Horological alchemy – The Mecavers project by Denis Flageollet

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The Mecavers project by Denis Flageollet – A new TV series, directed by Olivier Ronot, of which the first episode can be viewed now on  debethunemecavers.com 

This is the story of the creation of the ultimate timepiece…
One that will retrace through its myriad gears the history of Time, the universal history of the earthly and celestial mechanics of matter.

‘Tempus Fugit’’, a Latin expression inscribed on timepieces since the origins of watchmaking, reminds us that time flies and that our existence on Earth is fleeting.

Denis Flageollet initiates an extraordinary, unprecedented watchmaking project, a work that is both masterful and open-ended, distinguished by his trademark blend of humility and discretion.

Denis Flageollet

It all begins in the mind”, as he likes to say. At one point, Denis Flageollet, Master Watchmaker and co-founder of De Bethune, began to ponder the realisation that over many years of work he had done a lot of research and made many things and objects including plenty of watches… yet perhaps still felt a deep sense of something still lacking. The need to make ONE particular object. 

Recreating the universe in the form of a watch sculpture created gradually, in step with his feelings. An object capable of evolving. The foundations of the project were laid: it was to be a representation of the solar system with more than 63 of its satellites (among the more than 200 listed by NASA) that each revolve around their respective planets – eight in all. This depiction of our solar system would be placed in the centre of mechanisms capable of providing a great deal of astronomical information and enabling ‘double sympathy’ (a term expressing a sense of harmony and interconnection) between a watch and a marine chronometer.

This work of truly extra-ordinary dimensions – involving thousands of gear wheels requiring major calculations and representing a number of stars never previously attempted – constitutes an apparently mad project to be conducted progressively, without being sure of ever reaching the end. It is also a pretext for passing on his art to the younger generation who are helping him in this task.

The Mecavers project

Documenting the adventure in a serene spirit of transmission

This adventure, which began to take shape recently, has been filmed since day one by TV director Olivier Ronot, a friend of Denis Flageollet.

Given the scope of the project, it is fortunate that the two men enjoy a spirit of mutual trust and understanding. They will move forward together, likewise in a perpetually evolving way, in order to document the adventure through the years and the seasons in the Swiss Jura village of L’Auberson. The footage will reflect life in the workshop, the craftsmanship, the days, the hours, as well as the calm, deep, sincere and authentic rhythm pervaded by the serenity of transmission.

The Mecavers project

Light, movements, narrative… Olivier Ronot trained in the film industry and brings a different vision to a variety of televised themes including politics, gastronomy and exploring new destinations. He collaborates with the world’s leading luxury and fashion brands and his films have been selected to feature in more than 20 fashion film festivals.

The Mecavers project reveals this unique and delicate way of filming the world while allowing emotions to shine through. The cinematographic treatment of images lies at the core of the artistic approach, reflecting the beauty of the characters and their souls, enhancing the details, the faces, silhouettes and objects in order to trigger an authentically intimate and original sense of liberation in each of the portraits he creates.

Conveying Denis Flageollet‘s project through images means speaking of time, of a man’s personal passion, a team, a universe. It implies being both spectator and storyteller of an adventure that will endure to become part of History in its broadest sense. It involves telling a story at the pace of its creator, taking time to listen and jointly resonating in unison with space-time.

The Mecavers project

The Mecaverse project

STATEMENT OF INTENT BY DENIS FLAGEOLLET

The ultimate timepiece… One that will retrace through its myriad gears the history of Time, the universal history of the earthly and celestial mechanics of matter.

“Tempus Fugit”, a Latin phrase inscribed on timepieces since the origins of watchmaking, reminds us that time flies and that our existence on Earth is fleeting.

Tempus Fugit… Should we let the world go down the drain without more than an attempt to minimise our impact on the environment, if only by refraining from irresponsible actions? 

The Mecavers project

Is it conceivable to lock ourselves up in a workshop with no other aim than to have fun making the ultimate piece that will at best serve to pass on a craft that has become anecdotal? Can I allow myself to be part of this? Wouldn’t it be too selfish? Instead of obsessing about art mechanics since I was eight years old, shouldn’t I have gone into politics to try to change the world, or rather followed my explorer’s instincts to discover the beauty of our planet and advocate for its preservation?

Instead of fighting that battle, I spent my life creating objects and mechanisms outside of time, outside of the urgency to save the planet. And as I become aware that time is running out, my only goal would be to condense all my research, gather my knowledge and concentrate my experience into just one creation. 

The Mecavers project

Shouldn’t I have spent all this time on more useful research? Like finding ways to consume less energy or exploring new renewable sources? No, I stubbornly tried to achieve the highest degree of precision with a mechanical resonator, when even the smallest electronic quartz oscillator guarantees a level of precision a hundred times greater than could ever be achieved with a mechanical movement. It may be madness, but it is a madness that led me to create exceptional objects that are much more emotional and vibrant. It’s what I like doing, it’s what suits me, and that’s why I go on.

A timepiece that will utilise every mechanical technology and technique, a timepiece that makes light of time! As our world is falling apart, I will seek to enclose our universe in a web of gears and levers. I clearly have contracted a virus from another time, the kind that relentlessly compels you to do and to create, whatever the difficulties or the price, and without ever letting yourself be dictated to.

It is not certain that our world can be saved by humans. For my part, I wouldn’t know how to go about it. So I might as well create something beautiful and unique, an object that will retrace some 800 years of mechanical research and development. A timepiece that respects matter and transcribes a vision of our universe.

The Mecavers project

A creation that will contain all the materials used in watchmaking and combine all the known techniques, from the file and chisel to the most advanced technologies. It will animate all the planets of the solar system as well as their main satellites, 71 celestial bodies in total.  Date, solstice, equinox, equation of time, world time, sunrise and sunset, tides… – it will comprise all these and many other complications. A timepiece that will set and arm a marine clock and do the same for a watch that itself will contain multiple complications. An ode to the art of mechanics where no challenge will go unmet, where every complexity is mastered, where no mechanism will be forgotten, where the infinitely small will rub shoulders with the infinitely large, where the smallest pinion will have a diameter of less than half a millimetre and the largest wheel one of more than half a metre. An unprecedented creation.

My workshop lends itself to such a project. It has grown over the years, taking up more and more of a building place where the smell of oil lingers, where the forge is ready to transcend matter, where machines for cutting stone, glass and metal are just waiting to be surprised by the difficulty of the task. Where files, pliers, hammers and drill chucks are lined up awaiting the hand’s instructions. Where the design and programming software is just waiting for a direct connection to my brain; where the CNC machine is ready to receive its binary orders. It’s going to be extraordinary, I know that because I’ve already begun and I can only dream of one thing – to run to the workshop and take refuge in this cocoon where each tool has already spent hundreds of hours in my hands, where each material, each machine has its own vibration, its own smell, where the surrounding energies reassure me. It will all be coming together for the final project, beyond time, beyond the human capacity for exhilaration – or despair. I also look forward to the sharing, to the joy of being with my friends, artisans who will help me make all the parts that require skills or technical knowledge I don’t have.

The Mecavers project

No need to make the final drawing that explains the timepiece before it is proposed to a client, or even to sketch it out. Maybe just outlines for various parts, like modules of a space station, that will adjust themselves and fall into place on the object, in vivo so to speak. When the idea is so precise, there is no need to draw it out; it manifests itself clearly in our mind. It will evolve, remain fluid and be transformed as my own perception of the project evolves. 

Each atom of the matter of a component will be in symbiosis with the universe it will represent. Each action will be analysed and critiqued to ensure that it ultimately makes perfect sense. Totally absorbed in the work, caught up in the creation, you’re dizzy with passion; each gesture seems to be the best and most efficient. It’s a bit like having a light-bulb moment; losing your inhibitions feels like transcending yourself; words and actions seem incredibly intelligent. 

The thinking that happens before you get started in the workshop doesn’t spare the action, which can get out of hand at any moment. That’s why it is important to take a step back every so often, to analyse and consider what to do next. Continue or start over… Do and undo. The final result is only a pretext, the goal is the journey. And that’s what excites me, along with the emotion it will convey if and when I finish it.

           Denis Flageollet
           Master-Watchmaker
           Co-Founder De Bethune
July 2022

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