Pierre-Alain Bérard, in the era of time with Lip watches

For Marcel Proust, the quintessence of childhood memories was in the flavor of a madeleine. For Pierre-Alain Berard, it holds in the metronomic ticking of watches. The leader of the Société des Montres de Besançon (or SMB) has gravitated since his first rattle in a nebula of dials, hands and notched crowns.

It’s up to his father Philippe, founder of the company in 1978, that he owes this spiritual and material heritage. In 2014, father and son rolled up their sleeves to take over the famous Lip watches, which had been the glory days of the Besançon area.

commando face

This manufacture, created in 1867 by Emmanuel Lipmann, had ended up collapsing under the competition of Asian quartz tocantes, and by the choice of an awkward economic strategy. Since then, Lip has quietly restored its image.

In December, the brand presented its latest model, limited to 2,500 copies: the Nautic Fantome. A blackened watch like a commando’s face, developed with the command of the French army’s special forces. “These are demanding customers,” says Pierre-Alain Bérard. They wanted a watch with an automatic movement that wouldn’t depend on a battery, and that could work in difficult situations”.

This young forty-something, whose company employs 136 employees for 9 million euros in turnover, is also convinced that the future will be assured by a return to the automatic movement. Yet SMB still manufactures two-thirds of its quartz watches. “Quartz is losing ground to the benefit of the connected watch on the one hand, and the automatic watch on the other, notes the leader. We do not want to move towards the connected, whose technologies are outdated every five years. We have an ecological sensitivity. A watch must be made to outlive the person wearing it”.

To the national heritage

Passed by the Sup de Co Dijon school, Pierre-Alain Bérard did not stay away from the family cradle for long. When he was just graduating, a friend offered him a job in a paper company. But the call of watchmaking rang louder. Returning to Besançon, he worked for five years as a sales representative for the company Carpe Diem, a manufacturer of customizable watches.

His travels to the four corners of France made him aware of Lip. “Every time I went somewhere and said I was coming from Besançon, I was asked what had become of Lip. I realized that this brand was really part of the national heritage”.

In 2003, he joined the family business to develop exports there. When he learned that Lip was for sale, he jumped: “SMB was a discreet contracting company, with few brands of its own. Picking up and straightening Lip gave us new visibility. My father was more skeptical than me. He thought the brand was out of steam.”

Maurice Herzog’s Himalayas

To revive Lip, they repatriated production to France (with the exception of the movement made by Seiko), ceased collaborations with large retailers and placed their products on a more upscale market. In the process, they revived iconic models, such as the Nautique Ski, worn by Eric Tabarly or the Himalaya, by Maurice Herzog.

Pierre-Alain Bérard has made Lip his battle horse. His sister Julia, who also works at SMB, sees in him “a rather discreet and diplomatic man, but viscerally passionate”. “He can spend hours in front of hands to choose those that will suit a particular dial,” she says. If you hook him up on the subject of watches, he can talk about it for a very, very long time! » Pierre-Alain Bérard recognizes this: only the intense practice of mountain biking in the surrounding forests, and his family of three children manage to silence the ticking that constantly brings him back to the company.

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