Since childhood, measuring instruments have fascinated French-born François Moreau. Dashboards, cockpits, pressure gauges, diving equipment, the flight deck of space rockets, really anything that has a relationship with calibrating and gauging catches his eye and fires his imagination. And for him, the more vintage the better.
This passion stayed with him while he pursued his 25-year career in banking. ‘I joined a French bank and climbed the ladder in finance, distribution, marketing, product development, then was appointed head of direct banking for a large bank,’ he recalls. ‘That was fabulous news for me – the bank had a massive footprint in many countries, and I wanted to be part of the global landscape. I was appointed head of strategy for retail banking in Hong Kong.’ Always ambitious, he later became head of retail banking in Japan. The job involved opening branches, hiring staff, making acquisitions and opening call centres. ‘It was like being an entrepreneur, as I was allowed to have a vision, then execute it.’
It was exciting, but Moreau started to get restless. ‘To open a bank is fun,’ he says, ‘to manage, less interesting.’
After a while Moreau asked himself what he really liked, ‘and it was watches’. His enthusiasm for measuring instruments provided the key to his next opportunity. ‘One day I was driving and I realised the RPM hand on the dashboard functioned like a retrograde minutes watch complication – it went from zero to a maximum position and back again. I started to draw designs for a timepiece, and consulted a professional designer and protected the designs. I then started to develop a strategy and found my three experienced watch industry partners, and the four of us started to build the brand.’
The next challenge was to find the right partner to engineer the complications. ‘But,’ says Moreau, ‘I had decided our product should be available below the 4,000 Euro (including tax) level, and it turned out that developing something so complex in Switzerland is very expensive. Most manufacturers I visited said it was impossible to make at that price.’ Then eventually Moreau found a manufacturer who asked how many he wanted to sell. ‘That was the right question,’ he explains. ‘If you have volume you can have decent margins and sell at the right price. This manufacturer developed the module and liked our idea so much they came into partnership with us. It’s our patent and we protected the design across the world.’
So from the small spark of an idea in winter 2015, and after raising 2.3 million Euros in mid-2016, the company – named Reservoir – was a presence some months later at Baselworld, the international watch industry fair. But it proved to be skin-of-the-teeth stuff. ‘We picked up the watches themselves on the way to Basel,’ he laughs.
Reservoir watches use three watchmaking complications to make it not just look like a meter, but also to work like a meter. ‘Many brands want to take you into the driving or pilot’s seat, but always have at least two hands, working round 360 degrees,’ he says. ‘Ours has the one hand, going from zero to 60, and that’s the retrograde minutes. The jumping hour and the power reserve gauges look like the meters that tell you the fuel temperature, the rev counters, the altimeters, the manometers… I love the little hand.’
It’s an interesting and innovative way to tell the time. ‘The great thing is you’re more conscious of an hour,’ Moreau says. ‘It changes the way you react with time. Watching the hour jump is eye-catching and even seems to heighten time.’
Reservoir means fuel tank in French, and the brand is keen to be seen as gritty, with its logo derived from a Second World War emblem you might have found on jerry cans. The collections are inspired by legendary racing drivers, as symbols of endurance and high performance, and also pay tribute to military aviation, aerospace and submarine pioneering.
There are seven collections, available in four sizes: 39mm, 41.5mm, 43mm and 45mm, in seven materials, including steel, titanium, rose gold, and palladium. ‘There are 10 more designs on my computer, many more in my brain,’ Moreau says. ‘You can see the difference of the company being driven by an owner rather than a CEO. I’m passionate about the products, they’re my babies.’
Out of his fervour for the functional style of instrument counters, and drawing on his international management and entrepreneurial experience, Moreau has created a radical and accessibly priced way to tell the time.