Gent of the Month
"I want people to see a watchmaker who inspires them with confidence."
Meet Romain Vesaphong, a Swiss-based banker-turned-watchmaker and blogger with an affinity for classic men's style - and did we mention, he can reassemble a cal. 3135 Rolex movement with his eyes closed? For these reasons among many others (but mainly just that last one), he's February's Gent of the Month. You can connect with him on Instagram @sartorialwatchmaker or visit his blog at elegance-et-precision.com
1. Tell us about when you first got into classic menswear
My attraction to classic menswear is linked to a fascination about what some call 'the Gentleman's race' - in other words, our self-development. But being a Gentleman is not only a matter of style, it’s also a question of good manners and your impact in the world (take, for instance, icons Humphrey Bogart or Cary Grant). From a very young, I fantasized about the image of a well-dressed gentleman, holding the door open for a beautiful lady in a red dress… and doing it in great style.
As I never had much of a sartorial mentor in my youth, I grew up with only the will to become a gentleman (though I was without any idea of exactly how to do that). Well, perhaps that’s not entirely true. In fact, my grand-father, who has always been very elegant, was my earliest style inspiration - but we'll leave more about him for later on in this article. In any case, my parents and grand-parents provided me with a good education and taught me to be “a good boy”. All in all, I had the manners, but not yet the style.
After completing my studies, I began working in a bank. Similarly to most of my colleagues at the time, I was wearing cheap Ready-to-Wear suits and I had no pleasure dressing like that because it was something imposed on me by the profession... and it’s a pity, because I used to loved wearing ties. After a few dreadful years, however, at age 28 I quit the bank to enter a Haute-Horlogerie school delivering the Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program (WOSTEP).
By 30, I was a certified watchmaker. This taught me what craftsmanship really meant, and what could justify a price in terms of quality (materials, manufacturing techniques, finishing, etc.). It totally changed my way of seeing things, and I decided to relearn about everything I loved, from scratch, and with a new eye. Sartorialism was a part of that rebirth. For this reason, I like to think that my sartorial journey began officially in 2017, in the same time as my watchmaking career - it's also why I decided to call myself the 'Sartorial Watchmaker', because both are linked together.
2. How would you describe your personal style?
My style is clearly classically oriented, inspired by menswear in the 1920’s to 40’s. Apart from that, I guess you might be wondering whether I am more on the British or Italian side of tailoring and fabrics - and it is difficult to chose because I love both. On one hand, I'm drawn to the British approach of tailoring, which is more precise and structured, with no room for pleats - a school which perhaps corresponds more to how I picture a gentleman. At the same time, however, I also love the freedom and comfort of the Italian approach which allows for more movement, fluency, and lightness. You know, my mother is French and my father is Laotian, so I am made of 2 very different cultures which, in many ways, are totally opposite. But I love both cultures, and I think it is the same with my tailoring style: when you love two different things, you always find a way to mix them together to enjoy them both - and I do!
3. Who and/or what has had the greatest impact on your sartorial style?
As I mentioned earlier, I was fortunate to have an stylish and elegant grand-father, in both his manners and outfits. He has always been an example for me, and I've wanted to look like him for as long as I can remember - a man who never left the house without a perfectly knotted tie, a man of high values and ethics, adored and respected by everyone. I grew up with the sight of that man whom I admired, and he is the gentleman I always dreamt to be.
With that said, I'm also an online 'forum guy'. I like to read forums and share feedback with a small community of passionate, like-minded people. The French forum “De Pied En Cap” (DPEC) which means “from head to toe”, provided me with a lot of knowledge about everything related to classic menswear - literally, from head to toe. There are so many people from that forum who contributed to my sartorial style, especially in 2020, during the first COVID-19 lock-down. I think because we had to stay home, we spent more time on the forum which fuelled my passion and drove me deeper into sartorialism. I ultimately decided to create my own blog: Elegance & Precision.com (https://elegance-et-precision.com).
I also can't forget to mention legends Alan J. Flusser and G. Bruce Boyer, whose books are an essential source of information, in both garment history and style advice, especially for those of us who want to journey into classic men's style for the first time. In addition to being a great author, both these gentlemen, and especially G. Bruce Boyer, are very elegant and their style is something I aspire towards in my everyday life.
4. What do your clothes do for you?
I think the way you dress is a way to express yourself. I'm pretty sure you've already heard about non-verbal communication - I believe the clothes you choose on the morning not only indicate your favourite colour or your mood that day, but something more complex. It is the idea you project about yourself out into the world and your surroundings. For instance, I'm a watchmaker. I wear a white overcoat at work, and people would not expect me to dress well beneath it - but I do. I choose to do this because I want people to see more than a watchmaker when I enter the boutique. Whether I'm showcasing a timepiece to a client or discussing with them a technical subject such as an issue they're facing with their watch, I want people to see a watchmaker who inspires them with confidence - because when you dress well and put a lot of attention into the finer details, you communicate that you understand the importance of those details. That's the kind of reassurance I try to communicate, and it's vital for a watchmaker. Beyond that, dressing well also provides me with my own self-confidence, and I utilize that with the people around me. Valourizing what is good instead of denigrating what is not. That's my philosophy.
To finish (and this is may be the most important thing for me), I want my children to see me coming back home from work well dressed. I want them to have that image of their father always perfectly dressed so that one day they might ask me “why are you dressing like that?”. There, at that moment, will begin the sartorial transmission... although I think it may have already begun. Just a few weeks ago, my son came to see me at work. Just before I had turned back to the workshop, he yelled at me, “Dad!”. I answered, “Yes?”, to which he said “...your tie is particularly beautiful today. You look really handsome!” I felt as though I'd won the World Cup.
5. What is your favourite or go-to piece in your wardrobe?
A sky-blue, thin striped shirt (sometimes referred to as Bengal striped) with grey trousers. This is my favorite base because I can wear absolutely any jacket, tie, pocket square, socks and even shoes with these two garments. It is a pretty simple base which enables me to highlight the jacket and the accessories, and it really fits to my style, mainly built on 'spezzato' outfits.
6. Is there anything you would have done differently along your sartorial journey?
I think mistakes are part of the journey. You need to get it wrong to improve and understand the value of what's right. That’s why I would not give any lesson to my younger-self as the only lesson you really understand is the one you learn by having made mistakes. I apply that philosophy for everything. That helps to have no regrets - after all. what's done is done. With that said, if I really had to do something differently, I would have begun my sartorial journey earlier.
7. Is there a menswear story you’d like to share with our community?
I will tell you the story of how I created the Sartorial Watchmaker. In France, we used to say that we judge a man to his shoes and his watch - it’s not just about passing judgement, but when you look at a gentleman, you expect from him to take care of every detail in his outfit. To me, it’s all about details. For instance, a pair of shoes in bad shape is a terrible detail that leaves a bad impression on people around you (remember, non-verbal communication matters!). A Gentleman's shoes have to be neat because they reflect their owner, sometimes literally, and you and I both know that when someone scans you from head to toe, they will often finish by looking at your shoes, and this will be the last impression which stays engraved in his or her mind.
From this understanding, I soon realized that I needed a good pair of shoes but, more than that, I needed to understand how a good shoe was made and how to care them. That’s why, at the very beginning, I decided to register on the De Pied En Cap forum. I really liked to read about members sharing their knowledge and providing good advice and feedback on which shoe care product worked best and which one didn't. Eventually, this led me to create an account on Instagram to broaden my network further, and that’s why the first accounts that I followed were shoe shiners. I remember I sent a message to a Japanese shoe shiner who you can find on Instagram under the name @Kabutomusi_go, asking him for some tips to understand how creates such an exceptional mirror shine. He was so kind to answer me, sending me some links of very interesting videos and giving me tips. Then, I discussed with American shoe shiners, and now one of my best Insta-friends is a Norwegian gent who does an awesome job as a shoe shiner in Trondheim! After focusing on shoes, I turned attention elsewhere - to garments (on both forums and Instagram). I received inspiration from elegant gentlemen and by reading books and blogs which really helped me refine my tastes and develop my own style. At this point, I wanted to share my sartorial journey with the Instragram community, and I decided that I would share my 3 passions: watches, shoes and classic menswear. And that’s how I created the Sartorial Watchmaker.
8. You are a watchmaker, so what advice would you provide when choosing a watch?
From my point of view, a watch is more than a mere accessory in my outfit. Each watch I own has its own story and is linked to a specific moment of my life. The watch becomes a part of you, it has a soul. For instance, in this picture you can see my son’s wrist next to mine. The watch I am wearing here is a Rolex Submariner that I bought in order to one day pass on to my son. Actually, it’s his name on the warranty card! Watchmaking is also a fascinating universe - for its history, its technique, and for the social aspect as well. That’s why I decided to change my life to become a watchmaker. And before you ask, no, I'm not the kind of watchmaker who will say that only mechanical watches are worth it and quartz watches aren't. I think it’s all about details and your personal taste, whatever the subject you're deciding to tackle. For instance, Grand Seiko 9F movements are among the best quartz movements on the market. The energy of the watch comes from a battery, but the entire gear train is mechanical, with wheels and pinions made with the same process as a mechanical watch. In addition to that, the other components - the bridges, the screws, etc., are very well finished. Citizen is another brand providing amazing quartz movements. In both cases, the whole watch is equipped by these powerhouse movements that are also well finished, usually with black polished faceted hands and indexes, dials made of specific materials which are also often handcrafted (enamel, Urushi lacquer, etc.). Watches are like clothes - and when you get into the layers of fabric, you can discover many things and understand the message underneath.
In any case (no pun intended), to answer the initial question, my advice when you choose a watch is to learn as much information about it as you can so that the watch will not keep any secrets from you. If you go deep into studying a particular watch, you will know whether it really corresponds to you, to your style, and to your values. Learning things such as the brand history, the values defended by the brand, on the production process, or on technical aspects - I think if you follow this process, you will naturally find the perfect timepiece.
Learning is the key, and so is sharing. If you're interested, don’t hesitate to connect with me to talk menswear and watches, I'm always open to share my passion with the sartorial community! I take this opportunity to thank you for giving me the chance to share my passions with you through this interview.
My very best,