Pierre-Thomas & Jean-Baptiste
Something magical happens when you bring two creative people together in a foreign country.
Spending time strolling along the streets of a foreign country and exploring puts creative types in a mood, and that mood often results in a decision to venture on a business enterprise together. It’s the same process that happens when you feel stuck at home or the office and you go on a long walk. The act of walking unlocks your creativity, and suddenly, everything looks crystal clear. You know what you’ve got to do.
That’s what happened with Pierre-Thomas and Jean-Baptiste when they took a three-month sabbatical in Asia at the end of their studies in design school: an agreement to start a business together. Of course, this was only the beginning of a process. It would take them a number of years to go from hatching the business concept to launching Neotype, their new brand, proving again that the best ideas are those we allow to slowly grow and mature in our minds.
A Pair of Designers
Pierre-Thomas, the main protagonist of our story, is a French national who grew up abroad. He spent many years in Hong Kong as a child, a country that is known for its Swiss luxury watch market, and although he was not into these kinds of things as a young man, he did grow up in a world where watches were common topics of conversation. The twist in Pierre-Thomas’ story happened because his father was a scuba diver, and as any proper scuba diver of the time before diving computers would, he had one or two dive watches such as the Citizen and Seiko SKX007 that Pierre-Thomas remembers seeing his dad wear as being an integral part of his equipment. Pierre-Thomas immediately felt drawn to these tough tool watches, and in his younger years, he began to imagine himself sporting one of his dad’s watches and going on dangerous underwater missions.
Being regularly exposed to dive watches and his dad’s exploits meant that Pierre-Thomas would inevitably be dragged into horology against his best interests—acquiring watches would require the outlay of a lot of money—and marked the first step toward creating a watch company, the first model of which would be a diver. Starting at age 15, Pierre-Thomas started buying watches, the same divers his dad had, and all throughout the 1990s and 2000s, he became obsessed with horology (his word, not mine). This is when he started to learn everything he could about watches: the differences between various tool watches, the differences between automatic movement versus quartz, which countries were known for which brands, and so forth.
Pierre-Thomas and Jean-Baptiste later met in school where they were both studying industrial design. They had both dreamed of becoming car designers, but they quickly realized that 98 percent of the people who studied in their program had the same dream. Not ranking in the top 2 percent of their class, they felt immediately defeated, but thankfully, after being forced to rethink their options, they decided to team up on multiple study projects.
A natural dynamic was thus born between the two men. Pierre-Thomas became the team manager and project marketer while Jean-Baptiste would take the role of the resident creative. At the conclusion of their studies, they traveled through Asia for three months, deciding to create a business partnership by the end of that time away.
A Long Road to Neotype
Once an idea has been planted in our mind, whether it be to create a business that stems from a passion or to travel the world, it remains in our mind until we take action on it. Although some of us will never have the courage to pull the trigger, some of us will delay, and an even smaller number might dare to take action right away. Pierre-Thomas and Jean-Baptiste stand somewhat in the middle. After deciding to partner together, they didn’t know what they wanted to focus on at first, but they did realize that their design school education was not sufficient preparation for becoming successful business people. The next step, then, was to get a business degree, which would enable them to become the complete package even before knowing what they would be doing and when they would start.
After graduating from business school, each went their own way for a while. Jean-Baptiste joined a company that designs watch collections for various fashion brands. He worked there for about 10 years, a decade that allowed him to perfect his design skills and study the watch market in detail. Since the company he worked for produced watches for more than one brand, he was able to meet a lot of people and see what was going on in a particular sector of the watch market. For his part, Pierre-Thomas decided that he wanted to master all the steps that go into creating a watch collection, study the market, and become proficient in sales. He wanted to become a part of the entire system and manage projects from start to finish so that once the pair was ready to create their first product, they would have experience that was sufficient and broad enough.
Pierre-Thomas’ career path started with an internship at Cartier, after which he swung over to sales. He then worked for Louis Vuitton for a while before joining a niche watch reseller in Paris that sold brands like Hublot and Richard Mille, high-end, ubiquitous, high-profile brands that were mostly unknown back then. His work brought him to London for a couple of years before he returned to France to work for Tag Heuer, during which time he opened their flagship store in Paris. After many years of working in all aspects of horology from selling watches to opening and managing retail stores, Pierre-Thomas quit a couple of months before COVID-19 rocked our world. After a decade of gaining experience, the two friends were now ready to jump into the watch industry for themselves.
In December 2020, the brand we now know as Neotype was born.
A Note About Meeting Them
Writing about brand owners comes with a lot of perks, one of them being the opportunity to meet them in person. Being now in Paris (I lived in the United States for a number of years) means I get to meet some of my talented countrymen (yes, I’m French!) who have embarked on the difficult, stressful, and uncertain enterprise of creating a watch brand. I remember very clearly the day I met Pierre-Thomas and Jean-Baptiste in the first-floor restaurant of a famous and historic Parisian hotel. This hotel—which name will remain unspoken for modesty’s sake—is fancy, to put it mildly. Upon entering the hotel lobby, where one can see marble walls and intricate flower arrangements, I was greeted by a waitress who walked me to the salon where I would meet the founders of Neotype. Walking down the long corridors, I saw many beautiful displays of luxury jewelry and an assortment of Swiss luxury watches.
A terrible thought suddenly dawned on me: I’m out of my league here.
I entered the salon and saw fancy people sitting at fancy tables seemingly having ultra fancy conversations. I scanned the room looking for (hopefully) two young fellas who would look like my ideal type of watch people: casual in both the fashion sense and in attitude. The salon was not busy but it was big, so I couldn’t find these two guys at first. As I walked through the salon, slowly putting one foot in front of another—as if I was trying to slow down time to give myself time to figure out the appropriate response to meeting two men dressed in suits and ties drinking fancy martinis—I kept seeing people I hoped were not them, lots of businessmen holding meetings and glamorous-looking travelers. Finally, I spotted two guys at a table at the far end of the room casually talking and sipping glasses of fizzy water. I had finally found them.
Immediately, I sensed that Pierre-Thomas and Jean-Baptiste were my kind of watch people: casual, friendly, and welcoming. They invited me to join them, looking at me with a genuine smile and an air of excitement. All three of us were looking forward to our first chat. Strapped on their wrists were LM01s, which I was seeing for the very first time. Both were wearing the black PVD version (the watch comes in a steel-case finish, black PVD, and gold PVD), Jean-Baptiste opting for a black NATO while Pierre-Thomas wore his on a black rubber strap. After a couple of polite greetings, we immediately started talking about Neotype, their vision for the brand, and the places from which they had gotten the idea. A few minutes into the meeting, Pierre-Thomas pulled out a yellow carrying case and propped it open. Inside it was the LM01 in all case colors and strap combos.
I knew I was in good company.
Creating the First Model
It takes a certain type of person to create a good watch company and a great first model. You have to be passionate and know the subject matter. Not only should you know about the different types of watches that have existed, but you should also know about iconic designs and the technical aspects of watches. Pierre-Thomas and Jean-Baptiste know their subject well because, as we have seen, they both had worked in the world of horology for many years before launching Neotype. This means they had seen a lot of designs and got their hands on watches of various qualities and price points. This experience is key for creating a watch brand, especially when it is done so quickly. The more someone knows about horology, the faster they can create a brand and the first model.
Before we delve into their first model, the LM01, it is important to note that Neotype will not be a brand that only makes watches. The two friends are industrial designers after all, and they have a lot of ideas for products that would all fit within the Neotype ecosystem. Although it is too early to tell what will come after the LM01, I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that their next creations will revolve around watches and accessories for men so that one day in the future, when we all get dressed up in the morning to go to work and we strap on the LM01, we will also be able to accessorize ourselves with other Neotype products that will constitute everyday carry items that would work well with the LM01.
Only time will tell.
One thing was clear to them when they started Neotype: they wanted to create a “coup de coeur” (i.e., “love at first sight”) kind of watch. It would be a watch that would make us think, “This is the one,” without having to follow up by asking, “Can I afford it?” Affordability was important for Pierre-Thomas and Jean-Baptiste because the person seeing the Neotype for the first time should think, “This is it,” and nothing else. Other ideas for their first watch or, should we say, requirements popped up immediately too. The watch could not be an homage to something else and should have an identity of its own, which, it seems to me, is not an easy task to accomplish. To guarantee that they would be satisfied with the outcome, Pierre-Thomas and Jean-Baptiste decided to think more globally at first.
Over a period of several months, the two friends began meeting every day for hours-long brainstorming sessions. Akin to an at-home think tank that would have been put together to help a team generate their best concepts, they explored a myriad of ideas and thought of phrases that would best describe their first watch once it was made and worn by others. They imagined what someone holding the LM01 would think and say of the watch even before they actually started working on the design or even the name, for that matter. What was not negotiable is that it had to be a diver, since this is the type of watch that got Pierre-Thomas into horology in the first place. Remembering his scuba diver dad and his diving equipment, the watch would have to be rugged and masculine.
The first mockups of the watch were uninspiring and didn’t bring anything new or exciting to the watch world. Think of yet another burger joint offering the same burgers with the same toppings and same meat but sold under a different name in a restaurant with a different interior design. Sticking with the food analogy, Pierre-Thomas and Jean-Baptiste wanted to turn the concept of the burger on its head, so they would have to change the way the burger looked and tasted while ensuring that it still felt familiar. The two friends went back to the drawing board and asked themselves what drew them to dive watches and certain models in particular.
They finally realized that they wanted to design a watch that looked and felt organic, so they settled for something in the shape of a pebble, a close reminder of the ocean and diving.
There ensued a storm of meetings and calls to find a factory that could produce the watch to perfection. The task was made easier thanks to the fact that Jean-Baptiste had gotten to meet multiple watch manufactures over his 10-year career working for a design agency. The first prototypes, as it is often the case, were not perfect. The finish was a bit rough—definitely not as smooth as a pebble—so they naturally did a lot of back and forth with the manufacturer to get it right over a period of six months. It was only once the finish of the case was on par with the design that they started photographing the LM01 to reveal the first Neotype product to the public.
Conclusion: Driven by Passion
The road that led to their first Kickstarter campaign was a long one, even after they got the final prototype in hand. Being descendants of adventurers, Pierre-Thomas and Jean-Baptiste wanted to manage all aspects of building the brand themselves from photographing the watch to creating the website, the logo, the packaging, and the media campaign. Pierre-Thomas bought himself a camera, and probably to his wife and family’s dismay, built a photo studio inside their apartment. All of the visuals you see on their Instagram account and in this article were taken by him. The fact that he taught himself how to photograph their own creation says a lot about their dedication.
It took the two friends two years to create Neotype and the LM01. As we saw above, they wanted to get the design of their first watch right. They didn’t want to cut corners by getting a passable finish or by making a watch that does not have enough personality to speak for itself. They also didn’t want to skimp on creating a buzz around the watch. Their goal was to take it slow and learn as they go, teaching themselves new skills and discovering new passions (photography in Pierre-Thomas’ case) so that Neotype would look refined and deliberate.
I think they succeeded, and if you enjoyed reading this article, I recommend checking out their Kickstarter campaign that will go live June 15, 2022.
Thanks for reading.