Hey you! How are you? It’s a (too) long time I haven’t published any new article on Clock me Tender. Anyway, I have had this one in mind for a long time. I’m happy to present to your amazed eyes this review of my Michel Herbelin Trophy.
HERBELIN | An historical french brand and a family saga
In 1947, Michel Herbelin, young watchmaker founds his own company, Impec (coming from “impeccable”), in Charquemont, in Franche-Comté, cradle of French watchmaking, close to the Swiss border. The ambition is there, displayed in the brand name: producing reliable watches for the greatest satisfaction of its customers.
75 years and 3 generations of continuous know-how
The following years are an impressive family history and know-how transmission. The longevity of this French watchmaking company, whose official name became Michel Herbelin in 1969, is absolutely remarkable, even more so in view of the long watchmaking crisis of the 70s/90s, which led to the slow agony and restructuring of the Bisontine watchmaking industry, during which many jobs and famous companies such as Lip, Yema, Cattin, Dodane or Cupillard were absorbed, or simply disappeared.
Here is a short timeline of the successive company managers
- 1947: Michel Herbelin founds his workshop and Impec Brand. He is 26 years old
- 1969: Michel Herbelin becomes a brand and a limited company
- 1970: Jean-Claude and Pierre-Michel Herbelin (sons of Michel Herbelin) join the company
- 1980: Jean-Claude Herbelin becomes CEO
- 2010: Pierre-Michel Herbelin becomes CEO
- 2017: Pierre-Michel Herbelin join forces with new partners : his son Maxime, his nephew Mathieu + Cédric Gomez-Montiel and Benjamin Theurillat
- 2020: Pierre-Michel Herbelin retires and entrusts the management of the family business to his 4 partners. Cédric Gomez-Montiel is CEO, Mathieu Herbelin is head of Design and New products creation, Maxime Herbelin is Head of marketing and communication, Benjamin Theurillat is head of supply and international development (source: Michel Herbelin une nouvelle direction aux commandes).
In 2022, after a several months communication campaign on social networks, the company simplified the brand name into Herbelin. The story goes on!
Herbelin | Affordable but high quality French watches
Where does the Herbelin company owe its exceptional longevity? I see 4 reasons.
First all to its very quick adaptation to the quartz revolution, which allows it to survive this industrial revolution when so much watch companies died. Then probably, and this is more surprising in the historical watchmaking industry, to the strategic choice of dedicating the main part of its production to women (60% in 2015). It’s no coincidence that the main ambassador of the brand is today Brigitte Macron, the wife of the French Republic president, who likes to match her Antares watch straps (patented quick change system) with her clothes. Then an impeccable manufacturing quality, without any compromise. All the watches of the current collection are animated with swiss movements, Ronda (quartz) or Sellita (mechanical and automatic). And of course, uniq designs, and more specifically the very original central attachment system of the Newport collection, which gives it a very specific visual identity.
In 2019 Herbelin produced 85,000 watches, sold in 50 countries. The production share sold abroad around 53%. France is around 47%. With the growth of its middle class, China has the highest development potential, according to Maxime Herbelin (Source : Capital, Benjamin Cuq, 2020). Despite the COVID 19 crisis, Herbelin maintained a turnover of 14.2 M€ in 2020. On the contrary of other french brands (Yema for instance) who bet on digital distribution, Herbelin still relies on a network of more than 2,000 watch and jewelry retailers for its development (76% abroad).
Michel Herbelin, from Charquemont to Porquerolles
But what can have in common Charquemont and Porquerolles, the Jura mounts and the mediterranean beaches?
The answer is: passion and commitment. Michel Herbelin, founder of the company, was a sailing enthusiast and very fond of the mediterranean coast, where he retired in 1980.
In 1988 (this date is mentioned in a few press articles. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the true founding event) the brand initiated a now long and successful history of partnerships with famous sailing races and competitors:
- Jean-Pierre Dick sponsor for the Vendée Globe 2008 and The Route du Rhum 2012
- Porquerolles Classic race official partner since 2012 (next edition in June 2023)
- Julien Mabit sponsor for the The Route du Rhum 2014
- Christophe Suchaud sponsor for the Quebec/Saint Malo Transat in 2016
- Aurelien Ducroz sponsor for the Route du Rhum 2022 (november)
On the watches side, the iconic Newport collection, launched in 1988 (could this be the unidentified event I have mentioned just above?) and whose name comes from the famous America’s cup location, but also the Trophy line (launched in 2018 for the Porquerolles Classic race) and Cap Camarat collection, all recently (and brilliantly according to me) redesigned, are strongly inspired by the sailing world.
Michel Herbelin died in December 2012. He was 92 years old. Contemporary of Fred Lip and Henry-Louis Bellemont, to mention only these two renowned figures, he has definitely left his mark on the history of French watchmaking.
Herbelin logo evolution
Originally designed by mixing the founder’s name initials, “m” and “h” the brand logo has slowly but surely (just like the brand in itself, in fact) evolved. In 2022, the company shortened its name. Since, the “michel” part progressively disappears of the watches dials. Here is a short display of press ads which illustrate the logo evolution, the brand’s particular interest in women and its proximity to the world of sailing.
Herbelin dive watch legacy
One more, and last, jump into the past to end this short “historical” introduction to my Herbelin Trophy review: the dive watch legacy. Indeed, even if their design was very common with other brands dive watches which shared the same case, hands and dials, Herbelin has had a long experience in dive watches, as illustrated in the pictures gallery below of watches sharing the same Sous Marine 300 case. Even “Impec” has had its dive watch (first picture)!
HERBELIN Trophy | The review
It’s now time to go to what you’re waiting for. The review!
Comfortable middle case
The Herbelin Trophy case is 42mm in diameter, 51mm form lug to lug, 12mm thick. It’s really the maximum size I can support on my little 17,5 cm wrist.
However its plunging lugs allow a surprisingly confortable fit on the wrist. The curvaceous shape of the middle case and the lightly curved lugs , both without any sharp hedge, refine and soften the aesthetics of this imposing watch.
In perfect coherence with the whole Herbelin collection, the Trophy is an elegant watch with sophisticated finishing, mixing brushed and mirror polished surfaces. Probably something to do with the gentleman mindset of the Porquerolles Classic race . Look at this.
A very simple caseback
The Herbelin Trophy caseback distinguishes itself by a very simple design, displaying the 1660 model reference. This choice probably helps to keep the final price in a reasonable area.
The caseback bears the signature “made in France”. What does it precisely mean? Here is a quite good explanation, coming from a Maxime Herbelin Interview in “Le Point” magazine.
“The design, conception, development, assembly, adjustment and control of our watches are carried out in our workshops in Charquemont, in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté area,” explains Maxime Herbelin, marketing director […]. While the case comes from Asia and the mechanism from neighboring Switzerland (hence the “Swiss movement” engraved on the case back), the brand claims a percentage of 70% “made in France. “When others are content to unpack boxes in a French shed to claim a local origin,” he exclaims to fuel the debate, hardly exaggerating, according to him. In fact, there is no debate (or not yet), as the regulations remain unclear to define the made in France. “Before, we used to buy all the components of our watches in our country, but there are no more suppliers left, especially for the movements. To stay in our accessible price range, we are at the maximum of what we can do а within our borders.” Source : Le Point – Hervé Gallet – 11/09/2019
Swiss movement Sellita 11 1/2 SW200-1
The swiss movement mentioned on the caseback is a Sellita SW200-1. If interested, you will find more information about this swiss movement in the Direnzo DRZ03 review, including a pretty cool video.
Elegant screw down crown
The Herbelin Trophy is, without any surprise, equipped with screw down crown, thick and quite easy to handle. The “pops” when you unscrew the crown and the slots to set the time are very frank and clean. There is no superfluous play. All this gives the user a reliability and confidence feeling. Interesting detail : the crown is not directly screwed against the case, which is, remind it, curved. Thus the crown tube has a specific profile, with a flat surface, ensuring a reliable and tightened screwing.
I do like the crown impressive flutes, despite the fact that they are less efficient than usual crown shapes in termes of grip. They are very characteristics of Herbelin crowns design. Both functional and elegant.
You easily identify Herbelin logo on the crown font size. I’m fond of it. Simple, very graphic, assuming the first logo legacy but also evocative of the sailing world, easy to identify. According to the visuals of the latest models, this logo has been replaced since the recent brand change of name (Herbelin vs Michel Herbelin), by a steering wheel characteristic of tall ships. It is, in my opinion, less original, and especially less specific to the brand. This choice seems to me a bit questionable.
A characteristic bezel
The bezel shape, with its six grip segments placed every 10 minutes, is very characteristic of the whole Trophy collection. It is a little bit less functional than a classic bezel shape, which offers a better grip. However, it works.
This bezel is unidirectional, with 120 clics.
This model has a brushed ceramic insert, adding a texture effect highlighted by the engraved marks. The whole plays a significant role on the general design of the watch and strengthens the feeling of robustness. I truly like it.
Sapphire glas with Cyclope date
The flat sapphire glas has got an antireflection surface treatment insuring a perfect readability of the watch. I am usually not a great fan of magnifying cyclope glass over the date aperture. But I have to admit that it fits very well above the very opened dial of this watch
The magnifying glass is applied on the main glass surface, probably cemented with a UV light sensitive resin.
Herbelin Trophy dial: do you know what “electric discharge” is?
At first glance, the blue dial of my Trophy has something special. Something between meteorite texture and water reflections. This special effect has been obtained thanks to a surface treatment by electric discharge (in French: electro érosion) (source : Sexy trophy à Porquerolles). And here is the main reason why I’m so interested in writing watch reviews: opportunities to learn something new. Do you know what electric discharge is? I had absolutely no idea until now. In a few word it’s a way of removing material from the work piece by a series of rapidly recurring current discharges between two electrodes separated by a dielectric liquid and subject to an electric voltage.
If I have well understood, this means that each dial of the Trophy line is absolutely unique.
HERBELIN Trophy | Perfect readability
On the following pictures, you will appreciate, I hope, first the texture effect of the electric discharge technic, and then the perfect readability of the huge applied indexes.
Associated with sword hands, the hole is a bit reminiscent of the Omega Seamaster. The macro shot reveals the edges of the text, stamped on the dial surface.
The Herbelin Trophy is a French watch 😉 300m waterproof.
Texture du cadran la vraie originalité de cette montre au design somme toutes assez classique qui n’est sans rappeler dans certains détails une Omega Seasmaster ou une Seiko
HERBELIN Trophy | Lume test
Given the color, I guess the lume paste on the HERBELIN trophy is BGW9. The luminescence of the main mark on the bezel, like the hands, is good. The dial marks one is, however, a bit weak I think.
You will notice the lack of lume on the second hand. It’s a bit of a shame because you should be able to check that the watch is working properly at a glance in a diving situation
This HERBELIN Trophy dive watch will have been my favorite of the summer 2022. Elegant, resistant, easy to wear in any circumstance, beautiful quality. Here is the french luxury, at affordable price.
You have spotted an error, you want to react ? The comments are made for that. Don’t hesitate! I will be happy to answer you, for the pleasure of the discussion.
I hope to have one day the opportunity to test another watch of the Herbelin collection. I will be happy to share my impressions with you.
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Have a nice summer.