If as we read the magazine Clocks, you must have found one of the creations of Michel Fréret-Roy. If you are a member of a Facebook group dedicated to watchmaking, you have probably already read one of their comments. If you live in Paris, you have probably heard of one of their events. And if he likes independent brands, he is sure: he has already spoken with him! In short, Michel Fréret-Roy is everywhere! He is a passionate man, essential in the French watchmaking scene, whom you know today.
LPP: Hi Michel and thanks for giving us some time. Tell us, you are quite active on our Facebook page. Have you been following us for a long time?
MFR: Since I discovered your existence in fact! 😊
LPP: Simply put, who is Michel Fréret-Roy?
MFR: Great question! As I write on my Facebook profile “I am independent in the broadest sense of the word. Rebel, in the true sense of the term. Iconoclast and rebel.» A whole program! Apart from that, I was born in Rouen, in Normandy, the My family’s cradle, where I grew up and studied, I spent my youth school vacations traveling with my father, who was the general manager of a public works company, we visited construction sites and subsidiaries and clients … All this to say that my first passion was for public works … and, at the same time, for watchmaking, my curriculum is traditional, secondary studies, in the private sector in Rouen, then Sup de Co Rouen, now called Néoma, cooperation under the DREE (Ministry of Economy and Finance) in Düsseldorf in Germany … A little bank with the desire to leave it just entered …
In fact, I am passionate and my first characteristic is never to give up. My trip is full of twists and turns, which is not quiet! And on a purely personal level, my wife (and partner) and I have 4 children and 4 grandchildren. It is not yet known if any of them will take over the family business. The fact is that if she hadn’t supported me, we would never have created this company and launched our concept and then our own brand.
LPP: For you, watchmaking is a family affair. Can you tell us a little history?
MFR: Atavism certainly played a great role in my elections! Since the beginning of the 18th century, my mother’s family, the Roy family, was dedicated to watchmaking in Switzerland, in Couvet, in the canton of Neuchâtel. In 1802, one of the members of this family, my quadrisaïeul Abraham-Henri Roy, left his native Switzerland and established himself as a watchmaker in France, in Rouen. Then, in 1818, he founded his own watch factory in Saint-Austreberthe, 25 kilometers from Rouen. His son Henri-Julien Roy, known as Henri Roy, born in 1827, my trisaïeul, will revolutionize the manufacture of watches and develop a series of inventions and patents in the second half of the 19th century. The H. Roy public watch factory first specializes in the monumental watchmaking of public buildings, but continues to produce watches and other pocket watches … of which I have 2 pieces of the time!
Then, in 1895, the name changed to “ROY Frères à Ste-Austreberthe, Horloges publics”, and it seems that the activity of “clocks” disappeared. The “brothers” are Auguste Roy, my great grandfather in charge of the manufacture of monumental clocks and his brother Abraham, in charge of the installation of such clocks. Most of the clocks in the Normandy bell towers are Roy, H. Roy or Biard Roy, which were also linked to the founders of Villedieu les Poêles. My grandfather Joseph Roy will move on to another activity before the Nazis shoot him for acts of resistance during World War II, and German cousins have since managed the Normandy factory …
LPP: When did you first get interested in watches?
MFR: Especially during adolescence, but when I received my first watch, for my first communion … then the second for my profession of faith … then, then …
LPP: Do you remember your first watch?
MFR: It was a steel, mechanical brass.
LPP: Today, you follow your passion. What were you doing before
MFR: The first part of my career, after 2 years of financial analysis in a bank at the beginning of my career, I dedicated it to public works, construction and public works and engineering. I established major electrical engineering operations abroad for Spie Batignolles, in English-speaking Africa, in the Middle East, particularly in northern Yemen, and directed its subsidiary in Mexico … Then I traveled through the United States. , South Africa and other countries for Jean Lefèbvre, the road builder, and then for the industrial and finishing works of the Vinci building, of which I was commercial, marketing and communication director, and also General Director of the subsidiaries in Spain and Morocco. .. In 1997, tired of the management mode of the group of subsidiaries where I was a director, I decided to change my work and started with my wife in the import and distribution of Swiss Watches in France, under the name of our company Compagnie Française de Montres, activity which we developed from 1997 to the beginning of 2004.
LPP: ThenHow did you find yourself at the head of a boutique supported by Place Vendôme?
MFR: after having created our company and developed since 1997 the Frédérique Constant brand in France and after allowing them to deliver 38,900 “corporate” watches for the COLAS public works group for the year 2000 (the link between construction and works public watchmaking!) and allowed Frédérique Constant to go from 130 m2 of office space to 700 m2 next to Rolex in Chêne-Bourg, near Geneva, the former owner of the brand that sold its shares to Citizen. He thought we would declare bankruptcy, but we stood firm and won the lawsuit we filed against them for improper breach of the contract, even if the amounts we had invested for the brand were wasted. But this disastrous blow showed us that a distributor without a store was a suspended man. So we looked for a boutique well located in Paris … and we were lucky to find it in this mythical and symbolic place of watchmaking and luxury.
LPP: So let’s talk about this atypical store. Can you introduce it to us?
MFR: We bought it in 2005. It is a small store of 25 m2, all clad in dark wood, intimate and cozy. The initial concept that we had called “Clocks and wonders”, as a subtitle of the name Fréret-Roy, was and is to offer something more than the neighbors here or elsewhere. We had proposed to Maurice Lacroix, of which we were importers at that time, to associate them with the purchase of the store, but they refused, confirming however that they had a store in the corner of the place. Vendôme and Rue de la Paix fit perfectly. But since they didn’t want to invest a penny in the business, we named it as ours. History has shown us that it was a good idea. At that time, we were importers of Maurice Lacroix, Dubey & Schaldenbrand and Maurice de Mauriac. We start with these 3 brands. Then we create some unique pieces of high quality jewelry, with exceptional stones.
LPP: What are your flagship brands?
MFR: we distribute 16 to 18 brands depending on the period, each with its specificities. The “emblematic” brands, in alphabetical order, are those found in particular in our exhibition, the Off des Indépendants since its creation, or Off of Basel, these are the “faithful”: Artya, Crow and Nephews, Cyrus Geneva, Fréret Roy 1818 (of course!), Mauron Musy, Nord Zeitmaschine, Paul Picot, Pequignet Manufacture, Raketa, Zannetti. And the new brands that entered at the end of 2019: Hegid, Sartory Billard, Trilobe. We also sell the Boegli, Ebel, Emile Chouriet, Ratel Genève and Isère 1885 brands.
LPP: Exhibitions, cocktails, Off for independents, Off for Basel, etc. What motivates you to do so many events?
MFR: When you are little and you want to make a difference, you have to move! The “Off des Indépendants” came to fill the void after the disappearance of the Parisian watch fairs. The resulting void gave me the idea of replacing these rooms with an exhibition of the “curiosity cabinet” type, for a long period given the limited space in the boutique. And the cocktails are there to punctuate this period of events where watchmakers come to talk about their brands and models in a friendly, relaxed and refined environment.
LPP: He has also launched his own brand: Fréret-Roy 1818. What are the peculiarities of his watches?
MFR: I launched my first collection in 2011, after having noticed the lack of relational reliability of already important brands and their contempt for distributors and dealers. After the snub that Frédérique Constant inflicted on us, we opened a boutique, and after the repeated private sales of Maurice Lacroix since 2009, 2010 and 2011, which have devastated his long-term image, we decided to launch our own brand. , with a true family history! The particularity of our watches is that they are born from discussions and exchanges with customers, consumers and fans. In fact, by listening to them, discussing and exchanging ideas with them, we have defined the characteristics or specificities of our present and future watches.
LPP: And if I had to choose only one, what would it be?
MFR: It is very difficult to answer this question! We are known for “skeleton” watches. Of course, there is our best seller Open Heart® New Wave, which we will soon evolve slightly without exceeding the current version, the Open Heart® chronograph that His Majesty the King of Morocco has given us the honor and pleasure of asking us and wait 6 months , and also the Open Heart 120 H, especially in its Big Open Heart Ghost version, which is really different and refers to car panels from the golden age of the car, Bugatti 35 or Amilcar among others!
LPP: A word for the end?
MFR: Thank you for giving me the opportunity of this interview … And there are also several projects in our drawers that will soon be presented, including some exclusive ones whose models have been registered … that should attract a loving originality audience.
DISCOVER MICHEL FRÉRET-ROY