Mass market watches are designed to appeal to the mass market customer. The makers of these watches typically favor conservative designs that will be most popular with the largest base of collectors. These brands rarely take risks in their design language, favoring reliable patronage over individual expression. Ludovic Ballouard subscribes to no such practice, and the Upside Down proves it. Ludovic has demonstrated that a watchmaker can fully express their inner inspiration without fear of critique. The Upside Down is undoubtedly a polarizing design; some will fawn over the unique mechanical complication whereas others will scoff at the seemingly meaningless upside down numerals. Ultimately, however, the best watches are an expression of one’s individual style and personality. Therefore, the best watchmakers do not please the crowd; rather, they transmit their vision to customers who share an appreciation of a particular design aesthetic and construction methodology. To those who appreciate this artistic expression and favor the more avant-garde approach Ludovic has taken, few watches will rival the Upside Down.
Ludovic Ballouard was born in 1971 in Brittany, France. From an early age in Brittany, Ludovic had a propensity for tinkering with, assembling and designing radio-controlled aircraft. Recognizing Ludovic’s proclivity towards working with his hands, a teacher recommended that Ludovic learn watchmaking. After studying horology in school and planting the seeds for a lifelong passion, Ballouard began working as an airplane technician in the absence of jobs in the watchmaking industry. Although Ludovic was tremendously successful in his aircraft work, he couldn’t deny his unignorable pull towards horology. Following his passion, Ludovic moved to Geneva, where he worked for three years for Franck Muller and 7 years at F.P. Journe.
Under the tutelage of Journe, Ballouard flourished, rising to the most prestigious roles within the company, including the assembly of the Sonnerie Souverain, one of F.P. Journe’s most complicated watches. Although Ludovic had proven his utility to F.P. Journe, and could have continued a fulfilling career working alongside Journe, he nonetheless dreamed of opening his own brand where he would be able to transmit his individual tastes and opinions to collectors. In May 2009, Ludovic decided to finally create his own watch manufacture and the Upside Down, released in December 2009, served as his very first piece.
This particular Upside Down example was one of the very first made by the brand. The serial number falls below 20 and the piece was completed in October of 2010 according to the papers.
As with most pieces to emerge from independent watchmakers, the Ludovic Ballouard Upside Down features an exceptionally unique design. Classic in its finishing approach yet contemporary in complication, the Upside Down is an intriguing fusion of elements. The platinum case, silver-toned dial and black Breguet numerals all convey a traditional and safe approach to design. Nonetheless, a closer examination of the Breguet numerals removes any misconceptions: as the name suggests, each index on the dial is presented “upside down” except for the index that indicates the current time. In other words, at 10:30, every index other than the 10 would be presented upside down. Each index sits on its own rotating disc. As the minute hand clears 12 o’clock, the discs jump so that the next hour is presented right side up.
The action of this switch is incredibly precise and hints at the masterful movement complication displayed through the case back. Interestingly, with Ludovic’s background working with F.P.Journe, many elements bear influence from Journe’s style. The case shape and lug profile are reminiscent of Journe’s early case maker (and later in-house case making style). Additionally, the numeral painting is executed in the same way that F.P. Journe is said to do his. The similarities continue to the strap, which features the curved spring bars favored by Francois-Paul. Curved spring bars allow the strap to curve closer to the case, contributing to a much more comfortable wearing experience than traditional straight spring bars.
The subsidiary seconds hand and central minutes feature blued applications, while the crown placed between 2 and 3 o’clock removes the risk of the crown prodding the wrist while being worn.
The design ethos of Ludovic Ballouard revolves around the ability to convey a unique complication in as tasteful a presentation as possible. Unlike many other makers of new complication designs, Ballouard’s creations are very classic and unimposing. Similarly, his second piece, The Half Time, displays the time through a digital reading that is both traditional and contemporary. This design language caters to those that favor the classicism of traditional watches, but still want to explore unique complications.
The intrigue of the Upside Down lies in its complication, and the secret to that complication—the caliber B01—is visible through the sapphire exhibition case back. The Caliber B01 is exceptionally unique both in appearance and in function. The movement features manual winding works yielding 36 hours of power reserve and consists of 228 total components. 51 jewels reduce wearing on the high friction surfaces and contribute to a more robust movement construction. From the case back, it becomes immediately apparent that the complication on this piece is quite unique. The movement layout was inspired by the Peseux 7001, mimicking the gear train and barrel placement. This is where the similarities end. Although the easiest method of producing this movement would place the rotating discs controlling the indices right below the dial, in order to make the mechanism visible, Ludovic reengineered the movement to place these systems at the bottom of the movement where they are visible through the case back.
A central cam controls the switch of the hour through a unique mechanism. Each hour index sits on its own rotating chassis. A Maltese cross is affixed to the bottom of each of these chassis and intermeshes with the cam to flip the index 180 degrees. The action of this mechanism is so quick that even when waiting patiently for the hour to switch, you may miss the transition. The exceptional precision of the movement allows for this seamless transition from hour to hour. At each of the turns of the hour, 2 separate discs must rotate. The previous hour returns to its orientation upside down, and the current hour becomes right side up. It is difficult to find any complication that is in any way comparable. As a result, Ludovic designed the movement in-house from the ground up.
Through the center of the case back, the balance wheel, gear train and barrel are clearly visible. Rather than Cotes de Geneve, the bridges feature a beautiful solarization that is both subtle and reserved in appearance. The edges have been lightly beveled and mirror polished to add a level of refinement to the otherwise conservative movement finishing. In spite of the unique complication, the finishing nonetheless represents a more tasteful approach to watchmaking, allowing the complication to take center stage.
Versus the Competition
With the unique complication of the Upside Down, one could argue that there is no worthy competition for this piece. If you are looking for a dressy watch with this form of complication, I wouldn’t look any further. That said, there are many other watches supplied by independent watchmakers that feature abnormal approaches to timekeeping.
First, the Ressence Type 1 would be a popular choice for those desiring something a bit out of the ordinary. The entire dial rotates around itself with subdials indicating the various elements of the time. Like the Upside Down, there is really no other brand producing a watch with this type of time display.
The Jacob and Co Astronomia Solar features a rotating globe, flying tourbillon, and astronomic replication of the orbit of the planets. Once again, Jacob and Co represents a brand that produces one of a kind designs that clearly adhere to a consistent philosophy from its visionary.
My personal favorite among independent makers that should be mentioned when considering alternatives to Ludovic Ballouard would certainly be F.P.Journe. As mentioned earlier, Ballouard clearly was influenced by the time he spent with Journe. Of Journe’s many creations, the Resonance is arguably the most brilliant. By placing two escapements in exceptionally close proximity to one another, the energy loss from the friction of one escapement is absorbed by the other. Through a complex mechanical process, the two escapements pull one another within higher levels of measured accuracy. This brilliant mechanism was inspired by Antide Janvier’s pendulum clocks which utilized the same principle to guarantee greater standards of accuracy.
While each of these watches is completely different from the next, all are unified by their relative obscurity within an industry where many brands recreate the same traditional designs. These makers have made their mission to contribute original complications and approaches to the world of horology.
The collector who would gravitate to the Upside Down will likely have a deep appreciation of traditional dress watch design, but will be looking for something less stereotypical and cliche. The Ludovic Ballouard Upside Down is obviously not for everybody. Most collectors will be split between two camps—those who love it and those who hate it. Perhaps it is this controversy that will attract the most customers. The most interesting watches are arguably those that inspire conversation, and the Upside Down is at the top of the conversation-starting hierarchy.
Most collectors favoring this piece will harbor a love of fine watchmaking, and value the feel of its substantial platinum case. Every facet of this piece is executed with an eye towards perfectionism that tips a hat to the artisanal skill involved in its creation. Collectors gravitating towards this piece will likely have been long-time enthusiasts who have a clear vision for the direction of their collection. Most will endorse pieces from innovative, small production craftsmen who have favored quality in a world where many companies instead prioritize production and profit optimization.
Whether the Ludovic Ballouard Upside Down is your taste or not, it’s a timepiece that deserves respect. For a brand to come out of the gates with a watch of this caliber, it requires an incredible visionary like Ludovic Ballouard to have the clarity to understand their style of preference. Looking at the Upside Down, collectors are given a small glimpse into the mind of Ballouard. The classicism of this piece, fused with the contemporary twist of mechanical complication, makes the Upside Down a compelling piece as an addition to any sophisticated collection.