately 125 SB05 examples per year
Production years: 2021 to present
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