The other day, I had the opportunity to talk to Guillaume Burel, the founder of Burel, a young French watch brand that is specialized in watches with a strong nautical identity.
I’ve created this brand, because I’m passionate about both horology and the nautical world. I’ve been immersed in these fields since I was born.
After finishing school, I had this idea of creating watches with wooden dials that are inspired by classic boats. In the same time, I was working for Tissot in Paris for about two and a half years. Finally I quit Tissot to found my own company.
Were you studying watchmaking?
No, I was studying business, I’m not a watchmaker, the Burel watches are not assembled by me. To ensure a high quality, I leave the watches in the hands of competent watchmakers, but I was always attracted to horology; my father is working in this field. He’s building clocks for train stations and churches; I got the passion from him, but I’m more attracted to watches and I’m really passionate about boats, especially sailing.
When did Burel Started?
We launched our first watches this year in January, but I had the idea to make a watch for more than three years, even before I would work for Tissot. I was travelling a lot, I spent a year in Australia and I got this idea of making a watch with wooden dial. I started with prototypes, to see if it’s doable, because it’s very rare to see wood as material for watch dials. With time, I’ve developed the two watches that we have now, the Class Sail and the Class Yacht that represent well the nautical identity of the brand. We’re planning other models too, not necessarily with wooden dials but they will keep the nautical DNA.
How about the wood? It’s a very difficult material to use, how do you resolve the problems that such an organic material can raise?
Yes, the wood is not an easy material to use, because it lives and we have to take in account that the watch can live and change.
Our first model, the Class Yacht, with its varnished mahogany and maple dial, the maple being the white lines we see, it’s made of a very thin, approximately 0,3mm, veneer. The veneer is prepared and cut, than placed on a metal plate resulting in a dial that is as flat as it can be. This is not easy, because the dial has to be really thin in order for the small second hand, at less than 1mm from the calibre, to work without hindrance. There are also about ten layers of varnish that are applied on the veneer.
On the Class Sail there is no varnish, but the Mahogany and Maple veneer is treated against humidity. The dials are made using marquetry, just as in furniture design, we use thin slices of wood that we stick together to create a piece.
You mentioned that you will have other models too, when do you expect to launch them?
There is model in prototype phase that we’re still testing to see if it’s doable, there is another one that we hope to launch next year. What I can tell you for now is that these watches won’t have wooden dials but they are still inspired by the nautical world. We’re also planning to launch other color variants of our existing models.
I know that you are carried by two boutiques in Paris. How is Burel reaching out to international markets?
We have an online store on our website where we accept international orders. Our main priority right now is to get the Burel name known. The Burel watches are costing €800 (approximately $1100 USD or CAD), which is a reasonable price and we want to keep our prices competitive, that’s why, for now, we focus on our online store. In the past two months, we had many clients from the US. We hope that with time there will be more and more boutiques around the world that will carry our watches. So far we had good feedbacks from our clients, people like our watches.
Thank you for this interview! Would you like to add something before we wrap up?
To summarize, we want to propose watches that have a nautical DNA and that are accessible, with a good quality and with a good calibre. Our calibre (Swiss made 6498-1) is a basic movement, but it is very reliable and it proved itself in other great brands too. We are proposing watches with dials made of wood that are hand crafted, which is very rare and if we find one it’s usually way above our prices. So, voilà, we’re proposing a watch with a character, with uniqueness that is accessible and this sums-up the identity of our brand.
More about Burel on www.burel-watch.com