Romain Gauthier Prestige HM: An Impressive Debut that Launched the Brand
by Tim Mosso
The Romain Gauthier Prestige HM is a rare instance of a creator finding his voice on the first attempt. Even through the lens of 17 years of the brand’s evolution, the Prestige HM remains immediately recognizable as a product of the engineer-turned-entrepreneur whose name it bears. In time, Gauthier’s watches became more complex, but the finishing, style, and architecture still rival the latest wares to hail from this rising house.
Romain Gauthier is not a watchmaker. While his upbringing in the Vallée de Joux exposed him to the local watchmaking tradition, Gauthier forged his path as an engineer, not an artisan. As a micromechanical specialist engaged from his early career with local watch brands, Gauthier refined his taste in timepiece design through exposure to the best; Philippe Dufour specifically and the Vallée de Joux generally were powerful influences on the young Gauthier.
And Romain Gauthier was young by any measure when he conceived his brand in 2000. As a 25-year-old, he started working towards his own manufacture during an era when even experienced watchmakers were still warming to the idea of boutique independent horology. Gauthier put in the work; the 2006 launch of his label followed a supplementary course of study to obtain an MBA.
Regardless of his youth, Gauthier understood what older entrepreneurs in the watch space often learn only by hard knocks; even beauty needs a viable business case.
The Prestige HM was Gauthier’s first product, and it remains the brand’s most elementary design. Displaying only with hours and minutes, the aptly named HM is showcase for its exhaustive details rather than mechanical complexity. Five variants exist, but the watch featured hails from the only one of the five series built in white gold: 38 pieces were made between the 2006 launch and 2021 phase-out.
41mm for a dress watch seems large by 2023 standards. But 2006 was the heyday of the huge watch, and the Prestige HM steered clear of the era’s 43mm+ “formal” watch proclivity. Its slender 11.3mm girth wards off any impression of bulk. This isn’t a small timepiece, but it looks the part of an elegant companion on any wrist larger than 16cm.
Romain Gauthier – the brand – limited its production to a few dozen annual units until the arrival of the 2021 Continuum sports watch. The HM includes a unique case design that transitions from convex around the bezel to concave at the level of the caseback. And the sculpting of the lugs is a case study in low-volume quality. Extra time afforded by slow production permitted the upscale artisanal method of lug-welding.
In profile, the lugs of the HM envelop the case band like a warm embrace; the definition of the seam between these welded white gold surfaces is razor sharp. The process would have been protracted even by the standards of this labor-intensive technique. Hand-welding and manual removal of the surplus weld metal create the lugs’ dramatic case-wrapping effect.
It’s an approach made easier when crafting substantially fewer than 100 examples of a case per year.
The dial design of the Prestige HM is focused, restrained, and exquisitely detailed. The dial base itself is 18-karat gold, and everything that looks like rose lathe guilloché is exactly that. Gauthier or his suppliers crafted this dial from three separate solid gold components, and each was cut, galvanized, and lathe-engraved by traditional means.
With its off-center time display, the HM showcases an early example of the asymmetry that has become a signature element of every subsequent Romain Gauthier model.
Mechanically, the Prestige HM is remarkable for its beauty and the sheer amount of Gauthier-sourced hardware.
The aesthetics are self-evident; this caliber 2206 HM is gorgeous. The bridges are thicker than industry standard to provide space for broad mirrored polished bevels. In an era where even the Holy Trinity and premier independent brands settle for large amounts of automated anglage, the Romain Gauthier Prestige is exemplary for being almost entirely hand beveled.
Both the barrel bridge and balance cock exhibit the highest grade of interior bevel execution – areas where two bevels converge in a sharp crease.
Striping across the bridges of this watch is unusually broad and richly shaded. Most watches in the haute horlogerie space use narrow Côtes de Genève, so the broad stripes on caliber 2206 are distinctive in that regard alone. Since the best striping includes a pronounced reflective gradient from one side to the other, Gauthier’s broader stripe permits a more dramatic and gradual shading transition than a narrow one.
As with all elements of the movement, this abrasive-wheel striping would have been a slow-going enterprise during the production process.
Freehand engraving is present in the form of lettering and numbers on the bridges and plates. The series number on the baseplate, Romain Gauthier logo on the escape wheel cock, and characters on the bridges are manual executions accomplished with a burin and steady hands.
Even at the highest level of watchmaking, manually engraved bridge and plate inscriptions are rare. Conversely, engraving is one of the few areas of the decoration in which human fallibility becomes evident: the first-pass engraved “trace” lines of the series number scrape beyond the limits of the numerals.
“Black” polishing is the art of mirror-finishing a metal surface so that it only reflects light from a few select angles. In other words, the metal often looks “black” when viewed from many vantage points. This requires time with diamond paste, zinc, or tin polishing surfaces, and it’s an all-or-nothing for any component finished this way.
Flaws in the process can create uneven mirrored surfacing on the target component, and overheating the metal during the process can create cloudy rather than crisp polish. To that end, the specular finish on the HM is uniformly excellent. The largest example of a black polished surface is the steel cap to the escape wheel cock; additional mirror polishing is evident in the stud holder, ratchet wheel click, and screws.
About those screws: Romain Gauthier’s immense amount of unique hardware includes single-slot “s-bend” screws designed to maximize torque while minimizing the risk of rounding the screw slot. As a side benefit, the system also discourages amateur watch mechanics from having a go at the movement.
The free sprung balance wheel also hails from Gauthier’s own shop – a serious distinction for such a small and young manufacture. The balance’s variable inertia bolts allow for precise and shock-resistance adjustment.
Additional in-house execution is evident in Gauthier’s now signature circle-in-circle wheel design. From the great wheel to the escape wheel, each example features spokes comprised of circles.
Gauthier’s excellence in component manufacture has become a source of strength within the Chanel empire: Romain Gauthier has been 20 percent owned by the luxury giant since 2018. This boutique independent produces wheels and small parts for Chanel’s high luxury models.
Caseback setting watches are an odd breed, and the Prestige HM is no exception. Like historic caseback setters including the JLC Futurematic and Patek Philippe caliber 350 series, the Gauthier 2206 is set and wound by a backside crown. While this creates an appealing seamless aesthetic when the watch is on the wrist – hey, no crown! – the use of the caseback wheel entails a fiddly setting process.
Winding the 60-hour power reserve requires patience, and the crown has a habit of jumping between setting and winding functions unless operated with patience and focus.
The Romain Gauthier Prestige HM was a formidable statement of intent in 2006. But watch collectors have yet to anoint the HM with the “formative-years-grail” status of early F.P. Journe, Kari Voutilainen, or even Rexhep Rexhepi models. Within Gauthier’s own sphere, the landmark Logical One is the best-known design, and the Continuum sports watch series is destined to become the best seller.
Against that backdrop, it’s easy to forget a two-hand watch built to suit 2000s dress watch size sensibilities. But “first” is a flag that flies forever, and the Prestige HM was on the vanguard of Romain Gauthier’s bold gamble. It won’t be overlooked forever.
For more information, please visit www.romaingauthier.com.
Quick Facts: Romain Gauthier Prestige reference HM MON00001
Dial: Solid gold 18-karat, cut on hand-guided rose lathe
Case: white gold, 41 x 11.3 mm x 48.9 lug-to-lug, caseback crown for setting and winding
Movement: Romain Gauthier caliber 2206 HM, manually wound, single barrel, Gauthier-designed free-sprung balance, 60-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, 34mm x 5.5mm
Functions: hours, minutes
Production: 38 pieces between 2006 and 2021
Price in 2006: 34,600 Swiss francs
Price Preowned in 2023: $50,000-$55,000
* Tim Mosso is the Media Director and Watch Specialist at Watchbox.
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