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Her Watch, Her Story: Alcée Montfort
Culturecheck

Her Watch, Her Story: Alcée Montfort and Her DIY Clock Persèe

By Ming Liu
28 Mar 2024
4 min read

This physicist and mother-of-two, bagged the GPHG for her DIY clock making kit, made for anyone who is curious to discover the beauty of watchmaking

At last November’s watchmaking GPHG awards in Geneva, the Audacity prize was awarded not to a disruptive and edgy, up-and-coming (typically) male watchmaker, but a willowy, 32-year-old mother-of-two. Alcée Montfort is the mastermind behind the Persée table clock, a DIY clock making kit complete with 233 components, 17 tools and a 150-page instruction handbook, all set in a stunning wooden box. The clock has been a runaway hit, with all 50 units selling out in its first year and sales expected to double. Accepting her award, Montfort – an engineer who’s always loved working with her hands – said she created the Persée for “anyone who is curious – and who can discover the beauty of watchmaking by assembling their own clock themselves.”

Her Watch, Her Story: Alcée Montfort
Montfort made headlines when she won the Audacity prize at the 2023 GPHG Awards

The third of five children born into a family of engineers, Montfort studied fundamental physics in France, but the luxury world was where she found her feet – at what she calls “maisons with an uplifting culture of beauty.” She cut her teeth at Hermès, where she applied her expertise in the likes of friction and calculus to optimise silk and leather fabrication, adjusting, say, the parameters for colouring silk when temperatures fluctuate between summer and winter (“Craftsmen know everything,” recalls Montfort, “but my job was to help them find solutions.”).

Her Watch, Her Story: Alcée Montfort
Montford cut her teeth at Hermès, Cartier and TAG Heuer

She moved to Cartier in 2015, working in supply chain management in the eyewear division and later joined Richemont’s antique watch restoration workshop before moving to LVMH-owned TAG Heuer to manage the movement assembly workshop. Montfort credits this time with opening her eyes to watchmaking – and ultimately imagining clockmaking kits for the everyman. “I discovered that the watchmaker’s raison d'etre was the need to connect to what is real – through work, culture, pride and passion, which we must transmit,” she said in her GPHG acceptance speech.

Her Watch, Her Story: Alcee Montfort and Her DIY Clock Persèe
Montfort's DIY clock making kit complete with 233 components, 17 tools and a 150-page instruction handbook, all set in a stunning wooden box

Bespeckled with tortoise-shell glasses, her long hair neat in a signature side plait, Montfort is speaking to Wristcheck via Zoom from her home in France’s Champagne region of Reims. There is a freshness and almost coquettish-like shyness to her, hinting at the young girl who once dreamt of becoming an oceanographer who collected underwater specimens – as long as she was working with her hands. Montfort founded Maison Alcée in 2019 when she was pregnant with her first child, and she brought in the best horological minds to help realise her dream. The renowned horologist Thierry Ducret created the kit’s large-scale regulator watch movement, while the watchmaking teacher Jean-Marie Desgrange and Swiss designer Antoine Tschumi also joined.

A self-proclaimed optimist who’s always been immersed in man’s world, Montfort says she’s never felt disadvantaged as a woman. “It has enabled me to differentiate myself through a different approach and vision,” she says. “In the early days of Maison Alcée, the idea of allowing anyone with a curiosity, and no skills required, to assemble their own timepieces from home seemed rather crazy. However, many men working in this field supported me. I can't say whether that was because I was a woman or because they wanted to contribute to the development of Maison Alcée. But I think they liked the opportunity to pass on watchmaking know-how.”

Her Watch, Her Story: Alcée Montfort
Montfort with her husband Benoît

What was hard, she admits, was working whilst pregnant with her children, now aged three and four. “I think it was more difficult being a mother – being pregnant and having a little baby. It’s a difficult thing to manage,” she says. 

An elegant timepiece that can be displayed either horizontally or vertically, the Persée displays the hours, minutes, seconds and incorporates an hourly chime. Around 10 hours are needed to assemble the clock, but Montfort hopes that clients will take their time. “The idea is to be in a bubble of concentration, to create something like a child, using one’s own hands.” Even the 150-page handbook channels this theme of discovery: step-by-step instructions are complemented by anecdotes on clockmaking history and savoir-faire. Additional help is further available from online videos and a WhatsApp group. Though, says Montfort, “Customers don’t really use it. A lot of time it's only to say ‘I succeeded!’ and they send a video of their clock.”

Montfort says she chose the large, user-friendly scale of a clock for obvious reasons – but also because she simply loves the form. “I like to have a beautiful home, beautiful objects – and a clock is an object you share with everyone in your family.”

Montfort’s husband Benoît, also an engineer, manages the kit’s more than 30 suppliers, and nearly all the clock’s components are manufactured in the Franco-Swiss Jura Arc, which is a “point of pride”, says Montfort. The mountainous region is a historic and important watchmaking hub, declared by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. 

The Persée has clearly struck a chord. Awareness from the GPHG has expanded Maison Alcée’s initial customer base from France and Switzerland to a worldwide clientele, who range from die hard horophiles to anyone who “likes beautiful things and wants to live this experience – to take a break and have a moment for themselves,” says Montfort. 

Her Watch, Her Story: Alcée Montfort and Her DIY Clock Persèe
In her spare time, Montfort enjoys playing the piano

In the coming years the aim is to offer add-on complications, notably a moonphase, a favourite of Montfort’s, who loves the “poetic” moonphase of her Bréguet Classique Moonphase 3300BA, from 1991, her birth year. “When you glance down it’s a simple watch, but you can also spend hours looking at all the details,” she says.

For this physicist turned DIY clockmaker, it’s not so much raw horology than infinite curiosity that seems to be Maison Alcée’s raison d'être. Montfort would like to see Maison Alcée become a “French reference in luxury DIY”, she says, “sharing the know-how of, say, leather, silk, different kinds of métiers d’art.” And with her determination and child-like propensity to dream – that feels more a possibility than ever.

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