A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting independent watch brand Cabestan in l’Orient, right at the heart of La Vallée de Joux.

The name “Cabestan” comes from the French word for capstan, a vertical-axled rotating machine developed for use on sailing ships to apply force to ropes, cables, and is often linked to an anchor windlass.


Eric Coudray, one of the founders of the brand, is one of the most renowned watchmakers alive today, responsible for the engineering of such horological feats as Jaeger LeCoultre’s cult-status Gyrotourbillon. With Cabestan, he set out to use his 20+ years experience in the watch industry to bring out watches in a unique, signature implementation.

The first Cabestan creation, aptly named the “Winch Tourbillon” was inspired by a capstan, where a drum on a vertical axis is operated by a lever “winch” that causes a rope or chain to wrap around the drum. Presenting one of the earliest fusée-and-chain systems in a modern watch as well as a unique vertical placement of the gears, the Winch Tourbillon would eventually set the design codes or “DNA” for future Cabestan creations.


The thing about high-end watches is that you never really know what’s truly made in-house and what’s outsourced. And while I’ve always admired the bold aesthetics and technical originality of Cabestan watches, namely the Winch Tourbillon, I honestly thought that it was one of those brands that had to outsource parts of the movement and the cases due to their complexity. To say I was pleasantly surprised by just how many components were manufactured in-house would be an understatement. Once I entered the unassuming Cabestan villa in l’Orient, it immediately became clear that this wasn’t just a watchmaker’s atelier; this was a small-scale integrated watch manufacture.


Cabestan actually has two facilities in the same vicinity. One is responsible for manufacturing the components and case parts using décolleteur and fraiseur CNC machines, while the other is reserved for finishing and assembly of components and the final watch assembly.



Nearly 900 components go into a single Cabestan timepiece; all finished and assembled by a single watchmaker. In fact, it takes approximately 250 hours to assemble a watch, and given that there are only two watchmakers the very limited production volume of around 20 watches a year shouldn’t come as a surprise.




The chain of course is the most attention-grabbing element of any Cabestan watch’s movement, and assembling it from the individual links is quite laborious. The scale of it is truly perplexing.


It’s also interesting to note that while the designs are quite radical, Eric Giroud insists on using traditional materials in the watch movement, as he believes that components made of materials like silicium or silicon that haven’t quite stood the test of time as of yet might be difficult to replace in the future, so technically any watchmaker with sufficient know-how would be able to repair and service a Cabestan a century from now; though I imagine he or she would have to be quite the watchmaker to do so!



Today the brand has 3 collections: the Winch Tourbillon, the Trapezium, and the all-new Terra Luna (which I’ll save for a more in-depth look in the coming days).

Because the production is so limited, these watches are practically made-to-order and can be customized with the owner’s choice of case materials and finish, as well as the colors on the indications.

The Winch Tourbillon is the brand’s first and most iconic model, featuring a windlass-inspired case design with two trapezoid sapphire crystals that offer a 180° view of the vertical wheel system and fuse and chain. Like all Cabestan watches, the time hour, minutes and seconds are read on separate rotary drums. The winch handle used for winding the watch and setting the time via the capstans on the case is discretely integrated into the elaborate deployant buckle.







The Trapezium uses the same proprietary EC101 movement as the Winch, but is housed in a more streamlined trapezium case. Instead of capstans, the trapezoid is fitted with foldout crowns for winding and time setting.





And finally there’s the recently unveiled Terra Luna, which I’m saving for a dedicated post you can look forward to in the coming days. For now, here’s a photo of the movement in progress…


More information on www.cabestan.ch