Ok, get ready for a weird one, because today’s journey takes us well beyond the mainstream – even by indie-brand standards. Jérôme de Witt isn’t a name often mentioned alongside the Journes (1999), Forseys (2004), or Asaokas (2005) of the world, but he’s been at it just as long.
And Jérôme de Witt is a colorful character – even by indie-brand standards.
As of October 2022, the front page of De Witt’s website modestly bills the founder as “Descendant of Emperor Napoleon and King Leopold I of Belgium.” Lest there be any confusion, that’s Napoleon Bonaparte, not the ill-fated pretender Napoleon III. Still not hip? That’s OK, because clarity is only one click away; “owning a De Witt watch means owning a Napoleon watch.” Cool!
All that might suggest a Journe-like hauteur, but Jérôme and his wife/CEO Viviane are extremely approachable and cheerful folks to meet. At the former SIHH’s independents-oriented Carré des Horlogers, both were among the friendliest and most effusive folks staffing the brand booths. He looks exactly like your mental schema of a veteran watchmaker; she wears her hair Ferrari-red to remind you who’s in charge of the operation. Both are a pleasure to meet and talk watches.
The De Witt operation grew out of former Chopard jeweler/watchmaker Cédric Johner’s original company, which had launched in 1997. After much legal wrangling and recriminations, Johner lost the right to use his name for many years, leaving de Witt – like Napoleon – in control of the field. The modern De Witt watch brand emerged from these origins in 2003.
Jérôme de Witt was an original partner in F.P. Journe’s Les Cadraniers de Genève, and he has relocated and retooled his eponymous manufacture several times within the Geneva city limits.
Now that we’re up to speed, let’s jump straight to 2015 and the launch of De Witt’s Academia Mathematical. At De Witt, “Academia” is a collection, and “Mathematical” is the model. Like the Journe Vagabondage II and Lange’s Zeitwerk, the Mathematical is a digital time display with jumping hours, tens of minutes, and minutes. The Mathematical leaves its skeletal numeral carousels visible at once under a sapphire dial. Subtly cut openings in the sapphire highlight the current hour and minute while leaving the whirling wheels of time fully revealed.
Unlike better-known digital watches, the Mathematical features an automatic movement for increased daily practicality. De Witt – the brand – makes most of this mechanism itself, and the work is impressive. 48 hours of power reserve is admirable given the power-intensive complication, and the Journe/Lange pair come nowhere near this level of autonomy.
Finish is impressive. It’s not Romain Gauthier-level, but the Journes, Audemars, and Jaeger-LeCoultre’s of the world generally do no better. Bevels appear to be started mechanically and finished manually – likely with a hand-held buffing tool. An ambitious number of bevels feature sharp inward creases which are a pleasure to encounter. The barrel is solarized beautifully, and all screws are black polished. Architecture is outstanding, and the physical arrangement of bridges is thoughtful, revealing, and memorable. Although somewhat obscured by the winding wheel, this ranks among the upper-echelon of appeal for center-rotor automatics.
At 42.5mm in diameter and almost 15mm thick, the Mathematical is a large watch with an imposing presence. That commanding stance is accentuated by the De Witt house style, which incorporates a circumferential array of “imperial columns” around the case. Rose gold is the rule for this model, but black PVD inserts help to define the columns.
Lugs are short but strong, and their profiles are hollowed and sandblasted. The caseback flares dramatically to create the impression that the watch is sitting on a platform. Plan on at least a 16cm wrist to wear this one with conviction; the bigger the wrist, the better the fit.
Pricing. Was. Nuts. Its retail price of $210,000 amounts to multiples of the Journe and the Lange – even when combined. Preowned retail of $50-60,000 is the reality for examples of this 28-piece limited edition. Given the Land Rover-like depreciation, the De Witt Academia Mathematical is appealing for watch collectors who crave general attention but not brand recognition. The watch gets attention, inspires curiosity, and generally attracts positive feedback.
De Witt’s digital display might be the coolest watch your friends have never heard of. If their memories are a bit rusty, just remind them that it’s “a Napoleon watch.”