Meet the March Men. Jérôme Mage and Alain Marhic are the two minds behind the fledgling company March LA.B, a watch brand producing effortlessly suave timepieces that would befit the wrist of every aspiring Don Draper. Based in Los Angeles and Biarritz respectively, this creative meeting of minds has resulted in a collection of slick designs positioned in a unique middle ground between California cool and the heritage of French styling.
The company name, incidentally, is formed by a combination of the three original directors' names Marhic/Mage/Chatel (Joseph Chatel being the business angel backing the venture) giving 'March', which is also the third month of the year, again representing the three founders. The second half of the name is the initials of the founders' locations (LA.B).
Alain Marhic (left), founder and CEO, with Jérôme Mage (right), Creative Director.
It was in 2009 that Marhic, then Head of Accessories at surf brand Quicksilver, decided to use his experience in production and distribution to establish a company producing what he calls "the ultimate accessory" - the watch. With a love of the Bauhaus aesthetic and a keen interest in 1950s furniture design, Marhic met his style match when he joined forces with Creative Director Mage in 2010. With a background in product design and branding for a range of companies - including creating timepieces for action sport companies - and a passion for collecting vintage watches, Mage was instantly attracted to the modern take on retro design, which is at the core of March LA.B's identity.
Today March LA.B is a truly international venture with the watches beginning their journey as the creative vision of Mage before being rendered as a 3D-object by his team in LA. The pieces are then brought to life as a prototypes in Switzerland, allowing for adjustments to be made before going into production.
The AM series takes inspiration from the muscle-car culture of the 1960s and 1970s and the classic timepieces of that era from the likes of Bulova. The collection includes vintage-inspired pieces like the bold sporty designs of the AM3 collection and the stand-out rich burgundy-dialled AM2 Bordeaux, with its distinctive rounded square case and quilted strap inspired by the leather seats of a Ford Mustang. Marhic and Mage even collaborated with one of their automotive icons for the now sold-out AM1 Shelby watch, which came in both quartz and automatic versions complete with 'wooden dashboard' dial.
March LA.B's chic and elegant trademark style is echoed in the shapes and designs across both their men's and women's ranges.
According to Mage: "The inspiration for March LA.B is grounded in aesthetic standards set by the most exceptional watches of the past - specifically from the 1960s and 1970s. To me, the watches from those time periods have been the most innovative while maintaining classic appeal. They are equal parts masculine and elegant."
But Mage also has a penchant for history - particularly that of his native France - that he brings into his designs in such a way as to not detract from the overall chic of March LA.B's customary retro cool. The 4th Hussard model, for example, combines the Madison Avenue, banker-watch style of the JC series with a bold dial that references the iconic Napoleonic regiment. These historical undertones become more pronounced still in the 1805 series - a collection of minimalist and sophisticated pocket watches and necklace timepieces inspired by the First French Empire.
Perhaps March LA.B's most ambitious series is the JM, named after its main designer, whose true eccentric flare comes to life in the unrestrained woman's model Yeti - a real attention-grabber at last year's SalonQP. The Art Deco-inspired main frame of the watch is engulfed by an audacious caramel Orylag fur band, creating what is perhaps the ultimate statement cuff watch.
Part of the 1805 collection, the Klimt necklace exudes a traditional classism while staying true to March LA.B's distinct retro style.
A cool clientele
Marhic describes the typical March LA.B customer as, "an action man, cool and trendy", and with the brand being distributed by hip Dalston clothing stores and fast becoming a favourite of UK fashion magazines, this description seems perfect for March LA.B's targeted market of stylish young things. But with prices starting at around €750 for a quartz powered piece and €1,690 for a mechanical, they certainly aren't coming in at Brick Lane vintage shop prices.
For most, March LA.B's price point would be considered beyond entry-level, pushing them further into the territory of luxury watch brands and away from the 'fashion watch' labelling. But with only 30 per cent of the brand's total output of watches containing mechanical movements, should March LA.B be considered as a case of style over substance, or can they truly compete with the Swiss big boys?
Mage explains that March LA.B aims "to create a Swiss-made timepiece line that offers a wider appeal than that of the traditional luxury market… encompassing timeless, modern design, lifestyle appeal and unique collaborations, all with a focus on the rapidly growing retro modern market."
He continues: "The vintage watch category has become one of the most dynamic arenas for the horological market, remaining unaddressed by new product ventures. March LA.B is the first of its kind to develop a unique position for the vintage design aesthetic to succeed in its category of modern timepieces."
The bold, clean lines of the AM2 Black Automatic reflect the brand's confident and retro approach to design.
Still a small, independent watch brand, March LA.B has not yet developed the capabilities to produce movements in-house, but to say that they disregard what is under the bonnet would be a misnomer. The movements are sourced and assembled in their factory in Bienne, Switzerland, with the brand mainly using the automatic ETA-2892 and 2893 calibres, citing ETA's reputation for accuracy as a key factor in their choice.
With most of the watches, the movement can be viewed through the caseback via the bright-green mineral crystal with sapphire coating - a colour echoed in small touches across the collections, from the date indications to the inside of the watch straps. Green holds particular significance for the brand, with the March LA.B Green Line representing the brand's commitment to the support of suicide prevention, donating one per cent of the sale of every watch to the cause.
So, in a time of Mad Men mania, where accessible, elegant and edgy style is the order of the day, March LA.B's carefully designed and constructed, retro-inspired offerings perfectly bridge the gap between the oft-stuffy designs of luxury grandes maisons and the throwaway trends of the high-street brands. And, with two new chronograph styles ready to show at next year's Baselworld, March LA.B may be a brand that finds its inspiration in the past, but it is also one that is looking forward to a bright future.
Further information: www.march-lab.com