Jacky has gathered all his love of heritage and his region in a brand: Rudis Sylva, named after his village, the place of the Swiss watchmaking artisans. And with such attention to detail, finishing and excellence! A luxury watch with a patent filed, machined according to the latest technologies, then assembled piece by piece by local craftsmen. Beyond the product, it is a journey back in time that revives the ancestral traditions of a country, a region and the 600 watchmakers artisans of these villages of Franches-Montagnes. A passion that is transmitted with unfailing determination for this football coach, who has become an entrepreneur and ambassador of what Switzerland offers the best to the world.
Soccer and mechanics
Jacky Epitaux was born in the reclusive heights of the Jura mountains, a region that was the birthplace of Swiss watchmaking. In his family of workers and peasants, he soon learned the sense of values and to live by the rhythm of the seasons. “The spring was about to gather the dandelion. We made salads of bacon, which came from the neighboring pigs. Autumn was the time for hazelnuts. This contact with nature is my entire childhood and I found this life idyllic!” As a child, he was the life of the party and a great lover of outdoor sports. He practiced alpine and cross-country skiing in winter, as well as hockey and skating on frozen ponds; and in the summer it was hiking and swimming in the Doubs river nearby. “Sport has always been an integral part of my life” and very early on, he started playing football in the club his father founded in his village Les Bois.
One day, during a competition, he is noticed by the coach of Locle, the neighboring village who will insist that he come to play on his team. Jacky accepts on one condition: to get a job that will compensate his training moments in the winter when he used to teach skiing in Crans-Montana. At the time, he was a business school graduate and joined Dixi in Locle as Administrative Manager of an entire machine tool division for the high-tech industry. He was only 24 years old and this job was really exciting. “It was there that I started to get interested in accuracy to gain some microns against the Japanese and the Germans competitors; When machining parts, such as helicopter rotors or aircraft “Bananas”, the challenge was to machine these large parts in one go, spinning a sphere like a balloon with extreme precision.” He will spent 11 years developing micromechanical and micro technical solutions and selling them in the main European markets.
The turn in luxury watchmaking
Then it was the Gulf War. Its activity collapsed and he had very few commands for 4 years. One day, he asked his boss, who was passionate about football like him, to help him find a new job and invest all his energy. It ends up leading to another job as Area & Sales Manager for Zenith, a large group of Swiss watches. He will spend five years there getting himself familiarized with the world of luxury watchmaking, until the resale of his company to Louis Vuitton. “With Zenith, I went abroad, so I could not play football anymore.” Since he had passed all the high-level diplomas to become a coach, he could not train his club either. He then became President of the Locle club, a 3rd division club. “Football brought me a lot of friends and a wide network. Sport in general gave me the combat readiness and how to go for performance and victory even after defeats.” He then moved to the Rodolphe-Franck Muller group as Sales Manager and traveled the world again to promote Rodolphe, Roamer, Caterpillar and Bruno Banani watches. “After 7 years, I had the choice to convert my shares into the group capital or take the money. I then decided to leave the company and found my own brand.”
It will be named Rudis Sylva, from the Latin name of his village Les Bois. It was in 2006, and Jacky embarked upon the adventure with his cousin who worked in Finance, and a friend who machined components for watches. “Everyone brought what he had. My cousin invested some money ; I brought my network and my knowledge of this sector, and the friend machined all the components for free until the arriving of our first watch in 2010.” The choice which is made is rather the complicated one. Instead of buying a movement to customize and sell it, the three founders decided to draw all the components of the movement and start from a blank page. “You draw the screws, the pins, the pans, the gables, the wheels, the plates, the ankles … Then it is your own movement that you make and that you assemble by testing it step by step.” And this is where the Harmonious Oscillator was discovered. While they wanted to make a watch where the two spiral pendulums were approached, considering that both would resonate and then swing together, they discovered empirically a major horological innovation, recognized today by the circle of Master watchmakers. After the famous tourbillon of Breguet in 1801, adapted to the pocket watches that remain vertically, here are two balances mechanically interlinked driven by a single escapement. “This system turns the exhaust in one minute by systematically canceling the gravity effect. We then have a positive value at the same time as the negative value, ie when the heart of the watch is doing 5 seconds a day, the other is -5 seconds and since they are connected, they do so at the same time. This leads to chronometric values.” Jacky Epitaux has filed a patent for this invention and Rudis Sylva has become today the only watch in the world to propose this movement of two toothed balances.
Then there is everything else; a watch with complications with the best new technologies for the machined components and a unique know-how in the engraving, enamelling and hand guilloche work which are entrusted to local craftsmen, already working for famous brands of luxury watchmaking . “I engrave the background and all the texts for it to be decorative and ornamental.” Sylvain the engraver, will also add a sundial, that has become the brand’s emblem. Then with great delicacy, he works precious metals and especially fine gold by bringing a tailor-made touch for each customer. The work of enamelling then starts and for this, Sylvain will make a sting in the detail of each engraving, hammering at the bottom of the strand to have a better adhesion of the email and for a shimmering result. Valerie the enameller then works the colors with an almost infinite palette. “In comparison with a painting, the enamel is almost eternal! ” The watch then passes to the watchmaker Mika who will put that part in the mechanism.
It is difficult to make an equivalent product with such a quality of the components. Jacky does little communication on his brand to offer a real added value of the product and his watch is sold today at a price rising to 6 figures, on a very selective circuit of collectors and wealthy clients like Middle-East Emirs. Rudys Silva’s CEO is aware of the investment that is done in the act of purchase, that’s why he also intends to develop a new movement soon, which will allow to have a smaller model, more accessible in the price and that will target an Asian and more feminine clientele.
A vehicle of heritage
“Everything in this watch was conceived as a vehicle of the watchmaking heritage of my region.” The sundial for example, has been reproduced to say a bit of the soul of this watch. It is the exact copy of a dial that one still finds there, on one of the typical farms of artisan watchmakers with windows to the South. In the winter, this allowed to have a maximum of light to work and get artisans working with meticulous watch components. The company headquarter is a wooden chalet, in a beautiful Swiss countryside and grasslands where herds of brown and white cows graze. “We even have a typical boat rebuilt in the old way, not a yacht, to take customers on the Doubs river !” Each watch is finally delivered in a special wooden box, that the watchmakers used to carry out in the old days to ensure watch repair services at the clients’ homes. They had imagined a spruce wooden box with suspenders, which they wore on their backs and with a specific height so that once they were placed on the kitchen table, they could create a work surface which would be the same as their workbench.
His love of the region and the history of watchmaking will also lead Jacky to a beautiful heritage project. With the help of the canton and the Swiss Confederation, he will created the watchmaking artisans area based on 3 pillars : a hotel restaurant with 5 rooms, a course that is 20 km between the two villages Les Bois and Noirmont ; and a small museum that explains the time of the artisan watchmaker since the forest clearance until the early industrialization in 1950. There, we are plunged into the heart of the mystery of Rudis Sylva “because everything began in the 1400s, when people were encouraged to climb 1,000 meters above sea level to be exempted from certain taxes. Then Jean Ruedin will clear the woods and establish some houses that he will call Rudis from Ruedin and Sylva like forestry…”
Rudis Sylva is an exceptional watch indeed, and it offers a journey back in time discovering this beautiful region of the Franches-Montagnes. It is also a meeting with its founder Jacky Epitaux, and the local artisans, who perpetuate with authenticity and a real concern for excellence, what makes the wealth and notoriety of Swiss Haute Horlogerie. One falls in love with this place; then he wants to carry through this watch, a piece of this living heritage. But above all, Rudis Sylva speaks of friendships and human relations, then of courage and creative genius, at the heart of a whirlwind that rhythms the beating of history with its permanent energy.
Interview held by Carine Mouradian on September 20, 2017, at La Chaux-de-Fonds (Switzerland)
Link to the website of Rudis Sylva
Read also Authenticity according to Jacky Epitaux