We had the pleasure of interviewing Stéphane Michel, co-founder of 41 WATCH and design enthusiast. We agreed to meet in his showroom right in the heart of Paris’ seventh arrondissement, to discuss his passion for watchmaking, entrepreneurship and USM.
I’ve been fascinated with watches for a long time now. I originally trained to work in the financial sector, just like my business partner, Cyril. As it happens, we met in New York in 1998 while working in an investment bank. Our shared passion for watches brought us closer, and we often spoke about how we wanted to start our own business. We finally got the chance to do so in 2016 when we embarked on our 41 WATCH adventure.
41 WATCH specialises in iconic watches. We assist our customers with the sale, purchase, part-exchange and financing of a large selection of iconic models, i.e. the flagship models of each brand. There’s a strong demand for watches right now, not only because they are beautiful items but also because they make great investments.
Since we sold our first watch in 2017, we have branched out further, for example by creating a vintage department (for models prior to 2000) with Fabrice Guéroux, an expert in fine watchmaking and watch counterfeiting.
Today, 41 WATCH employs 6 people and we plan to open a new showroom in Geneva, Switzerland.
Our aim is to combine an appointment-based physical presence in our showroom with a strong digital presence. We also linked the entire financing aspect to this activity, which is our area of expertise. As such, we were among the first in France to offer financing options. 41 WATCH therefore gives customers the chance to buy a watch on credit and become the owner of the watch immediately. The prices of new and second-hand timepieces tend to rise quite fast, which means you can’t hang around if you want to buy the watch of your dreams. For each watch sold, 41 WATCH also gives you a part-exchange option in case you wish to change your watch.
We have therefore highlighted our financial approach to the product. But as well as being former bankers, we are both passionate about what we do and we love everything that watches represent in terms of aesthetics and horological expertise.
The best option is to seek professional advice when choosing a model that has the most potential based on your objectives: is this a watch that you’d like to pass on to your children? Are you looking for a shorter-term investment? A professional can help you to define your investment profile. This makes it easier to come up with a selection of watches from which you can choose the one you prefer.
A watch is an excellent investment product, and nowadays you can find out a model’s exact value by looking at the transactions recorded worldwide. If you seek professional guidance, you will also be certain to have a good grasp of the product’s characteristics and to buy it at the right price.
Last but not least, don’t forget that a watch is something you are going to wear, so you should actually like it. The aesthetic aspect is therefore very important.
Unsurprisingly, the so-called “iconic” watches are most successful in general. These models are often associated with sporting events or other occasions and are therefore given greater brand attention when it comes to communication and marketing. Even though steel models are the most sought after, we have noticed an upsurge in interest in gold-steel or all-gold models, particularly among our younger clientele.
I’ve always had a keen interest in furniture and, more generally, in design and decoration. I shared this interest with my mother, who put a lot of time and effort into renovating a family farm in the east of France. I helped her with this project to a modest extent, and we used to go to flea markets and garage sales together. What’s more, I have always lived in the antiques district of Paris and spent a lot of time scouring the flea markets in Saint Ouen and Brussels, as well as in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, where my in-laws live. More recently I’ve been following my wife’s hotel renovation and decoration projects with a great deal of interest.
I put a lot of work into our showroom design to make sure that it was cosy, welcoming and adapted to our activity. We combined a few items found on flea markets with some more modern furniture. USM furniture adapts well to both of the projects that I dedicated myself to (my home and my showroom). In fact, I think it’s the only furniture I have both at home and in the office, and I’m delighted with it.
USM and I go back a long way! It all began when I lived in the US. My brother, who also lived there, had bought some USM furniture. After showing me his purchases, I also started buying furniture from this brand, whether large storage units or bedside cabinets. At the time, I lived in a loft-style apartment, and I found that USM furniture was perfectly suited to this type of space. So at first sight, I thought it was ideal for lofts, but when I moved my furniture into a traditional Hausmannian apartment, I realised that the result was equally superb there too.
I assembled my first item of furniture around 10 years ago and now that I’ve spent time using it, I appreciate the product even more. I find it attractive and simple, of excellent quality and with a beautiful finish. For me, it’s the perfect definition of luxury: a simple yet perfectly finished product.
As I live near the Paris USM showroom on rue de Bourgogne, I often stop by to take a look at your new presentations. I really like the brand; I find it highly successful, innovative and very modular.
When Cyril and I set up our showroom, we wanted the design to remain simple, but with some strong items. That’s why we added the street art poster, the lights, the stuffed animal, etc. As regards the furniture, USM was our natural choice. We started out with one furniture unit, then we added our desk and a few yellow storage units.
We chose yellow from the outset because we felt that it was very eye-catching and it goes beautifully with the parquet flooring. The very first furniture items that I owned, in a personal capacity, also happened to be yellow.
For the entrance area, we wanted something a bit more discreet and neutral to highlight the watches, so we opted for a black unit with integrated lighting.
Not only is the furniture attractive, it is also extremely practical thanks to its modular integrated lighting, which is also very easy to use. I think that this lighting offers the best visibility for our watches.
Another advantage for us is the modular design of the furniture. That way, we know that our furniture will always fit in well, no matter where we showcase our watches or which décor we choose for our sales area. For us, it’s really important to have furniture with a strong identity that can be found in all of our showrooms, because that’s how we wish to convey our image and promote our brand. We know that with USM we will always find the furniture we need.
It would perhaps be a Royal Oak by Audemars Piguet. Just like USM, this watch comes in an infinite number of models but remains simple. Since its creation in the 1970s, it has become one of the most legendary models in the world of watchmaking. Its dial is fixed in place by 8 perfectly aligned emblematic hexagonal screws. It boasts the same simplicity as USM, together with the same ultra-high precision.
Many thanks to Stéphane Michel for his hospitality and time. To find out more about these iconic watches, visit the 41 WATCH website.
If you want to purchase a USM Haller piece yourself design it now in our online configurator, or find a quick-ship selection of curated USM pieces in our webshop, or find your local sales partner here. Or visit our USM showroom in London.
Photographs: Alexandre Moulard