We caught up with Trilobe's founder and CEO Gautier Massonneau to learn about what makes the brand tick

Last year, Trilobe’s Nuit Fantastique Dune Edition won the Petite Aiguille Prize at the 2022 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG), a remarkable feat for a four-year-old brand.
There is a fine line between innovation and insanity, and this couldn’t be truer than in the world of watchmaking. More often than not, we see luxury watch brands pushing the limits to be different. But, there are few who get it right, striking a fine balance between the familiar and the unknown while staying true to who they are.

Trilobe’s Nuit Fantastique Dune Edition

Trilobe is one such brand. A relatively new, independent French luxury watch brand, it combines the traditional and unconventional in the most unique way, while making it look easy. Having emerged on the scene in December 2018, its philosophy focuses on ‘liberating time’, which it has done without using hands on the dial. This allows the wearer to stop and admire the timepieces, not just for their practical use as a tool for telling time, but also as pieces of art that are poetry in motion. Whimsical yet refined, simple yet technical. All in all, very French.

“First thing for me is the design, the aesthetic—does it look cool, does it look beautiful, does it tell a story?” says the 32-year-old founder and CEO of Trilobe, Gautier Massonneau. “Then you construct the technical [aspect] behind it. Technical is the scaffolding behind it, it’s important, it’s key, but it’s not what we want to showcase first. From the Parisian side, I guess there is some reflection. It makes sense since one of the first shops of Abraham-Louis Breguet was actually in Paris. I think France, and Paris in particular, is getting back on track with watchmaking.”

The collections

Currently, Trilobe has three main  collections—Les Matinaux and Nuit Fantastique in 38.5mm or 40.5mm made out of grade 5 titanium in both sizes or 18K rose gold available in only the 40.5mm size, and a third collection, Une Folle Journée, available in only the 40.5mm in titanium.

Trilobe exhibits time on its watches differently from any other brand out there—contrary to moving hands and a fixed dial, Trilobe watches have stationary indicators while the hours, minutes, and seconds move. Each collection has three rotating discs, the outer one for the hours, the middle for the minutes, and the innermost for the seconds. In Les Matinaux, the dial is made up of five parts, three of which—hours, minutes, and seconds—are in permanent rotation. Three non-aligned indicators shaped like ‘Trilobes’ (the brand logo) help read time. “A touch of eccentricity on your wrist and a step sideways dear to Trilobe!”
says Massonneau.

The brass dial has a sunray brushing to reflect the light, and the colour is obtained with an electroplating bath. It is then lacquered in blue, green, and red to add more depth. The pattern of the seconds wheel is inspired by the large rose window of the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, whose “radiating” architecture lets in rays of light. “It’s a luminous and subtle invitation into the heart of the movement,” explains Massonneau. Just below the seconds ring, the movement plate is treated with a rhodium bath on the front to obtain its silver colour.

In Nuit Fantastique, the dial is made up of four parts, of which three are the large hours wheel, minutes wheel that appears within an aperture, and the seconds wheel. Two indicators allow to read time, one for hours and another for minutes and seconds. The graining of the brass dial is key, and the colour is obtained by an electroplating bath. At the centre of the seconds wheel is Clous de Paris guilloche encircled by a railroad track, itself encircled by an azured ring worked with a comb; the surface beneath the numerals is waved. “The design of this collection is inspired by deconstructivism architecture, which shakes up conventions and our way of conceiving shapes and their functions,” explains Massonneau. “The intertwining of the minutes and seconds gives a glimpse of the infinite and time that goes on endlessly.”

In the Une Folle Journée, the dial has three rings in permanent rotation. One single pointer helps to read time (hours, minutes, and seconds). The rings in grade 5 titanium, are suspended by hollowed out titanium columns and covered by a domed sapphire crystal and the colour is obtained by DLC treatment. The precision of the pad-printed numerals on the concave, curved rings is exceptional. 

Trilobe has another line called ‘Secret’, which focuses on personalisation using the collections Les Matinaux and Nuit Fantastique, where constellations are engraved on the dial—these correspond to the map of the stars from a moment in time of the wearer’s choosing. The stars composing each constellation are hollowed and filled with Super-LumiNova, and at nightfall, they come to life to illuminate the chosen moment.

Trilobe, the brand

Trilobe is based out of Paris, and while most of its watch parts are made in Switzerland—where the assembly also happens—the remaining work is completed in France. The brand’s logo consists of three discs or three overlapping rings that interlock, a symbol in architecture known as a ‘trefoil’. The logo naturally derives from the concept design of the brand, the three discs symbolising hours, minutes, and seconds. “My name wouldn’t fit on the dial,” says Massonneau with a laugh. “My vision was bigger than my name, and even though I sketch out my ideas, it’s not just about me. It’s the collaborative effort with my team that brings these concepts to life; otherwise they just stay on paper. In my view, this logo serves as an umbrella that everyone can identify with.”

The idea of starting a watch brand came about unexpectedly for young Massonneau—it started as a quest to find a watch for himself that was different. At 24, his dream watch was an A. Lange & Sohne Zeitwerk, but it was out of his budget. “I couldn’t even afford the strap at the time,” says Massonneau jokingly. He was previously in project finance and building infrastructure. He thought it could be cool to look at things a little differently, to look at time in the reverse mode, where the moving arrows were fixed.

While haute horology wasn’t a part of his DNA growing up, Massonneau was influenced by design—his parents were both architects—and mechanics given his love for electric trains growing up. Propelled by this, he took a DIY approach to the design of his watch, and after a lot of R&D, tweaking, and things not working out, realised “it would take 40 people from 40 different metiers to do that kind of watch”. But going down this rabbit hole encouraged him to quit his job, take a risk, and leap into the world of watchmaking. In 2016, he went to Switzerland and met with one of the superstars of watchmaking, Jean-François Mojon of Chronode, who has developed movements for watch brand like Hermès, HYT, Czapek, & MB&F. Mojon and Massonneau worked together in the prototyping phase
of the watch.

The X-Centric Calibre

Though Trilobe’s first 100 watches were equipped with ETA base movements, today’s watches are powered by the X-Centric calibre, which, like the watch, was entirely designed by Massonneau. “I wanted to equip our watches with a calibre in harmony with Trilobe’s spirit and architectural DNA. We chose to play with contrasts by designing this movement in a concentric way around symmetrical axes. We drew our inspiration from Brutalism, characterised by a striving to create functional buildings with a pure design, a clear exposure of the structure, and a valorisation of the materials for their intrinsic qualities. The electroplating bath treatment of the bridges and plates gives them a grey anthracite colour reminiscent of concrete, and offers a contrast between a search for brightness on the front side and an invitation into the stormy grey depths on the reverse,” says Massonneau. “The micro-rotor was chosen to expose the structure of the movement by revealing its components, which are usually hidden away. It also allowed us to reduce the thickness of the watch. It is made from tungsten, a heavy material that produces enough power to put our energy-consuming time display in motion—three rings are much heavier than three hands.” Trilobe entrusted les Cercle des Horlogers in La Chaux- de-Fonds with the task of architecturing its X-Centric calibre.

Les Matinaux and Fantastique Nuit use the X-Centric calibre, while the Une Folle Journee uses X-Centric3 Calibre. “In the X-Centric3 calibre, the front of the movement, for the first time visible behind the dial, was completely redesigned for aesthetic purposes. Our X-Centric3 calibre is taking shape around multi-tiered bridges and plates, whose sharp edges have been carefully chamfered by hand or polished with diamond tools to emphasise the graining performed on their plane surfaces. Our calibre was also revisited to ensure the performance and reliability of the watch in the light of a more complicated time display with our three rotating rings, this time projected in space and balanced by nine pillars.”

The movement has all the polishing and finishing that one would hope and expect from a high-end watchmaker. Yet, it almost looks deconstructed. “Yeah,” says Massonneau. “It’s like the Blade Runner of movements,” a movie that both Massonneau and I are fans of.

The case

Trilobe’s Nuit Fantastique Dune Edition

At Trilobe, a great deal of attention has been paid to the cases as well. There is a high level of finishing alternating between mirror-polished and satin-brushed surfaces. There is a touch of humour as well—water resistance, traditionally signified by a fish symbol, was traded in for a duck. “The case is a lot of times forgotten about. To me, refinement comes from the fact that instead of having the lugs or the horns linked to the main part of the case, having them brought back to it allows you to have different types of finishes. It’s a lot of extra work, extra manufacturing time, but the result is very different from a case that is three parts and a case that is seven parts.”

Unlike most brands that have reference numbers to identify them, Trilobe honours the old world by naming its collections after poetry and books that give the collections meaning and inspiration. Les Matinaux (The Morning) is inspired by a tribute to French Poet, René Char; Nuit Fantastique was inspired by Fantastic Night, a fiction written in 1920 by novelist Stefan Zweig; and Une Folle Journée (A Crazy Day) was inspired by the work of French author and watchmaker Beaumarchais. “I couldn’t identify with using reference numbers for my collections because they are just numbers. What’s behind it?”
asks Massonneau.

A collaborative effort

Winning the Petite Aiguille for Nuit Fantastique Dune Edition at the GPHG 2022 is naturally a milestone for the brand. “It means a lot for us and a big recognition for the brand. We have been nominated every year for the last four years, but this is the first time we won so I’m very proud. It’s also a lot of pressure for us to do better in the future, but we have stuff in the pipeline.”

Massonneau gives a lot of credit to the success of the brand to his team and business partner Volcy Bloch, whose previous work with the Richemont Group on Piaget and Panerai enables her to bring invaluable expertise to Trilobe. In the 2022 GPHG acceptance speech, Volcy mentioned something to the effect of, “It all starts in the morning when I will get a sketch from Massonneau, sometimes maybe even on a napkin”. Massonneau laughs and confirms this. “Absolutely, I draw a lot. I’m right handed but it looks like I have two left hands—I’d say we have 10 or maybe 20 years [worth] of different collections ready. I sketch ideas, and sometimes they are a bit hard to decipher. But then we construct a
3D, then a model, and we know what to learn.”

The biggest challenges

So, what are the challenges of raising a young brand in the current market? Massonneau acknowledges that there are still a lot of people who don’t know about Trilobe. Ironically, the other challenge is to keep up with the demand, which is three times the production—Trilobe produced 600 watches this year. “There are also a lot of bottlenecks in the industry from suppliers, which add to super long delays,” he says. This is one of the reasons Trilobe doesn’t have many retailers despite Massonneau’s  desire to release new collections and models more frequently. He is also reminded and reassured by Volcy that they need to take their own time. According to Massonneau, “We are not selling watches, we are building a maison that does watches. We want to take our time because fast success doesn’t last.”

This story first appeared in January-March 2023 Issue of WatchTime India.

Images courtesy: Trilobe

Launched in 2012, WatchTime India is the result of a collaboration between America's most-read watch magazine, WatchTime and, India's leading media house, Malayala Manorama. With an aim to popularise and celebrate the evolving watch culture of the country, the publication is your one-stop destination for everything related to fine luxury watches. From the latest tests to reviews, to exclusive features on the history and horological heritage of some of the most spectacular watch brands of the world, the WatchTime India portal has a lot to offer. Stay tuned for an exciting journey, through the fascinating world of watches!

Sign up for our newsletters to have the latest stories delivered to your inbox

Sign up for our newsletters to have the latest stories delivered to your inbox